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Zapped to the Past podcast (C64)

Unofficial Who

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I was not really that interested in Ikari Warriors in the arcade. The SNK rotary joystick seemed to be a novelty that made things look more complex and it looked like a fairly standard Commando style game.




And I wasn't really interested in the C64 port. Especially seeing just how primitive it looked next to the Amstrad port, one which was much lauded at the time.




It also sounded like a project in trouble with the C64 port coming out a year after the Amstrad port. But I did end up getting it as an also ran on the Fists'n'Throttles compilation. So I gave it a try expecting to quickly discard it.


I was wrong. This is a fantastic port and my favourite Commando style game on the C64.


This is coded and slickly coded at the by John Twiddy and while it looks unimpressive in screen shots it's great when moving.


After a short animated intro...




and a decent attract screen...




We get into the game proper.




On the surface it's a Commando style game. But with lots of extras. There are powerups, There are tanks you can drive. You can play two players, at once. There are some really clever control methods. Tap fire to shoot and hold to throw a grenade (something that should have been standard on other games.) A key press can lock your facing direction allowing you to strafe. There's even an end screen if you make it to your goal. It's a weird one but it's there.




Sure the helicopters don't look great scale wise but that's a small quibble. Another departure from the arcade is the odd touch of players disintegrating in an explosion of meat and blood, much more graphic than the arcade game.


It's a lot more strategic than Commando in some ways and rarely is rushing up the screen the right decision unless being chased. It can be satisfying if tooled up, especially when upgraded grenades cause a string of destruction. Or it can be tense when you're not upgraded. Trying to find the right angle and gap to take your shot.


I ended up playing this a lot and in a lot of ways I prefer this to the arcade game. Pick of the month for sure and one of my favourite coin-op conversions.


If you want to play the arcade game again the 40th Anniversary SNK Compilation has an altered version of the arcade game. Since rotary joysticks aren't commercially available they've recoded the game to control like a twin stick shooter.


There's a thread explaining why below. But I can recommend this as the best way to replay the old arcade game outside of an actual machine.



I can't recommend either the US C64 port which is awful in comparision...




...or the NES port (which is also on the SNK collection) which is dreadful.




Other ports fare better or worse, weirdly enough an Atari 2600 port came out in 1990!




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12 minutes ago, Unofficial Who said:

From memory I’m pretty sure I used to play it with the music off. Too repetitive.

Exactly. It's a very short loop in the C64 version, whereas the arcade game is all kinds of gung-ho epic! Skip to about 44 seconds in.



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The reviews are so bad I'm not even going to try Sub Battle Simulator. (OK, I'm lying, I did try it but the constant disc access put me off.)




The question was put, what happened to Epyx with this one? Simple answer, this isn't an Epyx game but a game by Digital Illusions who went on to create the Harpoon series of sub simulators. I guess they found their niche but here they had the misfortune of competing against the old but excellent Silent Service and the new Hunt for Red October. In this case I'm happy to leave the playing of this one to the hosts.

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10 minutes ago, Unofficial Who said:

The reviews are so bad I'm not even going to try Sub Battle Simulator. (OK, I'm lying, I did try it but the constant disc access put me off.)




The question was put, what happened to Epyx with this one? Simple answer, this isn't an Epyx game but a game by Digital Illusions who went on to create the Harpoon series of sub simulators. I guess they found their niche but here they had the misfortune of competing against the old but excellent Silent Service and the new Hunt for Red October. In this case I'm happy to leave the playing of this one to the hosts.

You are too kind! I didn't get very far into it with the crashing and the like. It was just a bit rubbish.

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Mini-Putt looked a little dull back in the day and I wasn't keen due to bad experiences with mini golf games on the 2600.




And the screenshots didn't look too inspiring.




But I gave this a go and you know what? I still didn't enjoy it. I did get a hole in one on one hole with a trick shot which was nice but I just didn't find this appealing. I think some of it was down to the colour scheme which for some reason put me off. But I think a lot of it is having so many alternatives from Leaderboard on the C64 to Monkey Golf as part of Super Monkey Ball. It's worth a shot, the physics are great. It just leaves me a bit cold.

