This weeks PC Zone scan is November 1997 including reviews of Shadows Of The Empire, Lands Of Lore 2, Total Annihilation among others. It’s also got a review of a really strange game called Galapagos which intrigued me at the time and I’ve been intending to take a look at on here eventually. No doubt I’ll get to it one day. The pdf is now available along with the cover CD in the usual place
I’m sharing the love this Valentine’s day with a newly scanned PC Zone – issue #57 (December 1997). This one has plenty of games I remember but nothing really classic at least in my eyes. My highlights are a Carmageddon article plus an interview with Douglas Adams about Starship Titanic. There is also a review of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg which was playtested at Origin as I understand as well as a variant on the 3 page ad for Wing Commander Prophecy from issue #58. As always the pdf and CD image can be found at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone
Also, I found a site (http://neil-black.co.uk/) with some of the floppy cover disks on it. The owner has kindly agreed to share these and will hopefully be providing some more in the future. I’m pained to say that while I have plenty of cover CD’s, all my floppy cover disks got thrown out years back and had probably been overwritten by then anyway. Most people probably did the same thing making the original disks quite hard to come by. I’d near enough given in on ever getting hold of any of them so it’s great to be able to fill in some of these gaps at long last. I’ll add the disks he’s done in with everything else over the weekend. Issue #56 should be forthcoming next week.
Wing Commander II was released for the FM Towns somewhat belatedly in 1995. Once again it got some cool new box art. Since I don’t strictly speaking own a copy of this one myself, the photo is from an Ebay auction where you could if you were so inclined buy it for the giveaway price of 400 Euros. I’m resorting to playing it from a burned CD instead. I’ve been looking forward to playing this one for a while now actually. WC1 received numerous ports and even a complete remake, most of which I’ve already played through on here. I haven’t played Wing Commander 2 on the other hand since blogging through it about 9 years back.
The Towns port of WC1 could be played on the base hardware (including the Marty console). WC2 needs to be installed to a hard disk however and needs a faster machine so Marty owners can forget about playing this one. The installation process is painfully slow from the single speed CD drive. I think I may prefer the pile of floppies it originally came on. Which one is actually quicker would be a close run thing. To be fair, this does include both the expansions right from the start making it the Towns equivalent of Wing Commander II Deluxe.
On starting the game, everything should look and sound very familiar for anyone who has played the PC original. Setting up my pilot proves to be a bit tricky as I’m presented with a screen of Japanese to contend with. I bash buttons randomly until it lets me through. Other than this, the graphics are straight from the PC version looking nice and crisp on the tiny screen. The music plays from the CD again but this time it’s literally just a recording of the MT-32 soundtrack. It may sound the same but this is a step back really as you have to wait for the CD to seek when changing track so it’s considerably less responsive than it might be.
The speech has been re-recorded with Japanese actors and has new subtitles to match. The audio quality appears to be better than the PC provided you don’t object to the massive amount of reverb on everything. Giant metal spaceships probably would have a serious echo I suppose so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. I can’t comment on the acting but I would imagine that can only be an improvement also. These new samples do only replace the original speech so there isn’t full speech throughout like there was on the Sega CD WC1.
There are also new digital samples for all the sound effects. These are a mixed bag but I think I preferred the work that went into Wing Commander 1. Some of the sounds used here come across a bit cartoony for my liking with over the top swooshes for spaceships flying by and a particular offender being the breaking glass sound when spaceships crash into each other. There isn’t a whole lot else to say about the cinematics. The space combat is nearly as familiar with some reservations.
Firstly, there is no apparent support for the analog joystick that I used with WC1. Without a manual, I’m not 100% sure there isn’t a means to get it working but I had to revert to using the keyboard. I originally played WC2 like this back on the PC many years ago so it should still be playable except it didn’t respond in the way I recall. The Towns port uses a system where the pretend joystick is gradually moved further from the center as you hold down the cursor key for longer. In theory, this means you have accuracy but it comes at the expense of very slow movement when tracking spaceships which is what you spend most of your time doing. I really struggled with it. As I type this, I’m wondering if you could hold down shift to go straight to full turn on the PC version but I’ve not been back to check.
