Citadel of the Black Sun is a cancelled RPG that was in development in 1988 / 1989 for DOS PC by Golden Goblins, a team under Rainbow Arts, a less known developer and publisher founded in 1984 in Gütersloh, Germany. At the time Golden Goblins already worked on Grand Monster Slam, some kind of fantasy themed pong game released for Amiga, Commodore 64, Atari ST and PC.
They were asked to create a new role playing game for US based SSI (Strategic Simulations Inc), a company popular at the time for their wargames and titles based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. Rainbow Arts was the major publisher of SSI games in Germany and the two companies grew a great relationship that led them to work together on this new fantasy project: Citadel of the Black Sun.
In late ‘80 computer RPGs were still in their early days, with some of the most popular ones being The Faery Tale Adventure (1987), Ultima V (1988), Drakkhen (1989) and Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989): the techs used to create such games left a lot to the player’s imagination, using overhead 2D sprites or some kind of clunky first person visuals. With most PCs at the time not having dedicated video cards to create more advanced graphic, it was not possible for developers to offer a vast, 3D open world to explore like today with titles such as SKYRIM, Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3.
The worlds of late ‘80 and early ‘90 Computer RPGs were made of 16 color palettes and visual tricks to give some kind of illusion of being in an immersive environment. These are the foundations from which Golden Goblins started to create their own role playing game. The team was composed of just a few developers and designers: Jurgen Dolassek (dungeon implementation), Andreas Gortz (dungeon implementation, game design, graphics), Frank Lenzer (dungeon implementation), Hartwig Nieder-Gassel (concept, game design, graphics), Heiko Schroder (programming) and Teut Widemann (concept and producer).
Previously, most SSI RPGs used turn-based group combat so Golden Goblins followed the same kind of mechanics with manual or auto-combat, EXP and a LV-UP system, but moving forward with graphics, characters customization, world interaction and controls. They implemented a “Barbie Doll System” that was shown in-game on the characters’ portraits. This displayed the different armor and weapons equipped (at that time most games just had static sprites).
The game was drawn in a full-screen isometric scrolling graphic to give the illusion of depth and multi-dimensional movements. The extensive world map could be freely explored as in modern open world RPGs and you could go anywhere you please with no barriers or story-driven limits to find new cities and hidden places to enter in. The engine changed to a different screen only when entering in towns, dungeons and combat. While these images could look simple for today’s standards, it would have been one of the best looking DOS games at the time.
Many were the interesting and innovative features planned by Teut Widemann for Citadel of the Black Sun, such as a true “Line of Sight” and window / door functions on buildings. You were able to enter all houses and to look inside if you had line of sight, by opening a door or peeking through a window. It was also possible to jump out of a window from the second floor of a building if you wanted to. Players could check wardrobes and chests to find new armor and weapons, talk to NPCs, trade items and interact with animals.
The epic storyline would follow the traditional fantasy setting, with warriors, elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs, dragons, castles and dark dungeons. On the right side of the screen there was a menu bar with all the available actions and the game was fully playable with a mouse which is something exceptional when most games at the time were keyboard control only.
When Golden Goblins and Rainbow Arts showed Citadel of the Black Sun to SSI they were blown away and immediately wanted to put it under the AD&D license, planning to use its new isometric engine for all their future RPGs. For a small, obscure German team it would have been a life-changing experience and the history of computer RPGs could have been much different, if only Citadel of the Black Sun would have not been cancelled. What happened?
Widemann shared some of his memories in a post on his blog:
“First one employee of our daughter companies we acquired called Time Warp moved into our offices as we closed down their offices. That guy wanted my job, always working to criticize mine. He said openly he wanted my job, he can do it better, and he hated RPG’s. He didn’t believe in them.
Second I fell in love with the girlfriend of my best friend Bernard. Remember? He was one of the three of us managing Rainbow Arts. She and I came together and she split from Bernard, not good when you think the three of us had to work together on a daily basis.
Story short: I left the company due to private reasons (due to my girlfriend, later my wife, we married in 1992, but she died of cancer in 2010) and that one guy took over all my projects. Within three months he split the development team, made sure SSI hated mine and the team’s guts and the project was cancelled. Remember, he hated RPG’s! The game was 70% finished.”
This was the end of an ambitious RPG by a now forgotten German team. It seems Todd Porter, their first producer at SSI during early development (before Nicholas Beliaeff took over), was such a fan of Golden Goblins’ game that when he left SSI for Origin he put many ideas and concepts from Citadel of the Black Sun into their game Knights of Legends. The remaining people at Golden Goblins then worked on “MUDS – Mean Ugly Dirty Sport” (1990, Amiga and DOS), but Rainbow Arts was later bought by Funsoft and then by THQ in 1999.
Thanks to Teut Widemann for his contribution! This article was originally published in our book “Video Games You Will Never Play“.