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CHASE H.Q.: LET’S GO MR. DRIVER!

Did you think that you can drive a Porsche without driving licence? In Ocean’s 1989 game Chase H.Q. which is a Taito’s 1988 coin-op conversion you can because they said you’re the right hand of the law from Miami Vice or so. You’re chasing thieves escaping in fast, luxury fancy cars, and you have to stop them. Everything would go smooth and clear, but on certain platforms it’s just… Let’s have a closer look at it.

The game came out on major 8-bit platforms. The Commodore 64 (boo!), the Amstrad CPC, and the Spectrum and even some more like Nintendo Gameboy, NES/Famicom or MSX. We’ll focus on the popular 8-bit home computers versions, though. I’m not sure if the CPC and Spectrum versions are equal in many ways, but I’m pretty sure the C64 port is bad.

Simply forget about the C64 version. Really.

 

LOADING SCREENS

The C64 loading screen looks like it had been drawn by one eyed retarded child. Nice colours, hmm, but… Look at the heroes’ faces. They look weird. Now the CPC screen. Hmm, nice – but wait, I’ve seen this before! On the Spectrum. It seems it’s a conversion because even the attribute clash remained in there. The picture itself is a nice pic of the two main heroes in high resolution and decent attribute (even on the CPC!) undercoloring. So the result – C64 sucks with its lame proportions, the CPC has the same Spectrum hires screen but there are more colours on the Speccy. So I’d choose the Spectrum one because it looks the most realistic and has acceptable colours.

Look at the C64 picture above. Doesn’t it look weird? Below are the Spectrum and CPC loading screens that look much better.

SOUNDS

Sounds on the C64 aren’t bad. You easily recognize what’s the matter. It’s SID, although it sounds a bit basic. I’d expect something better in this game, though. Nothing much to say about it. The Amstrad has nice sounds, even a digitized speech, but there’s no title music. The sounds are almost same like on the Spectrum, but the Speccy even has music, which is special as the drums are interpreted by beeper and the melody is played by the AY sound chip. Beeper sounds are also in the game so you experience two different sound sources, which makes the game special. In addition, on the CPC, there’s no siren sound when chasing the bad guy, which the Speccy and C64 have. The MSX port seems to be ported from the 48K Spectrum even with beeper sounds! All of this points to the Speccy version as the winner.

GAME GRAPHICS

Oh dear, the graphics on the C64 isn’t really nice. The cars are brown-grey boxes, the road has no lanes. Spectrum version is very detailed as expected, although it’s monochrome with some bits of attribute colouring. But the CPC rules with colours. The lowres mode doesn’t seem too blocky due to so many colourful details, so can I declare my favourite is the CPC in this case? Too bad the Speccy can’t have it in more colours. Last but not least, I have to mention the MSX version of the game, which looks almost identical to the Spectrum one.

Spectrum (top left), C64 (top right) and the CPC (bottom) gameplay screenshots.

GAMEPLAY AND DETAILS

The gameplay on the C64 is just horrible. Everything is so slow, slow as hell, even a worm would crawl faster than your 64-ized blocky Porsche. All I felt while playing was just boredom. Everything takes so much time and when you catch up with the villain at last and have to wreck his car, oh my, that’s just straining your patience. Endlessly. Simply forget about the C64 version. Really. Let’s move to the Spectrum. Well, it’s a completely different cup of tea. Nice and detailed graphics and great gameplay make the game a gem in a Spectrum gamer’s collection. It’s fast and well designed. You feel all the details, you catch the target car and the destruction derby starts. I like it! On the CPC, well, well… Colourful graphics and solid gameplay, just a little less smoother than on the Spectrum. The game’s taking the best from the Speccy and adds nice colours. Who cares it’s in the lowres mode. Even nicely made blocky graphics can look cute … erm. perhaps. The Spectrum’s overall gameplay is a little bit better, so the Spectrum wins again.


VERDICT

I’m very sorry, Amstrad guys, the Speccy won this race, but it was close. The Amstrad game isn’t bad, it has fancy colours, but the smoothness and absence of Spectrum details are frustrating for me. The Spectrum gameplay is just great. The MSX can be happy with its Spectrum 48K-like conversion and shut up, and even I don’t mention the stupid NES version, which looks silly, but the big beige breadbox can just envy the CPC and Speccy and only regret the programmers of Chase H.Q. probably didn’t know what could be done with this beast. Shame on you, C64!

