Gold Box

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Gold Box
Gold Box engine samples.png
Clockwise from upper left: overland map exploration; plot cut scene; overall combat interface; dungeon exploration view/battle encounter approach
Original author(s) SSI (Keith Brors, Brad Myers)
Developer(s) SSI, Westwood Associates, Stormfront Studios, MicroMagic, Cybertech, Marionette
Initial releaseJune 1988;31 years ago (1988-06)
Written in
Operating system AmigaOS, Atari TOS, BASIC, DOS, Macintosh System Software
Platform Amiga, Apple II, Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, NEC PC-9800, NES, Sega Genesis
Type Game engine
License Proprietary software

Gold Box is a series of role-playing video games produced by SSI from 1988 to 1992. The company acquired a license to produce games based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game from TSR, Inc. [1] These games shared a common engine that came to be known as the "Gold Box Engine" after the gold-colored boxes in which most games of the series were sold. [2]

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

Role-playing game Game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting

A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting. Players take responsibility for acting out these roles within a narrative, either through literal acting, or through a process of structured decision-making regarding character development. Actions taken within many games succeed or fail according to a formal system of rules and guidelines.



Licensing and development

In the mid-1980s TSR, after seeing the success of the Ultima series and other computer role-playing games (CRPGs), offered its popular Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) property to video game companies. Ten companies, including Electronic Arts, Ultima creator Origin Systems, and Sierra Entertainment applied for the license. [3] [4] Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI) president Joel Billings had, along with many other companies, earlier contacted TSR about licensing AD&D, but TSR was not interested at that time. Although smaller and less technically advanced than other bidders, SSI unexpectedly won the license in 1987 because of its computerized wargaming experience, and instead of releasing a single AD&D game as soon as possible, the company proposed a broad vision of multiple series of games and spinoffs that might become as sophisticated as TSR's tabletop original. [3] [4]

<i>Ultima</i> (series) Role-playing video games series

Ultima is a series of open world fantasy role-playing video games from Origin Systems, Inc. Ultima was created by Richard Garriott. The series is one of the most significant in computer game history and is considered, alongside Wizardry and Might and Magic, to be one of the establishers of the CRPG genre. Several games of the series are considered seminal entries in their genre, and each installment introduced new innovations which then were widely copied by other games. Electronic Arts own the brand.

Electronic Arts American interactive entertainment company

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) is an American video game company headquartered in Redwood City, California. It is the second-largest gaming company in the Americas and Europe by revenue and market capitalization after Activision Blizzard and ahead of Take-Two Interactive and Ubisoft as of March 2018.

Origin Systems former video game developer based in Austin, Texas

Origin Systems was a video-game developer based in Austin, Texas, active between 1983 and 2004. It is best known for the Ultima and Wing Commander series.

After winning the AD&D license, the number of SSI's in-house developers increased from seven to 25, including the company's first full-time computer-graphic artists. TSR significantly participated in the games' development, including designing a tabletop module that the first SSI game would be based on. Using Wizard's Crown 's detailed combat system as a base for their work, [4] the development of the Gold Box engine and the original games was managed by SSI's Chuck Kroegel [5] and George MacDonald. [6] Later versions were led by Victor Penman [7] and Ken Humphries. [8]

<i>Ruins of Adventure</i> book by Michael Breault

Ruins of Adventure is a Dungeons & Dragons module that served as the basis for the popular "Gold Box" role-playing video game Pool of Radiance, published in 1988 by Strategic Simulations, Inc. (SSI). According to the editors of Dragon magazine, Pool of Radiance was based on Ruins of Adventure, and not vice versa. The plot loosely tracks that of the computer game. It is now out of print.

<i>Wizards Crown</i> video game

Wizard's Crown is a 1986 top-down role-playing video game published by Strategic Simulations. It was released for the Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, IBM PC compatibles, Apple II, and Commodore 64. Its sequel, The Eternal Dagger, was released in 1987.

Chuck Kroegel is an American video game designer. He was an executive for many years with SSI, and played a role in developing their position as an industry leader in war games and role-playing video games. His career in the games industry now spans over 30 years.

