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Saturday, 21 December 2013

Winter Games (Epyx/US Gold, 1985) - Part 1

Developed for the Commodore 64 by Action Graphics, and converted for the Apple ][ in 1985, and for the DOS in 1986.
Converted for the ZX Spectrum by Sentient Software and Mark Alexander in 1986.
Converted for the Amstrad CPC by Sentient Software and Ocean Software in 1986.
Converted for the MSX by Ocean Software and released by US Gold in 1986.
Converted for the Atari 2600 by Steve Baker, Peter Engelbrite and Tod Frye in 1987.
Converted for the Atari 7800 by Atari in 1987.
Converted for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST by Incredible Technologies in 1987.
Converted for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) by Atelier Double
and released by Acclaim in 1987.
Converted for the NEC PC-8801 by Pony Canyon.

Also converted for the Apple ][ Game System and Macintosh computers, but I couldn't find any game files or information for this entry, so no information on those. A version for the Sega Master System was also in the works, and was advertised, but was never released. A prototype is rumoured to exist, but hasn't been recovered yet, so can not be tested.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


Winter Games was probably the first winter-themed multi-event sports game ever created for any computer and console. Since it's winter now, and the first winter my blog is going through, I decided to work on another suggestion, this time from a certain Aki V. who made the suggestion to me on Facebook a couple of months ago. Since this is such a huge project with all those different conversions on the list, I have decided not to hurry too much with it. Now, the writing of this entry has begun on the 11th of November, and I hope to finish and post this comparison around the Christmas period at the latest, but who knows what might happen. Since there's so many conversions and events to go through, I might as well split this game comparison into two parts, and post them back to back, when they're finished.

Currently - at the time of writing the first bits of this entry (11.11.2013) - Winter Games on its original platform has been rated 8.66 from a total of 275 votes at Lemon64, placing it at #19 at the Top 100 list, featuring games with at least 100 votes. World of Spectrum users have given it 8.28 with 53 votes, placing it at #83 on the WoS Top 100 list, sharing the spot with 8 other games. Atarimania doesn't have a rating for the A2600 version, but the ST version has a rating of 6.6 from 8 votes. However, Video Game Critic has graded the A2600 version with an A, and the A7800 version received an A-. Abandonia users have voted the DOS version surprisingly much: as many as 2761 voters have rated it 3.1 out of 5.0, and their editor has given it a 4.0. At LemonAmiga, the game has a respectable score of 7.63 from 30 votes. The MSX version has a rating of four stars out of five from 17 votes at Generation MSX, and CPC Game Reviews have given the Amstrad version an 8 out of 10. Unfortunately, the Apple ][, A2GS and Macintosh reviews are too hard for me to find, as were the game files themselves, apart from the one for Apple ][, so until further update, there are no reviews for the Apple ][ Game System and Macintosh versions. Finally, the black sheep of the family, the NES version, that wasn't even made by Epyx, is rather loathed - Video Game Critic has given it a D- and even the Angry Video Game Nerd has given it a fair bashing, see it here if you haven't done so yet. Already, this looks to be an interestingly diverse bunch, so let's go for it.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW

Epyx's multi-event sports games series started in 1984 with Summer Games, and went on to feature 6 more titles. Winter Games was the third one in the series, and to most fans of Epyx's sports games, the favourite of them all. Featuring high quality graphics, brilliant multiplayer sporting atmosphere and a control method that was more based on timing and strategic movements, rather than mindless waggling, these multi-event games became the favoured lot of many gamers that had the tendency to break their joysticks in the more frantic athletic games.

Winter Games, as the others in the series do, starts off with an opening ceremony, which looks brilliant for its age, and gives the game - and indeed the whole series, a certain kind of grandeur that is sorely missing from too many other games of its kind. Luckily, if you have seen the intro, you can always skip it by pushing the joystick button.

In the original version, you get seven events to compete in: Hot Dog Aerials, Biathlon, Speed Skating, Figure Skating, Ski Jump, Free Skating and Bobsled. Only the Atari 2600 version has some different events, namely Slalom and Luge, but then is missing the two figure skating events, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some of the other conversions have some events completely missing for some reason, which we will get into later on as we progress.

The first event is Hot Dog Aerials, which is a really strange name for an event, as the Angry Video Game Nerd has famously already pointed out. Basically, it's a ski jumping event with stunts - the more you are able to do stunts and the wilder they are, the more points you will get, provided that you are able to land gracefully.

