Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Game 307: The Lords of Midnight

I came into The Lords of Midnight not being really sure what to expect. One of the more famous games of the ZX Spectrum's early years, and one of the few that I find visually tolerable, I had a vague Wikipedia-level understanding that it blends grand strategy with adventure-style gameplay, much like Singleton's War in Middle Earth a few years later, but little idea how it manages this. Brief glimpses of gameplay footage on Youtube hadn't cleared up much either.

A video titled "campaign victory" is six and a half hours of stills like this.

The Lords of Midnight's manual comes prefaced with a novella explaining the events leading to the start of the game. I had to share this with "D," who, being an avowed Tolkien fangirl, howled with laughter at almost every paragraph and concluded it wouldn't be out of place among the rash of Lord of the Rings knock-offs that flooded the market in the 70's, except that it's even more badly written than most of them.

Here's a curated, mostly out of context selection of MST3K-style riffs I heard as she read chapter 2, in which the witch king Doomdark sends his flunky Fawkrin (a nondescript "Skulkrin,") to spy on the lord Luxor and his son Morkin.

  • "Generations of winter. Okay, we're cribbing C.S. Lewis now. Never Christmas either, right?"
  • "I'm picturing this skulkrin as a baby bird who talks like Grima Wormtongue. Oh wait, now he's talking like Dobby. And now he's Gollum."
  • "I picture Doomdark as Emperor Zurg from Toy Story 2. But with Red Forman's voice, and always threatening to put his foot up someone's ass."
  • "The trees are breathing now?"
  • "Man-warmth. I smell man flesh!"
  • "Bbffhfhaahahahahaha!" (Fawkrin senses "boy-warmth") "Is that like man-warmth toned down or can he smell puberty?"
  • "I keep wanting to say his name is Falkor."
  • "Doomdark's a stupid name."
  • "I think Luxor looks like Boromir from the cartoon."
  • "Moon Power!"
  • "These wise men are Wise and I'll bet you they're elves."
  • "Third degree burn from Gollum. He just called you a great warlump. And a mound of flatulence."
  • "I still can't get over that the trees breathe. Are the trees made of meat?"
  • "Ewww! If you're gonna eat him don't be creepy about it."
  • "Morkin is not a name a boy should have. Morkin is a wizard from a Disney cartoon."
  • "Mmmphftt" (Fawkrin sprinkled some salt on Morkin's arm)
  • "These people talk like they work at Medieval Times."
  • "Why would he try to bite him now? When they're both awake?"
  • (Morkin asks Luxor if the skulkrin venom needs to be sucked out of his wound) - "I've read fan-fiction where this goes awry."
  • "That was shit. What's a skulkrin?"

In the remainder of the novella, "Corleth the Fey," who comes off as an amalgamation of Gandalf, Elrond, and Radagast, turns Fawkrin good by being nice, and then meets up with Luxor and Morkin, joining their ranks against Doomdark. By dawn, they arrive at The Tower of the Moon, where Rorthron, last of The Wise, warns that Doomdark mobilizes his foul armies for war against the unready lands of the Free, and the four of them plan their campaign.

The goal of The Lords of Midnight is to defeat Doomdark, either through military conquest of his seat of power in the Citadel of Ushgarak, or by destroying the object of his power, the Ice Crown, which only Morkin is capable of approaching and must journey without an army to do so (Just. Write. A LOTR game! - "D"). We're told it is possible to focus on one goal or the other, but to experience the "complete epic" requires equal attention to both. The campaign is lost should Luxor fall, or if Doomdark's armies overrun the last free citadel, but a chance of victory through subterfuge will remain as long as Morkin lives.

The four characters, Luxor, Morkin, Corleth, and Rorthron, will independently explore the land of Midnight in search of clues, artifacts, and allies, while Doomdark's armies march on the citadels, his powers growing with each conquest, and on Luxor, whose "moon ring" gives him clairvoyance but also reveals his location. The interface to command them all involves a keyboard overlay and is unconventional by modern standards, but then again what aspect of the ZX Spectrum isn't?

The basic commands here are MOVE, LOOK, THINK, and CHOOSE. LOOK will show a panoramic view of the landscape from the selected character's perspective akin to Might & Magic's outdoor areas, and from there you may choose a cardinal direction to re-orient him. MOVE steps forward one grid-unit space in the direction currently facing. THINK shows a detailed status screen for the selected character, and CHOOSE brings up a menu of context-sensitive actions (e.g. Corleth alone may seek to recruit Fey from their forest homes). Actions, especially moving, cost stamina and pass time, and each character may only perform so many of them before night falls. NIGHT effectively ends your heroes' turn and allows Doomdark to move.

