Conversion Wars #1: Out Run (part 3 of 3: console ports / scores)

(Note: please see parts 1 and 2 for the rest of the ports.)

Not many more to go, now. 🙂 First, let’s look at the Sega Master System port:

We’ve already seen two versions (MSX2 and PC) that appear to be based on this one. All of these are colorful, fast and smooth, but the sprites are smaller than average, the roads seem a bit “empty”, and the music, while decent, isn’t as good as that of most of the US Gold ports. Still, in terms of “fun”, I’d rather play this port than any of the US Gold ones, except perhaps for the C64 one.

Now for the NEC PC Engine (Turbografx 16 in the US) version:

Now we’re talking. 🙂 Have you noticed that, until now, we didn’t have even one Out Run port that looked and played like the original? Even on relatively powerful systems such as the Amiga? This one, however, succeeds. It’s fast, smooth, good looking, and really feels a lot like the arcade game. If there’s anything not great with it, it’s the music, which is again not as good as in most of the US Gold ports.

Considering that the PC Engine is an 8-bit console (though much more powerful than, say, the NES or the Master System, and able to compete with the 16-bit ones), this port, then, is easily the best 8-bit version of Out Run.

But what about 16-bit? Can’t such a machine do at least as good, if not better? Up to now, we didn’t really see it; the best 16-bit version so far would be the PC one, followed by the Atari ST port. Both of them are disappointing in different ways, and neither really looks or plays like the original. Fortunately, there’s yet another 16-bit version, this time for the Sega Mega Drive (or Genesis for the USians), which can do this:

Great port, isn’t it? Fast, smooth, great looking, and plays like Out Run. It’s hard to notice, as it’s so close to the PC Engine version, but the objects seem to be more detailed, the frame rate looks a bit smoother, and there appears to be a little more graphical detail. It would be hard to ask for a better port. Only the music — again — could have been better, but this is probably related to hardware limitations.

No, it isn’t exactly the same game as the arcade, but it’s not that you’d expect such a thing in a home console at the time, right?

Well, in a few years, you would be able to expect it. You’d just need to have a Sega Saturn, and you could play Out Run like this:

This one isn’t really a great achievement, as the Saturn is far more powerful than the original arcade. But I’ve included it here just so you can see what kind of system would eventually be required to have a “perfect” version of an 1986 game at home. 🙂 Also, it finally gets the music right. 🙂

Well, this is getting long, so here are the scores:

FaithfulnessHardware UseFun
ZX Spectrum332
Commodore 64254
Amstrad CPC221
MSX322
MSX2433
Atari ST322
Commodore Amiga312
PC332
Sega Master System443
NEC PC Engine455
Sega Mega Drive455
Sega Saturn55 (*)5

(*) No, the Saturn isn’t used to the fullest, but, as mentioned in the intro, that’s OK as long as it’s a perfect port.

Conversion Wars #1: Out Run (part 2 of 3: 16-bit home computer ports)

(Note: part 1 is here.)

Moving on to 16-bit home computer versions of Out Run, there are just three to look at.

Let’s begin with the one I believe came out first, the Atari ST version, released by US Gold in 1988:

Oh dear. As you can see… not very good. I’m pretty sure that this is the Spectrum / Amstrad CPC code simply ported to the ST, without using any of its more advanced features or any programming tricks. The game feels exactly like the Spectrum version, the roads are exactly the same, and so on; only the graphics are new (and pretty bad for an ST), and the game is faster simply because the CPU is faster (but still not as fast or smooth as the hypothetical “7 Mhz Spectrum”, which you can try by setting a Speccy emulator to 200% speed). Note also that the music is exactly the same as in the Spectrum version, which makes sense as both machines have the same sound hardware; however, the ST, because of its extra speed and storage, could have used samples (like many of its games did), and no such thing happened here. Or, you know, actually include the third song from the arcade, since there’s memory and disk space to spare. In short: another lazy port. It’s simply the Spectrum game running on a faster machine and with more color.

Now, for the Amiga version, also by US Gold, released in 1988:

Ouch! It’s the Atari ST version, with different music — this time, the sound chip is different, so they couldn’t just port the Spectrum tunes –, but, in my opinion, it also sounds worse — which is even sadder when you consider how good Amiga music often was. Also, again, it’s the same code as the ST version, with no Amiga features used — which means the game is even slower, as the Amiga’s CPU runs at a lower frequency than the ST’s; usually that was more than compensated by the Amiga’s co-processors, but it’s obvious that they’re standing idle, here. Once again, an incredibly lazy port.

Incidentally, the Amiga version allows sound effects and music at the same time, but the author of the video turned them off before starting the game, and with good reason: they’re terrible. Also, the game seems able to play only one sound effect at the time, so, for instance, when you’re skidding, the engine sound is actually temporarily turned off. On an Amiga. 😯

Finally, we come to the PC (MS-DOS) version, released in 1989 by Sega:

Much like the MSX2 version (see part 1), also by Sega, it’s closer to the Master System version, with little resemblance to the US Gold ports (which, except for the C64 version, all seem to share the same algorithms and maps). It’s fast, smooth and colorful, but the sprites are smaller, and the game feels “emptier”, both in terms of roadside objects and other cars (the smallness of the sprites probably helps). Being an old PC game, it’s limited in terms of hardware, supporting only up to EGA graphics (16-color, with probably the worst palette you can imagine) and PC speaker sound.

It’s probably the best of the three 16-bit home computer ports… but still not a very good one, in my opinion. To see one (if we don’t count the extremely playable but not very “Outrunnish” C64 port), we’ll have look among console ports, which is the subject of part 3.

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?

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