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Zapped to the Past podcast (C64)

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Gee Bee Air Rally was one I really wanted to play on the new 16 bit machines. It looked incredible and for some reason there was an appeal to flying a weird yellow plane.




I mean this looked the business.






I was wary the C64 port would be able to replicate this so avoided but having played it now it does feel like a decent Amiga downport with some caveats.




The stills in the C64 version are great renditions of the 16 bit original. This is up there with the Defender of the Crown reboot. There's a reason they used these in reviews. I ditched in a couple of levels and ended up with this




and this.




As for the game...well we know 3D isn't the C64's forte and well...




There are problems. The striped ground effect is one Activision used back on the 2600 with Robot Tank.




And it worked well there in part because tanks are slow. So your movement is slow. In Gee Bee you can build up quite some speed which means those stripes almost start strobing. If you have epilepsy this is one game I'd steer well clear of.


The track side objects (cones, towers and telegraph poles) synch well with the background until you come in to land at which point they scroll at a different rate.


But the big kicker is the loss of detail. You lose the bottom part of the dials in this version which makes them difficult to read. But you also lose shadows which makes it impossible to determine the height of the other racers. For my first few tries without fail I would clip the wings of other pilots. It's maddening. At least until I tried to think like a game designer.


Assuming that the designer would want me to move up and down I just guessed that maybe whenever a plane spawned it was in line with me. So if I approached the game using a wave like motion, dipping up then down alternately when other planes appeared then I might have a better chance.


This worked a treat and I then found the game easy until at least my copy crashed.


I mean it's not unpleasant (apart from the strobing.) But better behind the plane games are to come. However this isn't the interesting thing about this game.


The wave like motion of your plane when racing. The yellow paint on the plane. The designer Steve Cartwright....


This game isn't just a downport of an Amiga game, it's a remake of two previous Activision games on the 2600, or at least a thematic revisiting.


Steve Cartwright's first game for Activision was a racing game but a fairly unique one called Barnstorming. It's a game that involved wave like patterns as you dodged birds, flew over windmills and through barns.




Mechanically though Gee Bee plays more like another Activision game from 1982, Sky Jinks. (And that game had shadows.) Another game where you snaked through gates slalom style just like Gee Bee.




And there it is. That yellow plane.


So it's worth a look just to see a quiet attempt at revisiting old works but I'd recommend either of those two over Gee Bee but for me when I'm in the mood to fly digitally there's only one real choice.



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I wasn't interested in Card Sharks back in the day no matter how well the game was presented. A complete non starter.


However a couple of decades later and my friends had become incredibly addicted to Hearts (although they called it by a less politically correct name) and wanting to practice I looked around for digital one player alternatives. Microsoft provided with a card game suite included in my OS at the time. It was fast though. Too fast. The moment I put my cards down all three opponents would immediately play their cards and points would be tallied. This speed led to incredibly unsatisfying games.


Leafing through an old copy of Zzap I came across a review for Card Sharks and dug up a copy to play on an emulator. And this was perfect.




It's pretty bare bones in terms of control and options. You chose your opponents from a bank of six, three of them being the cold war warriors of the day. And three being an Italian, a woman and a nerd. The animation of the arms can be a little silly but this adds to the charm. The musical stings are essentially straight lifts from Law of the West and PSI 5 Trading Company. The animation is slow enough to feel satisfyingly human but if you find it too slow (like when dealing which takes forever) you can just skip the animation with a press of the button.


The joy is in the facial expressions and tics. The sly smile when someone has a good hand. The pursing of the lips when a round goes poorly. This is still my chosen way to play Hearts solo when I'm in the mood to do so. An excellent game for what would have been a small niche group of casual players at the time. Highly recommended.


I'm surprised that other companies haven't gone down this route, the only other one I can think of is the Poker Night games by Telltale.



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19 hours ago, merman said:

The music in Card Sharks is by Ed Bogas, who did the earlier Accolade games you mention and composed music for the Snoopy TV cartoons.


Yep! In this case they've just reused some of his work from other Accolade games (although he has been credited and I assume paid.) I suspect a lot of Card Sharks is repurposed from PSI-5 Trading Company. This is no bad thing though. There is a bad thing coming up shortly...

