The ISA-Bus

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Category Archives: Games

MobyGames is its Old Self Again!

From what I read on Wikipedia, yet another company bought it three days ago and gave it back its former design. I only noticed just now.

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Five Games of Submarine Warfare

Sub Battle Simulator

Sub Battle Simulator (1987) is the oldest submarine game in this collection. It runs in CGA only. The demo allows five minutes of gameplay.

688 Attack Sub

688 Attack Sub (1989) is a complex simulation and was one of the first commercial VGA games. The demo is rather elaborate, you can see some screenshots here.

U-Boot Jagd

U-Boot Jagd (1993) is a German Windows game by Michael Roessmann. It is not a simulation, but a puzzle game, a bit like Minesweeper, a bit like Mastermind and a bit like Black Box.

SinkSub

SinkSub by Anders Wihlborg has become something of a classic and is now available for iPhone. Unlike U-Boot Jagd, it is a simulation of actual combat.

USS Sub Battle

USS Sub Battle by Geoffrey Miller is the newest game, ten years after Sub Battle Simulator. It is somewhat similar to SinkSub, just the other way round: You control a submarine attacked by other subs, destroyers, and choppers. unfortunately I couldn’t get it to run properly on anything, neither XP nor Win32s. It is probably 95/98 only.

Chip’s Challenge Ending Screens

Lynx

The (original) Lynx version rewarded the player best for beating this difficult game. The scene with Chip and Melinda is animated, and we even get to see the E-Prom. No other version did that.

Lynx Ending: Chip and Melinda Lynx Ending: The E-Prom

Images Software

In 1990, the game was ported by Images Software, a British developer, for U.S.Gold, a British publisher, mainly to platforms popular in the UK and Europe. Some of the ports were published by Epyx in the USA, but on the whole this was a UK/EU affair. The actual releases were in January 1991 BTW.

Amiga and Atari ST

Chip's Challenge Amiga ending screen

Melinda seems to be suffering under a bad case of hover hand, or maybe rather hover arm. Isn’t that supposed to be a guy phenomenon? The computer, on the other hand, is a fairly correct rendition of a Commodore PC:

Back of a Commodore PC 20-III

Back of a Commodore PC 20-III – Click to enlarge

Four expansion slots, check. Not used because everything essential is on the motherboard, check. Power unit fan above the serial and parallel ports, check. Keyboard plugs into side, check. It should be the other side, but nobody’s perfect.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Chip's Challenge Sinclair ZX Spectrum ending screen

This looks like an exact copy of the Amiga ending screen, minus the hover arm. The clothes are done quite well, far better than the rest, with good avoidance of attribute clash.

Commodore 64

Chip's Challenge Commodore 64 ending screen

The computer is simplified, the coffee cup gone, Melinda’s pose is a bit different, the image does not fill the whole screen but has a border with rounded corners.

Amstrad CPC

Chip's Challenge Amstrad CPC ending screen

Minor details like the computer and the circuit pattern are the same as in the C64 ending screen, Melinda’s pose is the same, but otherwise, what improvements! Among the in-house Images versions, this ending screen wins hands down.

Audio Visual Magic

The DOS port was subcontracted to Audio Visual Magic, unfortunately no information is available about this company. Graphics are credited to Images Software, which is definitely not true for the ending screen (here’s the VGA version):

Chip's Challenge ending screen, DOS/VGA

Interesting detail: On the back of the Epyx box, there are photographs probably meant to represent the protagonists of the game, though the text does not mention the back story at all:

Melinda Chip

Obviously these photographs were used as reference for the end screen art.

EGA

Chip's Challenge ending screen, DOS/EGA

Why is Chip’s shirt purple in EGA? The dark red would have been a lot closer to the VGA image.

CGA

Chip's Challenge ending screen, DOS/CGA

Even in CGA, the ending screen looks surprisingly good.

