Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Ports of Entry: Sculptured Software

Unknown lead platform:



Released for Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, & PC in 1986

Released for Amiga & Atari ST in 1987

Ported to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum in 1987 by Icon Design

Mobygames credits designer Steve Coleman for the Atari 8-bit & Atari ST versions. Credits for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum are unknown, though the latter is through British studio Icon Design.

I would guess that C64 is a conversion of the Atari 8-bit version for two reasons - first, Atari is more colorful, though this is subtle. Secondly, Wikipedia states that Coleman's previous work was on Atari 8-bit.

Atari ST, on the other hand, is less colorful than the Amiga version, suggesting to me that Coleman's ST version is a conversion from the Amiga (which itself is probably derived from Coleman's Atari version).



Released for Game Boy, Game Gear, and SNES in November 1994

Released for Genesis and 32X in 1994/1995

Sources disagree on the Genesis & 32X U.S. release dates. Mobygames states 32X is '94, Genesis '95, and Wikipedia the other way around.


WWF Attitude

First released for Playstation on August 6, 1999

Released for N64 in August 31, 1999 by Iguana Entertainment

Ported to Dreamcast in November 1999 by Iguana Entertainment


Select chronology:  

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Ninja ??? 1986 Same-year releases on Atari 8-bit, C64, & PC
1987 releases on Amiga & Atari ST
1987 ports to Amstrad CPC & ZX Spectrum by Icon Design
James Bond 007 in The Living Daylights:
The Computer Game
Commodore 64 1987 Same-year ports to various 8-bit computers
Jack Nicklaus' Greatest 18 Holes of Major
Championship Golf
DOS 1988-10 Same-quarter port to C64
1989 ports to various computers and consoles
Monopoly NES 1991-6 Same-year port to Gameboy
1992 ports to Genesis & SNES
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back NES 3/12/1992 Same-year port to Gameboy
WWF Super WrestleMania SNES 1992-3 Same-year port to Genesis
Super Star Wars SNES 6/1/1992
The Simpsons: Bart's Nightmare SNES 2/18/1993 Same-year port to Genesis
Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back SNES 6/1/1993
WWF Royal Rumble SNES 6/11/1993 Same-year port to Genesis
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi SNES 6/1/1994 1995 port to Gameboy
WWF Raw ??? 1994-11 Same-month releases on Gameboy, Game Gear, & SNES
1994/1995 releases on Genesis & 32X
WWF War Zone PlayStation 7/24/1998 Same-quarter port to Nintendo 64
WWF Attitude ??? 8/6/1999 Same-month releases on N64 & PS1
Same-year port to Dreamcast

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Game 368: Sierra Championship Boxing

Our next whale of 1984 is a landmark - Evryware's The Ancient Art of War, and being a new company to the lineup, this means playing a selection of its ancestors.

A literal Mom & Pop shop, their early chronology is murky. Their official site lists "CP/M games" as their earliest products, and a flyer scan at MOCAGH lists six such games for Heathkit DOS and CP/M.


Of particular note are two of Robert Lafore's Interactive Fiction titles - Six Micro-Stories and Dragons of Hong Kong. At first I assumed that these were the initial releases of the games, but following some lines of inquiry, including Jason Dyer, I now believe it more likely that Lafore self-published for TRS-80 as early as 1979, and by 1980 had a publishing deal with Adventure International including Apple II conversions of select titles, while Evryware licensed select Heathkit conversions around 1981. Regardless, it is difficult to justify my initial hypothesis, and therefore consider these games unimportant as ancestors.

The others are arcade-style action games which appear to be Evryware originals (using a broad definition of "original"), but I wouldn't know how to begin emulating them, and based on scant Youtube footage it doesn't look like I'm missing much.

An interview describes the severe limitations of the Heathkits, which they soon abandoned in favor of IBM's PC, making them one of the system's earliest adopters as far as gaming companies go.

Game 368: Sierra Championship Boxing

The chronology here is still a bit unclear - Mobygames puts its release at 1985, and indeed most versions' ingame copyrights match that, which would place its release after Ancient Art of War. However, Evryware lists it as 1983, the Murrys' interview expressly places it as their first PC game, and there are extant copies with an ingame 1984 copyright, though said copies appear to be "unclean" pirate DOS conversions with some reliability issues.

I assume the Murry's claim that Championship Boxing was first is correct, but I will play the 1985 booter version on the assumption that it is a more pristine dump. One detail concerning emulation is that Championship Boxing clearly looks much better in composite mode than in RGB, but you'll need an unofficial DOSBox branch, such as DOSBox-X, to use this.