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Rockford:the Arcade Game is the digital fable of the road to hell being paved with good intentions.


Good intention 1 : Creating an easy arcade solution for owners to switch out games and make home ports easy.


Back in 1987 Mastertronic decided to get into the arcade business using consumer hardware. This wasn't unheard of, Nintendo had released the Playchoice10 based off NES hardware and later Namco would have great success with Playstation based boards. Arcadia was Amiga based. However most of the games were poor (the only three I can remember being any good were a port of 180, vertical scroller Sidewinder and Xenon, the game that launched the Bitmap Brothers.) This almost bankrupted Mastertronic. But I can see the thinking behind this move.


Good intention 2 : Take a successful home game and port this to the arcade. This isn't as dumb as it sounds. Many companies in the 80's had arcade hits converting home games to the arcade. Broderbund's back catalogue was the most successful with Lode Runner, Choplifter and Spelunky being massive hits in Japan. Some other titles while interesting weren't as successful like Pitfall 2. Boulder Dash was a tour de force at the time and a bit of a no brainer to convert.




Sadly though something was lost in the conversion. While some of the previously mentioned titles benefitted from graphic and design enhancements and additions Boulder Dash was nigh on perfect on release so every new thing added actually made the game worse.






is a lot harder to read than this




However I can still see the logic here. There wasn't an arcade version of Boulder Dash. There wasn't an Amiga version either. So it was filling a gap. This does lead us to good intention no 3. The one I can't understand.


Good intention 3 : Take a near perfect C64 game, port it to 16 bit systems and somehow make it worse and lose the charm, then port this inferior version back to the C64. In a market that already has two good titles in the series, an average third one and a construction kit.


I don't understand this decision at all. I mean look at it.




It's unpleasant to look at. It's hard to read what is what compared to the original. It's laggy. The sound effects are worse. There's no sound effect for the timer almost running out (which led to a couple of "what the?" deaths.) 




I mean the above looks like a rubbish version of Mr Do.




And this looks worse than Boulder Dash 3.


I can understand the premise behind the Arcadia arcade system. I can understand making a version of one of the most successful games of 1984 to 16 bit systems. I can't understand why you would port this to the C64, a system flooded with the original versions. I mean every C64 owner I ever knew had a copy of Boulder Dash. Many had even bought the original. This reminds me a lot of Street Fighter:the Movie:the Game where a worse version of a classic game is released.


I've written far more than this deserves. It's a bad version of an easy to find classic game. Awful yet a mystery.

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ATF:Advanced Tactical Fighter was a game I really wanted to play back in the day. I was quite fond of campaigns that you could chew into and this seemed like a mixture of ACE and the amazing arcade game that was hot at the time Afterburner.


Everyone wanted to play this at home, an unrealistic expectation.




From the screenshots this seemed to be the closest I would get at home with the loss of visual fidelity made up for with control and design depth.




I never did get my hands on this and it's another of those that I would have loved back in the day but isn't of interest now. Back in the late 80's fueled by Top Gun at the movies, Airwolf on tv and the aforementioned Afterburner I was keen to drop hours into learning how to fly digital warplanes.


Nearing 50 and seeing the reality of war if from a distance I'm not near as keen now. There's a lot here to like. The 3D effect is interesting and solid enough for a system that wasn't great at fast moving 3D. It doesn't cheat transitions between land types and sea like ACE did (by cheekily popping up the map briefly.) I think there's a lot for players who want this sort of thing to dig into, I'm just not that person anymore.




Not for me but if you're into military games this might be worth a look to see how DiD tried to marry flight sims and arcade action.

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6 hours ago, squirtle said:

Clever 3D, but would have been better as a straight ahead blaster. The world doesn't turn when you do, so it feels all wrong.


I don't have a screenshot but you can turn the terrain lines off with F1. You do lose that visual information that stops you ploughing into the ground though and it does look odd in terrain following mode.

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Rolling Thunder had quite a unique look and theme being a spy game set in the 60's. The lanky sprites and dual level backdrops made for an interesting platform shooter in 1986. There's an argument that without Namco's Rolling Thunder Sega might not have been inspired to create the very similar (but better) Shinobi.




