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Zapped to the Past podcast (C64)

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Whenever I saw reviews for Power at Sea back in the day they always chose this screen for the review.




Which for someone like me, unfamiliar with nautical combat (despite most of the campaigns in WW2 in my part of the world being highly reliant on nautical combat) seemed a little dull. Given Graham's enthusiasm for the game in the podcast and the surprise of The Train a couple of months ago (one of the best games I've played this year) I sat down and gave this a good old try using https://www.c64-wiki.de/wiki/Power_at_Sea as a guide.


And I bounced off it hard. I can see why some would like this but for me it wasn't half as appealing as Desert Fox or Ace of Aces, instead my experience was more akin to my attempt at getting into The Dambusters.


It didn't help that the two sections I played the most of, the AA gun defence




and the assault base section




didn't feel as intuitive, as fun or even as good looking as Beach Head. I also didn't feel like I was getting enough feedback on hits and misses unlike with Beach Head which would give you pretty clear feedback regarding hits.


There might be something here for military enthusiasts but this one isn't for me.


Trivia, Don Mattrick was one of the designer / programmers on this one. Yes, THAT Don Mattrick!

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Terramex, another game I really wanted to play back in the day but was warned off by reviews. Sadly I can't really talk about this one because I had a lot of trouble running this through VICE. After several attempts I found one version that sort of ran but I can't imagine the invisible walls I faced were part of the real release. So this one might be lost to me. A pity, I like this genre of games although it's rare for me to find any that match up to my favourites like Pyjamarama.


There is some odd hangovers from the golden days of the British Empire theme. Check out the porters in the C64 version in the bottom right who remind me a lot of the white vegetarian cannibals in Monkey Island.




And let's see those porters on the original Atari ST version.




Oh. Dear. I'm not sure if the C64 version avoided this due to palette issues or if someone when converting it thought "um....hang on a second."


In any case this game will it seem forever remain a mystery to me which is a bit of a shame because at the very least the sprite work is nice.

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Last is the only game I rate in this episode Herobotix.


I first played this in 1991 courtesy of a decent cover mount (which included the sort of rubbish Golf Master but brilliant demos of Chip's Challenge and Turrican 2.)


And it's ok for a budget game. You play as a small robot sneaking into a space station to grab some stuff to open a thing. It looks decent, the robot has a sense of weight to it and sound wise it's fairly atmospheric. I spent some time with this back in the day until I tired of getting lost in the samey corridors. For a budget release this was decent, and for a cover mount it was great!




Of note is the creator Steven Collins. He went on to do a decent port of Mad Max / Super Sprint crossover Badlands before disappearing to...co-found a little company called Havok. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Collins


And that's yer lot for the week! I've had a sneak peek at next weeks offerings and they're a lot stronger.

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On 16/12/2022 at 22:35, Unofficial Who said:

Oh. Dear. I'm not sure if the C64 version avoided this due to palette issues or if someone when converting it thought "um....hang on a second."

On the one hand I’m not sure enough people in society had the awareness at the time to realise how insulting the initial versions were but on the other I’m not sure any C64 artist ever had a palette issue when it came to brown.

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It's time for the last episode of the year! https://zappedtothepast.com/


Games covered this week


-Impossible Mission 2

-Lee Enfield in the Tournament of Death

-The Three Stooges

-Train Robbers

-Vampire’s Empire


-Oh No!


There's a couple of good ones in there and a couple of ones we might debate. Not a bad way to wrap up the year.

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First of all the rather interesting and contentious Gold Medal winner Impossible Mission 2.




Impossible Mission was and remains one of my favourite games of all time. Seeing the Gold Medal review in Zzap made me want to get it day one. Again though due to the whims of local distribution I never saw an original copy. But I did get a dodgy copy thanks to the box of discs I was given.




The start is familiar but the tower complex this takes place in is locked down into eight towers. To move around the complex you need to find code numbers, and you need to blow a safe in each tower to get access to a cassette tape to create a musical string that will allow you access to Dr Elvin.