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6 hours ago, merman said:

I really enjoyed Mini Putt, playing from disk is great fun. Best mini golf game on the C64.


I seriously think it's the colour scheme that put me off. I was never the biggest fan of the cyan colour on the C64 palette. And for some reason I didn't like the art for the golfer.

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My original intention was to play along and try all of the games. But there are some where I've just decided to let the experts suffer play through.


World Tour Golf is one of those. I mean look at it.




It's just such a weird display compared to Leaderboard which had perfected the sport two years earlier.


Watching the video below didn't aid in my enthusiasm either. I know games had a short life span on the shelves but Leaderboard was almost a permanent fixture for years in a lot of stores. I can only imagine this being bought in error.


And the tilting on the putting green is plain weird. Like the player is suddenly drunk.



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I'm going to skip The Hunt for Red October for now, it's been a busy week and I really want to rest aside some time with it. Instead let's talk about the game that launched a series and one who's influences can still be found in today's games. (Static ridden announcer) "Accolade presents" (easy listening muzak plays) Test Drive.


I remember being wowed by the static screen shots in magazines at the time. This looked the business.




For a month or two the attract mode became the standard at showing off that new computer I desperately wanted, the Amiga 500. My brother was really impressed with the sound samples from real cars and the authentic looking dashboards.




I was a little more reserved. The winding cliffside road seemed incredibly dull when compared to Out Run or even Turbo from the early 80's. Although I was a little impressed that the cliff from Grog's Revenge was now rendered in 3D.


This was all academic, I couldn't afford games at this time let alone an Amiga. Fast forward a couple of years and this, you guessed ot was one of those games in that box of discs we'd been given. My brother was keen and so we loaded it up.


Presentation wise leaving aside the scratchier sound this did compare favourably to the 16 bit version.




Playing the game however on a lesser system however just revealed all of the flaws of the original game magnified.




Where to begin? I guess the dull brown cliffside which might have been a technical marvel but was incredibly dull. The frame rate on the other cars is poor with cars approaching in Twilight Zone style jumps. The method of steering using a dot to represent how fat the steering wheel has turned is an interesting solution to trying to create an analogue control for a digital stick but it leads to the cars (to borrow from Douglas Adams) looking like fish but steering like cows. It's difficult to get a feel for how "wide" the car body is so you can collide with cars thinking you are completely clear.


For a game about supercars once past the flashy intros it's just not fun. My brother didn't play this for long, neither did I.


I do remember this game giving me some anxiety over where the industry was heading in that it seemed to be all presentation but little (and poor) content. And it felt like a game designed for 16bit machines that was downgraded for a machine that could not handle it. Defender of the Crown this was not. Of course in retrospect I can see this as an experimental 16 bit game that was iterated on for the following releases, a model that's tried and true now.


And there's a lot to note about the influences this game had, the attention to detail for sound (on other platforms at least) and the dashboards (which even on the C64 are pretty impressive) is something that's been carried forward to games like Forza, clearly a spiritual successor to games like this.


I think this was a port that was ill advised. But it sold like hotcakes and spawned a series that ran for decades so what do I know?

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13 hours ago, merman said:

Without World Tour Golf, there would never have been any PGA Tour games.


Test Drive on the C64 runs at too low a frame rate, the later Grand Prix Circuit and the sequel were much better.


I think one of the things I couldn't get used to was that the car is a left hand drive and you're sitting somewhat to the left rather than in the centre. I just couldn't work out how to adjust for the right hand side of the car body.

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I really wanted to like text adventures. I religiously read Keith Campbell's adventure columns in C&VG and Commodore User every month because it felt like there were entire worlds out there to explore.


But. Text parsers. I hated them. Nothing would frustrate me more than knowing what I wanted to do and not being able to work out what word combination the parser wanted in order to understand what I was trying to say. But then early point and click adventure games provided the answer. For me Lucasarts showed the way forward for the industry by "limiting" inputs to specific known verbs and nouns. That's limiting in inverted commas because text parsers were already limited, it's just in most cases the acceptable and unacceptable verbs and nouns were hidden from the player.