Next up, Biathlon. If you have no idea what this is in terms of winter sports, basically it's something like cross-country skiing mixed with occasional rifle shooting. In reality, the athlete would shoot from different positions on each round, but this doesn't really come across at all in any of the versions of this particular game, but you couldn't really expect that from a game made in 1985. The basic rules are there, though - your biathlete must hit five targets on each round, and each missed target will give you penalty time.

Speed Skating is exactly what it says - a speed skating competition against either a computer opponent or another human player.

Epyx can't be blamed for not trying to be imaginative in their choices for events, because they have given us an attempt of a figure skating event, along with another, more freestyle dancing on ice kind of a thing to go with it. Both of these have the tendency to be the most hated events among gamers - not just in Winter Games, but in all of Epyx's sports games. Your mission in both of these is to perform some skating tricks with your dancer, and land them as perfectly as you can. Of course, timing is of the essence here, and if you don't follow the instructions on your instruction manual perfectly, you will never be able to make heads or tails out of it. Luckily, we still have some very enjoyable events left.

Ski Jump is really one of the ultimate winter sports, and has rightfully earned some properly good games dedicated solely on this one event. Of course, the event is basically just about timing your jump at the ledge of the slope, and making as clean a flight as you possibly can, and land your athlete like a champion.

As the final event in the original version, Bobsled puts a small team of cold-blooded speed freaks in control of a gravity-powered sleigh built on skates, zooming down a half-pipe track as fast as you can make it go. As the name suggests, you will gain more speed by bobbing your team members back and forth inside the sled.

The Atari 2600 version has a Luge variation of the above event included, which has a slightly different track, and you gain speed more easily, making it a slightly more difficult event. It's still better than having two figure skating events.

What is rather more unfortunate, though, is the Slalom event (or Downhill/Alpine Skiing), which only made it to the Atari 2600, and none of the others. It's a fairly basic and popular winter event, so it has baffled me, and many other gamers to no end, why it wasn't included in the original game, and why did they have to put in two figure skating events. Okay, I might sound like a broken record here, but it really is that bad.

All in all, Winter Games could have been the ultimate multi-event sports game for any machine out there, but somehow, the creators and the converters managed to always do something wrong. Luckily, you do have a choice, and only play the events you really like, instead of being forced to go through the more hateful events as well. Still, as it is, the best you can do is to pick up all the best Epyx sports games and play your favourite events back to back, and have a good computerized sporting day - there's plenty of events to choose from.

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LOADING

In the name of all that's holy, this time the amount of versions is just too much for me to bother. Suffice it to say, unless it was either released on a cartridge or a disk, you are going to have a bad time. At least some of the tape versions load up in two bigger chunks, containing a few events for one load. Still, the least stressful way to play Winter Games, and Epyx games in general, is to get a disk version. To make this section even the slightest bit useful, I shall give you the loading/start-up screens to give some colour between the massive amounts of text.


Top row, left to right: Atari 2600 intro screen, Apple ][ loading screen, Atari ST & Amiga loading screen.
Middle row, left to right: MSX loading screen from 2nd half, NEC PC-8801 loading screen, NES intro screen.
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum 128k loading screen, Commodore 64 loading screen, Amstrad CPC loading screen from 1st half.




I like the Spectrum and MSX loaders the most, but the 16-bit loader has a nice animated effect going all over the screen, which you can't see here. But you don't really play this game just to see the loading screens.

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PLAYABILITY

Because this is such an enormous undertaking, this comparison will be in two parts - this first one containing only the playability comparison, which is really the major part of this business. So, at the end of this part, I will include two overall lists that will include the best overall versions in order, and another list that will include the best versions of each event, as if trying to create the perfect version
of Winter Games.

First of all, let's start with the events - the order and the exceptions. The basic setup of events are as such: Hot Dog Aerials, Biathlon, Speed Skating, Figure Skating, Ski Jump, Free Skating and Bobsled. Four of the releases have a different events list. The MSX, Amstrad and Spectrum 48k tape versions have a different order of events, but they still are the same ones. The Atari 2600 version goes: Slalom, Bobsled, Ski Jump, Biathlon, Speed Skating, Hot Dog Aerials and Luge. Both of the two versions left share a weird anomaly to the rest of the releases: they only have four events each, and even when put together, fail to match the lot to get a full set of events. The NES version has Hot Dog Aerials, Speed Skating, Figure Skating and Bobsled, while the Atari 7800 version switches Hot Dog with Biathlon and Figure Skating with Ski Jump from the NES counterpart.

