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When SSI began work on the Dark Sun game engine in 1989 after the completion of The Secret of the Silver Blades, they passed responsibility for continuing the Forgotten Realms Gold Box games to Stormfront. SSI had planned to do only one more Gold Box game (Gateway to the Savage Frontier) before retiring the series in favor of the Dark Sun engine, but when Dark Sun was delayed and Gateway went to #1 on the charts they asked Stormfront for a sequel.
Designers Don Daglow, Mark Buchignani, Mark Manyen and David Bunnett recognized that the Gold Box engine was past its prime and needed some kind of story or character enhancements to feel like a new game and not a tired sequel.
Although they added many small enhancements to the game in addition to its all-new story, the largest feature was the first-ever option for either of two NPCs to fall in love with a player character. The sophisticated AI (for its time) tracked the player's actions in the game, much as the modern game Fable charts the player's actions as good or evil. If the player's actions matched the values of the NPC there was a chance they could fall in love.
A few weeks after the events of Gateway to the Savage Frontier, the mage Amelior Aminitas magically summons the party (by now called the "Heroes of Ascore") to eliminate the (apparently) last remaining troops of the Zhentarim from the dwarven city of Llorkh.
Afterwards, the party is given a seemingly simple mission - to protect ambassadors of the "Lord's Alliance," which holds together the different cities of the frontier. However, the ambassadors are kidnapped, the Zhentarim and its allies (the Kraken Society and the Hosttower of the Arcane) plot to break up the alliance to conquer the region, and the party is framed as traitors.
Much of the game is devoted to the players attempting to clear their names (usually done by completing a mission in each town of the Lord's Alliance) and alerting the alliance's leaders of the plot. The final mission (which doesn't necessarily fit in the overall plotline) involves retrieving a treasure held by a dragon.
To uncover the plot, the player has to collect two different sets of items:
- Three different colors of crystals held by one of the three enemy groups (the Zhentarim, the Kraken, and the Hosttower). This can only be done by, in melee battles, carefully selecting and attacking different enemies in the right order.
- "Lucky papers" from each city in the game. Nominally good luck charms, when combined with the crystals, these papers spell out the entire enemy plot.
One interesting side note to the game is the presence of what may be the only absurdist character in a video game, Ougo the Strange. Created by Daglow as a tribute to Theatre of the Absurd playwright Eugène Ionesco, Ougo is a bizarre Ionesco-style character in the otherwise normal island of Farr Windward who ends up playing a key role in one of the game's missions.
The game's principal technical enhancement to the aging Gold Box engine was the addition of weather to wilderness play, with combat encounters in the snow restricting character movement and adding variety to the game.
- ↑ Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (August 1992). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (184): 57–64.