I wasn't a reader of Sláine but I was instantly interested when I first saw the screenshots with the high res illustrations and word lists.




And then I was instantly turned off by the preview when I read how the "Reflex" system would work with words floating around and fading in and out to represent the poor impulse control of the main character. This instantly sounded like a bad idea.


Having tried to play it now decades on...it's proven to be a bad idea. The worst of both worlds. You can see the various options in front of you but they skip away as you try to select them leading to clicking on thin air, cancelling your action or taking an action you didn't want to. I spent three minutes trying to move from my starting location before giving up.


I can see what they were trying to go for and a multitude of rpg's from Balder's Gate and Fallout onwards have dealt with limiting options depending on stats or using invisible dice rolls. The reflex method should have been buried as a bad idea once play tested. It ruins what could be a decent adventure.


Is there a fixed version out there with static options?

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1 hour ago, squirtle said:

I've no idea if there is another version with that stupid system removed. I vowed never to go near it even if there is the world's greatest adventure behind it.


It's worse than even the most obtuse parsers I've ever used because I can see what I want to do but I can't do it without a lot of luck.

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I'm a big apologist fan of Gauntlet on the C64. I still think it's a solid port of a pretty massive arcade game. It might look a little basic but there's so much moving on the screen (and it's using most of the screen.) It's a little buggy but I loved it back in the day.




(It's a bit rough but so were a lot of loading screens in 1988.)


So when I read the Zzap review for Gauntlet 2 I was excited! But could I find it? I couldn't and so it remained a mystery. Until I head the podcast. And reread the review. And searched through my collection. And unearthed an old memory.


Because I didn't stop searching and in the early 90's I purchased this compilation with my hard earned solely for this game.




I'd already played all the other games in this compilation by then, this purchase was purely to play Gauntlet 2, a game I'd built up in my head as being more Gauntlet. Bigger. Better.




I loaded it up and wasn't disappointed by how it looked. I chose my class and colour. A quick explanation as to why this was a big deal in the arcade. Back on the original arcade game you chose your character by physical position. That is if you stood in front of the red joystick you were the warrior. Green / elf. Yellow / wizard. Blue / valkyrie. You could have four players at once but only one of each class. This was the same with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the arcade which is why in the Cowabunga Collection you have to choose your turtle in a screen before the game boots. In both games there is no character select in software. It's a hardware thing. In Gauntlet 2 they allowed players to choose whatever class and colour you wanted. I don't think players could choose the same colour but if you wanted a four person team of wizards you could do that.


Of course in the home version it wasn't really a big deal when you were limited to two players.


But I digress. The game loaded. I moved. Hang on. The movement speed was wrong. This was slower than the 1986 original. The speed of the shooting was now glacial. Something had gone very very wrong. This was not as good as the original at all. I was disappointed in Gremlin. In US Gold. And most of all in Zzap, a magazine in whom I'd placed a lot of trust. This game let me down so badly that within ten minutes I packed it away and only remember that I owned a copy of it 30 years later.


I've just tried playing it again and it's not my imagination. Something went really wrong here. I suspect that the engine / code framework that worked so well for the original game just couldn't cope with dealing with the new features that mainly had to do with floor tiles and energy fields. This was overrated then. Now there's just no competition.


A couple of years after this ill fated purchase I got the excellent Amiga port and until the recent Midway collections this was the best way to play the game outside the arcades. This was probably the reason I'd forgotten about the C64 version entirely.




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I'm going to have to admit defeat with The Hunt for Red October, at least for now having given it a good try. I've said before that military sims aren't really my thing. Initially I thought this was by Microprose (it's not, I was thinking of Red Storm Rising.) This is by Argus Press and developed by Oxford Digital Enterprises. The people involved are still in the industry today!




There's an interesting challenge in the manual. You have to avoid the Russians, avoid starting a conflict with the US, avoid scuttling your sub AND plot a path that won't alert the enlisted crew that you plan on defecting to the US.