I started up a new game, still not very sure of what to expect.

A cassette inlay shows the basic topography of Midnight.

The four lords start at the Tower of the Moon, surrounded by forest. Doomdark's domain is far up north, and as the mountains and forests are impassable to his armies, they must pass through the Plains of Blood to reach the southern half of Midnight. I started by having the four coordinate to map it out.

Rorthron, heading west, soon came across something interesting.

But night fell and he could not approach.

Luxor turned south and immediately faced dragons.

"How did I miss those?"

The view here is misleading. The dragons are in the square ahead of you, not the current one. I had Luxor step forward, and nothing happened... until I tried to leave the square.

"Seek" did nothing but waste time. I tried "fight" - Luxor was victorious and no worse for the wear.

Luxor would continue west on his parallel, fighting two packs of wolves and downgrading his status to "very invigorated" by nightfall.

Morkin and Corleth headed south, and Corleth fought some skulkrins south of the tower (why can't I just charm them?), but his luck ran out in the Forest of Shadows.

I am so confused.

Unfortunately, I haven't got the slightest idea how combat works, and the game gives precious little feedback. Every previous encounter thus far simply ended in victory for the lord, and an abstract measure of their remaining stamina, morale, and ability to withstand Doomdark's magic. I don't know why Corleth beat the skulkrins but not the wolves, especially when Luxor before him killed two packs after slaying dragons. The RPG conventions of stat sheets, hit dice, and damage outputs just have no place here.

On day 2, Luxor got eaten by wolves almost immediately. The manual warns us that should this happen, all control over everyone but Morkin is lost, but it was not. Rorthron remained under my control, approached the ruins, searched, and found a "dragonslayer" sword, and found little else past but the Plains of Ashimar and frozen wastes beyond. Morkin followed Corleth's steps, killed the wolves that got him, and then killed the wolves that got Luxor.

On day 3, Rorthron continued exploring the frozen wastelands southward, while Morkin continued southwest past the ruins, killing multiple dragons, and eventually reaching the Plains of Ashimar.

At the end of day 4, the game presented a grim but awkwardly polysyndetic reminder of the urgency of our quest.


Rorthron and Morkin kept exploring and charting the plains for days. Rothron emerged from the south first into the downs where he effortlessly killed more dragons. Word of battles raging in the northern citadels continued, but R&M kept exploring the plains southward, then eastward once they could go south no more, killing all manner of wolf, dragon, and ice troll in their path.

A keep in the distance as Rorthron explores the southernmost plains

Some of the landmarks I found during this combing included:

  • Shelter in ruins and caverns, restoring the visitor's health.
  • The Cup of Dreams, which brings the day back to dawn (but only for that character), effectively allowing up to double the number of actions he can take that day.
  • The Waters of Life, which "invigorate" you. I have no idea how or if this differs from shelter.
  • The Wolfslayer Sword, found by Rorthron.
  • The Hand of Dark which brings nightfall, ending your characters movement that day.
  • Wild horses just about everywhere. I'm not quite sure what they do.

Apart from horses, these landmarks may only grant their benefit once, and only to one character. If Rorhtron investigates some ruins and discovers shelter, he exhausts this benefit, and Morkin will find nothing there.

On day 9, after an untold number of combat victories, Morkin finally became a Skulkrin's snack.

Rorthran continued east, and ran into Lord Rorath, who was quickly recruited. Unfortunately, the game ended at nightfall.


Such an ignoble end to a promising fellowship!

Exploring Midnight row-by-row had been kind of fun. The landscape view is immersive after you get over some perspective weirdness, and you always want to know just what lies beyond that mountain range or in the ruins or tower that's just tantalizingly out of reach, but I suspect you aren't supposed to play like it's a Might and Magic game by exhaustively searching every acre while a war rages north, growing Doomdark's fearsome powers as his victories tally up and potential allies join his dark ranks instead of yours. Yet, I didn't lose the war. I didn't live long enough for that. I lost because I pushed my luck against the wildlife, mainly wolves, just often enough to lose.

I'll have to keep trying, and maybe be smarter next time. Study the map, form a plan, and most of all, avoid fighting unless the character has a special weapon or is Rorthran, who went undefeated. Still, I can't help but wish the fight mechanics were less obscured. It's annoying right now when a perfectly healthy Luxor gets beaten by a pack of wolves identical to so many packs he slew without incident before, and doesn't bode well at all for the inevitable late-game army clashes.

