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Zapped to the Past podcast (C64)

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On 18/11/2022 at 08:33, squirtle said:

I wonder what @carleton thought of Rollaround, seeing as it's from the guy who made Big Mac.

I don’t think I ever played it. I’ll have to give it a go when I’m next on the 64. If it’s half as good as Big Mac I’ll be happy.


Black Lamp was a rare misstep by Ste Ruddy.

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1 hour ago, carleton said:

I don’t think I ever played it. I’ll have to give it a go when I’m next on the 64. If it’s half as good as Big Mac I’ll be happy.


Black Lamp was a rare misstep by Ste Ruddy.


I don't think he can even be blamed for it as it was a porting job, the issue being with the original design.





Which game were you most disappointed with, and why?
Probably Black Lamp. It was a conversion of an extremely pretty Atari ST game, but I wasn't keen. Although, I do remember writing some insane sprite multiplexors - now that's a word I haven't typed in a while - for it, which were fun to do. I'm not sure any of these actually made it in the game.


It's a great port of an awful game.

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Losing talent can be the death knell for any software company unless they find new talent ASAP. I think we've seen this with CRL in a death spiral at this point having lost some of their best and reverting (I suspect I could be wrong) with pushing as many titles out as possible to the detriment of the titles themselves, many of which needed much more development time. In an an alternate timeline CRL would have released John Twiddy's Attack on Centralis and possibly having the money to make that cyberpunk game they really wanted to make. And Hewson was now facing a similar issue with both Braybrook and Turner leaving for greener pastures.


In Cybernoid they really got lucky. With Raffaele Cecco and Nicholas Jones they had two Mikro Gen veterans with some great new talent to assist.


Cybernoid was a great Spectrum game and with the previous conversion of Exolon we all knew what to expect.


Something like this.




That's not what we got this time. Instead of another washed out Spectrum conversion we got this.




Big bold and colourful. Meaty sound effects or thumpy bass heavy music. And those "zippy bits", particle style effects were a big thing in arcade games but rare on the C64. While the flick screen design betrayed the Z80 roots of the game this was a corker and well received. Apart from one thing.


It's. Too. Damn. Difficult.


Limited lives. Limited time. Limited weapons. They all conspire against you. Add difficult screens where you have to squeeze in between enemies that are difficult even with unlimited shields and lives..this game sorely needs easier settings. I can understand the creators being somewhat worried about the brevity of the game but there's a lot of fun to be had here if not for how hard it is.


Reaching for the number keys to switch secondary weapons is also a good way to die quickly. That control might have made sense on the Spectrum where many used the keys for control but for many C64 owners (at least me) the keyboard was usually tucked far away when using it on whatever old CRT was available between TV programmes.


My only experience before tonight with Cybernoid was playing a demo of the second game a lot. Enough at least to know that while I loved the game it didn't love me and I would be hard pressed to see more than a handful of screens. One of the best games in this episode but even with cheats on I found my enjoyment marred by how hard it was. Still worth revisiting.

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Time Fighter always looked appealing to me in the screenshots, a lot of games with tiny characters tend to lead to more room to move. That isn't the case here as the review indicated.


It does immediately impress with the smooth animation.




But it's so slow that many is the time you can see death coming and do nothing to avoid it. The moment you see someone pulling a bow or a gun it's all over.




Full price too! Poor in every sense of the word, again this speaks to being a CRL rush job where the moment it's working it's out the door.

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Where Time Fighter is incredibly sluggish Frightmare is fast and zippy. It feels pretty dated in design, like Jet Set Willy with a gun.




Another one I avoided due to the reviews and I'm glad I did. Without cheats I found it impossible to get off screen two, with cheats it felt a little pointless. It did have an atmosphere that reminded me a lot of Nemesis the Warlock, a far better game. Go back and play that instead of this.



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52 minutes ago, squirtle said:

Both of those were terrible, although I did like the music in the title screen for Frightmare. Just awful, full price cackola!


Both though had potential. It felt like in both cases and in quite a few cases around this year that as soon as a game basically functioned it was pushed out the door.

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So there's an old story about the score of the devil 7/10 and the temptation for reviewers to use it for games they suspect might be worthy but can't get their heads around. Back in the day this was used a lot for complex simulations and The Chernobyl Syndrome (or just plain Chernobyl in the game) is one that sits right in this spot.