CONTROLS, SIGNING IN AND OPENING CEREMONY


Most of the versions of Winter Games are joystick-controlled, with either one or two joysticks. In the case of having chosen one joystick, all human players will play with one joystick against a computer opponent where necessary, and in the case of having chosen two joysticks, as many human players as have entered the competition will play simultaneously in an event with the possibility. Naturally, the NES will have a pad, unless you have managed to purchase a proper joystick for it, which is rather rare and mostly useless. The versions that use the keyboard as the default control method are on Amstrad CPC, DOS, MSX and ZX Spectrum, but I can not say if this applies to the NEC PC-8801 and Apple ][ versions as well, because I have only emulated versions to rely on.


Enter your name / Select your country.
Top left: C64. Top middle: Amstrad. Top right: NES. Bottom left: A7800. Bottom right: A2600.


When you have decided to compete in one or more events, you will go through a sign-in process, where you will enter the name of at least one player, followed usually by choosing a country for each player. This latter feature has been omitted from the Amstrad, MSX and Spectrum versions, but in contrast, the Atari 2600 version ONLY has a country selection screen as the main menu. Of course, the A2600 has a bunch of switches in the main console that you can use to get into practice mode and choose whether you use one or two joysticks, but that's all there is to it.


Opening Ceremony (Commodore Amiga)
Where available, the game will show you an opening ceremony, which you can skip at different times depending on the version. Most of the versions allow you to skip it right at the beginning, but some require you to watch it until the olympic fire has been lit and the music has passed a certain point.

HOT DOG AERIALS


In the first event, your mission is to do a stunt ski jump from a short ledge, and successfully perform as many and as radical stunts as possible within your air-time. I will not be telling any particular strategies, but there are two combinations for getting a perfect 10, and they should work for every system, but you need to time your movements with extreme precision. You start the jump by pushing the fire button and you need to land in a neutral position, and you have 4 tricks and 2 somersaults to choose your stunt from.

Hot Dog Aerials (Commodore 64)
Starting with the original C64 version, as usual, you will be faced with a control method that requires an enormous amount of precision. If your timing is even slightly off, your athlete will become noticably more hesitant, and makes performing the stunts impossible. On the other hand, you have a fairly clear graphical indicator as to how you should be using your controller, so this means you can more easily hone your skills.

Taking the first competitor under inspection, the ZX Spectrum version of Hot Dog acts more forgiving, but it feels just a tad quicker, and the jump animation is more angular than on the C64, so it feels strange at first. However, once you get used to it, it really isn't all that bad. The only thing that's more difficult is getting a perfect score, but when you at least are able to get a score more easily, it really makes a big difference when playing against other people. The MSX version plays very much like the Spectrum one, although you could be fooled into thinking otherwise by the surprisingly different graphics.

The Amstrad version of this event is incredibly awkward to control. At first, it looks like it plays much like the Spectrum and MSX versions, but the mid-air movements are nearly undecipherable, and your athlete responds to your commands with a sluggishness previously unheard of. It's next to impossible to perform two movements within one jump. To make things even worse, it takes as much time to go through a zero-score board as one with some actual points, and resetting the event takes a couple of seconds, because the computer has to draw the screen again from scratch. Arrrggghhh.

Moving on to the 16-bits for a while, the Atari ST version plays almost exactly like the C64, but there is something wrong with the control detection. Of course, this might very well be a problem with the emulator, so I have to judge it more by a hunch than actual experience. When I play this game with Steem, it seems I am NEVER able to change the joystick direction in time - even when I think I have changed direction early enough, the on-going somersault still continues on for another round. The Amiga version seems to have the same problem, and I have even played it on real hardware, so I don't think there is all that much wrong with the emulation, regretfully.

The NEC PC-8801 version suffers from the same problem as the Atari ST version, although it plays slightly slower, and again, I'm unable to tell whether this happens on the real hardware as well.  Navigating through the menus does feel a bit laggy, so it might very well be a problem with the emulator.

Now, for the first of four events on the dreaded NES version of the game, this isn't half bad, really. Only the animation is a bit wonky, but it plays quite similarly to the Spectrum and MSX versions. Of course, if you happen to be using a regular NES pad, instead of a joystick, the control method might feel exceedingly awkward, since you need to perform precise movements by using precise directions, and a pad is never a very good instrument for that.