"The gym" reminds of Wizardry's training grounds.

Options galore, but single matches are the only gameplay currency.

Sierra Championship Boxing reminds me of SSI's output at the time and could very well have been published by them - ultimately more of a stats-heavy simulation than a game, the system modeled here is a single boxing match fought under simplified WBA rules, and despite some graphical window dressing, everything here is in service to that. There's no career mode, no championship mode, no tournament modes, and for that matter no "winning" apart from tabulating the match-to-match victors.

More likely, though, you want to simulate a fantasy match, like the mythical Marciano vs. Ali "superfight" that fans have debated since the 70's. 


To that end there are 40 included historical boxers, from the terrifying Victorian-age bareknuckle god John Sullivan to then-undefeated Carl "The Truth" Williams. The roster also includes 15 middleweight and lightweights, including future undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfeld, plus a kangaroo and a 98lb palooka thrown in for good measure. You can, of course, make your own boxer, and if you want to max out all of his stats and whup right through the historical roster one-by-one, you can do that and pat yourself on the back and call yourself a winner.

But "winning" hardly seems like the draw here. Even the option to fight the matches yourself seems to be thrown in begrudgingly - the default mode of play is to choose the match parameters and sit back and watch the action. The manual even says you'll save money by watching computer-simulated fights instead of buying tickets to real ones! To be fair, I'm sure the computer smells nicer.

Two other play options supplement the hands-off "simulation" mode. There's "strategy," in which you play the coach and may instruct the boxer's strategy between rounds.

For the life of me I can't tell what difference it makes what you pick here - I suppose that your boxer shows a slight preference toward offense or defense depending on what you pick, but the fights all look like incoherent flurries of limbs to me, and no strategy available seems to be especially advantageous to a situation. For instance, you can favor attacks to the head or attacks to the body, but since the AI defends both about equally it barely matters. Not once did the strategy "go for the knockout" actually result in a knockout, which I found are rare except for in extended matches or in grossly mismatched ones, and the one time I picked "take a dive" my boxer actually did score a knockout.

Then there's "arcade" mode, where you directly control your boxer.

And.. oh dear, this is a mess. Actions assigned to function keys, really? At least you can rebind them to any keys you like. As long as they're other function keys.

You can choose between two fighting styles - "Slugger" and "Boxer," and the manual explains that "Boxer" style is more technically oriented while "Slugger" style is about mindless hitting, but in practice I have no idea what the actual difference is to the player. "Boxer" mode does come with a "reflexes" sub-option which seems to be a proxy for difficulty.

Regardless of your style options combination, this display is an unplayable, unreadable shamble.


Am I hitting? Am I missing? Am I getting blocked? Who knows? No matter how much I punch I never seem to get tired, but neither does my opponent get hurt. And in the end, I'm the one who gets knocked out, which would be fine except that I have no idea why.

Defensive fighting is no good either. Punches come out too fast to react to, so mostly you're just blocking or dodging nothing, and half the time that you do get lucky and block at the same time your opponent hits, you're blocking in the wrong direction.

Arcade mode can be played with two players, but the second player uses the strategy mode and watches the AI control their boxer.

GAB rating: N/A. As a game, Sierra Championship Boxing is terrible. But all signs indicate that rating it as one misses the point - this isn't meant for the Karate Champ crowd. Like SSI's lineup, this is a product for sports nerds who obsess over stats and data, a simulation rich with customization options, and happens to also come with animated graphics that are above-average for the era.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Ports of Entry: Ubisoft

This list excludes the majority of games credited to Ubisoft's subsidiaries and internal development studios (e.g. Blue Byte, Ubisoft Paris/Montpellier, Ubisoft Montreal except Splinter Cell because splitting up the series would be weird, etc.). Other Ports of Entry posts will cover them later. 

Unknown lead platform:


Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern

Released for Dreamcast & PC in August 2001


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

First released for PC & Xbox in March 2004

Released for PS2 in June 2004

Released for Gamecube in July 2004


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

Released for Gamecube, PC, PS2, & Xbox on March 2005


Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII

First released on Xbox & Xbox 360 on March 23, 2006

Released for PC on March 28, 2006

Ported to PS3 on December 12, 2006

Ported to Wii on March 20, 2007


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Ubisoft Shanghai)

First released for Xbox 360 on October 2006

Released for PC on November 2006

Released for PS3 on March 2007


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Ubisoft Montreal)