My map so far:

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Games 304-306: Early Mike Singleton

Mike Singleton, author of large scale, open-world classics including Midwinter, War in Middle Earth, and our next whale, The Lords of Midnight, is another designer whose name I know through reading articles and histories but whose games I haven't ever played.

This post is about a selection of his early, humbler works, some of which are lost to time. Computer Race, for instance, the first game he programmed after graduating from tinkering on a programmable calculator to a Commodore PET, simulated horse races and featured PETSCII-animations based on Muybridge's famous serial photographs, and sold but a single copy in Ireland, far enough away from the arm of Britain's strict betting laws.

Space Ace

No relation to Don Bluth's laserdisc followup to Dragon's Lair, Singleton's Space Ace, c1982, is his earliest game that I can actually play.

It's Star Fire yet again, and not even the only time a British developer did this that year. There's one novelty here to make it stand out - try not to get too excited. You have a "lock on" mechanism that lets you match speed and vector with a target, and once locked on, the numpad controls let you hone in on the target. It's not much, but it does slightly improve the immersion factor, and make the gameplay just a bit more interesting. But let's not go overboard with the praise - we had Star Raiders years before.

Presumably you can "beat" the game once you've destroyed eight ships, but I couldn't. The more ships you kill, the more frequently they fire at you. I'm still not clear on exactly how the game determines you get hit, but all too often they'd fire right while I'm aiming right at their centers of mass, which would stunlock me and get me hit by the same bullet repeatedly, often depleting my shields and ending my game.

There's just not enough here for me to analyze, so I have not numbered or rated this game.

Following Space Ace, Singleton snagged a ZX81 computer - a machine which, to be frank, bears more resemblance to a programmable calculator than to the PET that Singleton replaced his with, and quickly tapped out a relative best-seller in time for Christmas.

Game 304: ZX81 Games Pack 1

In two weeks, Singleton programmed six bite-sized, or should I say, kilobyte-sized games, which Sinclair Research distributed on tape.

Our first game is a solo pong variant where you have to bank the ball at an angle to score a point. Without any paddle physics, there's not much you can do to influence the ball's trajectory - just don't miss and you will eventually score a point. But that's okay because you can just position the paddle in the center and win without having to do anything.

Next is a simple racing game where you avoid the edges and dodge obstacles. I don't know if it ends, but I couldn't pass the 999 meter mark.

Third is a Space Invaders clone where I couldn't figure out how to shoot back and didn't care enough to try all that hard.

Fourth isn't even a game, just a silly demo program that displays a message of your choice in the style of an electronic matrix sign.

Fifth is a Breakout clone. This is easily the best game in the pack, but I wouldn't play it twice. Unlike the Pong clone you can affect the ball's path based on whether you hit it with the center of the paddle or not.

Finally, there's a helicopter game where you pick up people and bring them back to the helipad while dodging bullets. It's so easy that a monkey could do it.

GAB rating: Bad. This tape might have sold incredibly well considering the ZX81's market size, but today it does nothing but reinforce my belief that the ZX80/81 were cheap and horrible machines ill-suited for any sort of amusement or educational purpose, and the less often I revisit this system, the happier I'll be.

Mobygames lists Singleton's next time as "Star Lord," but I believe they are erroneous in cataloging it as a Commodore PET title, or indeed even as a video game. It isn't a game you can simply purchase in cassette format and run on your own PET, nor did it even require owning a computer at all, but is more akin to a board game played by mail, which Singleton administrated himself using his PET to compute and print out the results of each round.

His next few games were Commodore-focused, with compatibility on the newly released ZX81 successor ZX Spectrum being an afterthought.

Game 305: Shadowfax

The first of four games developed in partnership with Postern Ltd., and the first glimpse of Singleton's enthusiasm for Tolkien, Shadowfax reused the horse graphics originally created for Computer Race and saw initial release for Commodore's PET, VIC-20, and the Commodore 64 in 1982, followed by ports to the BBC Micro and later the ZX Spectrum in 1983. The PET version appears to be undumped, giving us no way of seeing singleton's original PETSCII animations.

VIC-20 version

C64 version


Ride your white steed like the wind and zap way more than nine black Nazgûl! It's... not all that exciting, and the gameplay doesn't evolve past the first few seconds, not even escalating in difficulty, which is low enough that I'm confident I could last indefinitely if I didn't get bored and lose focus. You can only move up and down and shoot, and must release the fire button to detonate your shot when it touches a ringwraith.