Strangely, this is the only event that severely suffers from the control mechanics on the DOS version. Having a joystick helps very little, since the problem lies in the programming - you seem to be only able to perform one trick at a time, because the game only receives information from your controls for a certain amount of time, which is too little for this particular event. Mind you, this applies to the true DOS environment as well as the DOSbox. What is so strange about it, is that this problem only has any effect on this one event.

Next up, the Apple ][ version. Now, this one is really an unfortunate example, because the character animations are very good, but the controls just really have a problem getting to work exactly as you would wish them to. Somehow, your athlete always seems to make something completely unexpected as an extra added to your commands, so it feels like you can never achieve the perfect score here.

Finally, while it's certainly funnier than the other versions, the Atari 2600 has been given a completely different take on the event. Here, it's less about grace and timing, and more about solving a strangely behaving puzzle with as many movements as possible within a short amount of time. So, because it's such a different take on the event, I have a hard time placing it anywhere on the list.

1. C64
2. SPECTRUM/MSX
3. ATARI ST/AMIGA/NEC
4. NES
5. ATARI 2600
6. AMSTRAD
7. APPLE ][
8. DOS

BIATHLON
Biathlon, skiing. (MSX)

The second event, as the title suggests, consists of two parts: skiing and shooting. Starting the event is triggered by pushing the fire button, and you will need to waggle the joystick left and right in a steady rhythm to speed your man on the plains, and waggle faster when you need to climb uphill. When going downhill, pull the joystick down to thrust with both sticks. You will get to a shooting range after completing two full laps of the skiing track, consisting of 3 screens. The shooting range will put you in control of the mechanics of the rifle, while the crosshair keeps moving up and down on each target as you proceed shooting them. In order to make your shot, you first need to pull the joystick down to open the magazine, and then up to reload your weapon, and finally push the fire button to shoot. There are 20 shots to be triggered, which means getting through four shooting ranges.

Well, the above concerns the original version as well as most of the others, but the Amiga version has been made into a side-scroller, and apart from the first lap, the shooting range comes at the bottom of the long downhill bit. Of course, this means that this version plays a lot quicker than all of the others made in a similar style. If you happen to dislike this event, then perhaps this is the version for you. Because the controls are very responsive, though, I feel it should get higher points than it perhaps deserves for being incomplete.

Unsurprisingly, the Atari 2600 version has a clearly different take on this event. The top-down viewed screen scrolls up and down, while your skier moves along a winding path, occasionally coming upon a shooting range. The shooting range scenes have been executed similarly to the other versions, only extremely simplified in graphics, which matter not at this point. What does matter, is that you only have three rounds of shooting, equaling to 15 bullets. However, you should be glad to know this, since the skiing itself is fairly unusual, and only seems to happen when your man feels like it, so the best part of this is really the moment when it's over.

Biathlon, shooting range. (Amstrad CPC)
Back to the more familiar-looking versions, let's take a look at the MSX version. Here, you can see a definite change in the dynamics of speed and how the controls actually affect the actions on screen. When you have nudged yourself forward by thrusting with one of the skiing sticks (pushing the joystick left or right), the speed-o-meter decreases after the movement quite a lot more quickly than in the original version. Also, irritatingly often, trying to make your skier move only makes him shuffle his skis in the spot instead of moving forwards at all. So, you rarely get a chance to make him even close to maximum speed, making the event feel like you are constantly trying to move in sinkingly soft snow wearing tennis shoes. In contrast, the shooting range is made more difficult than the original by making the targets smaller and your crosshair move faster. Not good.

The NEC PC-8801 version is more acceptable this time, playing mostly like the original. Only again, probably because I'm using an emulator, the laggy controls kick in every time you try to run uphill, making progression nearly impossible, so you need to really take it slower. At this point, I'd really be interested in trying it out on the real hardware, because I have a feeling many good NEC games fall in a bad light under bad emulation. If anyone can suggest me a better emulator than PC88Win, throw me a comment at the bottom of the page, and I will take another look at the NEC version. For now, I will place it somewhere in the middle.

On the Apple ][, though, this problem with laggy controls has been fixed with having no need to actually waggle the joystick as frantically in the uphill bits as in the other versions - just continue with your normal rhythm and you should make it fine. Otherwise, this event has been successfully converted for the Apple ][, and I find nothing to complain about.

A surprisingly good conversion has been made for the two better Ataris, strangely being the 7800's first event. There really is nothing I can think of that is in any way worse, or indeed, different, than on the C64 - both the A7800 and ST have it spot on.

