Saturday, 17 August 2013

Twofer #1: Percy the Potty Pigeon + Wanted Monty Mole (Gremlin Graphics, 1984)

Percy the Potty Pigeon
Concept by P. Jackson
SPE version by Shaun Hollingworth (code and music) and R. Vessey (graphics)
C64 version by Antony "Ratt" Crowther (code & graphics) and Ben Daglish (music)

Wanted: Monty Mole
SPE version by Peter M. Harrap
C64 version by Antony "Ratt" Crowther

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GAME STATUS

For today's entry, I've picked two early Gremlin titles, of which the other one is a bit more obscure one. Neither of these games appear on any Top 100 lists currently, but have their own cult following. Monty currently has 8.09 with 45 votes at WOS, and 6.6 with 44 votes at Lemon64. Potty Pigeon has 7.42 with 19 votes at WOS, and 6.0 with 34 votes at Lemon64. That seems to give some idea of the end results, but both were my favourites on both computers when I was a kid, so why not give them a little tribute here anyway. Hope you'll enjoy.

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STORIES, DESCRIPTIONS & REVIEWS

These two games were both released only on the Spectrum and the C64, and they were apparently released pretty much simultaneously, from what I've gathered. Their stories and conception are rather different, but how about the result? I decided to compare both of them together, because there were only two versions for each game. You can't call this a classic C64 vs Spectrum battle, because the
end results are quite predictable, but let's at least see why.

I remember once reading an interview or watching a documentary, where the story of Monty Mole was told. Apparently, someone had suggested to both Pete Harrap and Tony Crowther, back to back, to create a game starring a mole. Obviously, since it was still the early days of gaming, his name would have to start with the same letter as his species, so he became Monty. Neither Harrap nor Crowther knew of this situation until a bit later when their creation was halfway through, but since they became aware of their simultaneous work, they took some ideas from each other to implement in their own versions.

Percy the Potty Pigeon (again that naming fashion thing) was apprently the other way around: Crowther started the programming first, and got released some time before the Spectrum version. I'm not completely sure of this, but I read it from a scan of Crash magazine review, so I trust it's not completely false. I suspect P. Jackson had pitched his idea to Crowther and Hollingworth back to back, but then, neither of the coders knew of this at any point until release. So, Shaun's game became radically different from Tony's.

Crowther's version tells the story of a pigeon in the process of building a nest where his ladyfriend would later lay some eggs. Here we have an element of a shoot'em up: Percy can poop on cars, which then will spin around and crash. How violent! Hollingworth's Percy already has some offspring in the nest, screeching and waiting to be fed some tasty worms, which your job is. Both versions do have
one similar element: a crow (I like to think) to steal your twigs or worms, which you will then have to pick up again. Spectrum version seems more family friendly, C64 version has a bit of punk attitude in it.

All in all, both versions are good arcade fun for a short time, but there's always that element of preference. I do like both of them, but somehow, I like the Spectrum version a bit more.

What about Monty Mole then? Well, the idea was pretty simple at first: a mole platforming through underground tunnels, collecting stuff, avoiding other stuff, trying to get through the game. I think it was Harrap's idea to give it a slight political reference about the miner's strike at the time. Monty's first job before the game begins, is to "borrow" a coal miner's bucket before heading into the underground tunnels, so he can collect the coal down there. In fact, Monty can't even see any coal if he doesn't collect the bucket first. In a familiar platforming style, Monty will come across randomly acting obstacles, falling objects, objects that need to be collected in order to proceed further, and lots
of places that require precision jumping. Both versions are basically the same, but are executed so differently, you wouldn't believe it's the same game at first. Well, of course it isn't the same game, but the idea is the same, and some of the elements are similar.

Both versions are stupidly challenging, but the difference is in the execution. It says a lot that when Monty On The Run, the third game of the series, was made, they converted the Spectrum original as closely as possible to the C64. That time, however, the conversion was to be the more preferable choice.