Just like their previous game Titanic I really want to be better at this than I am in practice, so far I've managed to end my mission either by ramming into sea cliffs or mines. I suspect if I had played this back in the day...well I still would have sucked....but I would have enjoyed the atmosphere it provided.


This is the first of two games based on this property and a bit of trivia on Mobygames raises this interesting bit of gossip.





According to developer Steven Green, shortly after publishing the product Argus Press Software went bust and restarted as Grandslam Entertainments Ltd., having somehow transferred the copyright, licenses and assets from Argus to Grandslam just before liquidation, thus avoiding paying debts and royalties related to this and other products.


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I first played Predator in 1989 having borrowed it from a friend. And I celebrated this by inviting one of my other friends over. This was going to be great! It was based off an amazing action movie! It got a high score in Zzap! It was created by some of the System 3 people!


Loading the game was the first sign that something was horribly amiss.




Digitised graphics were all the rage but they seldom worked on the C64 and this was a pretty awful example. Still the game is what counted. We waited for the game to load slowly off the cassette. And we were off to a great start.




Until we moved. This game ran like treacle.




The parallax scrolling was kind of impressive but this was slow. Unrewarding. I was disappointed. My friend was more brutal. "This is a good game for your computer? Let's go back to my place, I've got a new IBM, it's got much better games than this rubbish."


The two games he was referring to.


Crazy Cars.




And Double Dragon.




On DOS. Both rubbish. Both far better than an afternoon playing Predator.


I did return to Predator later in the week. It's slow, frequently unfair and weird. The best way to engage the enemy (including the Predator) was to mostly run past them on a diagonal (well stroll really). Once you're past an enemy on the vertical it can't reach you. The graphics are OK until one remembers that Paul Norman did this and better with his Forbidden Forest games. The sound is almost non-existent. And yes, since I was playing the infamous PAL version I couldn't complete the game.


This feels like a rush job and on revisiting this I had a vague memory of a System 3 game preview in Commodore User or Zzap that looked a lot like this game. And while I don't have the issue to hand GTW comes up with the goods yet again.





Gung-Ho! was a title that was drawn up and story-boarded by Tim Best, which was set in the jungle and lots of shooting. Activision managed to see what Tim was proposing, and liked what they saw.

Recently at the time, Activision had got the Predator licence, and got System 3 to code the game. Tim changed some of the specifics to fit the new brief.


This was one of those cases where a game in development was repurposed as a licensed game. We've seen this work with Ghostbusters. We've seen an average take on this with Thundercats. This though is a failure. I'm glad I didn't buy this back in the day (and I feel sorry for my friend who did.) This is one of those reviews that make me wonder what on earth did Zzap play and the sort of review that changed me from buying a game day one to waiting for a budget release. Not only could you get the game cheaper but rereviews tended to be a bit more realistic.


Avoid this one.

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BMX Kidz I remember getting on a cover tape. But not a Commodore User, Zzap or Commodore Format cover mount. One of those "other" magazines I used to get just for the tapes. This was always a bit of a lottery because the tape mastering wasn't as great and sure enough with this one I could never get past the title screen. It would load and instantly crash. A waste of money back in the day. 


Playing it now it's obvious that this was inspired by a certain Nintendo game. Compare and contrast.








But it was obviously inspired by screenshots alone and is very much it's own game. Unlike Excitebike where you "snap" from one lane to the other BMX Kidz allows you free movement. It feels a lot bouncier, less digital than the Nintendo title.


And while they look a bit "bitty" now this sort of shading looked great on a CRT.




Not a bad little game this, not quite my jam but I think I would have enjoyed it back in the day had said cover tape worked. I also suspect it might be my pick of this lot given some of the competition. Yet again a decent budget title outshines it's more expensive brethren.

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3 hours ago, Rex Grossman said:

Never really thought before how Excite Bike didn’t inspire a load of clones. 

I suspect that it might have seemed pretty old fashioned by the time it was released in the west being a game from 1984. My experience with the NES is that most of their games feel like weird off brand C64 games (apart from Nintendo, HAL and Rare's works.)


I've never played Joe Danger but that always looked like it was inspired by Excitebike. And....er.....that's it really.



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