The same goes for the Spectrum conversion, as far as the actual skiing bit goes. For the shooting bits, though, you get the same smaller targets and faster crosshair as on the MSX.

As I mentioned earlier, the only event that suffers from bad control mechanics on the DOS version is Hot Dog. Here the effects of emulated DOS environment start to kick in, though, if you need to use it. Waggling uphill again has a little lag-based problem, although it's not nearly as bad as in, say, the emulated NEC version. In true DOS environment, though, it plays like a dream. I would actually go so far as to say it's the best one around, although it could very much depend on what kind of a computer setup you have running the game. My DOS computer is a 120 MHz Pentium, and apart from the opening ceremonies, it plays in a perfect speed with no loading times whatsoever.

On the Amstrad, though, it really is as sluggish as the emulated version would suggest. The biathlete is unable to gain momentum, so he seems to be in a fairly bad shape, not being even able to slide gracefully through the downhill bits. Honestly, I was unable to get the speed-o-meter even past the letter 'P' above it. At least the shooting bit has been managed to get right enough. But seriously, it is easily the worst one around.

1. DOS
2. C64/A7800/ATARI ST
3. AMIGA
4. SPECTRUM
5. NEC/APPLE ][
6. MSX
7. A2600
8. AMSTRAD

SPEED SKATING
Speed Skating (NEC PC-8801)

The only event in the game to actually feature a versus setting is also the only event of the game most resembling a more basic "joystick killer"-type sports game, although you still only need to waggle the joystick left and right in a more rhythmic way, than just plain old lightning fast waggling. See, you actually need to follow your skater's feet, or the speed-o-meter, if you prefer, in order to get a proper rhythm into it.

As easy as this event very likely is to copy to every version, the biggest difference comes in the speed of character animation and scrolling. The NEC version seems to be the quickest, and other than the emulator's assumed lag affecting the gameplay a bit, it's probably even the most challenging. It's not quite top notch, though.

Going through the Atari versions from top to bottom next - at least in terms of hardware, we start with the ST. The problem with this version is the insanely slow acceleration rate of your skater. Once you get him to go maximum speed, he is usually faster than your CPU opponent. There is one thing that bothers me, which might have something to do with the emulation. Sometimes, the skater just freezes up in mid-step, as if I have moved left and right simultaneously, and I have no idea whether this problem exists while using a real Atari. As it is, I have to take an educated guess for the results. Otherwise, the Amiga version feels the same as the ST.

However, the Atari 7800 and the DOS versions seem to have the most playable versions of this event. They both have the speed of the original, with a slightly adjusted rhythm-keeping playability to make it just that bit more playable than the original. It is just amazingly smooth.

On the Atari 2600, it's not quite so, but there aren't that many things that you can do wrong with such an event. While it doesn't play quite as smoothly, specifically because of the lack of animation and thus following the skating rhythm more difficult, the biggest problem really is the unfair competition. Most of the time, it looks as though your CPU opponent moves faster, even while you are skating in the same speed.

The Apple ][ version falls somewhere between the C64, Atari 7800 and Atari ST versions: it has a slightly slower acceleration rate than the original, but in the end plays better than the ST, but suffers from bad scrolling protocol. It's a strange combination, and you would not expect this to play all that well on the Apple ][, but it pulls it off surprisingly well.

Looking at the MSX and Spectrum versions, they are as alike as you would expect them to be, if anything was to be judged by the earlier comparisons of Gremlin games and Dynamite Dan. This time they even look very much alike, but you will mostly be trying to concentrate on the skater animation and getting the joystick waggling rhythm right, which is quite a lot slower than in the original.

On the Amstrad, it's not all that different, really - perhaps even worse. The skating animation has a similar look to it as the Spectrum and MSX versions, but the programmers have somehow managed to berk it up by not synchronizing the animation with the actual skating movements as closely as they should have. All this, and it's slow too.

As the second event in the NES version, you really feel it an odd choice over the other three left out events, since the D-pad really doesn't work well in a left-to-right waggling situation. Again, you might be hoping to have a joystick, or better yet, a proper computer to play the game on. Getting into the correct rhythm is infinitely more difficult here, even with the joystick, and to top that, you have a CPU opponent that will leave you eating his icy dust within fractions of a second. As a cherry on top of this sugar mound, the track is 350 meters long instead of 250, as it is in the other versions. At least it's not nearly as slow as the three previously mentioned ones.