I did have access to the C64 port back in the day (my flatmate owned it on tape) but didn't play it too much as I wasn't too keen on the arcade machine at the time, it's not an easy game.


The loading screen is pretty neat




...even if the player looks like a grown up version of Success Kid.




The game looks like standard C64 Tiertex fare. Awful, with incredibly blocky sprites.




But playing it feels like Rolling Thunder. A slower version of Rolling Thunder but it feels and moves like the arcade version. This port reminds me a lot of the ports you'd see of arcade games on the 2600 where massive visual compromises are made and levels cut down in order to get something akin to the arcade working on lesser hardware. In this case you've got a 16 bit arcade game squashed down to work on an old 8 bit machine in a single load. Levels are cut down by about 30% (for instance in level one you lose the piles of tires) but if you wanted to play the arcade game at home this was apparently the best way to do so in 1988, other home ports by US Gold not feeling as good reportedly. (I can't speak to them though as I've never played them.)




I don't think I'd play this today if I had the choice, the arcade version is available at least on the Switch and has been available on older consoles. But this isn't a bad alternative. I suspect if they had looked at making it a multi load there would have been more scope for something closer to the arcade experience as the port of Shinobi would show us later.



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2 hours ago, squirtle said:

It's slower, for sure, and the enemies are more aggressive so you spend a lot of time crouched, but it is an 8 bit version of the arcade. I was expecting it to be terrible, but was pleasantly surprised.


Yeah, back in the day I didn't rate it at all but being able to compare it to the arcade game and being a little more appreciative that as a game that had to fit into less than 64kb it's more like a demake than a port. It captures the spirit of the game well.

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This week on Zapped to the Past https://zappedtothepast.com/


Games covered






-The Halls of the Things

-Championship Sprint

-Top Fuel Challenge



I'm not going to lie, not looking forward to this lot. The best of the bunch is a stunning conversion....of a game I don't like that much. But who knows? A hidden gem might be found. And eying off one of the worst ones I've already got a substitute from the 2600 in mind.

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Let's get this show on the road and we start off with a forgotten but incredibly important video game. Pac-Land.


Pac Man in the early 80's was massive. Space Invaders had nothing on Namco's classic maze game, it was a game that appealed to EVERYONE! Playing the poor port of Pac Man on a friend's 2600 probably convinced my mother, an addict of the game to get our first console. We played the game, listened to the song, ate the lollies and stuck the stickers on our school folders.


Oh and we also watched the inevitable cartoon which was rubbish but had a theme song that would work it's way into your brain.



Two years later Namco released the game based off the show based off the game. Hang on, this is sounding a bit like Rockford...




It was not a Rockford or Street Fighter:the Movie:the Game situation. Rather than make a copy of the original game Yoshihiro Kishimoto instead made a platform game in order to make something like the cartoon. And he succeeded. It looks and sounds as close to the cartoon as you could get in a non-laserdisc game in 1984. That earworm of a theme tune plays throughout, the weird villain is replaced though by a lost fairy you have to get back home.




This game is central to mascot platformers, maybe more so than Donkey Kong. You have a large scrolling world full of obstacles, an energy metre and pickups to aid you. You can pretty easily see how this inspired Sega with Wonderboy, Capcom with Ghost's'n'Goblins and of course Nintendo with Super Mario Brothers. To my eyes this still looks the business even now, the simple lines of the backdrops and the cute sprites haven't aged at all.


I did play this back in the day on the C64 as it was in that big box of discs given to me. But we all know how these conversions are compromised, especially on limited hardware. Especially in a single load game designed to run in 64K.


So what's the damage?


For those who haven't played this port...the only compromise is that it has only four of the levels from the arcade game. Otherwise this is as close to arcade perfect as you could get on the C64. I mean even the title screen is perfect down to needing to press F1 to register a coin drop.




And it's all there. It's as close to full screen as you're going to get on the C64. There's nary a glitch in sight. It's one of the most technically impressive conversions for the C64.






If you're a fan of the arcade game you need to try this port. For me it's too accurate. It also has the Track and Field style controls from the arcade game. In the original release the controls were three buttons. Left, right and jump. To change speed you would tap the left or right button just like you would in Track and Field. In the version I played in the arcade and on the C64 you get the same effect but tapping the stick rapidly left or right.