Two things will strike you. One is the very purple colour scheme, one that predated the colours used in an office I worked in by several years. I suspect though this might have been due to decisions made on the lead platform, the Atari ST.




The second thing? This is hard. Really hard.




I spent a long summer trying to beat this game but having played the original to death over the years I managed it once or twice in the end. And I really enjoyed my time with it as a challenge for Impossible Mission experts. I can totally see why this got a Gold Medal among a group of reviewers that probably played the original and loved it as much as I did.


@squirtle and Graham did not have as good a time with it and made the case that it probably didn't deserve a gold medal. And I reckon they're right.


@squirtle's angle was (and correct me if I'm wrong here) is that there's nothing here for anyone who didn't like the original. And he's completely right. Because it's one of THOSE sequels. 


A lot of the time with sequels you get the devs revisiting the original and adding more quality of life stuff to it. Essentially more but better. Think Pitfall/Pitfall 2. Mario Bros/Super Mario Bros. Uncharted/Uncharted 2. One would have no hesitation recommending the later entries, in a lot of cases the later entries might be better points for a newcomer to enter.


Then there are "those" sequels. They aren't about broadening the base, they're appealing to those who have played the original over and over and rather than improvements they want something more complicated and challenging. Think Boulderdash/Boulderdash 2. Lode Runner/Championship Lode Runner. Dark Souls/Dark Souls 2. These are sequels that are for a narrower player base. For those who know the original inside and out. To get anywhere in Impossible Mission II you have to know at an instinctual level when to somersault, when to step lightly and when to make a "stretched" step. And then you have to master the new elements like ducking and using bombs.


Graham makes a counterpoint. That by adding so much there's a loss to the simplicity that made the original great. The ability to instantly read a room and then spend your time determining what mix of robots have been added. Even the look of the new game with the pseudo 3D that makes it a little harder to work out when to duck and jump. The original has a more varied colour palette as well with better contrast. One can definitely make the point that while the new game is more challenging the older game is just the better game all around.


I think Novotrade did an amazing job with this game. Finding out that the entire game had been written from scratch using none of the original code including the animation of the agent was pretty impressive. (Although I suspect they reused the speech code used in the original, I wonder how they got around the licencing fees given that the reason Epyx didn't use it again was that the fees for subsequent uses was deemed to be too high.)


However, as much as I enjoyed it back around 1989-90 I never returned to this again until today. I still think the original Impossible Mission is one of the best games on the C64 and given the random set up of the robots each run it has a rogue like feel that has had me returning to it over and over. Impossible Mission II isn't as open and is for a very narrow audience. Impossible Mission fans who want a variant which is meaner. Even more so than the first it's a game you can render unwinnable.


I kind of wish that Zzap had in this case had a reviewer that was new to the series, to the seasoned Impossible Mission player this game poses a challenge worthy of the name. For anyone who is new to the series? It's impenetrable.


Is it the second best C64 game of that time? No, and in retrospect playing it again tonight I don't think it's as good as the original.


It might be my game of the podcast but let's wait until the rest are played. This is recommended if you find Super Meat Boy and Celeste too casual.



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There were two games this week that I enjoyed far more than this. I appreciate it from afar. The Dark Souls reference should be Dark Souls Vs Dark Souls 3. Dark Souls 2 was quite the divergence, whilst 3 really went back to the original and upped the difficulty ante and reused a lot of the lore from it. 

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1 minute ago, squirtle said:

There were two games this week that I enjoyed far more than this. I appreciate it from afar. The Dark Souls reference should be Dark Souls Vs Dark Souls 3. Dark Souls 2 was quite the divergence, whilst 3 really went back to the original and upped the difficulty ante and reused a lot of the lore from it. 


My lack of Dark Souls experience shows here. I bounced off the first one. I have had people suggest Elden Ring or Bloodborne as better entry points.