1. DOS/ATARI 7800
2. C64
3. NEC PC-8801
4. APPLE ][
5. ATARI 2600
6. AMIGA/ATARI ST
7. MSX/SPECTRUM
8. AMSTRAD
9. NES

FIGURE SKATING AND FREE SKATING

These particular events probably get all the bad rap, because they are the least manly parts of the game. You do, however, need as much precision and sense of rhythm as in all of the three above combined, or perhaps even more. The artistic execution of jumps and pirouettes is crucial here. Although you have only seven elements to perform, some of them can only be performed while skating either forwards or backwards.

Figure Skating (Atari ST)
In Figure Skating, your mission is to conduct all seven mandatory elements perfectly within one minute, and only the first execution of a figure counts. In Free Skating, you have two minutes to perform a choreography of your own choosing, and you can do each of the seven figures three times, but the elements are only evaluted, if they have been conducted successfully. In both events, your aim is to score 6.0, but in theory, you can reach 6.9 in Free Skating. For sloppy execution and falls, you will be punished with a subtraction of points.

What makes this event even slightly playable is the inclusion of your shadow. Because the Spectrum, Amstrad and MSX versions have no such thing, and they certainly could have had one, you will need to keep your eyes exactly on the spot where your skates usually are when you are safely skating on the ice. This, in turn, takes away the only pleasure of the event, which is watching an 8-bit female sprite twirling in the air, unless you really like to listen to that tune you are supposed to be performing to. Otherwise, it would be just as playable on each of these machines as it is on the C64.

Of course, what makes any game playable is a control method you can work with. On the Apple ][, you REALLY need a joystick to make these events playable, but when you have one, they are just as playable as the best of them.

I have no idea whether this is an error on an intentional feature, but in the NEC version, after you have reached the highest point of your jump, you immediately land at a different spot on the ice, and slide back into your original place. You do learn to play by it, but it just feels completely wrong. Otherwise, it would be just as playable as the other versions.

The NES owners are spared the other figure skating event by having only the quicker one to go through. It's all the same, really, since the only one included plays as awkwardly as anything. The skater's animation is incredibly bad, missing some pivotal frames to help your descent, and therefore, making your performance incredibly hard. Still, it's not exactly impossible, and I have even managed to get a whopping 4.1 once, after I fumbled through a few tries. Note that the high scores screenshot was taken before this happened. :-P

From the two 16-bits, the Atari ST version performs better. Not only is the ice more comfortable to look at on it, but your skater lady is located unusually high on the screen in the Amiga version. For some reason, the sprite flickers quite a lot, making the performance a bit more difficult than necessary.

But, these two events are basically similar in all the rest of the versions not mentioned yet. The two 8-bit Ataris are entirely devoid of any figure skating event, which might or might not be a good thing, but what is left of the list, takes the top spot in the list.

1. C64/DOS
2. ATARI ST
3. APPLE ][
4. AMIGA
5. SPECTRUM/AMSTRAD/MSX
6. NES
7. NEC PC-8801

SKI JUMP

Ski Jump, jumping tower (ZX Spectrum)
Well, you all know what Ski Jump is. What you might not know is how to control your athlete in this particular version of the event. You send the man to descend the jump platform by pushing the fire button, and make him jump off the ledge, you push the button again. The later you push the button at the edge, the better his takeoff. In mid-air, you need to control your man by pushing the joystick in four directions: up, if he looks to be squatting; down, if his skis are getting crossed; left, if he is leaning too much to the front; and right, if he is leaning too much to the back. You will know the posture is correct, when his arms are close to his body and he is leaning in a straight-forward fashion, his body pointing right at the top-right corner of the augmentation screen.

I have never fully gotten the hang of this event on the Spectrum, because the mid-air controls feel somehow unresponsive. If you only need to adjust your posture left or right, you have a greater chance of succeeding than if your skis get crossed or your man starts squatting. Sometimes it seems like you need to use diagonal controls, as opposed to what the manual says, and other times it really makes no difference what you do. Whether this is true of all the Spectrum releases or not is beyond my capabilities to get interested about it, but the problem exists on my original tape and on at least one of the versions I downloaded from WoS.