I hate this. Because I always die jumping off leap boards where you tap to sort of hover / taper off your fall.




And the board timing can be tricky as well. With most of my attempts ending up as above. I can't fault the C64 programmers for this, again it's part of the original design.




Possibly my pick of the episode if only for the technical achievement. If only we knew who to credit?


Well thanks to a quick bit of digging I've found the blog of Allan Ogg who worked for Gannon Designs for a year in 1987. His two programming credits? The Tube and Pac-Land! The whole thing is well worth a read here http://thejumbledbox.blogspot.com/2008/05/my-year-as-video-games-programmer.html


The accuracy of the port is amazing given the only support they had was a photocopied manual in Japanese and an arcade machine.


From the blog



I got the job of controlling and animating Pac-Man as he ran and jumped around the levels and his handling his interaction with the ghosts and scenery. I also controlled Sue, the lead ghost, and handled all the title, start, middle and end-level animations as well as animating the timers, score and credits, etc. We did the game in the standard, 40-column text mode in order to save memory, which meant that Mick had to design all of the level backgrounds using custom character sets and I think he did a excellent job of it. All the other graphic elements like Pac-Man, the ghosts and interactive scenery objects were done using the VIC-II chip's brilliant sprite capabilities. Memory was so tight though that I came up with the idea of compressing the sprite data and only expanding the ones required for each level. In the end, we simply didn't have room for all the levels so had to make do with a cut-down version.



In its time, the Pac-land conversion was definitely at the leading edge of C64 programming and no-one else had produced a full screen, smooth sideways scrolling game with as much animation going on before. In fact, it was so complex that we ran out of background processing time on each screen refresh and to avoid a screen glitch, I had to break the scrolling routines into two so that we scrolled the bottom half of the screen while the video scan beam was still drawing the top half. It was a huge game and took us much longer than anticipated, even with Steve Kellett co-opted onto the team to help as well.


This was the game that killed Gannon Designs and yet again a combination of crunch and not getting paid led to more talent leaving the industry.



Steve and myself started looking for new jobs before the inevitable happened, which it did in early February when Martin called in the receivers. I'm not sure what happened to Len, he just vanished and I've never heard from him since. We were all made redundant in late February, having had no wages since Christmas.


Pac-Land despite being such an inspiration to designers throughout the 80's and 90's seems to have been forgotten. It might be due to being tied to a television licence. Or it might be that ports were so late in the day. The C64 port was started years after the arcade release. It might also be because the NES port by Namco themselves is awful. I mean it is an early NES port being released in 1985 but just compare and contrast to the above.




It doesn't play that great either. How do I know? Because you can still buy the NES version now as part of a compilation on modern platforms. It's nowhere near as good as the C64 version. It's a bit of a pity the C64 version has disappeared in favour of this lesser 8 bit port.

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It's a very good port, yes, but the base game ain't that great. The port is also lacking the power ups of the arcade as well.


I'd also argue that something like Green Beret was doing a whole lot more...






I'm not saying it's not impressive, but the overall effect in GB is far better, IMO.

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I think the missing secret powerups are understandable though when you're working under the pump with no documentation. Which is the better game? I'd agree with you that Green Beret is better if only because you aren't fighting the controls. Green Beret feels responsive and snappy just like the coin op whereas Pac Land is true to the coin op and annoying in parts. In terms of C64 technical prowess it did as much as Pac Land earlier. It does have the advantage though of being based off a newer coin op and having experienced C64 coders at the helm. I was surprised to find that a lot of the team on the C64 port of Pac Land had only one previous game under their belts, the underwhelming The Tube!


It's interesting though, both of these games are using the full screen whereas a lot of other coin op conversions are starting to compromise with blockier sprites and large logos taking up a good portion of the screen. (Yep, I am thinking of Rolling Thunder.)

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1 hour ago, Unofficial Who said:

It's interesting though, both of these games are using the full screen whereas a lot of other coin op conversions are starting to compromise with blockier sprites and large logos taking up a good portion of the screen. (Yep, I am thinking of Rolling Thunder.)