It's a very dry simulation of running a reactor. Despite the title not much will go wrong, you're pretty much just a caretaker intervening if need be.




The title wasn't chosen by Paul Norman, Cosmi decided to punch it up a bit calling it Chernobyl and US Gold went a little further with The Chernobyl Syndrome (possibly grabbed from the ad copy from the US below.)



The ad makes it look like an action packed crisis management game, the simulation is much more calm and probably only one that appeals to people working in the industry.


Paul Norman said in an interview http://www.c64.com/interviews/norman.html



Chernobyl was a very interesting experience for me because I love science and scientific technology. I am woefully ignorant but fascinated. My casual reading is relativity, quantum physics and String theory. As such, I started a game about a nuclear power plant but after doing the research I ended up with a pretty accurate simulation. An operator at a plant in Georgia wrote me that he loved to go home after work and try different ways to blow up the reactor. I am very glad I provided a fictional outlet for him.


This is a difficult game to get into. While like The Train you are controlling a large steam engine the differences end there as the complexity of running a plant is far beyond feeding and moving a steam engine based on 1800's tech. I did use manuals from here to aid me and you might find it useful if you want to give it a go.



Unfortunately I was unable to find the article about nuclear power plant interfaces that I read over a decade ago which talked about rare accidents happening because on old 60's-70's designed control panels the huge banks of identical switches and lights made it hard to find essential controls in a hurry. (Which led to engineers taping beer tabs on essential switches to find them in a hurry.)


There is something atmospheric about the game but I have to admit I didn't get too far into it. I might have had I been given a copy back in the day with infinite time on my hands but it's not something I would have bought for myself.


A worthy simulation I couldn't get my head around. 7/10



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Since I didn't get anywhere with Chernobyl I've moved forward playing Arkanoid:The Revenge of Doh.


I really enjoyed the first Arkanoid game on the C64 and really wanted to play this one. I never could find a copy back in the day and tonight is the first time I've looked at it.


First impressions are great. It's as polished if not more so than the original.




But there are issues. The inconsistent collision detection is still there with the occasional ball passing through bat incident which had me screaming "it was in!" And the first screen has everything I hate about Arkanoid clones. Metal bricks that take several hits and powerups that shrink the bat. All was forgiven when I hit a powerup that spawned close to a dozen balls at once.


Probably my pick of the podcast this week and I'd be much more enthusiastic if I hadn't been spoiled for choice recently with Atari's compilation, Breakout Recharged and Arcade Paradise. I'd probably pick the original over this though unless you're an expert looking for a tougher challenge.

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Still a banger! A classic that will always be remembered.


Unlike this earlier game of the same name from 1988. I don't even remember reading the review for Sabotage and it never crossed paths with me back in the day.


I mean what can I say? I suspect I'll be utilising the "Is it as good as the demo games on SEUCK?" test from now on. And Sabotage fails this. It scrolls smoothly, the music is ok but this game is hard but not in an interesting way. You'll have forgotten this post in a day or two. Play the video above rather than this game.



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Another day another vertical shooter and Bedlam isn't bad! I was put off by the reviews back in the day and they aren't wrong, this does feel a little like a SEUCK game.




But it feels like a good one and unlike a lot of other recent ones I really felt like I lost a lot of lives to greed rather than due to unfair wave structures or poor controls. Weirdly the one thing it's panned for is the out of place bonus pinball table levels which I really liked as a way to break up the action.




I think whether you enjoy the flying through a pinball machine or not will probably be the deciding factor on whether you enjoy the game or not. I'm a big fan of Lightforce and Firetrack and this feels like it could slot in nicely next to those two.


An acquired taste, not complicated but a bit of a surprise. Really enjoyed this one and plan to come back to it. I totally understand the 40% score in Zzap even if it feels a little mean, they must be at the stage where they groan whenever review code ends up being another one of these. 

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I almost forgot about Professional BMX Simulator.


I didn't see the appeal of this back in the day as the original had what I wanted. A two player solid Super Sprint clone.


This has four players.




It's obviously meant to be played in multiplayer because unlike the original two of the three CPU riders will show you no mercy whatsoever.