Strangely, though, they have gotten this one fairly playable on the MSX. Your athlete controls admirably, and considering the amount of animation frames is somewhat lower than in the original, it's much easier to perform a jump successfully than on the Spectrum. Taking into account that for the most part, the MSX and Spectrum versions are very much alike, this is a surprising turn of events. Also, while the Amstrad version doesn't look quite as nice as the MSX and Spectrum versions, it plays almost as good as the MSX version, with only a very small amount less of animation frames.

For the Apple ][ version, they have decreased the speed of the event in order to deal with the uncomfortable lack of responsiveness for the posture adjusting screen. Somehow, it works better than you would expect, but it's still nowhere near the quality that the original exhibits.

Ski Jump, landing area (Atari 7800)
The NEC version seems to have the vertical controls switched, otherwise it's just as playable as the original. Even the assumed emulator's lag affects very little in this event, so it's all very nice.

Once again, though, the Atari 7800 version manages to be as playable as the original, if not even more so. Your athlete responds to your commands amazingly well, probably even slightly better than in the original, but due to the advantages of having the game on a cartridge, switching screens is that much quicker to make playing the game more effortless. The difference is such a small one, though, so it doesn't really matter in the big picture.

The same could be said of the DOS version, but you need to play this in a true DOS environment to get the controls act properly.

As a funny contrast to the more realistically behaving skijumpers on the other versions, the Atari 2600 makes you roll through different angles of your man and his skis while in air. When you take off, you get a glimpse of your normal posture, so you can adjust back to it when it starts looking weird. Playability-wise, it's not bad at all, just a bit different. It certainly is better than the Spectrum one, unless there's something wrong with the versions I've played it from.

Finally, we take a look at the 16-bit versions. Interestingly, they both fail to be any better than the best 8-bit versions. The only thing where some enhancing has been achieved are the graphics, and this is not the time to talk about that.

1. DOS/A7800
2. C64/AMIGA/ATARI ST
3. NEC PC-8801
4. MSX
5. APPLE ][/AMSTRAD
6. ATARI 2600
7. SPECTRUM

BOBSLED AND LUGE


In the more common of the two events placed in an ice canal, you control a bobsled with two athletes. You start moving by pushing the fire button, and you can accelerate and decelerate by pulling the joystick up or down. Whether this is recommended or not, is entirely up to your own imagination and/or skills. When coming to a curve, you need to counteract the G-forces pulling your sleigh to the edges of the half-pipe by pulling the joystick left when turning left, and right when turning right.

And in that previous sentence, you will come across the only problem that can be found in the Amstrad, MSX and Spectrum versions: coming to a curve. See, in the original, and some of the more impressive conversions, you can see the curve coming in the pseudo-3D screen from behind the bobsled. In these three conversions, you can only anticipate the curves by looking at the map screen, because you can't see the curve coming at you in the 3D screen - when you get there, the 3D screen will switch instantaneously, and if you have only looked at the 3D screen, you will very likely have flown out of the half-pipe by the time you start steering. Other than that, it's quite playable in its own right on these three machines.

From the 8-bit conversions, the Apple ][, the Atari 7800 and the NEC PC-8801 come closest to the original in the overall execution of this event. The 3D screen lets you anticipate the curves and the handling is spot on. The speed on the NEC is a bit slower, though, due to the hardware limitations, so you will experience some slight slowing down in places. No such problem on the A7800 and the Apple ][.

The DOS version would have been part of the list above, had it not had a strange control mechanics variation. Because of the problem mentioned earlier in the Hot Dog section, you actually need to tap the directional buttons (or joystick) rapidly in order to make the bobsled actually turn where you want it to. Otherwise, you will be on your side before you make it to the second turn. Once you get the hang of the tapping thing, though, it's reasonably playable.

As the final event included in the NES version, you would expect it be as bad as the other events, but it actually is rather playable, even with a D-pad. It is slower than the other versions, though, and it's really a matter of preference, whether you like this over the other versions.

The Atari 2600 version of Winter Games is the only one to feature a single-manned version of the event, called Luge. In this event, the sleigh handles quicker and the track is longer than the Bobsled track on the Atari 2600. Because you have no map of the track in either event on the A2600, you will need to either trust your gut a vast amount, memorize the tracks or use the breaks a lot. Also, because the two events are made into a top-down 2D versions, you have very little time to react to the curves, because you can't really see what's in front of you for more than three meters or so.

And again, our last competitors are the 16-bits. Essentially, we have the same setup as in the original, but the G-forces act more violently on both occasions, so you need to concentrate on controlling the bobsled's speed more than in any other versions. Another tactic is to anticipate the curves earlier, but it really is not enough. So, whether you want to have it more realistic and difficult, go for the Amiga or the Atari ST version, they are both hardcore. Not bad, only difficult.