I seemed to run into issues when several keys were pressed at once. I have no idea whether this is a thing on the FM Towns but instead of turning diagonally I would often just move in one direction. Having to slowly build up turning speed again just rubs this in. Similarly, I struggled to control my speed while doing anything else. This is a particular problem on the Towns since for some reason the spaceships in this version just love to crash into each other. I was forever running straight into my enemies who would stop dead when I was right behind them. It wasn’t just me having this problem as the enemies frequently flew into each other or my wingman. Just staying out of the way could be a good tactic in this port.
My final reservation is the speed of the game. I’m running this on a 486SX Towns – I originally played WC2 on a 386SX so I’d expect the Towns to be able to cope. Initially everything seemed OK until I got to the mission where you have to escort 2 Broadswords from the Concordia to blow up a Fralthi. The framerate in combat dropped as low as 1-2 FPS at a guess. I can only presume that some of the later more intense missions must be close to unplayable without a 486DX or better. With those sorts of specs, you could just about have been playing Wing Commander III instead on the PC.
I got about 7 missions in and decided I could have far more fun playing the PC version again so called it a day. There just isn’t much new to see in this particular port. It’s a curiosity but clearly not worth that Ebay asking price. The only arguable enhancement is the digital sound effects. If I had a faster machine and could figure out a method to use the joystick it could possibly compete with the PC original but as it stands I can’t recommend it. The only other Wing Commander to get a Towns port was Armada which was a straight up port which needed running directly from MS-DOS rather than Towns-OS as I recall. My Towns isn’t up to running that one so I’ll be passing it up.
It seems to me that Wing Commander didn’t get the best deal in terms of ports to the Towns. Love or hate them, the Ultima ports I’ve played were a whole lot more interesting. I do still have Ultima 4, 5 and 6 to revisit on this machine and will get around to them sooner or later despite the thought of all the Origin staff doing the voice acting in Ultima 6 filling me with dread.
A couple of weekends back, I had possibly the most nostalgic day I’m ever likely to have clearing some of my old stuff from my parents house. We moved into that house when I was about 5 years old and the oversized loft has been something of a dumping ground ever since. Despite moving out years back, I’ve never got round to sorting out all my stuff as there was never any pressing need. My Dad is planning on moving himself this year though so it all needs to be cleared. The biggest find were all my childhood comics of which there are hundreds (now sold off on Ebay). I also discovered a Sinclair Programs magazine from February 1985 containing loads of ZX Spectrum game listings. Anyone above a certain age will probably remember magazines like this where you were expected to type in the code for each game from the pages. These would frequently have errors leading to much frustration in trying to figure out why it didn’t work. This process provided an early insight into programming for lots of kids like myself and you will find plenty of developers who started out from type ins. The most obvious example from an Origin standpoint being Chris Roberts whose Kong type-in game appeared some years back on this blog.
If you had asked me before I found this, I’d have said that I remembered typing in games from numerous magazines as a kid. The fact is that every game that I can vaguely remember is included in this one magazine. There are some reviews in there as well but the majority of the pages are code listings for a score of games.
Of personal note is this back page with an advert for the keyboard that I got to replace the ever unreliable rubber keyboard of my Spectrum. Given the cut out part of the page, this must be the very advert that we bought it from all those years back.
At any rate with all this nostalgia in the air I thought I’d keep it going by doing something I’ve not tried in 30 years, typing in some game listings. There are several of these games I can recall well enough to know that I played them but the details are patchy. I’ll go for a relatively short one first which impressed me with its graphics at the time with something of a city landscape drawn with lots of lines and dots. I was no doubt easily impressed back then so we’ll see what it looks like now.