But there has been a big sacrifice made to have four players and that is as @squirtle pointed out the loss of the sound effects of the wheels. This makes me feel a little less connected to the track, like some sort of subtle feedback has been lost. I can see why they would have made that sacrifice, how many four player games were there for the C64?


If you want to play four human players than this should be your pick. Otherwise stick with the original.

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Episode 88 is up here https://zappedtothepast.com/


Games covered, another trash and treasure lot!


-Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo



-Geebee Air Rally

-Card Sharks



-Rolling Thunder


My posting might be a little sporadic this week. I've been a bit ill (just general stuff, not anything too serious) and have a few appointments and work to squash in so I might end up posting around the edges or on the weekend. See how I go.

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One of the big downsides of physical storefront distribution and limited print runs back in the day was there was little to no long tail. If you didn't buy the game in the release window (that could be anything from a couple of weeks to a few months) you missed out. Even if I had the money in 1988 (I mostly didn't) I could never find Samurai Warrior: The Battles of Usagi Yojimbo on the store shelves. After reading the review in Zzap I was desperate to get this game but it was the one that got away. It stayed in my head during the Amiga years (I was still chasing C64 games then in second hand places) and over the past few decades I thought about it a bit.


Of course I've had access to emulation for a while but I was cautious. If following this podcast has proven to me a few times old favourites when played with a modern eye can lose their lustre and some old games that I've wanted to play have ended up in my head so different and much more elaborate than the reality of playing a game on 40 year old hardware.


Of course I couldn't put if off anymore and so I loaded it up.


As someone who loved Karateka (a classic if a little slow on the C64) and Fist II (an ambitious and buggy but in my mind underrated Metroidvania) Usagi Yojimbo lived up to the vision I had in my head.




The title screen (after the great loading screen) is sparse.  It doesn't even have the full title. But if you wait it will play a short demo mode showing you the start of the game and a good lesson as to why you shouldn't mess with monks.




It's a very pleasant game to look at. It might not have the fancy animation and parallax scrolling of Karateka but it's leagues above Fist II.




(You'll be seeing this portion of the game A LOT!)


Combat is a lot simpler than either Fist II or Karateka which disappointed me at first but it does have a great practice mode where you can get used to the odd control scheme and sword slashing (type and strength depending on how long the button is depressed) against sheaves of wheat. A really nice touch.


The game like Karateka as two modes of movement but it's reversed, with the sword out you run around like a maniac but you don't want to do this lest you run into a monk and raise his ire or accidently run through a villager losing karma in the process. A lot of the game is about being polite to peasants and monks and running through ninjas and brigands with your sword. But being measured. Running around waving a sword is a likely to get you into trouble as running around with a gun would in a modern city. Try it here and you'll either be taken out quickly by a monk or die by your own hand out of shame.


What more can I tell you? Not much. I played for about an hour and died many times ending up at the start. One path led me to some really hard to jump gaps, the other a battle where I was absolutely clobbered by this guy.




I'm really drawn to the exploration in this game, and that by allowing you to breath a little rather than being constantly plagued by enemies it feels like each location is less of a level and more of a "place." This is helped a lot by the art which has just enough detail to feel like a place rather than a pixellated backdrop. There's restraint here that reminds me a little of the "Three Rocks" philosophy from the old Nancy comics. Add just what is needed to the background and not a bit more. During the transition to 16 bit machines in 87-88 a lot of games tried to pack in more detail and ended up looking "busy" and ugly. This though conveys a lot about each place just by how each screen looks. There's also just enough background animation in parts to sell the movement of water.




What's not to like? Well jumps over gaps are a bit dodgy and can lead to frustrating deaths. And with one life and no save this can get old fast.


There's a lot to tis game that feels incredibly modern, @squirtle, you namechecked Fable for one which is a good call with villagers behaving very differently depending on your responses to them. I can see this being unappealing to some gamers and can understand Graham not liking this one, finding it a little slow.


This is less linear than Karateka and yet far smaller than Fist II. It can be finished in half an hour apparently after some practice. And despite the frustration of instant deaths I can see myself coming back to this one until I complete it. This is brilliant and for me only the lack of checkpoints and saves prevent it being a Gold Medal for me. (For Souls fans though this is almost like a perfect demake of that experience.) I'm really sad I didn't get my hands on this back in the day but it's on my current play pile now.


Pick of this week for me (over another game I thought was going to be my pick.)