TRAFFIC

I like big, epic games. Turricans, Nobby the Aardvark, Dragon Wars – that kind of stuff. But every now and then I just don’t feel like immersing in a game for hours or even days. And then it’s time for some of the great game miniatures that replace size and complexity with perfectly polished mechanisms and sheer playability. Like Traffic.

Immense fun! And immensely addictive.

 

WHAT

Traffic is a logical game from 1984, a time long before the genre’s reputation got ruined by the tsunami of 2nd and 3rd rate half-baked quick-cash junk in the mid 1990s. It was originally released by Argus Press Software (APS)/Quicksilva for the C=64 and ported to CPC a year later by Amsoft/Andromeda Software.

Let the CPC version tell us what the game’s about:

Traffic - Game Description

Well, thank you very much for such a reward!

The graphics are simplistic but cute. All the vehicles are just rectangles of various sizes, but you’ll have no trouble seeing motorbikes, regular cars, vans, and trucks in them. Their blinking indicators, made of a minimum amount of pixels, are lovely.

The sound could probably be called simplistic too (but not cute). On the title screen, there’s the typical Big Ben jingle, followed by a forgettable tune with instruments typical of the early ’80s (“we’re happy that it makes a sound!”). There are also a few in-game sound effects, the most important one being the alarm that sounds anytime a queue length is nearing a terminal value.

Where the game excels is the behavior of the cars. They don’t just decelerate and accelerate. They properly slow down when they need to turn. Trucks are slower. But the winner is the situation when the red light comes on and the drivers know they won’t be able to stop in time: in that case they simply step on the gas to go through the crossroad faster. It’s so lifelike that I have to smile whenever I see it.

HOW

Playing the game is easy. On the screen, you have a top-down view of the area, with only two actions available: you move between the junctions with your joystick and switch the lights from red to green and vice versa with the fire button. Cars come from outside the screen, go through the area (adhering to the lights), and then leave. You get a point for each car that leaves your area. You complete the first level if you dispatch 200 cars, the second level is over after 300 cars, the third level takes 400 cars, and so on.

Level 2. C=64 on the left, CPC on the right. Note that even though the roads are put pixel-exact in the CPC version, the graphics aren’t converted but re-drawn (see placing of the buildings, the perspective, and the number of their floors) from scratch.

As long as incoming cars fit onto the screen, everything’s fine. When a queue starts to form outside the screen, you’re in trouble. If the number of cars in any one street waiting to enter the screen reaches 5 in the first two levels and 9 in the higher levels, you’re game over. In the higher levels, there’s also a limit for the total of all the queues.

WHY

Sounds as sexy as a decaying zombie teeming with maggots? Sure, but it’s immense fun! And immensely addictive. Seeing the cars traverse the screen fluently gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and then there are countless little dramas when you are this close to a queue reaching critical length and get the traffic going again in the last moment possible. Plus the game has the “just one more try” magic. You’re sure next time you’ll do better because you think you know what just went wrong. And then again. And again. And again.

In the beginning you go all operative. Get used to that it’s the UK, i.e., cars on the left. Just turn the green light on wherever cars are waiting. Then you realize there’s a tactical layer to it: you don’t want cars to go through one crossroad only to stop at the next traffic light because if the cars have to accelerate and brake, they spend more time on the screen. So you need to create a flow. And after you fail a level several times, the strategic element comes in. You see that no matter which queue finally gameovered you one particular time, there always seem to be one or two streets that are absolutely jammed at that moment and are probably the bottleneck. Therefore you try to create a flow with special attention paid to those critical places. Well, yeah, you still haven’t negotiated the level – but your high score just went 15 points up. You’re on a good track. Next time (or the one after that) you’ll sure make it!

C=64 VS. CPC

The two versions are almost identical.

The C=64 version boasts an achievement for the time: when you complete a level, a sampled voice says, “Next map.” But the CPC has a unique element as well: it offers a special color scheme for playing on a monochromatic monitor (having white color for red and blue for green if you choose it on a normal device feels kinda surreal).

Traffic - screenshot from the monochrome version

Would you stop or go if you saw a white traffic light? And what about a blue one?

The rest is just details. On the Commodore, the active junction is indicated by a crosshair, on the CPC, its outlines change color. The high score table (which is not saved) has 3-char names on the 64 and 4-char names on the CPC.

So the only important difference is that the CPC version seems to be one tiny little bit easier than the C=64 version. Which might be an important factor because the game’s not only great; it’s also fairly difficult.

But whichever platform you prefer, give traffic a try. It’s totally worth it.

Stop reading, start playing!