The process of typing this in is a whole lot easier than on the original 16K or 48K ZX Spectrum. For those that haven’t ever used one, there were various types of “shift” mode for every key meaning it could type in all the basic commands like PRINT and LOAD with one keypress. This was in fact the only way that it would accept BASIC commands so you needed to learn where all these keywords were and couldn’t just type the word in. This system was also on the ZX81 which had a keyboard that was far more board than it was key being a flat immovable piece of plastic. Reducing typing probably made sense in those circumstances. It also saved memory as I understand by just storing a reference to the basic command rather than the whole word in the program listing. Again on the ZX81 with a frankly ludicrous 1K of RAM by default, probably a good idea.
The 128K spectrum improved matters by actually allowing you to type in the commands. This is the machine I own these days but I’m cheating here and typing it on an emulator first just so I don’t have to save to tape every time I want to test it.
Cheating or not, typing in the program is quite a lengthy procedure, a lot more than I expected. The Spectrum can’t always keep up with my typing and misses out characters. Everything has to be exact and I ended up having to proofread through much of the code after I’d typed it in. To make debugging somewhat easier I decided to type out relevant lines and test as I went along rather than going in strictly line number order. I had at least a couple of dozen typos of my own to sort out before I got this working. Everything in the magazine was correct at least so I didn’t have to fix any existing errors.
One point to note is that the program redefines some of the character graphics by poking new ones into memory so that the ufos, trees, etc.. in the game can be represented by these tiles. Where a letter is underlined in the text, it means I have to swap the spectrum to graphics mode, enter the letter, then swap out again to continue typing. This took a little figuring out and doesn’t appear to be mentioned anywhere in the magazine.
To get the program to an actual Spectrum, I save it to a virtual cassette in the emulator, then use a utility to convert the tzx file to a wav which I emailed to my phone. I’ve got one of those car audio cassette adaptors for this purpose which plugs into the headphone jack and I can then just play it into the Speccy as if it was a cassette. If you ever want to use one of these things by the way, just slide the cassette into the open deck as above, don’t try to load the cassette conventionally as it will slice off the cable within a few uses.
So what does the game look like after all that. Graphically, it isn’t bad actually for a type in. Most of the code deals with drawing the city using lots of draw/plot commands. This takes some time on the Z80 in BASIC. The game plays like the spaceship sequences in Ultima 1 if anything except with two UFOs at a time instead of the one. I have to move a cursor around trying to blast them before they destroy the city. Everything moves in character jumps so it’s not smooth or fast but for a type-in, it’s ok. After an hour of typing, you will probably be bored with it within a couple of minutes mind you.
I got a watered down version of the experience here but reliving this little piece of the 80’s, it’s kind of hard to believe this was ever a thing. The reward for the effort is incredibly minimal but I did learn/relearn a bit about Spectrum BASIC in the process. Who knows, I may not have got into programming myself if it wasn’t for this particular magazine so it must be at least partly to blame for my career since. It would be hard to imagine a kid having the patience these days. For anyone curious enough to try this out, the tzx is available here.
After a severe lack of Origin in recent posts, I probably ought to consider renaming this site but there is no way I can be bothered to create a new banner. So instead, I’ll get back on topic and finally have a proper playthrough of Wing Commander 2 on FM Towns next week.
After a long break, I’m resuming my project to archive PC Zone. This has been going on for some years but has a long way left to go. The aim is to do at least one issue a week from here on out, working my way backwards from the block I’ve already done. This ought to be easily achievable and if I do manage to keep it up for the rest of the year I’ll have filled in all the gaps back to the start before 2019. I am still missing some issues however and all the floppy cover disks. If anyone wants to help out in any way please drop me a line. I’m especially interested in the early issues of which I’m missing a good number.
The next on the list was Xmas 1997:-
This is a bumper size issue including reviews of such classics as Grand Theft Auto, Curse Of Monkey Island and Blade Runner. I’ve also archived the cover CD and as ever all of these can be found with all the other scans at http://www.pixsoriginadventures.co.uk/PCZone
There isn’t much Origin content in this issue but there is a cool 3 page ad for Wing Commander Prophecy and also a full page ad for Netstorm which was developed by ex-Origin staff.