First released for Gamecube, PS2, & Xbox on October 2006

Released for Wii on November 20067


Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X

First released for PS3 & Xbox 360 on March 5, 2009

Released for PC on March 18, 2009


Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction

First released for Xbox 360 on April 13, 2013

Released for PC on April 30, 2010


Select chronology:  

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Zombi Amstrad CPC 1986
B.A.T. Atari ST 1989 1990 ports to Amiga, C64, & PC
Iron Lord Atari ST 1989 Same-year ports to Amiga & ZX Spectrum
1990 ports to Acorn, Amstrad CPC, C64, & PC
POD Windows 2/28/1997
Dragon Riders: Chronicles of Pern ??? 8/7/2001 Simultaneous releases on Dreamcast & PC
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Xbox 11/18/2002 2003 ports to Gamecube, PC, & PS2
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora
??? 3/23/2004 Simultaneous releases on PC & Xbox
Same-year releases on Gamecube & PS2
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory ??? 3/28/2005 Simultaneous releases on Gamecube, PC, PS2, & Xbox
Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII ??? 3/28/2006 Same-month releases on PC, Xbox, & Xbox 360
Same-year port to PS3
2007 port to Wii
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent ??? 10/17/2006 Same-quarter releases on PC & Xbox 360
2007 release on PS3
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent ??? 10/26/2006 Simultaneous releases on Gamecube, PS2, & Xbox
Same-year release on Wii
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X ??? 3/5/2009 Same-month releases on PC, PS3, & Xbox 360
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction ??? 4/13/2010 Same-month releases on PC & Xbox 360

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Game 367: Alley Cat (PC)

Funny coincidence - the last commercial IBM PC game I covered was GATO.

I already covered the original Atari game, which I now and will always consider the definitive version, but truth be told, I've spent far more hours of my life playing the IBM version, which commands over 80% of the Mobygames vote tally and is probably the sole reason Alley Cat enjoys the enduring popularity needed for whale status. Ported by original author Bill Williams, we can credit this to his adept conversion skill.

Alley Cat, remarkably, ran perfectly fine on PC's for decades without having to bother with any of the remedial fixes that so many abandonware cargo cultists prescribed. Even as late as the Windows XP era, when DOS games were terribly hit or miss, Alley Cat always was well behaved. It never ran blisteringly fast like nearly all others of the CGA period did - the game uses the system clock for timing instead of being CPU-bound. It always played nice with whatever sound card you had - because everything came through the motherboard buzzer. No problems whatsoever with EMS, MSCDEX loaders, mouse compatibility, or VESA drivers - it didn't need them. Even joysticks just worked, though I found keyboard play a bit easier. No matter how bad a day my computer was having, Alley Cat proved just as reliable as Solitaire, and twice as much fun.

Those cavalier days of running DOS executables within a Windows environment are long gone now. Today, even Alley Cat needs DOSBox, and the context for its feat as a conversion no longer applies. Nearly every game works fine in DOSBox, and if you need to emulate anyway, then you might as well emulate the better version, right? Well, yes - mostly.

I thought I'd replay the PC version in DOSBox one last time, using a booter image rather than a pirate DOS conversion for a bit of extra authenticity, and deep dive into the differences.


Most of the differences from Atari original are cosmetic downgrades. All of the original content is present, nothing meaningfully new is added. Obviously the colors are worse, and the animation is worse with a framerate seems to run at about 20fps compared to Atari's solid 60 and a lot of little flourishes missing. The Atari's rich, albeit busy soundscape is downgraded to a lot of beeps, buzzes, and clicks.

On the gameplay front, Alley Cat plays a bit different. You'd think the choppier framerate would amplify the difficulty, but in fact it's a bit easier now. Freddy's handling feels less "heavy," and takes less time to accelerate to maximum speed, which makes the "runway" needed to reach high jump takeoff is shorter. There's also a standing high jump maneuver performed by immediately jumping after coming to a stop - this works in both versions, but the timing is much easier in the PC version, and I didn't even realize it was possible in Atari until I checked while writing this sentence. In the PC version, the condo windows stay open longer too. Because of this, I actually managed to finish a fourth loop on maximum difficulty here, which I never pulled off in the original version.

The cosmetic downgrade is apparent from the moment you see title screen, which loses the neon sign motif (what's with the cocktail glass?) for a generic scrawled-font logo. Difficulty selection, performed on Atari within the title screen, is relegated to an options sub-screen on PC. Freddy's animation loop is simplified, cutting the mischievous tail-twitching and his occasional pauses to meow at the fourth wall.

The biggest change here has to be the music, which on Atari is dominated by a slightly harsh triangle tinkle that almost cuts right through the mellow slow jazz theme, and is punctuated every few notes with Freddy's raucous mewling. On PC, you just get the melody, sped up and louder.