The C64 version animates more smoothly and has trees flanking the playfield, but I prefer the VIC-20 version slightly. Its stark, minimalist look just suits it more, especially the animation that plays when you die. That said, "minimalist" is a terrific descriptor of the gameplay, and I don't mean that in any positive way. Shadowfax wouldn't pass muster as a discount Atari 2600 game.

GAB rating: Bad. It's playable, but I can't see why you'd want to for more than fifteen seconds.

Game 306: Siege

Siege was released on the same platforms as Shadowfax, but more or less simultaneously. The BBC Micro version, as with Shadowfax, is co-credited to Warren Foulkes, and the rest solely to Singleton. All versions are extant.

PET version

These are undoubtedly the best graphics I've ever seen in a PET game, which lacked any kind of graphical ability except for arranging its built-in glyphs and semaphores to approximate visuals, which is what's going on here. No, it won't dethrone Atari, but it does make me wish the PET version of Shadowfax survived.

Inverted Space Invaders of a sort, but much, much easier thanks to the invaders' slow climbing speed and lack of any sort of attack except climbing. You have to be exactly precise with your rocks - only a direct hit to the head counts - and the movement controls are somehow both underresponsive and overresponsive, but the fact that you can bowl over multiple attackers in a single throw like tenpins makes it easy to keep the crowds under control, and it's funny too.

There's once again no difficulty escalation, and it didn't keep me amused for more than a minute or two, but that's already more than I can say about Shadowfax.

I checked out the other Commodore versions as well.

VIC-20 version

I guess these graphics are better, but to me they don't have the charm of the PET version's crisp monochrome. Maybe it's because I know the VIC-20 is capable of more than this. It plays pretty much the same, slightly more difficultly as the soldiers can move side-to-side and the playfield is wider relative to the sprite sizes, which now only occupy a single column's width (though they will still knock down adjacent soldiers as they fall), also giving the impression that the rocks you drop are man-sized boulders. The PET version also has fanfare at the start of each round and sound effects for your stone throwing.

C64 version

On Commodore 64, the most advanced home gaming platform of the day, Siege is even more underwhelming, and barely distinguishable from the 5KB VIC-20. Same sprites, different colors, bigger playing field. Even the VIC-20 fanfare is missing.

GAB rating: Below average. On any platform it's more fun than Shadowfax, but the meager gameplay and challenge leaves me wanting more. Siege could be a somewhat decent arcade-style game if it were faster paced and had a lot more to do in it - how about some archers that fire back, siege towers and catapults, or maybe a dragon or two? And maybe give me more weapons to juggle threats with, like a crossbow, grapeshot catapults, boiling oil, placeable sentries, etc.


Singleton would design two more games for Postern; Snake Pit, and the stereographic 3 Deep Space, but I'm done exploring this era. Next post, I take on The Lords of Midnight.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Ports of Entry: Sir-Tech

Unknown lead platform:


Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom

Released for Apple II, C64, Commodore 128, and PC in 1988.

Given how similarly this looks and plays to its Apple-based predecessors, it's hard to imagine Wiz5 isn't Apple-based too, but I haven't seen any strong evidence of this.


Wizardry: Bane of the Cosmic Forge

Released for Amiga and PC in 1990.

Select chronology: 

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Galactic Attack Apple II 1980
Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad
Apple II 1981-9
Wizardry: Knight of Diamonds -
The Second Scenario
Apple II 1982
Wizardry: Legacy of Llylgamyn -
The Third Scenario
Apple II 1983
Wizardry: The Return of Werdna -
The Fourth Scenario
Apple II 1987-12 1988 ports to PC, PC-88, and PC-98
Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom ??? 1988 Same-year releases on Apple II, C64, C128, and PC
Wizardry: Bane of the Cosmic Forge ??? 1990 Same-year releases on Amiga and PC
1991 ports to Macintosh, FM Towns, and PC-98
Wizardry: Crusaders of the Dark Savant DOS 1992-10
Jagged Alliance DOS 4/15/1995
Wizardry Gold Windows 1996 1996 port to Macintosh
Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games DOS 1996
The Ultimate Wizardry Archives DOS 1998 These are not the same as the prior PC ports of Wiz1-5.
Jagged Alliance 2 Windows 4/19/1999 2000 port to Linux
Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business Windows 11/24/2000
Wizardry 8 Windows 11/15/2001

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Game 303: Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee is arguably the most influential figure in video games never to be directly involved in the creation of one. Whether they be fantastic one-on-one fighting games like Street Fighter, or side-scrolling urban brawlers, nearly all video games about hand-to-hand combat, apart from those set within the rigid confines of sporting venues, show his influence to some degree just by existing. Though he had only starred in five martial arts films, including the unfinished and posthumously-released Game of Death before his untimely death in 1973, his storied career as an actor, performer, instructor, and philosopher is universally recognized as the principal driving force for the exploding international popularity of martial arts in practice, in popular culture, in television and film, and by extension, in video games.

