Conversion Wars #1: Out Run (part 1 of 3: 8-bit home computer ports)

Note: this entry has proven itself much longer than I had intended; I had concieved of a post per game, but this one, as it is now, will require three! Obviously, I need to play with this format in the future — perhaps a table of ports, screenshots, scores, and a 1- or 2-sentence comment. Still, here’s my first attempt — which may end up being the only one in this format.

Welcome to the first entry in Winterdrake’s new Conversion Wars series, where I’ll be comparing the various home computer and console ports of several popular games (it’s only fun if they had a lot of conversions, after all). For details, please see the intro. The first entry, following on my previous post from another series, is Sega’s Out Run. This entry will actually be split into 3 separate parts: one (this one) focusing on 8-bit home computer ports, another one where I’ll look at 16-bit home computer ports, and a third one about console ports.

So, Out Run. In the arcades, it was a very popular game in the late 80s, and a big part of it was its atmosphere. As I mentioned in my last post, linked above, Out Run wasn’t about some “highly competitive race”; instead, it was about driving an expensive cabriolet sports car, a girl at your side, in several almost paradisiac scenarios based on the United States — beginning, very famously, with a road parallel to a beach. Providing at least a fraction of that sensation, then, would be essential to any port; by turning Out Run into a generic driving game where you couldn’t even tell where you were supposed to be (“is this a beach or a snowy mountain?”), you’d be completely missing the point.

A feeling of speed would be essential, as it is for any driving simulation. If you can read “250 km/h” on the screen, and yet it looks and feels like you’re driving a tank, then you should go back to the drawing board.

Out Run was also famous for its graphics and music, and, therefore, reproducing at least some part of both should be a priority.

So, how do the several ports compare?

Let’s start with the ZX Spectrum port; again, shown in the last post:

Released by US Gold (a British company, whose name came from the fact that they originally began as licensees of popular American games for the UK market), much like all the following ports (except the MSX2 one). As mentioned in the last post, it actually has great graphics (for a Spectrum) and music (when running on a 128K Speccy). It includes all the levels and features of the original version, and, in screen shots, it looks like Out Run. However, it was ruined by a terrible frame rate, killing both any feeling of speed… and any fun. (As I said in the comments for that post, the game is actually very smooth and playable if you set the emulation speed to 200%, which means that the released code required a non-existing “double speed Spectrum” for it to be a decent game.)

Next, we have the Commodore 64 version:

As you can see, it looks much less “Outrunnish” than the Spectrum version (the girl isn’t even a blonde! Sacrilege!), the objects (including other cars) looks more “2D-like”, and the road is made up of simple lines. Also, most of the sensation of speed comes from the alternating colored “bars”; still, it works well, and, fact, really does feel like you’re driving fast; as we’ll see, it’s the only home computer version that really does so. The music is great: again, only two of the three arcade tunes are reproduced, but these are the best versions of any home computer. Several features are missing: the branched map, and varying road widths (which all the other versions include). In short, it’s the version that looks the least like the original, but on the other hand it’s the fastest, smoothest ,and probably the most fun them all.

Moving on, there was the Amstrad CPC port:

This version was infamous for being one of the worst ports ever on the Amstrad. It’s basically based on the ZX Spectrum code, but with different graphics; colorful but garish-looking, and in a much lower resolution and with less detail. The trees look particularly horrible. It was also at least as slow as the Spectrum version, and didn’t even have any music during the game; except for the title music (Magical Sound Shower), the only sounds in the game are when skidding (a beep) and when hitting something (a different tone beep). In short: terrible.

MSX version:

An obvious Spectrum port, as many games by UK companies usually were. The car is red, but, other than that, the game is monochrome, much like the Spectrum version. The lines in the road are more defined, but there seems to be less detail; the game appears to be a little faster, though. Music, again, is the same as the Spectrum.

MSX2 version:

A very different port from the MSX1 version; this one was released by Sega itself, and resembles the Master System version. Fast and colorful, but a little empty, and the music is worse than that of the UK-made MSX1 port.

Next: 16-bit home computer ports. Scores will be given to all the ports at the end.

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