The total effect is that a lot of personality lost in the conversion. Atari version says you're a mangy, noisy, flea-ridden, unwanted pest who lives in the alleys behind a grimy apartment complex, and tonight you're gonna be a real nuisance. PC version says you're a cat walking on a fence.

The scene outside the condominiums is a mostly direct visual translation, but with less color. The solid magenta background suggests that this is the color of the Catalina's facade rather than a night scene like the Atari version does. A mysterious 'HM' spray-painted on the fence instead becomes KL, HL, TL, or AL to indicate your starting difficulty, but does not change when the level increases.

The audio, of course, is nerfed hard. On Atari, the scene may well be called Tin Pan Alley, with its broken down piano tune and sounds of mice squeaking and dogs barking. Freddy makes a convincing metal "clang" when leaping onto the trash cans, and a thud when he misses the clothesline and lands on the wrong side of the fence. PC just gets some rhythmic background clicks which get frantic in pace when the dog shows up, and a bunch of various screeching sounds if he gets you.

Speaking of which, the dog got a lot fatter in the PC version, and is really hard to avoid. If the feral cat knocks you off the top of a trash can, you'll probably get killed by the dog before you can find another perch.

The fishbowl room isn't changed much. No reason it should be, since it's not the real minigame.

The fishbowl itself, though - well, Bill tried his best, but the IBM PC just can't replicate the colors and sounds of the original scene. The fish are all magenta, the pearling bubbles are gone, the water sounds are out, the alarming palette-cycling electrocution animation when you touch an eel is just a ZAP. Freddy does cycle through colors as he gets close to drowning, but it's in the CGA palette, going from black, to blue, to magenta, and red. Which means Freddy's "sprite" must actually be the background layer here.

Swimming is easier than in Atari - there's a bit of momentum, but it's less weighty, and he does not bob up and down.

The birdcage room looks very similar - no bird chirping sounds any more, though. I swear the dog's spawn timer is much more random - sometimes it shows up the instant you hit the ground. The bird seems harder to catch too.

There's a new failure animation added -



In the original cheese room, mice scamper and leap around the hunk as you try to catch them. On PC they just sort of poke their heads in and out of the holes, carefully avoiding the ones you're in any position to reach. The animated numbers 1-4 that appear each time you catch a mouse, which I thought was a cute touch on Atari, are absent on PC.


There's only ever one spider in the spider room now, and the flower pots are wider, making it much easier to knock them down - you can hit two of them with one jump without meaning to. This is probably the easiest minigame in the PC version.

The flying milk carton is gone from the kennel and no longer refills the dog food bowls, but this minigame feels much more difficult despite that. The dogs are much lighter sleepers now, and without any pre-awakening growl to warn you when you're pushing your luck.


Felicia's queenly lair gets a cupid-heavy do-over, but it's just for show. Arrows spawn randomly from nowhere in particular and don't ricochet around as they did.

The animation where Felicia's brothers slink offscreen after receiving presents is cut. They just disappear now.

Reach Felicia, and the, ahem, courtship animation is much simpler than the fireworks seen on Atari.


But on the plus side, you get a collage of dancing kittens.

Higher difficulty = more kittens. Like in real life.

 There's a new failure animation too.

GAB rating: Good. It's a downgrade from the Atari version, but remains highly playable in its PC conversion, and the game almost certainly owes its legacy to the quality of Bill William's coding work here. Still, play the Atari version.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Ports of Entry: Psygnosis

Unknown lead platform:



Released for Amiga, Atari ST, & Macintosh in February 1986



First released for PS1 in September 1995

Released for PC in November 1995

Ported to Saturn in March 1996



First released for PS1 in October 1997

Released for PC in 1997


Select chronology:  

Title Lead platform Date Contemporary ports
Brataccas ??? 1986-2 Simultaneous releases on Amiga, Atari ST, & Mac
Barbarian Atari ST
1987-7 Same-year ports to Amiga & C64
1988 ports to Amstrad CPC, MSX, & ZX Spectrum
Microcosm FM Towns
1993-3 Same-year port to Sega CD
1994 ports to 3DO, CD32, & PC
Scavenger 4 / Novastorm
FM Towns
1993-11 1994 ports to 3DO, PC, & Sega CD
Ečstatica DOS 1994

WipEout ??? 1995-9 Same-year releases on PC & PS1
1996 port to Saturn
WipEout XL
PS1 9/30/1996 1997 ports to PC & Saturn
G-Police ???
1997-10 Same-year releases on PC & PS1

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Game 366: Islandia

A follow-up to our Time Lords PBEM session, Scribe, myself, and forum regulars Argyraspide and Porkbelly (Drake) played Islandia next, another of Julian Gollop's juvenilia. Be sure to read Scribe's account - it's more detailed, and because this game does not conceal your opponent's movements as Time Lords does, two fully detailed after-action reports would be mostly redundant. Consider mine a BRIEF, if you like - initially I wasn't even planning on publishing this.

