Conversion Wars #1: Post Mortem

As I had mentioned before, the first entry on the Conversion Wars series (Out Run) revealed its format to be far too cumbersome; three long posts for a single game is simply too much.

So, the second entry in the series will be a single post (I haven’t decided on a game yet). After a short intro, there will just be a table with the several ports listed, their scores, a small screenshot (possibly linking to an YouTube video, but on the post it’ll just be an image), and an optional short (1-2 sentences) comment. All of this possibly followed by a conclusion. That’s it.

Any thoughts or suggestions, feel free to comment. :)

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: Intro

Welcome to yet another series on Winterdrake! Just a little bit of personal info: I subscribe to the UK Retro Gamer magazine; among other reasons, because, unlike any other gaming magazine, I don’t ever have to worry about it getting old: it is old, intentionally. Nostalgia is a beautiful emotion.

Anyway, in that mag, one of my favorite bits — which doesn’t even appear in every issue, but the magazine is still great without it ((if you care about any of my “retro gaming” posts at all, look it up, and, no, the previous link isn’t an “affiliate” one)) is the comparison of the several ports / versions of a game, whether the game originated in arcades (common in the late 80s / early 90s) or in a particular computer system. I really love that part: to look at screenshots and descriptions of how a game was ported / interpreted on each system, how it played, and, sometimes, even the stories behind a couple of ports. Call me weird; I really love this; it’s one of the few times I am able to “feed” several parts of myself: video games, computer systems, nostalgia, and history.

So, I thought about creating a series of posts based exactly on that.

Typically, there will be one post per game, with a few exceptions where a particular game will need two posts (say, one about home computer ports and the other about console ports). I intend to pick the games myself, mostly from the ones I remember — and I already have a bunch of them in mind –, though I’m always open to suggestions.

And, because I grew up with magazines that bestowed numerical ratings on different aspects of games (e.g. graphics, sound, gameplay, etc.), I’ll do the same. For now, to make this simple, my ratings will be just between 1 and 5, for “terrible”, “bad”, “average”, “good” and “great”. And the aspects I’ll rate each conversion in are:

  1. faithfulness: how well a port reproduces its original version, in terms of levels, features, and so on. In almost every case, there is an original version, even if that’s not immediately obvious. If there really isn’t one, then all ports get a maximum score (5) here, as will happen if we’re talking about the original version of a game. ((e.g. Out Run ports will be compared to the original arcade version, which won’t be included here. But, say, Cybernoid ports will be compared to the original ZX Spectrum version, which will be included as a “port”.))
  2. hardware use: how much a particular conversion takes advantage of the system it runs on. In other words, top scores for “this system couldn’t really do much better than this”, and lowest scores for “this computer/console could have handled a much better version”. Exception: if a version reproduces the original perfectly, it will get a maximum score here, even if the original hardware was much more primitive (e.g. a port for modern systems of a 30-year-old game). ((for instance, an Xbox 360 version of Pac-Man which emulated the original perfectly wouldn’t be penalized, even though the 360 is capable of much more than an 8-bit 1980 arcade machine. On the other hand, if the Amiga port of Space Harrier plays slower than the Spectrum 48K version, doesn’t really look much better, and has loading pauses between levels that the Spectrum port was able to avoid…))
  3. fun: in a world where this game wasn’t a port at all, where there were no other versions of it, and where you were playing it on its merits alone, instead of pining for the fjords the original, how enjoyable would this particular version be to play (assuming you enjoyed the genre)?

For instance, suppose you’re talking about a conversion of a beat ’em up game, and not only doesn’t it include most of the features of the original, but in fact it doesn’t look or play much like it… yet it’s still a great, enjoyable game by itself. It’d get a low score in faithfulness, but a high score in fun. On the other hand, if a port reproduced every feature and level of the original, but played like a dog, its scores would be the other way around.