Windows

Microsoft’s Windows port eliminated the romance element altogether. The ending is completely different. First, the Chip sprite is enlarged till it fills the whole gameplay area, and does a little dance. Then we get a graphic…

Chip's Challenge Windows ending screen (2)

…and this message:

Melinda herself offers Chip membership in the exclusive Bit Busters computer club, and gives him access to the club’s computer system. Chip is in heaven!

Not a word about the E-Prom.

Check for Yourself

There is a secret level called Special. It is usually accessed with the code DIGW, easy to traverse if you know what you have to do, and leads directly to the end screen. In the Atari ST version, the code is RGSK, but the level is buggy, Chip starts on an impassable tile and cannot be moved at all.

Roland in France and Germany

The only French company to consistently support Roland MT-32 was Delphine Software, known mainly for “Another World” and “Flashback”. They did it from 1990, when they started to port their games to the PC, till the end of the DOS era. Cryo Interactive Entertainment did it only for the two titles they developed for Virgin, “Dune” and “KGB”. I guess that Roland had little to no relevance for the domestic French market.

In Germany the situation was a whole lot weirder. Support was very inconsistent and started very late, around 1994, when the Roland era was already over elsewhere. So far the only game I found where Roland is definitely the best choice is the 1995 RPG Albion. This may have something to do with the prices charged for the LAPC-I in Germany. According to one 1991 game guide, an AdLib cost 200 German Marks at the time, a Sound Blaster 350 and an LAPC-I 1,300. Seeing that a German Mark was usually about 50 cents, and the suggested retail price of the LAPC-I in the USA was $425, that’s a bit much.

Roland in Britain

Outside Japan, there are only two countries where Roland hardware was widely supported in games: The USA and the UK. There are several differences between the support in these two countries.

In the USA, support started in 1988. The default device was and remained the first generation MT-32, of which there are large numbers in the USA. You can still get one on eBay for $50. Many games sent messages to the LCD display, not just Sierra games. Very few games used the additional sound effects of the CM-32L and LAPC-I, noteworthy ones are the two Ultima Underworld games and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. That was 1993, when American developers were already moving to General MIDI. Consequently, most (not all) American games that support MT-32 but not GM will run on a 286 or even 8088 with 512kB RAM.

In the UK, support started in 1990 and the default device seems to have been the LAPC-I from the beginning. Many games, starting with Supremacy in 1990, used the additional sound effects, many will not even run correctly with first generation hardware. None that I am aware of sends a message to the LCD display.

MobyGames lists a few 1989 UK games that supposedly support Roland, but at closer look, they all evaporate: Ste Cork’s Chuckie Egg port did not support any sound cards, only speaker, as did the original release of Double Dragon II, though Adlib and Roland support seems to have been added in a 1991 re-release. Bloodwych and Millennium 2.2 are Amiga/ST games where the existence of contemporary PC ports is questionable, while 1991 American releases for PC are well documented.

If British composers and developers discovered Roland later, they also acquired greater mastery. When especially good Roland music is discussed, or games where the Roland score is a lot better than the alternatives, the majority of quoted games is usually British. Some of these games are otherwise quite obscure, like King’s Table: The Legend of Ragnarok.

The end of the LAPC-I era in the UK seems to have come around 1994. The last games I found so far where Roland is the best music choice is Sabre Team. It requires a 386.

Circuit’s Edge and the MT-32

Circuit’s Edge will not play its music correctly on Sound Canvas MT-32 emulation. It will, in fact, be horribly off: Instead of Fantasy and Synth the intro will use standard pianos.

The interesting thing is that there is no detectable activity before the music starts. Dune II, in comparison, takes its time to initialize the MT-32.

Chip’s Challenge and the MT-32

I just tried Chip’s Challenge with an MT-32, I wanted to see if it uploads any custom patches. It does not. There is absolutely no activity before the music actually starts.

Now I know from previous experience that Chip’s Challenge will work with a WaveBlaster connector. Unfortunately, there never was a full-featured MT-32 on a daughterboard. There is, however, a complete Sound Canvas on a daughterboard: The Roland SCD-15. And a game that does not upload patches will work well with the MT-32 emulation of the Sound Canvas.