The series

SSI's 1991 catalog cover, showing some of the Gold Box titles Cover art for the SSI 1991 catalog.jpg
SSI's 1991 catalog cover, showing some of the Gold Box titles

The first game produced in the series was Pool of Radiance , released in 1988. This was followed by Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), Secret of the Silver Blades (1990), and Pools of Darkness (1991), [2] the games forming one continuous story rooted in the once-glorious city of Phlan, later encompassing the entire Moonsea Reaches [9] and four outer planes: Dalelands, Cormyr, Cormanthyr (where Myth Drannor is located), [10] and Thar. [11] The original four titles were developed in-house at SSI, and the first three titles were the best selling Gold Box games. [12] A series of TSR novels paralleled the stories in the games. [13] [14]

<i>Pool of Radiance</i> 1988 video game

Pool of Radiance is a role-playing video game developed and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI) in 1988. It was the first adaptation of TSR's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) fantasy role-playing game for home computers, becoming the first episode in a four-part series of D&D computer adventure games. The other games in the "Gold Box" series used the game engine pioneered in Pool of Radiance, as did later D&D titles such as the Neverwinter Nights online game. Pool of Radiance takes place in the Forgotten Realms fantasy setting, with the action centered in and around the port city of Phlan.

<i>Curse of the Azure Bonds</i> 1989 role-playing computer game

Curse of the Azure Bonds is a role-playing video game developed and published by Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI) in 1989. It is the second in a four-part series of Forgotten Realms Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Gold Box adventure computer games, continuing the events after the first part, Pool of Radiance.

<i>Secret of the Silver Blades</i> 1990 video game

Secret of the Silver Blades is the third in a four-part series of Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons "Gold Box" adventure role-playing video games. The game was released in 1990.

Released in 1990, Champions of Krynn was the first of SSI's Gold Box spin-offs based on TSR's very popular Dragonlance universe, and roughly in the novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Chronologically, it was the third Gold Box game and employed some innovations that showed up in later games, like the moon phases for mages, the choice of deities for clerics and the level difficulty selector. The following titles were Death Knights of Krynn (1991) and The Dark Queen of Krynn (1992). [15] :139–159 While the games give players a chance to meet Dragonlance characters like Tanis Half-Elven and Raistlin Majere, the gameplay is far more linear. [2]

<i>Champions of Krynn</i> 1990 video game

Champions of Krynn is role-playing video game, the first in a three-part series of Dragonlance Advanced Dungeons & Dragons "Gold Box" games. The game was released in 1990. The highest graphics setting supported in the MS-DOS version was EGA graphics. It also supported the Adlib sound card and either a mouse or joystick.

<i>Dragonlance</i> Dungeons & Dragons fictional setting

Dragonlance is a shared universe created by Laura and Tracy Hickman, and expanded by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis under the direction of TSR, Inc. into a series of fantasy novels. The Hickmans conceived Dragonlance while driving in their car on the way to TSR for a job interview. At TSR Tracy Hickman met Margaret Weis, his future writing partner, and they gathered a group of associates to play the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. The adventures during that game inspired a series of gaming modules, a series of novels, licensed products such as board games, and lead miniature figures.

Margaret Weis American fantasy novelist

Margaret Edith Weis is an American fantasy and science fiction writer and author of dozens of novels and short stories. Along with Tracy Hickman, Weis is one of the original creators of the Dragonlance game world.

When SSI began working on the Dark Sun game in 1989, all the programmers in-house had to stop the development of Gold Box games and start working on the Dark Sun engine. After Secret of the Silver Blades came out, Chuck Kroegel passed the Gold Box engine and the Forgotten Realms location to Beyond Software (later Stormfront Studios). [16] [17] They set their first Forgotten Realms Gold Box title, Gateway to the Savage Frontier (1991), in the Savage Frontier, an area to the extreme west of the previous games location. Following the events of the first game, Treasures of the Savage Frontier (1992) added a weather system and an innovative romance system between party members and NPCs. [15] :139–159

<i>Dark Sun: Shattered Lands</i> video game

Dark Sun: Shattered Lands is a turn-based role-playing video game that takes place in the Dungeons and Dragons' campaign setting of Dark Sun. It was released for MS-DOS in a somewhat unfinished state in 1993 by Strategic Simulations, and later patched to a more workable version. It was available on both floppy disk and CD-ROM, though the CD-ROM contained no additional content and was merely used to install the game to the computer's hard drive.

