Manhunter New York – Part 1

After very briefly taking a look at Origin’s IIGS ports in the last post, I thought I should try out a game that was actually enhanced for the IIGS. One of Sierra’s AGI games seemed like the obvious choice so I’m going to be replaying a childhood favourite of mine – Manhunter New York.

Sierra’s AGI engine was effectively a virtual machine within which their games would run. This meant that once that VM was ported to another platform, in theory at least, all of their games would then be compatible. It was all quite slick for the time but not without consequences. Since AGI had originally targeted the PC Jr’s very limited sound and graphics capabilities, the upshot was that all the AGI games looked years out of date when ported to everything else. Even the Amiga versions of these games were near enough the same down to the beepy music and low res graphics. If you wanted to show off the capabilities of your Amiga, you wouldn’t have touched these Sierra games with a barge pole.

For whatever reason, the Apple IIGS actually saw slightly enhanced ports of a number of these Sierra games. They still didn’t exactly push the system but they are a real curiosity for someone who grew up on AGI games like myself. At one point in my life, I would have told anyone without irony that Manhunter was the best game ever. I won’t be telling you that here but playing this again will be a definite nostalgia trip. I still know the game inside-out so I’m expecting to play through it at some speed.

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Before that, I’ll take a look at the box for the PC version. It’s in a typical late 80’s Sierra slipcase with the back showing the Murrys who developed the game dressed up in brown cloaks as Manhunters. This is the same team that developed The Ancient Art Of War some years earlier, a title I will definitely be playing at some point on this blog.

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The inside of the box is stuffed full of disks and paperwork. The day-glow pages in the manual were probably an attempt to throw off photocopiers since it’s also used for keyword copy protection every time you start the game. The included map has lots of information most of which will be used in the games puzzles in one shape or form. You can still finish the game without it but it definitely helps.

To get around to those IIGS enhancements, the graphics changes are so subtle as to be almost non-existent with an altered palette being used for some screens. This is minimal being mainly seen in more realistic skin tones than the Tandy could manage. There is also a slight tweak in the credits sequence to add the author of the IIGS port on the side of a box in the alley. The major difference is in the sound with the music being ported to the IIGS’s MIDI synthesizer and in some cases new pieces being composed. The IIGS also uses digitized sound effects throughout rather than the usual beeps.

To illustrate, I’ll break habit and use video which if nothing else is a chance to see if my new phone is any better at capturing video from CRT’s. First off, here is the intro and early stages of Manhunter running on a Tandy:-

And now, the all new and improved IIGS port:-

I have to say that I’m already won over by the changes. It’s still so close to the original that the nostalgia isn’t lost which is a good thing in my case. The music isn’t fantastic but is an improvement and the actual sound effects have to be better than PC speaker. As for the ability of my phone for videoing this stuff, it’s debatable but isn’t any worse than my last one. It’s a whole lot better for photos at any rate which will certainly help.

What is blatantly missing from this port is some proper mouse controls. The Manhunter series was highly unusual among AGI games in that it dropped the text parser entirely and used a context sensitive icon instead. This had to be controlled using the cursors on PC and was always crying out for being mouse driven instead. Sierra have added mouse control on the IIGS but all it does is slowly move the cursor to the position on the screen you clicked at which point you can press return to select whatever you clicked on. I’m not impressed with this but it’s no doubt still due to the underlying AGI engine which is in effect being automatically driven by a bolted on bit of mouse handling code.

The interface is a bit of a lost opportunity then but I’m still looking forward to playing this again. I’ll take a look at the game and storyline in the next post when I’ve played through the rest of the game.

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