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Wings Over Sealand


When all your dreams come true

Posted on January 05, 2018 by RevStu

I was as pleased as a big fat walrus with a free bucket of haddock today to be able to contribute to the week-long one-off revival celebrating the 25th anniversary of the start of the majestic Digitiser. 

Especially when I got a lovely new Panel 4 picture from Mr Biffo (instead of money). But I got a bit distracted in the column, and forgot to talk about the thing I meant to talk about, so I'm going to talk about it now.

For more years than I can remember, I promised myself that if I ever got rich, I'd spend loads of the money getting coders to write ports of arcade games that never got good versions – or any versions – on the Spectrum. (I might also use some of the cash to get a psychiatrist to figure out why that was a thing I wanted to do, but it is and that's that and we'll all just have to deal with it.) 

And while I'm not rich yet, it turns out that handily lots of people have decided to just go ahead and do that anyway without hanging around for me to win the lottery. And since Retro Gamer is owned by Future now so there's no point pitching them an article about it, I may as well get into the same spirit and write about it here for nothing.

(A good place to keep up with all this stuff, btw, is Indie Retro News.)

HORACE AND THE ROBOTS (Spectrum)

This is an absolutely stunning port of Alan McNeil's legendary coin-op Berzerk, perfect in almost every detail, including the famous speech. (You'll have to faff around a bit to get the speech to work, admittedly – the sound effects are coded for the 128K Spectrum while the speech uses an emulated Currah MicroSpeech unit, which only worked with the 48K, so you'll need an emulator that can fudge those together.)

You can download the game file here (TAP) and here (SNA).

TERRAPINS (Spectrum)

This is Allan Turvey's conversion of Turtles aka Turpin, by Sega – a game I used to play in the long-lost Purple Penny arcade on the promenade in Southport. The only previous Speccy stab at the game was Turtle Timewarp, which had all the elements but didn't really play anything like the original, and Terrapins knocks it into a cocked hat and then throws that hat under a train.

It's a bit slower and easier than the coin-op, which is no bad thing, but otherwise plays just like it and even features all the little intros and cut-scenes. There's a free playable demo at the website (which just repeats stage 1 over and over), but the full version is only $1.99 (about £1.47 when I bought it) and comes with a free mini Space Invaders game for extra value. It's worth every penny and then some.

(Allan's also working on a free update that gives Terrapins a Rally-X makeover.)

WIZARD OF WOR (Spectrum)

The Speccy did get a fairly decent unofficial clone of this 1980 Midway arcade hit that's basically Berzerk except in more claustrophobic corridors – Abersoft's playable and (in design terms, anyway) pretty faithful The Wizard's Warriors.

But this self-titled port (which is in fact ostensibly of the very good official C64 version) by Hungarian coders Weird Science is the real deal, with the full roster of baddies and authentic graphics and 128K sound.

You can download it here.

MOLE RAT/SHUTTLEBUG (Spectrum)

Exidy's deceptively simple maze battle Targ is the grand-daddy of perhaps the most addictive videogame in all of time – Geometry Wars Waves. The only attempt at a Spectrum port was Bedlam – weirdly one of the small handful of action games ever published by serious wargame specialists MC Lothlorien – and the resemblance in play was pretty superficial, with Bedlam having a weird stop-start control system that was basically the antithesis of Targ's constant movement.

Targ's arcade follow-up was Spectar, which didn't get any kind of Speccy attempt until both games were ported superbly in 2012 by two-man team Stonechat Productions.

Other than very slight graphical tweaks and an inexplicable switch to pale blue instead of yellow for the grid blocks, Mole Rat simply IS Targ (and is every last bit as brutal), while Shuttlebug is more "based on" Spectar, but still a pretty close cousin in play.

Mole Rat can be downloaded here, and Shuttlebug here.

FARMER JACK AND THE HEDGE MONKEYS (Spectrum)

As far as I know nobody ever tried to clone Exidy's revolving-door Pac-Man derivative Lady Bug on the Speccy, so this superb and very authentic effort by prolific homebrew coder Bob "Bob's Stuff" Smith (who also ported Horace In The Mystic Woods from the Psion Series 3 electronic organiser back to the Speccy) has the field to itself – DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE? – and ploughs it but good.

