Tuesday, June 7, 2022

You Want the Treasure

Old advertisements fascinate me. Take, for example, this advertisement for the second AD&D game cartridge to be released for Mattel's Intellivision system. This ad differs from the one I'd highlighted previously and features a much more comic book-y style.
Looking at it now, what's notable is the dissonance between the dynamic, well-executed artwork of the advertisement and the flatness of the screen shot in the bottom righthand corner. Such a comparison is probably not fair, given the technical limitations of video game consoles in 1983, but that doesn't make it any less true. Of course, this didn't stop my best friend and I from playing the game whenever we could (though I'm now not sure whether he owned the first or the second game – or both – since there's not much to distinguish them from one another). 


  1. Those old advertisements for Atari, Intellivision, etc., were always trying to evoke much more vivid imagery than the games could ever hope to provide. Perhaps the idea was that these are the kinds of images that the game will evoke in your imagination, but at least for me, I never did have any visual imaginings independent from the graphics of these games. But even with their crude graphics they could be engaging and nostalgia-inducing.

    Interestingly, text adventure games like Infocom's Zork series (and their many other games) did fill my head with vivid and memorable imaginings, and of course tabletop roleplaying games do the same, even when there are visual aids like dry erase maps and miniatures or online maps and tokens. I think there must be something interesting neurological going on in terms of which areas of the brain these different types of games activate.

    1. Excellent post. In full agreement as to my experience with the early video vs. text games and ttrpgs.

  2. The games you needed to avoid were the ones that didn't actually have a shot of what the game looked like in the advert. But really in those days the graphics were so rudimentary that a lot of imagination was necessary to make the game compelling. Some games did that better than others. I didn't play this game, but that little thumbnail looks pretty sweet for 83.

  3. My sons are fascinated by the old tech I grew up with. For Christmas last year they found me an old Atari system complete with some games. They noticed something regarding the box artwork vs. the graphics. They said it's as if the artwork was there to give us the inspiration, and then our minds had to keep using the imagination to transform those little dots into dragons or warriors or tanks or whatever. The art for Space Invaders was top notch, but our minds had to fill in the gaps while playing the game. Which, IIRC, they did.

    But today, my sons said, no imagination is needed. There's nothing to imagine when you play a VG today. Any more than imagination is needed with any modern CGI fare. It's simply there. I've also wondered if that is why things like the D&D MM were so popular. Perhaps compared to today the artwork seems limited, but just look at the PC graphics from then, and those old MM pics look pretty darn impressive.

  4. "...those old MM pics look pretty darn impressive. "

    And still do! Trampier was a brilliant ink-only artist. His work holds up by any metric.

  5. The two D&D intellivison games are completely distinct from each other. The first was a graphical rehash of hunt the wumpus and Treasure of Tarmin was actually a dungeon crawler.

  6. Funny, I see the comic book style art of that era's VG advertisements as an attempt to dial back customers' expectations regarding the in-game graphics rather than a spur to customers' imaginations. Like what Mr. Smith pointed out, I had already long been filling in any visual blanks thanks to playing paper & pencil, tabletop RPGs and text based computer games, so I didn't need any "help" with imagining what was going on in-game.

    The same can be said regarding radio versus television. Devotees of radio serials were always disappointed when they finally saw the characters in movies or on television because the "pictures" their imaginations had been providing rarely matched up with 'visual" casting process.

  7. I never got to play Treasure of Tarmin, but my friend had the Misty Mountains game and we played a lot of it. We liked to turn the volume up too high, so if the dragon surprised us we'd jump through the roof from the noise. Our mothers didn't care for this practice.

    My other favorite D&D-ish game was Adventure from the Atari 2600. Yes, the dragons looked like bouncing ducks, but I was always a sucker for mazes. Plus the random placement for objects gave it a level of replay mystery that other games didn't have. And there were just enough unexplained design elements that fired our imagination. Why was the White Castle beyond the black maze? What was the strange door you couldn't use in the Red Maze? What about the two empty rooms in the maze?

    Sure, these were just artifacts from the design process, but to us they were excuses to come up with stories to explain them.

  8. I'm with Tom, Adventure was so good. Genuinely terrifying to navigate a maze with Rhindle in pursuit. It deserves a post of its own.