Forgotten Realms is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fantasy role-playing game. Commonly referred to by players and game designers alike as "The Realms", it was created by game designer Ed Greenwood around 1967 as a setting for his childhood stories. Several years later, Greenwood brought the setting to the D&D game as a series of magazine articles, and the first Realms game products were released in 1987. Role-playing game products have been produced for the setting ever since, as have various licensed products including novels, role-playing video game adaptations, and comic books. The Forgotten Realms is one of the most popular D&D settings, largely due to the success of novels by authors such as R. A. Salvatore and numerous role-playing video games, including Pool of Radiance (1988), Eye of the Beholder (1991), Baldur's Gate (1998), Icewind Dale (2000), Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000), and Neverwinter Nights (2002).

Stormfront Studios

Stormfront Studios, Inc. was an American video game developer based in San Rafael, California. In 2007, the company had over 50 developers working on two teams, and owned all its proprietary engines, tools, and technology. As of the end of 2007, over fourteen million copies of Stormfront-developed games had been sold. Stormfront closed on March 31, 2008, due to the closure of their publisher at the time, Sierra Entertainment.

SSI also adapted the Gold Box engine from fantasy to science fiction for a pair of Buck Rogers games: Countdown to Doomsday (1990) and Matrix Cubed (1992). They were based on the Buck Rogers XXVc tabletop RPG by TSR, with rules heavily based on those of the company's flagship game. [12] According to Keith Brors (former technical director of SSI), the company was pressured by TSR into developing their Buck Rogers computer game against their better judgment. The games didn't performed as well as the fantasy settings, but they represent some enhancements to the Gold Box engine. [15] :139–159

Apart from the main games, Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace was launched in 1992. Based on the 2nd edition's Spelljammer rule set, it combined real-time ship combat, turn-based melee battles and interplanetary trade. Besides the innovations, many gamers and critics took issue with its occasional bugs and lengthy load times. [18]

Sales declined over time, as the engine—originally designed for the Commodore 64—aged, and SSI released too many games (11 Gold Box games over four years). When SSI and TSR extended the original contract expiring in January 1993 for 18 months, SSI was required to discontinue the engine, moving to new developing technologies. [12] So, in March of the same year, SSI's last release was Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures , an editor that allows players to create their own games using the Gold Box engine. [12] Game developers had access to 127 different monsters, 100 different event triggers, and a framework that could hold an adventure consisting of four different wilderness areas or 36 dungeon levels. [19] It also included a miniadventure called The Heirs to Skull Crag. [15] :139–159 An active community grew up around this game, including hacks that expanded its powers and its graphical capabilities. [20]

Spin-off to MMO

All of the online RPGs of the 1980s were text-based MUDs, describing the action in the style of Rogue or Will Crowther's original Adventure game. Stormfront's Don Daglow had been designing games for AOL for several years, and the new alliance of SSI, TSR, America On-Line, and Stormfront led to the development of Neverwinter Nights , the first graphical MMORPG, which ran on AOL from 1991 to 1997. NWN was a multi-player implementation of the Gold Box engine, [21] and was the most popular features on AOL's service, [22] raising between US$5 million and US$7 million annually to the company from 1992 to 1997. [23] It paved the way for later hits such as Ultima Online (1997) and EverQuest (1999). [16]

Closure and legacy

When SSI and TSR announced in 1994 that the latter would not renew the former's AD&D license, the two companies described the end of the relationship as amicable. A SSI spokeswoman said that the company disliked the license's restrictions. [24] With the Gold Box engine's sales finally fading after a six-year run, the losses SSI absorbed during those two years of delays played a critical role in the sale of SSI to Mindscape in 1994. [25] [15] :271–279

Although the interest in the series eventually waned, the mantle of this genre was later assumed by more recent role-playing games such as Baldur's Gate , Planescape: Torment and Neverwinter Nights [3]



The "Gold Box Engine" had two main game play modes. Outside of character creation, game play took place in a screen that displayed text interactions, the names and current status of your party of characters, and a window which displayed images of geography, pictures of characters or events. [26] When combat occurred, the screen changes to a top-down mode that resembles the one found in the Wizard's Crown, in which player character icons could move about to cast spells or attack icons representing the enemies. [15] :143–144 All the games typically involved long dungeon crawls, and were heavier on combat than on role-playing. [27]