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LOADING

Since there's not too many versions around, I'll just be quick about it and give you the results. Both games were only released on tape on both machines.



Percy the Potty Pigeon
C64: 3 minutes 12 seconds
SPE: 2 minutes 33 seconds

Wanted: Monty Mole
C64: 3 minutes 27 seconds
SPE: 4 minutes 41 seconds

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PLAYABILITY

The main difference in both games is, that on the Spectrum, they were both flip-screeners, and on the Commodore, they were both scrollers. Here on, we'll have to split the reviews.

Percy the Potty Pigeon

C64:
As mentioned earlier, your job is to collect twigs from the ground, where the cars roll by and over you, if you're not careful - and return them to the starting point, where the chosen location for your nest will be when finished. You have a time limit, so you need to be quick in your actions. Percy can fly pretty damn fast, so that's not a problem. You can also try to eliminate the driving obstacles with your "bombs", but you still have to deal with another bird, trying to steal your treasure. This can become rather troublesome, especially in the later levels. Otherwise, it's as straightforward an arcade game as any. It's very easy to pick up, but gets quite difficult soon enough.

SPE:
As mentioned earlier, your job is to collect worms from various different locations, mostly close to deadly plants, jumping frogs that kill you, water, cars or whatever dangerous place the programmer has decided to place them. This time, you can drop exploding eggs, but they're not quite as necessary as on the C64. But while the enemies aren't too bad to deal with, they do add up in later levels. The time limit has been replaced with an energy bar this time, which will be consumed by flying around, and replenished by either eating flies or standing still for a while. Only problem is, you will drop the worm you're carrying once you eat a fly or land on any surface. Other than having a bit weird set of controls, it's not too difficult to get hang of it. I'd go as far as to call it more comfortable than the C64 one. They're both very playable, but they're also so different from each other, so I really can't decide a winner here.

Wanted: Monty Mole

C64:
The setting and idea of the game was explained earlier, so I'll concentrate on the actual playing this time. First off, if you're familiar with Crowther's other early games, you'll notice the style is definitely his. It's not a bad thing necessarily, but it certainly feels a bit stuffed here. The map looks like a huge maze, which it really is, but works in a sort of logical order. You'll just have to know what to do. Too bad the design is not very player-friendly. You'll have trouble doing much of anything the first few tries. If you persevere, though, you can get pretty far. I've never managed to complete it, because I get too frustrated pretty quickly with it.

SPE:
Here, you'll see a pretty good prototype of what were the later games going to be like. Everything is in much better proportions than what they are on the Commodore version, and thus every action  you'll do, is more comfortable. The map is almost completely different, but all for the better. If anything, it's way more logical and clearer in design. Every object has its purpose and it's usually pretty clear whether any given object is connected in anyway to mining, and if you should be taking them or not. I've never managed to complete this one either, but the controls are so much more  comfortable, I'll be coming more often back to this one.

However different they are, the Spectrum one is still the more playable version.

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GRAPHICS

Percy the Potty Pigeon

C64:
Well, it's not exactly pretty to look at, and there were pretty games around for the C64 in 1984 already, so the age is not an excuse. But the scrolling is remarkably fast. Somehow, in a sort of childish punk attitude, it's still enjoyable to look at, exactly because it's butt ugly. Once you get used to it, you'll start noticing some nice details and gimmicks. It's strangely dark, quirky and stylishly bad, and I like it. Too bad there's no loading screen.


SPE:
It's a flip-screen game, so there's not much speed involved. Doesn't really matter, because it's  otherwise amazingly charming in every detail there is, even if in a family friendly sort of way. It's the attitude that counts here, as much as in the other version. All the colours, characters, scenery... it's all just beautiful and detailed. Also, the loading screen (on view at the loader comparison section) is quite nice.

Again, it's a matter of opinion and taste, but for a longer playing session, I'd say the Spectrum version has more endurance.




