Sunday, 8 September 2013

Batty (HitPak/Elite, 1987)

Spectrum & Amstrad version coded by Mark Crane.
Amstrad & C64 title screen by Paul Walker.

C64 version:
Coded by Jason Benham.
Music by Robert Westgate and Frank Cohen.



I decided to have a look at this game, because I wanted to have a go at something lighter this time. Being a breakout, you can't get much lighter. Well, the legend says this game was originally released on a cover tape of Your Sinclair magazine in October 1987. That would mean that the other two conversions (one of which was coded by one and the same Mark Crane who made the Spectrum version) were written within two months of the initial release. Possible, I suppose, but sounds a bit iffy.

Whatever the case, this game is considered somewhat of a classic, particularly amongst the Spectrum users. I was always more partial to Cascade's TRAZ on the C64, released a year later, because it's such an insane game, but Batty was the first to evolve from the regular Arkanoid style of breakouts.

As of today, the users at World of Spectrum have given it 8.25 with 156 votes; Lemon64 users have given it 7.7 with 48 votes; CPC Game Reviews website has given it a measly 4 out of 10. Let's see. This time, I won't be giving any scores, and the reason for it you will hopefully understand as you read on.



All breakout games are usually pretty much the same apart from some minor details. According to the instruction manual, Batty is "the racquet sport of the future". The manual continues to describe the name of the game in a graphic language, but fails to tell you anything particularly new and exciting, until your eyes hit the last two lines in the introduction...

"In the double play mode the court is divided into two halves and the players work together to clear the court."

Sure enough, this was a completely new concept back then. TRAZ came out on the C64 a year later, which refined the idea into an even more deprived and ridiculous form, and that one has remained my favourite breakout game since 1989, but I'll get on with this one, because it's the only breakout game besides Krakout, that I've managed to complete without a cheat mode. Actually, it happened with a friend of mine on a C64 about 8 years ago, so it was kind of a singular thing.

As I've learned while making this comparison, the C64 version is actually a completely different game in a lot of ways, compared to the one Mark Crane created. Thus, I'm inclined to believe that the two versions were created somewhat simultaneously, something akin to what happened with Monty Mole a few years back, and the Amstrad conversion came out as a bit of an afterthought. If anyone has more information, it is always welcome. But we'll get to the differences later on.

They're good pieces of dual gaming software, certainly challenging and fun, each in their own way, but more importantly, another interesting example of differences between rival platforms.



There's no drastic difference in the pleasure of waiting for the game to load on any platform, only the amount of time it takes for the job to finish. After all, it's a game from Elite. If this gives you any indication on which game should you choose, hang on and read further.

AMSTRAD:  7 minutes 19 seconds
C64 DISK: 3 minutes 21 seconds
C64 TAPE: 5 minutes 50 seconds
SPECTRUM: 3 minutes 56 seconds



Jason Benham's Batty has pretty much all the same bonuses as Mark Crane's, but here the similarities end. On the Spectrum, your only options are the number of players (one, two in turns and two split), and the method of control. Since the Amstrad conversion was made by Mark Crane, you got the same options there. On the C64, you can adjust your bat speed, starting level and give your players names. Actually, the starting level isn't exactly what it seems to be - it gives you three points of difficulty as well, the last one being a starting point at level 17. So it's a bit unusual, but gives you a nice headstart if you just want to get to the end quicker.

Next, some important differences in game mechanics that I could find:

For starters, you're given 3 lives in the Crane version that both players use, but Jason was so generous as to give you 8 lives each.

The round thing that switches on and off in the top middle of the screen works like a magnet in the Crane version, but Benham's version has a sort of round pinball bumper kind of a thing that randomly comes alive.

Then, the shots from the aliens kill you if they hit your bat in the Crane version, but they only immobilize you for a second on the C64.

In the two-player co-op mode, you're given a single ball in the Crane version, but the C64 has two to begin with.

