Dungeon crawling is life. The rest is just depression.

Ahh…Sega CD. Your pleasure was known by far too few! Nobody wanted to develop games for you, you cost a lot of money to buy ($200+) and you had insane load times (1x CD drive!). I remember seeing Sega CD in a store as a kid and thinking how it could only be afforded by diplomats, doctors and drug cartel heads. And those guys would’ve been more classy, going with something esoteric like a 3DO, Neo-Geo or Philips CD-i (just kidding: playing the CD-i is a layer of hell in itself).

I cost a million dollars.Technically, more fun than PS3 for the money…

One of the rare Sega CD gems is the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons dungeon-crawler called ‘Eye of the Beholder.’ Funny thing is, it was released on several platforms (DOS, Amiga, SNES, Sega CD) and somehow one of the strongest incarnations of the game was for the Sega CD. Kinda strange, considering it’s a universal law dictated by the pact of its very existence that the Sega CD will have far shoddier ports than other systems. I’m sorta kidding, since occasionally strong games part of a larger series or franchise would appear on Sega CD and be pretty swell. Examples include Shining Force, Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim and Mickey Mania.


So what’s so great about Eye of the Beholder that it warrants a post of collossal magnitude? Well, first things foist, it’s a dungeon-crawler. To have been big into dungeon-crawlers back in their hey-day, you had to have pretty much been a troll yourself.

You see, RPGs stand for Role Playing Game/Guide, and originally developed from pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons. The game and the environment was imagined by the dungeonmaster, a person who “hosted” the game for the players, who themselves developed characters in this universe with unique skills and personalities that developed as they leveled up. It’s a bit like World of Warcraft or Ultima Online or Diablo, except it was all in the imagination of the players, which frankly I think is a bit sweeter. In fact, evangelical church groups in the ’80s started producing material saying how D&D got kids into Satanism and black magic. A friend actually showed me one of these movies– which was pretty interesting, called “Caught in the Devil’s Web.” It seems that back in the day, if you were a nerd or an outcast, you got into D & D and black magic.

Inspired by old school role playing methods, (real role-playing) early computer games were written so that the dungeon master role was fulfilled by the computer programming. These games were text-only adventure games. Many non-RPG games came out in text-based format, as older folks might remember (I sure don’t). I remember hearing about Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and other series made into interesting adventure games for text-only formats. It was fairly popular – and even fun for a while – for computer owners to have games like this. But that text-only shit wouldn’t fly now for all you young people, with all the hippin’ and the hoppin’ and the bippin’ and the boppin’. You don’t know what the jazz (text-based RPGs)…..is all about!

In the late 1980s, computer graphics were advanced enough to run Windows’ maze screen savers, so some people figured they might as well make first-person dungeon adventures. This is where games like Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom and early AD&D games make their appearance. In dungeon crawlers, you spend the whole game in a dungeon and fight monsters and look for treasure. Due to limited graphical capabilities, most of the games stay underground and use mild colors so they blend together more smoothly (think grey, green, brown). These are games where you walk around from the protagonist’s perspective and do all kinds of crazy junk, mostly blasting monsters. (Let’s be honest though, those games were so hideous and primitive that everybody looked like a monster. You couldn’t really make distinctions between monsters and non-monsters. They were all so ugly and yet at the same time, trying to exist [much like the people playing the games]. We couldn’t have that happening, so you had to shoot. To. Kill.) The game is usually a maze and sometimes you’ll come across someone who either helps you or tricks you or sells you stuff. Just like in real life, actually, except you’re trying to find the underground person who sells you stuff.

So Eye of the Beholder is a dungeon crawler like this. The plot is: The lords of Waterdeep have hired you to journey into the regions beneath the city to find the source of evil that has been beginning to manifest above ground. So, naturally you start with the sewers and work your way down. You know, I just realized, there should have been a really slick dungeon crawling Ghostbusters AD&D game. Oh well. Licenses make people bishes.