As a footnote, the music isn’t the same as in the original Lynx version. It was written by David Whittaker, probably the most sought-after British game composer of the time. Except for the famous Windows version, all the ports were made by British outfit Images Software, and mostly to platforms popular in the UK. You can play Pipe Mania on a Mac or NES, but not Chip’s Challenge!

Dune II and the Roland MT-32

I have read in various places that Dune II will work only with a first generation MT-32. Not true. I just tried it with an original MT-32, a CM-32L, and even with the MT-32 emulation of the SCC-1. The emulation, of course, gets the sound effects wrong, but might even be a viable alternative if the multiple sound source patch is installed and Sound Blaster used for the sound effects. The first generation MT-32 may sound somewhat better, but all three setups basically work.

Actually I’m not sure if it is even possible to have a game that works only with a first generation synth. The other way round, yes. Ignoring the 40 ms delay between sysex commands may cause buffer overflows, broken sounds and even firmware lockups. But I think the worst that can happen when a game that exploits the first generation bugs is run on later hardware is that it sounds a bit odd in places.

A Timeline of Japanese Games in the West

This is not intended to be a list of games (I’ve done that before), or to be complete in any way. It just picks a few samples to show how things developed.

1975: Taito’s “Western Gun” is licensed by Midway as “Gun Fight”.

1979: Taito’s “Space Invaders”, again published by Midway in the USA, is probably the first Japanese arcade game to make a real impact abroad.

1985: The Famicom is released in North America as Nintendo Entertainment System. It is completely redesigned to resemble a VCR more than a game console.

1986: Ken Williams travels to Japan with the intention to sell Sierra games there. Instead he returns with a game he has bought: “Thexder” by Game Arts, which will become Sierra’s best selling game in 1987. Other game ports resulting from this cooperation are Silpheed, Zeliard and Fire Hawk. Sierra will also port Nihon Falcom’s Sorcerian in 1987.

1987: Spectrum HoloByte licenses Sokoban and creates versions for Apple II, Commodore 64 and PC.

1988: Koei establishes a Californian subsidiary and publishes at least every other game in the USA, on multiple platforms. The “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” series is probably the most popular.

1989: Brøderbund ports thre PC-88 titles: Cosmic Soldier 2: Psychic War (Kogado), Wibarm (Arsys Software), Ys (Nihon Falcom, first game only). Seika ports “Take the A-Train II” as “Railroad Empire”.

1990: Final Fantasy is released in the USA. According to one survey, Mario is recognized by more American children than Mickey Mouse.

1992: Maxis publishes “Take the A-Train III” as simply “A-Train”. Liberty International Components forms the subsidiary Megatech Software, which brings the first eroge to the USA.

1994: SoftEgg translates Gainax’ Princess Maker 2. They are unable to find a publisher, but the finished translation gets leaked and enjoys some popularity anyway.

1994/95: Hitoshi Ozawa translates a number of freeware Windows games into English, among them Same Game.

1995: The Sony Playstation is released in the USA.

1996: JAST USA is founded.

Snakes and PCs in Norway

Recently I uploaded Tom Kristensen’s Snake to Download Central and noticed that it’s already the fourth Snake implementation from Norway. Since there are currently only 21 Snake games, that is quite remarkable.

Another thing that I noticed is that development for the PC seems to have started earlier than in most other European countries. The newly uploaded Snake is from 1984, as is Roar A. Lauritzsen’s. Ivar Gundersen’s Yatzy is from 1985.

In comparison, the oldest British PC game currently on Download Central is Rimtrix (1988), the oldest French PC game Popcorn (1988), and the oldes German PC game Tet42 (1989). Then I remembered that Magnus Itland wrote, more than ten years ago:

Norway is the most Americanized country this side of the big pond. We eat lots of Big Macs and Whopper Cheese and drink lots of Coca Cola and Pepsi. We have more American PCs and visit more American Internet sites. And we have ca the same GDP and the same density of PCs and Internet access as the USA, too.

So I guess it figures.