You can download it here.

FARMER JACK IN HARVEST HAVOC (Spectrum)

Conversely, while loads of people tried to bring Universal's iconic earth-mover Mr Do to the Sinclair machine, nobody ever came close to capturing it, with the least bad of a poor bunch being DK Tronics' Hard Cheese, which had all the core elements of the arcade smash present but played like it had necked a full case of Red Bull and was basically about hiding at the end of a long tunnel rather than fighting enemies.

Smith stepped up again to try to put things right, and while he tweaked a few aspects of the gameplay (you drop bombs rather than firing Do's magical bouncing ball, and some other stuff gets left out entirely), it looks fantastic and nails the feel of the original far better than anything else on Sir Clive's black marvel ever did.

The download is here. And incidentally, news reaches us that former Ocean coding star Mark Jones is putting the last finishing touches to a proper Speccy version of Do! which should be with us excitingly soon.

DINGO (Spectrum)

This one's a really strange bit of full-circling. The most legendary Spectrum coders in the business were Ultimate Play The Game, who (unbeknownst to home gamers at the time) had started out in the 1980s making quirky coin-ops like Blue Print for Zilec Electronics, under the name Ashby Computers & Graphics.

Another of their early titles was the single-screen fruit-flinging food-fight Dingo, which languished in obscurity until its heritage was traced in 2011 and it was brought home to the Speccy by Tardis Remakes.

The port was a brilliant piece of work, gorgeously presented in an un-Speccy-like riot of colour, with an Ultimate-style loading screen and front end, and the tighter play area gave an already-tricky game a level of difficulty that would have sucked many a 10p piece out of young pockets.

Dingo can be found here.

SPACE INVADERS (Spectrum)

This is where things get crazy. By the time the popular 8-bit computers had taken off in the early 1980s, Space Invaders (launched in 1978) was already somewhat old hat hipness-wise, with the result that despite it being relatively technically undemanding even for modestly-powered home hardware, hardly any formats got a really good port.

But that changed last year when, astoundingly, someone coded an actual emulator into a tape file on the Speccy built from the original coin-op ROMs. The screenshots below aren't from the arcade game – that's Space Invaders running, at full original speed and with sound, on Spectaculator, and it should do the same if you load the tape into a real Spectrum (+2A or +3). 

It's even got access to the dipswitches so you can set the extra-life score and so on. It's the maddest and most incredible feat, and you really have to see it.

The TAP file is here, and needs to be run in Spectrum +2A or +3 mode. D toggles the dipswitch menu, 3 adds a credit and 1 and 2 start 1-player and 2-player games.

PAC-MAN (Spectrum)

And once you've done Space Invaders, you might as well bash out Pac-Man too, right?

It's a shame that the sprites are just about the worst possible size to run nicely on the Spectrum without some major colour clash, but it's a small price to pay, especially when you see what the official port looked like.

The ready-to-run Pac-Man TAP file (+2A or +3 again) is here. Press C for colour mode, M for mono, and choose the screen colour with Symbol Shift (usually the right Shift key on your PC keyboard) and the number keys.

(There's a version of the emu for the SAM Coupé "super-Spectrum", which is free of colour clash and all but arcade-perfect. The built game file for Pac-Man is here, and the SAM Space Invaders is here, though Invaders runs sideways and with no sound.)

So, y'know, jeepers criminy and get a load of all that stuff, matron. I can't wait to find out what new releases a 36-year-old 8-bit micro might get this year. (Allan "Terrapins" Turvey has a port of Joust – another classic that never got a decent Speccy version – called Roust in the Speccy pipeline, which ought to be worth seeing.)

Incidentally, if you're wondering why every game in the feature has "(Spectrum)" after its name, it's because it was originally going to have games for other formats in it too, but it just got too big. You can check a few of them out below, though.

FROGGER (C64)

(Completely stunning port let down only marginally by the C64's uggo palette. Contrast with the original Parker Brothers interpretation below it.)