4 Levels, I guess. Ghosts n Goblins did the same. Not sure what happened with Commando.

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2 minutes ago, squirtle said:

4 Levels, I guess. Ghosts n Goblins did the same. Not sure what happened with Commando.


I think they ran out of time and space and it was either more levels or music. I think they made the right choice at the time. As a 2600 owner I was pretty much used to those compromises given the cuts made to arcade conversions for that machine.

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And now into the rest of the bunch. Let's start with Tanium.


I'd never played this back in the day, don't even remember reading the review and had no idea this was a follow up to Warhawk.


The C64 at this stage is spoiled for choice when it comes to shooters. The Zzap reviewers were bored with also rans like this and as said on the podcast a few little changes could have made this into a contender. But as it is it feels too difficult and too average.


It's not bad, it's just not great. Avoid. (A word I'm going to use a lot this week.)



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22 hours ago, Camel said:

Has Pac-Land been forgotten? I wouldn’t say it has any more than any other classic era arcade game.


21 hours ago, squirtle said:

I think @Unofficial Who means the C64 version.


A bit from column A and a bit from column B.


First of all the C64 version would be virtually unknown for anyone who hadn't played it back in the day which is a real shame. The rights issues just make it uneconomic to untangle for rerelease. You'd have to pay Namco and Quicksilva and maybe Gannon Designs? And what about the potential for the unpaid coders to step forward asking quite rightly for remuneration? So this version is lost unless you have an old tape or use an emulator. In 1988 this was the best way to play this pivotal game at home until the PC-Engine version came out a year later.


But I'd argue that the arcade version isn't as well remembered and that's because of two issues. One is the weird controls which are a lot less straight forward than those for games that came later like Super Mario Brothers, Wonderboy et al. But the other is that I'm guessing it's difficult to rerelease due to the hurdles Namco have to jump through. Ignoring the look of the game being like the cartoon they'd still have to look at relicensing or replacing the music. And then there's other issues like how Namco don't actually own the rights to Ms. Pacman (now owned by AT Games, previously owned by GCC) which led to them needing to recode the arcade re-releases recently.



It's always a risk when using licensed materials in your game, you get increased recognition on release but it does make subsequent re-releases a nightmare. Originally Donkey Kong was to be a Popeye game, think of how different the history of videogames would have looked if that had happened!


So in conclusion I think Pac-Land is well known amongst arcade goers 40 years or older but most of the people I know under 40 would have no idea about this game despite being familiar with the titles it inspired. (IMHO of course.)

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I played Wolfman back in the day as my flatmate had a compilation of Rod Pike's games on the C64. Not playing it again but just wanted to mention it because the podcast reminded me of a few things I hated about text adventures despite really wanting to like them back in the day.


-Text parsers. Just the worst, especially back in the 80's when I didn't touch type.

-Use of the command WAIT. This command is never an intuitive one and is either found by trial and error of the use of solutions at which point I'd think to myself "who would have thought of that?

-Mazes. I hate mazes in text adventures and always saw their inclusion as an artificial way of boosting game time. Wolfman has a maze.



Hint: To get through the Moonflower-maze, keep picking flowers. The stems will have different lenghts, allowing you to map the area.


Nope. I could probably play through this quickly with a guide to boost my games completed count but that would feel rather pointless.


I am curious as to where Rod Pike is or if he is even still alive (apparently he was on the older side of middle aged back in 1988 and most of the adventure writers who might have met him have since passed.)


So in short, played this back in the day, did not get far and did not really want to revisit it now.



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On 06/12/2022 at 03:44, squirtle said:

4 Levels, I guess. Ghosts n Goblins did the same. Not sure what happened with Commando.


On Pac-Land from http://thejumbledbox.blogspot.com/2008/05/my-year-as-video-games-programmer.html



Memory was so tight though that I came up with the idea of compressing the sprite data and only expanding the ones required for each level. In the end, we simply didn't have room for all the levels so had to make do with a cut-down version.


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I quite liked the look of Corporation back in the day, some of the screens made it look like a Weyland-Yutani simulator.






The game itself though just seemed a lot less exciting.






I couldn't get into this one at all so I'm not sure I'm well placed to judge it. I just bounced off it, to me it felt dull and unintuitive. Can anyone else mount a defence?

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