It feels strange, then, that this early example of that legacy, has so little to do with martial arts, and plays more like a platformer featuring Lee's likeness and an East Asian theme park aesthetic. Sure, you're constantly dogged by a bokken-wielding ninja and a green-skinned sumo wrestler, but your only defenses are a useless standing punch and an invincible-when-it-works flying kick, and most of the time you're better off running away or using the environment to kill them.

Bruce Lee was initially released for Atari computers in 1984 and was widely ported to every popular 8-bit computer in the US, UK, and Japan. The most widely played incarnation was probably the Commodore 64 port, but I played the Atari original.

Bruce Lee's world is a semi-linearly structured set of seamlessly-connected arenas, each one with a number of lanterns which you must collect to progress. The first region, for instance, is a set of three horizontally-arranged rooms of ladders, statues, platforms, and lanterns. Once all lanterns are collected, a hatch in the middle-room opens, leading to the next area, a series of caverns.

The game is overall not terribly difficult, except for a few rooms which are mostly made challenging because of unreliable controls and physics, and to a lesser extent, its cluttered and often unclear graphics. Spike traps are consistently a bigger threat than your enemies, and their patterns are slow, forgiving, and predictable, but Bruce's movements are slower, unforgiving, and sometimes not predictable. In one room, a spike trap at the bottom of a shaft fires about once every eight seconds, an eternity in most games, but Bruce's featherfall physics make him float to the bottom in nearly five, which means a huge window of safety but also a tricky one to anticipate. Even running feels strange, as many of the platform surfaces have a rutted or grooved appearance, which causes the game engine to decides Bruce's foot is no longer connected to level ground on random intervals and disrupt his run cycle with a frame or two of his falling animation.

Still, once I could semi-reliably pass the caverns area, which contains two of the three hardest rooms, and are partly dependent on luck, I was able to finish the rest of the game on my second subsequent try. OBS unfortunately crapped out around the 11:30 mark and failed to record several seconds of gameplay. I've cut out some of that corrupted footage, so in the below video, there will be a visible splice around that point.


The last Datasoft game I played, O'Riley's Mine, was a little basic looking, but Bruce Lee is one of the ugliest things I've seen in awhile, to the point where it can interfere with gameplay. Bruce, the ninja, and "Green Yamo" are some seriously dorky-looking sprites but at least stand out from the backgrounds and each other. The same can't be said of the environments, which are excessively busy for the low Atari resolution. Take that screenshot from near the starting area.


Those white ladder-like things? They do nothing. Except for the one in the middle above the grey ladder-like thing. That's a ladder. The black girder-like things are walls, and the gap in the middle of the floor is a hatch.

The caverns below that hatch, though, are where things become a real horror show of pixelated noise representing who knows what, and rooms so confusingly laid out that even your enemies won't set foot inside.


Bruce Lee has a general problem with collision physics, where you can never be quite sure if Bruce will touch a surface while jumping, or be quite sure how he'll be affected if he does. Sometimes he passes through, sometimes he bounces off or falls to the ground, or clips upward to the nearest surface, or finds his footing seemingly in mid-air, or enters a climbing animation, or just gets stuck and forces you to restart unless Green Yamo can find his way to your predicament and administer a coup de grâce.

As mentioned, three of the game's most difficult rooms are down here in the caverns. There's the one in the above shot, which manages to qualify despite having no enemies and no moving hazards other than a slow and predictable flying spike trap. The odd collision detection that screws with your jumps here, and ascending the chambers requires "climbing" the correctly-colored plumes of animated pixel noise, but only at the right time, as they have a current that goes through a cycle of changing direction and strength.

Another one of these tricky rooms is right at the start of the area.

The real gameplay isn't as choppy as the GIF encoding makes it seem, but you can see Bruce stumble on the floor texture, as it randomly disrupts his running animation cycle with a falling frame simply because the floor does not register as flat to the game's collision logic. The slow falling and erratic collision detection with walls can be seen too.