A big minus for Amstrad alone goes for having the bat speed as slow as to be impossible to catch the ball at default speed if the ball falls at a certain angle. Also, I played the Amstrad version for a good while, but not once I was dropped a level warp. Maybe I just got unlucky, but maybe there are big differences in the bonus drop probabilities there.

In addition to all this, the level designs are different in the two competing versions, which only adds a bit of replay value to both.

Whether your initial choice would be the one for the computer you love the most, the differences are so vast that you would have to be a bit batty not to try them all out. In the end, the two are different enough to be considered different games wearing the same title. The only thing that bugs me a little in the Spectrum version are the colours. I seem to have slight problems following a ball and a bat coloured the same as the background in a mess of textures, but others might not.



Left to right: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC

The original loading screen was apparently made by Mark Crane himself, so it's a bit different from the other two. Having now played the Amstrad version for the first time, I would guess that Paul Walker made the loading screen first for the Amstrad, and converted it for the C64 version too. Paul's screen does have a bit more action and style, so I prefer it for that.

Spectrum screens
As mentioned above, the colours in the Spectrum version are a bit difficult for my eyes, but if you have no problem with it, then it's a good game. Everything looks otherwise clear enough, and animates as much as is required of the animated objects.

Commodore 64 screens
All the bonuses on the Speccy are made to look as clear as possible to leave most of the guesswork out of it. C64 has some funny, but understandable animated icons as the bonus drops. For some  reason, Crane has taken a bit different tack on the Amstrad version, and the bonuses look something between the Speccy and C64 versions. It's the least obvious version, but not hard to learn to recognize.

Amstrad screens

The Amstrad version looks the biggest, and it feels a bit crammed. It's not especially ugly, but it doesn't exactly feast your eyes either. It's probably the clearest of the three, but is ruined by the lack of space. Benham's version on the Commodore looks the most colourful and decorated, while still clear enough to be called nice, so it's very balanced. The sizes of the bat are difficult to measure, because the graphics in each version are somewhat different in sizes, but the bat on the Amstrad version feels the most narrow.

Otherwise, there's not much to say about the graphics in this game - it's a good breakout clone, and it looks like a good breakout clone.



If you're not that fond of sounds while playing, you can have some bips and spurts and other little indescribable effects in the Mark Crane versions. Benham's version has loads of nice tune renditions by Robert Westgate (Meacham's "American Patrol", Hale's "At a Darktown Cakewalk" and Foster's  "Oh Susanna") and Jason even borrowed a tune from Frank Cohen's game "Cohen's Towers".  Additionally, you get a bunch of properly Arkanoidy sound effects, so you'll feel right at home if that's your thing.



It's a difficult thing to choose between the two main rivals, because they're so different. The Amstrad has definitely one of those somehow necessary conversions that you could quite well live without, but still, there are worse breakout clones on the machine. If they were all different enough, I would recommend them all, but in this case, I can only recommend you NOT to play the Amstrad version if you want to have a good session of Batty.

The Spectrum version is more of a challenge, and it has very little options to adjust. It's not a bad game at all, it's just a matter of adjusting your eyes to the colours. Neither is the C64 game a bad one, it's just very different. It lacks the turn-based 2-player mode, which I guess Benham found completely useless when the co-op option existed, and I don't blame him for that.

What still keeps Arkanoid as the more classic option for a breakout, is the sheer quality of everything in it on every conversion. Some of the home conversions can even be played using a mouse or paddles, so you have the superiority of analog control there. If that's all you need from a session of breakout, then you should probably choose Arkanoid, but every version of Batty has the advantage of having the co-operative two-player mode, and that makes a big difference.

My favourite was and continues to be the C64 version, because I grew up with it, and it's more compatible with my eyes, and even completed it with a friend, but I can definitely understand if the Spectrum version is the better choice for some people, because in this case, it's purely a matter of preference and nostalgia.


  1. Hi! You should write a review of the Battleship game of the same team. It had several conversions too. Thanks!

    1. Hey, thanks for the suggestion - I'll put it on the list!