The goal of Islandia is to make money by conquering and defending islands, each of which produces an unknown quantity of goods whose value fluctuates with supply and demand, and to do this, you may produce, from your central port, armies to invade and defend islands, transport ships to get them there, explorers to scout them and report on productivity and defense levels, and steamships and battleships to attack your opponent's boats. Prices on all of these, too, fluctuate with supply and demand.

The supply and demand rules hint at a MULE-like economy, but in practice, there's not much players can do to interact with it - prices are what they are, islands that produce a lot of stuff are cash-valuable, and there's little reason for concern with the specifics of what gets produced. You cannot, for instance, starve your opponent's armies by embargoing food, or monopolize ship production by taking over the lumber industry.

Being placed near Scribe, opposite Drake, and with Argyraspide given an unfavorable position to begin with, my initial strategy was to block Scribe's port with some expendable transport boats to deny him access to the entire right-half of the sea, quickly drink his milkshake on island 'L' to his south, expand eastward, and send a few battleships counterclockwise around the mainland to harass Argyraspide and Drake.

Alas, Drake took 'L' from me before I could see profit from one coconut, my eastward expansion efforts suffered failure after failure, and Scribe offered a non-aggression zone around island 'G' which in retrospect I should not have accepted as quickly as I did. 'G' was central to my theater, and crucial to my strategy of using it as a launching point to invade the rest of the east isles, but I grossly underestimated Scribe's ability to reach and conquer the more distant islands as quickly as he did.

'G' is mine, but F+A just won't fall, Scribe took three islands, and Drake is about to.

Island 'D' turned out to be particularly wealthy, and Scribe invested in fortifications to triple the combat effectiveness of its defenders.

About midway through the game, after numerous failed invasions on F+A, numerous frustrating stalemates at sea, and even some speculation among us that the combat algorithm might be reversed, Scribe managed to take back 'L' with a pitiful invasion force, up against fortified defenders who outnumbered his 5:1.

So I changed my invasion strategy. Instead of trying to take islands by overwhelming force, I'd attack them with just one army at a time. And it worked! I took F, I took A, and even took D.

As it turns out, fortifications do absolutely nothing. Apart from that, combat isn't bugged, per se, but the BBC Micro's RNG appears to be a bit biased toward extreme values, as I tested in a BASIC combat simulator.


I spent not a dime after this point, and used the rest of the time in the game ferrying troops around to conquer and re-conquer islands with minimal force, often losing them back to Scribe the very same turn, but his tactics operated at a huge loss, and mine didn't, nearly earning me back what I had initially spent.

But in the end, Porkbelly's strategy - throw a bone to his weak neighbor in exchange for peace, and reap the southwest with minimal interference while Scribe and I fight - was more successful, and finished first place by a wide margin.

The final game state. I lost all my land, boats, and armies, but at least I have money.

GAB rating: Below average. This isn't a great game - it's simplistic and yet has terrible balance problems. Moving your ships around is annoying thanks to some ambiguous border detection rules that make it unclear where they can and can't go, and can so easily cause you to forfeit your turn with an illegal move that we voted to allow use of save states to undo input errors. Combat is screwy and expensive fortifications don't even do anything. Bugs and weirdness abound too - one time I had a large army annihilated on a completely undefended island, and in the aftermath a single defender spontaneously generated. Argyraspide reported purchased battleships that failed to deliver and never showed up. Explorers always exaggerate an island's worth by 300%, and going by the code this seems to be intentional - how come?

But this is a serviceable game, much improved over the wacky but irredeemable Time Lords, and provided some moments of interesting strategic action. The claustrophobic maps can be frustrating to navigate, but being forced to maneuver close to your rivals also means nobody is ever truly safe to go on and do their own thing. It's hard to say, though, how much strategic depth came from our mutually wrong assumptions that the combat worked as advertised - would a replay devolve into nonstop spam of canal-blocking transports and one-man army invasions back-and-forth? Neither Scribe nor myself are inclined for a rematch - we've got better things to do, like play Gollop's obscure ZX Spectrum strategy game Nebula.

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