Here, the narrow corridors make it suicidal to fight your enemies, and nearly as difficult to avoid them while also getting the lanterns. Killing them with the spike traps is easy enough, but should the Green Yamo respawn at the lowest level, you are screwed once you have to descend there yourself and have no running room for pulling off a flying kick.

It's smooth sailing here for a while after that. The ascent and escape from the caverns is a mostly linear series of rooms with minimal backtracking to collect lanterns, and for the most part your enemies don't really threaten you. Geyser traps found in some rooms are more likely to kill them than you. Soon, you resurface back into the starting area, and find that the statues of yaks here moo at you, and a gate to the east has opened up.

Ugly visuals aside, the bridge here suspended over the spike pit moves, but your window to cross is generous, and it's easy enough to progress and enter a castle region.

The hardest thing here is recognizing the torches that you're supposed to collect. Your enemies are easy to avoid and even easier to kill by activating the geyser traps as they pursue you.

The next room is a rare branching path, where three waterfalls lead to three different sections of the castle walls. You've got to visit them all, and none are all that hard, but one section holds a golden Yin Yang symbol which can be collected for an extra life, and then you can exit and reenter the screen to collect it again for up to four more. They come in handy soon; once you finish all three sections you're taken to the last difficult room.

It's a far cry from the nightmarishly difficult patterns of Jet Set Willy, but awkward physics and unforgiving collision detection can quickly deplete your stock of extra lives.

A watchtower here is both visually interesting and nearly impossible to parse just what's going on inside it, but it's simple to climb up inside where the enemies can't hurt you, and if you can tell which textures are climbable and which aren't, to clamber up to the top and grab the torches (those are torches) up there and on the sides. Nothing here can hurt you except the enemies who are too dumb to follow you.

One last room is a bit of a puzzle, but not a very complicated one. Grabbing torches adds ladders to climb, and you can shimmy across the second story ceiling once you reach the ladder on the left. The rest is just a matter of following the path and ducking under the fireballs, jumping over the electrified floor without hitting the fireball, shimmying over again, timing your descent to the final torch to avoid all of the fireballs, and then climbing up the ladder to the last room of the game.

Hesitate here and you die. Make a mad dash for the torch and you win.

Your prize is fire, I guess. Or maybe money.

There's a two-player mode where the second player controls Green Yamo, with the option to swap roles whenever Bruce dies, but I didn't really get a chance to play it properly. "D" tried it but quickly got frustrated with the game controls, and my friends are either away for the holidays or self-quarantining in illness. It's a neat idea that you don't see done very often, where a second player can control a basic enemy in an otherwise singleplayer game and try to sabotage the protagonist's progress, but I suspect that this is little more than a novelty. Some rooms seem they would be nearly impossible for Bruce to evade a skillful Yamo, such as the first area, where you have to defenselessly climb the ladder in the central area, and Yamo could just wait on a nearby platform and kick you off. Others give Yamo no avenue at all to catch Bruce, and yet others don't spawn enemies in the first place.

GAB rating: Average. There's a germ of a good game here, but it would need a lot of polish before it could attain its potential. Bruce Lee feels like a precursor to the cinematic platformer genre, and indeed has some of its crucial elements including a seamlessly interconnected world, semi-realistic character animations, and setpiece-driven stage design, but without the hindsight of the lessons taught by genre forebearers like Prince of Persia and Another World, it doesn't quite work. Bruce Lee needed better graphics, more forgiving controls, more consistently behaving physics, and some challenge that comes from the stage design rather than from the rough edges of its own mechanics. Still, it's vastly preferable to something like Jet Set Willy.

Datasoft would release three more licensed games with the Bruce Lee engine; Conan, The Goonies, and Zorro, and developed few games after that, operating primarily as a publishing house, especially for stateside releases of UK-developed computer games. Their final in-house project would be Alternate Reality: The Dungeon, a sequel to 1985's Alternate Reality: The City based on the notes of its designer but made without his direct involvement. But I'm done exploring these games, as they neither make whale status nor do they personally interest me.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Ports of Entry: Sierra On-line

Unknown lead platform:


The Incredible Machine

Mobygames lists this as a 1992 release for Macintosh, but a 1993 release for DOS, suggesting a Mac->DOS port. However, there are credits for Mac and Windows programmers, as well as Mac / Windows art, Mac music, and Windows sound and music, while the DOS version simply has credits for "programming," "artwork," etc. This suggests a DOS->Mac port, in contrary to the release order. Curiously, there is no Windows version, though there is one for The Even More Incredible Machine.