Wanted: Monty Mole




C64:
If Potty Pigeon on the C64 was ugly in a good way, then this is just ugly. There's just no redeeming factors to this mess, unless you count it a good thing to have as much stuff on the screen as possible. Well, okay, the main character is coloured more like an actual mole, but that's about it. To my eyes at least, the game area just not a very nice place to be. Maybe it's not even supposed to be, but you should at least make the game look like you might want to play it more often. Even the scrolling doesn't help here. I suppose Tony was still learning how to do graphics properly at this point. The lack of a loading screen doesn't really do much damage.


SPE:
Of course, in today's standards, it looks old-fashioned and silly on the Spectrum as well, but there's a certain charm that drags you in every time you start this one. You'll want to reach at least one more screen further every time you play it, and see what it looks like and what can you do to proceed  further. Nearly every object is recognizable as what they should represent, and nothing seems  impossible to conquer, like they sometimes do on the C64 version. The loading screen (also located at the loader comparison section) is the same as the intro, so while it's nice, it doesn't feel too special. This bland options screen is the only thing you'll see between the loading screen and the game.

But still quite clearly, the Spectrum version takes the cake here.

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SOUNDS

Percy the Potty Pigeon

C64:
Crowther coded the theme song in himself, which was a rendition of the theme song from "All Creatures Great and Small" by Wilfred Josephs. For the game over scene, Ben Daglish gave his first entry in his sidology to the world, which was a brief section of Chopin's Funeral March. Otherwise,
the sound effects are very silly and predictably Crowtherian. Not bad, but could've been a lot better.

SPE:
This is where the C64 version gets the upper hand. The theme song is a bad rendition of that Mozart tune that was so popular back then in games, and the in-game sounds aren't much more than varying fart sounds and pips.

Winner: C64.

Wanted: Monty Mole


C64:
The music here is basically just the tune from Bridge Over River Kwai, which is called "Colonel Bogey" by Kenneth J. Alford. Another often used tune in early games, but cheery enough to make such a disappointing game more endurable. Other sounds are the usual Crowther again. I couldn't
find a button to make the music stop during the game, but at least it's quieter than in the intro screen.

SPE:
Surprisingly, we have the same theme tune this time, but it doesn't play during the game. Which, frankly, is an enormous relief. It actually gives you a more peaceful playing environment, which is nicer to explore, than the constant one-hit iPod.. no, make that a Walkman on the C64. There's
another tune on the Spectrum for Monty's death scene, however, and it's a rendition of a hymn called "Abide With Me". It's not exactly enjoyable, but it's different, and for that alone, I'll accept it.

Winner: Spectrum.

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OVERALL

It's pretty clear that the Spectrum versions are better than the C64 versions, but it's strange that it should be so, since both machines capable of having exactly the same game - at least the one that was released on the Spectrum. Of course, Harrap and Hollingworth were only doing what was proven to be the best style for the Spectrum, but what actually happened on the C64 was this: Crowther was trying to develop the scrolling platformer style further, which was still a very young concept. Pac-Land was among the first side-scrolling platformers ever made, and it was released to the arcades the same year. Crowther was one of the pioneers of the genre, but he got some bad reputation for these games, and I think it's not entirely fair.

While the Spectrum versions are, and will remain, more iconic, the Commodore counterparts should be considered as something completely different, and not necessarily just worse versions. That said, it would be interesting to see if some programmer from this generation were to remake the Spectrum versions on C64, and someone else vice versa, and see what happens.

Here's the final results:

Percy the Potty Pigeon
C64: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 2, Loading 1 = TOTAL 6
SPE: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 1, Loading 2 = TOTAL 7

Wanted: Monty Mole
C64: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1, Loading 2 = TOTAL 5
SPE: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2, Loading 1 = TOTAL 7

Not exactly representative, but you get the idea.

Maybe I'll do another one of these, because there's a lot of these versus-type game comparisons in store, but next time, back to another big one.

Thanks for reading, see you next time!
Comments and suggestions are still welcome!

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