Blame the OCD
As a collector with just a tiny amount of OCD I really do like every item in my collection being displayed nicely by publisher which usually makes it a pretty thing to gaze at. For the most part titles from the ’80s and from the same publisher would have the same packaging format and thus would fit very well together on the shelves, making it a lovely display with a sense of calmness and serenity over it.
There are of course always exceptions to the rule and Time Zone and Ultima II – The Revenge of the Enchantress is just that exception when talking of On-Line Systems/Sierra On-Line.
I simply couldn’t fit those two items with the rest of my Sierra Collection and that made me wonder, why are these two items so tall (8″x11″) and out-of-order from the rest of Sierra’s line up? I clearly had to do some research maybe there were simple reasonings behind this after all or maybe I was just chasing ghosts.
Time Zone 1982
While Sierra, or On-Line Systems as it was called in the early ’80s, had their well-known small folders for their Hi-Res series of games (and other games released at the time) Time Zone would end up in a tall box, the same format known from both SSI and Avalon Hill’s titles at the time.
While I think the tall box probably makes sense in terms of solidifying the massive undertaking it took to create the game, that not only was it the biggest computer game of its time, it also came with a massive retail price of $99.95 (around $250 in today’s money), possibly making Time Zone the most expensive game to be released (not counting collectors edition, etc.)
When you first open the manual you are greeted on the very first page with the words: “Warning Time Zone is NOT for the beginning Adventurer.” The rest of the page proudly solidifies the size and scope of the project and by all means it was a huge undertaking for Sierra creating Time Zone, it featured around 1.300 rooms/locations and over 1.400 Hi-Res pictures, all in all the game took up both sides of six 5.25″ floppies (around 2 Mb of data, unheard of in 1981-82).
Time Zone was well over a year in the making and was really the start moving toward the modern model of big-studio development – it took the game development process from the “jack of all trades” era, where a single person or a very small team did all the work, to game development as we know of today, with AAA titles consuming huge teams of specialists.
Ultima II – The Revenge of the Enchantress 1982
While California Pacific, which published Richard Garriott’s first two Ultima games, had financial difficulties and did not pay full royalties other publishers approached Garriott wanting to publish his new title Ultima II.
Garriott was attending the University of Texas at the time and it had taking him almost two years to create Ultima II, Garriot insisted on including a cloth map inside the box, which illustrated how the time doors were linked. Sierra On-Line was the only publisher to agree.
The first release for the Apple II and Atari 8-it included a “heavy” and big cloth map, which could explain why they ended up with a tall box, the cloth map only needed to be folded two times to fit the box (a smaller box would have required the map either to be smaller or folded up more times and as we know the more folds the thicker the item). As a matter of fact the later rerelease by Sierra took a “lightweight” map approach and fitted everything in the small box form factor, Sierra ended up using for many of their titles the next few years.
Without finding any references to the box size while researching this subject matter I can only draw my own conclusion upon these two beautiful items, some of which are included in the text above.
Sierra was in the early ’80s changing its packaging form factor (like so many other publishers) from folder and ziplock bags to boxes – the games were getting bigger, requiring more than one disk and the space to accommodate things like bigger manuals and extras would require a boxed format and maybe before really finding a good form factor that would fit very well at the production line, in the distribution and at retailers across, these two might just be two deviants in the ongoing process of making the right physical item weighing cost and benefits.
Below a few assorted titles from my collection showing some of Sierra’s different form factors from the early ’80s up to the early ’90s.
All of these form factors saw multiple released titles but the tall box (only 2 of which I know).
Top: The small folder (came in both black/white and color), the large folder, the tall box, and the small flip top box.
Middle: Medium flip top box (also came in a gatefold variant), the rainbow clamshell, the plastic clamshell and the grey clamshell (by IBM).
Bottom: Regular slipcase, thick slipcase and the big shoebox (also came as a flip top box, nearly identical in size).