Released for Windows 3.x and Macintosh in 1994.


The Incredible Machine 2

Released for DOS and Macintosh in 1994.

Ported to Windows 3.x and Windows 95 in 1995.


Roberta Williams' King's Quest VII: The Princeless Bride

Version 1.4, released in 1994, supported Windows 3.x.

Version 2.0, released in 1995, supports DOS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 95. Mobygames incorrectly lists the DOS version as a 1994 release.

I do not know which version first supported the Mac. Mobygames lists the Mac version as a 1994 release but it could easily be mistaken. ScummVM source code is not helpful here.


Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh in 1995.



Released for Windows 3.x and Windows 95 in 1995.

Ported to Macintosh in 1996.

One of the few SCI-engine games to have no DOS support!


Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest: SWAT

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh in 1995.


Torin's Passage

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh in 1995.


Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in the Spinal Frontier

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 95 in 1995.


The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh in 1995.

Demo version is Windows-only.


Lighthouse: The Dark Being

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh in 1996.


Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail!

Released for DOS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 95 in 1996.

Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire

Released for Windows 95/98 and Macintosh in 1998.

Select chronology: 


8-bit era:

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Hi-Res Adventure #1: Mystery House Apple II 5/5/1980
Hi-Res Adventure #2: The Wizard and the Princess Apple II 1980 1980 port to Atari 8-bit by Yosemite Software
Hi-Res Adventure #0: Mission Asteroid Apple II 1980 1980 port to Atari 8-bit by Yosemite Software
Crossfire Apple II 1981 1981 ports to Atari 8-bit and VIC-20
1982 port to PC
Hi-Res Adventure #4: Ulysses and the Golden Fleece Apple II 1981 1982 ports to Atari 8-bit and PC
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress... Apple II 1982 1983 ports to Atari 8-bit, C64, and PC
Oil's Well Atari 8-bit 1983-10 1983 port to C64
1984 ports to Apple II, PC, and ColecoVision
Donald Duck's Playground Commodore 64 1984 1985 ports to Apple II and PC
King's Quest PCJr. 1984-10 1984 port to Apple II
King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne PCJr. 1985-6 1985 ports to Apple II and Atari ST
The Black Cauldron PCJr. 1986-4 1986 ports to Apple II and Atari ST
1987 ports to Amiga and Apple Iigs

AGI era: 

All of these games are designed around the specifications of the Tandy 1000, and are PC compatible but with reduced audio capabilities. DOSBox and ScummVM can both emulate Tandy audio for the full experience.

Title Date Contemporary ports
Space Quest: Chapter I - The Sarien Encounter 1986-10 1986 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
1987 ports to Apple II, Apple IIgs, and Macintosh
King's Quest III: To Heir is Human 1986-11 1987 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards 6/4/1987 1987 port to Apple II
1988 ports to various computers
Mixed-Up Mother Goose 1987-12 1987 port to Atari ST
1988 ports to Amiga and Apple IIgs
Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel 1987-12 1987 port to Amiga
1988 ports to various computers
Space Quest II: Chapter II - Vohaul's Revenge 1987 1987 ports to Apple IIgs and Atari ST
1988 ports to Amiga, Apple IIgs, and Macintosh

SCI0 era:

All of these games are designed for DOS-era PC's with EGA graphics and have soundtracks optimized for the Roland MT-32.

Title Date Contemporary ports
King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella 9/23/1988 1989 ports of AGI version to Apple II and
Apple IIgs
Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (In Several Wrong Places) 10/27/1988 1989 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
Police Quest 2: The Vengeance 1988-12 1989 ports to Amiga, Atari ST, and PC-98
Gold Rush! 12/23/1988 1988 port to Apple II
1989 ports to various computers
Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon 1989-3 1989 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
Hero's Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero 1989-10 1990 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
The Colonel's Bequest 1989-11 1990 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
Leisure Suit Larry III: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals 1989-11 1990 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
Code-Name: Iceman 1989-12 1989 port to Atari ST
1990 port to Amiga
Roberta Williams' King's Quest I: Quest for the Crown 1990 1990 port to Amiga
Conquests of Camelot: The Search for the Grail 1990 1990 ports to Amiga and Atari ST
Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire 1990 1990 port to Amiga

SCI1 era:

These games target DOS-running PC's with VGA and use point & click interfaces.