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Lee Enfield in the Tournament of Death appears to be another 16 bit to 8 bit conversion. Unlike Impossible Mission I can't recommend this to anyone.


In fact it was hard to find a copy to play and even harder to find screenshots. But there are screenshots of this game from the French original....Bob Morane.




This was as far as I got, being savaged by a lego bear. What you can't see here is Lee...er Bob Morane flailing away at his opponent like the main guy in McPixel. This made me laugh for all the wrong reasons. It's awful and I can't imagine the 16 bit originals being much better. I can somewhat understand Infogrames foisting this on the French market where there would be demand for a Bob Morane game. But in the UK?


Needless to say this never made it to Australia although I did read an account of it being at a swap meet in Brisbane.





I recalled seeing this “mullock” on a Commodore 64 at the Cannon Hill Commodore Users Group (CHCUG in Brisbane, Australia). No one at CHCUG was asking to “borrow” this game — something very unusual for user groups at the time.


Actually thanks to the author you can see the "fighting" in game without playing the game.



Bad then. Perplexing now. Why would you damage your company be releasing something that's destined to be used as a blank tape?

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Christmas is fast approaching and I really want to get the last game out of my head. And so onto a game I had some experience of back in the day The Three Stooges.


An interesting co-incidence, this is the third 16 to 8 bit conversion in a row.


While The Three Stooges disbanded before I was born I was pretty aware of them thanks to many reruns on content limited TV stations and a nostalgia driven resurgence from boomers which led to their appearance in popular media like this game and movies like Lethal Weapon where they really tried to make The Three Stooges a cool thing again.


This game uses a lot of digitised stills from the old movies with a lot of brown, in part due to the palette of the C64 but I suspect also in part to the odd colourisation of old media which was a bit of a fad in the 80's to rather mixed results.




It looks bitty now but on a CRT this looked pretty decent.


You have 30 in games days to save the orphanage, and if you get the best ending restore the orphanage and maybe even be given the hands of the three eldest orphans in marriage, something I didn't bat an eyelid at the time at although it's a pretty weird "women as prizes" take now.




It's an interesting game, Mario Party before Mario Party, albeit a one player versions where you walk along a street (the board) with your moving hand selecting where you stop. Apart from the rat traps (which lose you a finger, lose all of them and it's an early game over) each square leads either to random events or party games.


These include "boxing" where you have to run to a violin store to get something to play Pop Goes the Weasel and run back before the match is over)




a standard food fight which is a comedy trope that's completely lost on me




a race down a hospital corridor avoiding staff and patients




a trivia competition




and a food eating contest.




The game has several win and lose states depending on how much you have at the end of 30 turns or "days."


Back in the day I spent a few slow Sunday afternoons with this and had an enjoyable time with it. But there's a few caveats as to why that might have been the case. Back in 1990 (when I played this) the graphics and sound samples really impressed in a way they just wouldn't now. It's hard to convey post CD-Rom era just how amazing this seemed. The premise was novel too. The slow loading didn't bother me too much as this was a step up from tape loading, I was just happier with the speed and reliability of discs. But most importantly I didn't have to pay any money for this, my flatmate had bought this as part of a three game compilation (the other two being the excellent Defender of the Crown and Rocket Ranger). And if you have the time it's hard to argue with free.


Looking at this with modern eyes it obviously doesn't hold up. Comedy is about timing and disc access makes everything incredibly slow. Even outside of that walking to the next square (or "block") is incredibly slow. It's obviously not cutting edge now and the digitised graphics look bitty and the sound samples are scratchy. But most of all the problem is with the lack of variety. Mario Party and Wario Ware have the same shallowness with their mini games but the novelty is the speed in which they're served to you and the variety. Don't like the current game? Five seconds later you're playing something else. Here five seconds later you're still waiting for a load or for the Stooges to make it to the next play space.