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It's a brilliant game, forward thinking and cleverly designed. Tip for completing it: when you get to the village, keep buying food. Your health meter only shows the first 10 bits of energy but the number goes up as high you can, so spend most of your money on food, but save some for the enemies who want a toll from you.


I love Samurai Warrior, and for some reason it always slips my mind when thinking of my favourite C64 games, but it's right up there for me. It's got the same set up as The Eidolon for me. Spaces of quiet atmosphere interspersed with frantic action. It's probably why I like the Resident Evil games and Silent Hill and things like that. Peaks and troughs. I don't think at 16 I was fully aware of what I liked in video games, but looking back, it's clear where my preferences were in the games that I liked the most. Even the sports games. It's all about the build up and then some action in things like Summer Games 2. Roll forward to Halo and things like that, and I can see my pattern was established way back then.

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I think I found what I liked early as well with Adventure on the 2600 and Pitfall 2. Both had very different ways of portraying a digital world that went on without you. In Pitfall 2 there's a lot of room to explore and rest. In most cases the animals were just doing their thing and you just needed to stay out of their way. In a way that made it a game where it wasn't all about you, there's only one creature in that game that reacts aggressively to you.


With Adventure there's only a maximum of three dragons in a run (and an annoying bat) but that does lead to this weird tension of wondering where they are when they aren't on screen.


I prefer both approached over the standard eight bit formula of flooding rooms with enemies and having them make a beeline for you. It can work in some games (Starquake and Firelord) but get the balance wrong and it just feels like you're constantly hounded. Which I might want in an arcade game but not an exploratory game.


I think your call on Halo is a good one, another game not afraid to have peaks and troughs making every encounter a memorable one.

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Gun.Smoke is an excellent choice for conversion to the C64. It's a vertical scroller from 1985 in the style of Commando which has been done many times over on the C64. The control system is a little weird but the bold wanted posters would easily translate.




And look at the game! It already comes in Commodore brown. This is a match made in heaven.




And as if to prove how easy such a thing could be Sensible Software made a decent Gun.Smoke style game as a demo game in Shoot 'Em Up Construction Kit.




(Complete with unfortunate stereotypes.)


This is a conversion that just couldn't be stuffed up. And on loading the initial signs are good.




And then the game loads. If the arcade original makes you feel like a cowboy then this conversion will make you feel like lead singer of Faith No More Mike Patton as you yell at the screen "What is it!"


How could this go wrong?


-Music that sounds off key like it's trying to flee the SID chip.

-Overly chunky backgrounds and sprites that make the game feel cramped.

-An awful "feel" to the game. I've played type ins that moved and felt better.


But let's skip right to the heart of what's wrong with this game.




Look at that ground! Instead of Commodore brown in a game which would benefit from it we have what looks like grey clay.


This is awful, one of the worst games on the C64 made all the worse by all the competition. Converting a brown Commando style game should have been a slam dunk. Not even worth playing for laughs. Play Commando or Ikari Warriors on the C64 instead. Or even the arcade game which Capcom has recently rereleased on all formats. Or if you want to play an 8 bit Gun.Smoke apparently the NES version is pretty good taking the Capcom approach at the time of expanding on the arcade original.



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Back when I was a kid I used to trace over bits of art to try to learn how to draw. It didn't really work though sadly. I just didn't have the talent. And then with SEUCK I did try to make a Commando style game. And you know what? I stole that sprite design. Who wouldn't? It's a great design. Striking but chunky in such a way that it looks solid but it's not too hard to copy.


So when I saw reviews of U.C.M:Ultimate Combat Mission I knew where they had nicked the sprites from. It was blatant! Weirdly enough those tubby sprites did attract me to the game, I was saved by that Zzap review and poor distribution.


It has a demo like title screen.




And a very grey playing area.




some fun can be had watching the red enemies plunge lemming like into the void. This entails use of an original sprite and in some sections with narrow walkways made it look like a demake of Fall Guys.


Obviously this was a demo that was probably meant to be a demo.


Except....this is a conversion of a Spectrum game and that game looks to be more original at least with a more interesting opening screen.




And different sprites.




So I'm not sure what happened here. Rush job? Were the sprites in the C64 version just placeholders that were left in by accident? In any case it's better than Gun.Smoke. Just.



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