The Gold Box games formed a number of series in which you could move characters who had finished one game to the next one in the series. [28] In addition, characters from Pool of Radiance could be imported into Hillsfar , a game based on an entirely different engine, and then exported into Curse of the Azure Bonds. [15] :168–169 The system was improved over time, adding better colors, graphics, more player-class levels, new story lines, and real-time multiplayer gameplay. [15] :139–159


The series went through the platforms Amiga, Apple II, Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, NEC PC-9800, NES [18] and Sega Genesis. [29]


The C64 and Apple II versions were written completely in 6502 assembly, and were extremely advanced for the time, since those computers had around 64 KB of RAM. [30] Most of the later ports and releases were written in Pascal. The latest official releases, Pirates of Realmspace and Unlimited Adventures were C/C++ based. [31]

Developers and ports

Although the engine creation and most of the games were initially developed by SSI, there were many official ports and titles from other companies. Westwood Associates was in charge of some ports for the Amiga, which added mouse support and improved the graphics well before SSI's own MS-DOS versions going to VGA display mode. [12] MicroMagic made the only port of the series for the Atari ST home computer, Curse of the Azure Bonds; [32] following this, they developed The Dark Queen of Krynn and the Unlimited Adventures for SSI. [15] :139–159 Stormfront Studios did all the development for the Savage Frontier series and also the remarkable Neverwinter Nights. [16] Also mentionable, Cybertech was responsible for the development of Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace. [33] For video game consoles, there were only two ports: Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday for the Sega Genesis [29] and Pool of Radiance for the Famicom/NES (from the Japanese company Marionette). [34]



Additionally, Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace (1992) uses the Gold Box combat engine, and Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures (1993) is an editing tool for creating adventures in the same style as the games.



With 264,536 copies sold for computers in North America, Pool of Radiance became by far the most-successful game in SSI's history, [4] outselling Ultima V and Bard's Tale III . [12] It was given a score of 90% by Commodore User . The reviewer Tony Dillon was impressed with the features. [35]

The next game in the series, Curse of the Azure Bonds, was also well received. It was given a score of 90% by magazine The Games Machine , [36] and 89% on CU Amiga-64 . [37] Dave Arneson, one of the creators of Dungeons & Dragons , expressed his disappointment that the Gold Box games did not innovate enough from previous CRPGs, comparing them to "a cross ... between Questron and Wizard's Crown presented in a new setting". [38] The final Gold Box game, The Dark Queen of Krynn (1992), sold 40,640 copies. [12] SSI had sold more than two million AD&D-licensed games when it announced the end of the TSR license. [24]

On modern systems

The games run well in DOSBox on modern operating systems. [39] Also the Gold Box Companion has been developed to smooth out some of the rough edges in the programming of some of the games. Some of the early games, for instance, do not allow turning off Quick Fight, which sets characters to automatic in combat. [40] released the Pool of Radiance and Savage Frontier Gold Box series digitally on August 20, 2015, as a part of "Forgotten Realms: The Archives - Collection Two". [41] [9] . Later on October 27, 2015, they released the Dragonlance series as part of "Dungeons & Dragons: Krynn Series". [42] [43]

See also

Related Research Articles

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<i>Forgotten Realms: Unlimited Adventures</i> video game

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Jeff Grubb is an author of novels, short stories, and comics and a computer and role-playing game designer in the fantasy genre. Grubb worked on the Dragonlance campaign setting under Tracy Hickman, and the Forgotten Realms setting with Ed Greenwood. His written works include The Finder's Stone Trilogy, the Spelljammer and Jakandor campaign settings and contributions to Dragonlance and the computer game Guild Wars Nightfall (2006).

<i>Dungeon Hack</i> 1993 video game

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<i>Gateway to the Savage Frontier</i> 1991 video game

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Phlan is a fictional city in the Forgotten Realms fantasy world campaign setting for the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. The city was first described in adventure module Ruins of Adventure and the Pool of Radiance video game. It also appeared in the video games Curse of the Azure Bonds, Pools of Darkness, and Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor.

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