Part of the beauty of the Sega CD game is the soundtrack. It was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who seemed to be in something of a techno-lust at the time (and still is). After writing the sick-ass techno music for Streets of Rage, he wrote some serious ambient house-type music for Eye of the Beholder. Like most things sentient, I was all “how da techno fit old dungeon?” but it works and is crucially nice. For one thing, he doesn’t write many specific hooks which would stand out and make the game move at a faster rate (like a 2-D shooter/platformer might require) but keeps it nice and open with wet textures and keyboard pads which loop and only hint at vaster melodies. He’s also got some mean club flanger effects going on with the trance-esque pads he uses, great piano arrangements and some nice deep bass drums. The hooks that are there remain mysterious and repetitive in a way that keeps the player on his/her toes. I suppose I would say it’s in some way comparable to what Rob Hubbard did with The Immortal, but this game has a story which does not have a defined protagonist and the music works to that end very successfully. The Immortal has a more tragic tone to it, whereas Eye of the Beholder is less sad but more archaic, as though you’re journeying into impersonal places that have been forgotten and uninhabited for eons, almost like deep space. I’m not sure if anyone on board the project had this kind of musical atmosphere in mind since Koshiro typically worked with Japanese development companies like Konami or Sega and I thought Eye of the Beholder was originally an American project. But it’s fantastic and the music is good enough to warrant playing the game.

Oh, the voice acting on Sega CD games is pretty priceless. I didn’t post any ‘coz this is a music web-log, but some of it can be found on track 9. It sounds like (and I think this is the case) the programmers are the ones doing the voice acting. I hope no one was paid for these performances.

Yuzo Koshiro – Track 02 – Eye of the Beholder/Sega CD

Yuzo Koshiro – Track 07 – Eye of the Beholder/Sega CD

Yuzo Koshiro – Track 08 – Eye of the Beholder/Sega CD

Yuzo Koshiro – Track 09 – Eye of the Beholder/Sega CD

I haven’t tried emulating this one, and I think it might be hard to track down the ROM, but originally you needed the Sega CD mouse to play the game efficiently enough. Dragging a cursor around your screen using a digital control pad is more frustrating than compromising your life for a woman (I’m kidding, it’s not that frustrating). A nice bonus? The cover art is done by Larry Elmore! And don’t tell me you don’t know who he is!


~ by chaosrexmachinae on July 27, 2007.

8 Responses to “Dungeon crawling is life. The rest is just depression.”

  1. Mickey Mania is fucking awesome. I got a ROM for it a few years ago, and it still blows my mind. What an awesome idea to have Mickey go through his own history in chronological order. Unfortunately, that meant the first level was the most artistically impressive. It was also pretty fucking hard, especially level 2 with the skeletons that shoot thier heads at you.

  2. Hell yeah, I’m glad someone knows what I’m talking about! The Sega CD version actually had at least 2 extra scenes in it, one including Pete, the cat (I think that was his name) where they’re dressed in medieval armor. I only rented the game when I was younger, but I could never get past the ghost house myself.

    One of the highlights for me was probably the scene where the moose is running Mickey down and you’re controlling him as he runs towards the camera and avoiding pitfalls. They used that engine/idea in ‘The Lion King,’ which was also pretty darn good.

  3. Yeah, that Moose level was a mind-fuck back in the day. Ever play Quack-Shot. I can’t remember if it was actually good, but I did play it an ass-load.

  4. Hell yeah, Donald Duck. Quackshot actually had a pretty decent soundtrack if I remember correctly.

  5. I find it bizzarre that Disney was able to make good cartoon games, while Warner Bros games are typically stilted and unfunny. It’s the complete reverse of thier respective animated shorts from the early days of animation, in which Mickey and Donald were boring and Warner Bros cartoons were full of life and sharp humor.

  6. […] Serious Business – Sonic CD I’ve written about Sega/Mega CD before, but only recently have I been playing it a whole lot. One of the well-known gems of its library […]

  7. Excuse me I love CD-i

  8. Any favorites on that one?

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