This really is a game of it's time, an interesting experiment and a labour of love hampered by the technology of the day, both with slow loading times and lack of storage space. But it's still an interesting stab at something that will eventually become a staple of casual gaming. Worth a look if you're a fan of the Stooges or from a historical angle.



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1 minute ago, Unofficial Who said:

Life has gotten a little busy and may continue to be so until after Christmas. I will return with more before the end of the year...promise.

We're taking the next two weeks off so to got plenty of time. No rush. Although Train Robbers is quite slight and fun.

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Train Robbers is part of the reason I haven't written of late as I've been trying to get into it.


On the plus side this game proves me wrong about comedy being hard to pull off on 8 bit machines. The fails here are constantly amusing. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


This budget title has you robbing a train. An easy plan. Race alongside the train with your horse until you grab the ladder. Jump along the carriages until you get to the caboose. Raid the safe in said caboose while avoiding rats. Then make your way back to the ladder with your horse in waiting. And then survive a chase sequence.



My first death was here running straight into a cactus.




I had many deaths trying to get onto the ladder. You need to be lined up perfectly.




And this is where I failed constantly. Hit by tunnels or slipping between carriages.




There is a lot to like about this budget release. It feels solid (if a little chunky pixel wise) and the sound effects are great. There's neat touches throughout (when you duck in the tunnels the only thing visible are your eyes.) And every time you die it feels comedic whether you're slamming face first into a tunnel or bouncing along the track.


But sadly I could get no further. But that's down to my aging reflexes, this game would have filled in a lazy Sunday afternoon or two nicely back in the day. Well worth a look.


As for the creator...as they said in the podcast he didn't do any other work. On the C64 at least! He did do some 8 bit conversions on the Sega Master System which he talks about here.




Two of the games mentioned


Mercs, a conversion of the Capcom coin-op




and a conversion of the 16 bit EA game Desert Strike.




And there's more about his C64 days at https://www.gamesthatwerent.com/2014/10/andrew-holdroyd-talks-briefly-about-his-c64vic-20-days/



I had been working on my own game in my spare time as a learning exercise. I learned one very important lesson. MAKE BACKUPS! One of my disks became damaged and I had to virtually start again although with the experience I’d had by then the second version was an improvement and I sent the game off to a couple of publishers. Who should come back with an offer? My old employer BT! They got me a couple of Rob Hubbard tracks to add to it and ‘Train Robbers’ was published on their budget ‘Firebird’ label.

It was a weird sensation seeing my game on the shop shelves and pictures in magazines. It was even awarded a ZZap64 Silver medal!


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I had forgotten Vampire’s Empire existed. It looks quite nice if a bit sparse, it reminded me in atmosphere to Fred.


(A reminder below of what Fred was as it's old even for a C64 game.)




In contrast to Fred though Vampire’s Empire feels empty and without a map it's easy to get lost.




Eventually I looked at a long play to work out how this game worked and it's essentially an escort quest where you direct a beam of light to the exit to each section. Even the long play makes it look fiddly and painful. Not for me this one but if you love escort quests then this is your jam.



The title music is pretty neat though!

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Thinking about Vampire's Empire a little bit more reminds me of a big issue that's starting to turn up in game design in the late 80's and it's something that goes on for a while for the next few years, the idea that bigger is better.


In this case, Vampire's Empire takes a simple idea that's been used in single screen games like Deflektor. Take a light beam and guide it to an exit with the use of mirrors.




But the idea is expanded upon by making the pay area much bigger and adding all sorts of complications. On paper this sounds like a winner but in practice this dilutes the central design. The path to trace is hard to picture in your head because you now have to navigate a platform game in an area so big the action feels sparse. Very much more is less. The first time I remember reading about this issue with game design would be in Commodore User a few years from 1988 where someone wrote about the issues with games like Impossible Mission 2025 compared with Impossible Mission 1 and 2 where a screens worth of action and objects were stretched across larger maps leading to this dilution.

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