Title Date Contemporary ports
King's Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! 1990 1991 ports to various computers
Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers 3/4/1991 1991 port to Macintosh
1992 ports to Amiga, PC-98, and Windows 3.x
Space Quest I: Roger Wilco in the Sarien Encounter 8/27/1991 1991 port to Amiga
1992 port to Macintosh
Police Quest 3: The Kindred 1991-10 1992 port to Amiga
Castle of Dr. Brain 1991 1992 ports to Amiga, Macintosh, and PC-98
EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus 1991
Jones in the Fast Lane 1991
Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood 1991 1992 port to Amiga
Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work 1991 1991 port to Macintosh
1992 port to Amiga
Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards 1991 1991 port to Amiga
1992 port to Macintosh

SCI 1.1 era:

Windows 3.x support becomes a lot more common with SCI 1.1 games than previously, and multiple games are available in CD-ROM format.

These are still VGA-based, but Windows and Macintosh ports are converted to SVGA using nearest-neighbor scaling. Some games have partially redrawn graphics for SVGA mode, most notably King's Quest VI.

General MIDI support is added, and most games are optimized for the Roland SC-55.

King's Quest V, Space Quest IV, and EcoQuest were re-released in this engine with CD-ROM enhancements, but Mobygames does not list them as separate games.

The Incredible Machine isn't an SCI game, it just came out during this era.

Title Date Contemporary ports
The Incredible Machine 1992 Released for DOS and Macintosh
Jones in the Fast Lane: CD-ROM 1992 Simultaneous releases on DOS and Windows 3.x
The Island of Dr. Brain 1992
Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel 1992
Quest for Glory I: So You Want To Be A Hero 1992
The Dagger of Amon Ra 1992 1993 port to Windows 3.x
Quest for Glory III: Wages of War 1992
King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow 1992 1993 ports to Macintosh and Windows 3.x
Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist 1993-7 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, and Macintosh
Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out! 1993-10 1994 ports to Macintosh and Windows 3.x
Lost Secret of the Rainforest 1993 Simultaneous releases on DOS and Windows 3.x

SCI 2.0 era:

As with SCI 1.1, Windows runs in nearest-neighbor upscaled SVGA, but DOS now has the option of playing in SVGA or VGA. Gabriel Knight and Police Quest 4 have extensive SVGA enhancements, though the majority of the graphics are still VGA-based. For this reason, I assume that all SCI 2.0 games were still developed primarily for DOS.

All SCI 2.0 games are available in both floppy and CD-ROM formats.

Leisure Suit Larry 6 was re-released in this engine with SVGA and CD-ROM enhancements, but Mobygames does not list it as a separate game.

Title Date Contemporary ports
Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 12/17/1993 Simultaneous releases on DOS and Windows 3.x
1994 port to Macintosh
Daryl F. Gates Police Quest: Open Season 1993 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, and Macintosh
Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness 1993 Simultaneous releases on DOS and Windows 3.x

SCI 2.1 era:

All SCI 2.1 games are SVGA-only and CD-ROM-only.

At this point, I am no longer confident that DOS was Sierra's main development platform, considering that King's Quest VII was initially Windows (and Mac)-only, and Shivers never got any DOS support.

Outpost and The Incredible Machine 2 aren't SCI games, they just came out around this time.

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Outpost ??? 1994 Simultaneous releases on Macintosh and Windows 3.x
The Incredible Machine 2 ??? 1994 Simultaneous releases on DOS and Macintosh
1995 ports to Windows 3.x and Windows 95
Roberta Williams' King's Quest
VII: The Princeless Bride
??? 1994 Simultaneous releases on Windows 3.x and Macintosh
1995 "2.0" version supports DOS and Windows 95
Roberta Williams'
??? 1995 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh
Shivers ??? 1995 Simultaneous releases on Windows 3.x and Windows 95
1996 port to Macintosh
Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest:
??? 1995 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh
Torin's Passage ??? 1995 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh
Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco
in the Spinal Frontier
??? 1995 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 95
The Beast Within: A Gabriel
Knight Mystery
??? 1995 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh

SCI 3.0 era:

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Lighthouse: The Dark Being ??? 1996 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, and Macintosh
Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of
Windows 1996 Same-year DOS support patch
Leisure Suit Larry: Love for
??? 12/5/1996 Simultaneous releases on DOS, Windows 3.x, and Windows 95

Late era:

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Police Quest: SWAT 2 Windows 7/25/1998
King's Quest: Mask of Eternity Windows 1998
Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire ?? 1998 Simultaneous releases on Windows 95 and Macintosh
Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of
the Damned
Windows 10/30/1999
SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle Windows 11/23/1999

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