FROGGER '07 (VIC-20)

(Still more impressive, though, is probably this one for the C64's vastly more primitive predecessor, pictured above the skanky commercial release.)

FROGGER (Amstrad CPC)

(And best of the lot is this one for the CPC Plus machines. The author also coded the CPC emulator WinAPE, and weirdly an Amstrad conversion of Acornsoft's Snapper for the BBC Micro.)

DONKEY KONG 2016 (C64)

(Both of the official C64 Kong ports, by Atarisoft and Ocean, were actually respectable, but this is a very nice job, other than being a little wonkily-coloured.)

DONKEY KONG JUNIOR (C64)

(Though it's rather outdone by this fabulous home-made take on the sequel.)

BUBBLE BOBBLE (Amstrad CPC)

(The official CPC port was pretty shoddy – no joystick controls, wonky colours and most importantly missing the iconic in-game music without which Bubble Bobble is nothing. This homebrew rework fixed all of that and more.)

COMMANDO REMAKE (C64)

(With all 8 arcade stages, not the measly 3 of the licenced 1986 Elite release.)

BOMB JACK DX (C64)

(Due out soon, a radical reimagining of the somewhat duff official conversion.)

SCRAMBLE (Atari VCS)

(This plays so fast and smoothly, and is so true to the coin-op, that you won't believe it. Just phenomenal, and arguably the best VCS game ever coded.)

SUPER COBRA ARCADE (Atari VCS)

(Just as good a port as Scramble, but of a slightly less good game.)

(Compare the new version to the gruesome bin fire that was actually released at the time, admittedly on a cart a quarter of the size.)

SCRAMBLE 2015 (C64)

(And the breadbin is also in on the Scramble action, although sadly this otherwise-terrific rendition doesn't seem to behave with joystick control on emulators.)

R-TYPE RELOADED (Amstrad CPC)

(Or how about this jaw-dropping from-scratch remake of R-Type for the CPC, which has all sorts of extras including a brand new bonus stage where you can go INSIDE the Level 3 battleship?)

PAC-MAN 8K (Atari VCS)

(The original VCS Pac-Man, coded by one poor sod in about six weeks, is one of the most infamous stains on gaming history. It's been remade several times and gradually enhanced, but this is probably as close to the coin-op as the VCS hardware could ever produce. There's also4K version – the same size as the original cart – which plays just like the 8K but without the arcade sound or attract mode.)

DEFENDER ARCADE (Atari VCS)

(There's a whole sub-genre of "remakes" that are actually hacks of the original carts rather than being written from the ground up. The shonky VCS port of Galaxian has been significantly improved, but the cleverest is probably this reverse-engineering of Stargate into a vastly better version of Defender than the one which was released.)

DRACONIAN (Atari VCS)

(Not sure why it isn't Bosconian, but it's another completely gobsmacking piece of work on the string-and-sawdust hardware. The VCS coders of the 1980s would have fainted clean away if you'd tried to tell them this was possible on the machine.)

BEEF DROP (Atari 7800)

(Serving to represent the incredible output of Bob Decrescenzo, a coder about whom we could write an entire article, who's produced a string of games for – mostly but by no means only – the Atari 7800 and 5200, including this Burger Time clone plus Astro Blaster, Astro FighterSpace InvadersFrenzy/Berzerk, Pac-ManScramble, Moon CrestaAsteroids Deluxe, and lots more.)

PAC-MAN COLLECTION (Colecovision)

A striking improvement on the official release, by Opcode Games who also did a terrific Coleco port of Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part II.)

(Below: the official Atarisoft version.)

FLICKER-FREE KONG (ZX80)

(Most people won't realise just what a mind-boggling achievement this is, tbh.)

POLE POSITION (Atari ST)

(Okay, this isn't 8-bit, but it's too good not to get a mention.)

VECTOR PILOT (Vectrex)

(A personal favourite – the first arcade game I ever clocked.)

GO AWAY NOW. IS CLOSED.

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1 to “When all your dreams come true”

  1. John says:

    I used to play Frenzy quite a bit back in the day

    http://www.worldofspectrum.org/infoseekid.cgi?id=0001871






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