1. C64/A7800/APPLE ][
2. NEC PC-8801/NES
3. SPECTRUM/AMSTRAD/MSX
4. AMIGA/ATARI ST
5. DOS
6. ATARI 2600

SLALOM

Slalom (Atari 2600)
Once again, only featured in the Atari 2600 version, Slalom is a very straightforward downhill skiing event, where you only need to  worry about turning your skier in the right direction after having sent him off by pushing the fire button. You will need to ski through a bunch of gates placed in various different intervals as quickly as you possibly can. Missing a gate will give you some penalty time, and of course you can hit a gate pole, which will give pause to your descent as well as penalty. There are other obstacles scattered along the hill, which you need to dodge, such as trees and people.

While it's certainly nothing special, it's quite a lot more enjoyable than a two-minute period of figure skating. Too bad it's only available on the Atari 2600, but at least Epyx fixed this missing element in one of their later games in the series for other computers. Whether that's a good thing or a bad one is entirely another matter.

OVERALL PLAYABILITY

Because the NES and Atari 7800 versions only have 4 events, calculating the results for them will be useless. The same thing applies to the Atari 2600 version, since it has two events completely different from every other version. So, I will just show a demonstration of how wrong the mathematical results would look in this case, and base my further balanced ratings on the differences. The order of events in the calculations is the order of their regular appearance in the game, unless otherwise mentioned. The Atari 2600 version gets +3 points for each unique event in this case.

COMMODORE 64: 8, 7, 8, 7, 6, 7, 6 = TOTAL 49
DOS: 1, 8, 9, 7, 7, 7, 2 = TOTAL 41
ATARI ST: 6, 7, 4, 6, 6, 6, 3 = TOTAL 39
AMIGA: 6, 6, 4, 4, 6, 4, 3 = TOTAL 33
APPLE ][: 2, 4, 6, 5, 3, 5, 6 = TOTAL 31
NEC PC-8801: 6, 4, 7, 1, 5, 1, 5 = TOTAL 29
ATARI 7800: Biathlon 7, Speed Skating 9, Ski Jump 7, Bobsled 6 = TOTAL 29
MSX: 7, 3, 3, 3, 4, 3, 4 = TOTAL 27
ZX SPECTRUM: 7, 5, 3, 3, 1, 3, 4 = TOTAL 26
AMSTRAD CPC: 3, 1, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4 = TOTAL 19
ATARI 2600: Hot Dog 4, Biathlon 2, Speed Skating 5, Ski Jump 2, Bobsled 1 + bonus = TOTAL 19
NES: Hot Dog 5, Speed Skating 1, Figure 2, Bobsled 5 = TOTAL 13

But no, it just doesn't go like that. Even if we took out only the events each of us is the least likely to ever play and calculate it again, it just doesn't work that way. So, I need to create a new kind of system for these sorts of game comparisons. What I will do, is give 2 points for each winning version of any event, 1 point for a good or at least relatively playable conversion, and 0 points for a really bad one. This time, I will give the two unique events on A2600 one point each.

C64: 2+1+1+2+1+2+2 = 11
DOS: 0+2+2+1+2+2+1 = 10
A7800: 1+2+2+2 = 7
APPLE: 0+1+1+1+1+1+2 = 7
ST: 1+1+0+1+1+1+1 = 6
AMIGA: 1+1+0+1+1+1+1 = 6
MSX: 1+0+1+1+1+1+1 = 6
SPE: 1+1+1+1+0+1+1 = 6
NEC: 1+1+1+0+1+0+1 = 5
A2600: 1+0+1+1+0+1+1 = 5
CPC: 0+0+0+1+1+1+1 = 4
NES: 1+0+0+1 = 2

Sure, this might look closer to the truth, and why not. Let's keep the score that way for the final calculations, coming up in part two of this comparison. But before we finish up this part, let's have a look at how the "perfect", or "complete" version of Winter Games would look like... (The order is, of course, the way I would prefer it.)

1. Hot Dog (C64)
2. Biathlon (DOS)
3. Slalom (A2600)
4. Speed Skating (DOS/A7800)
5. Figure Skating (C64/DOS)
6. Luge (A2600)
7. Ski Jump (DOS/A7800)
8. Free Skating (C64/DOS)
9. Bobsled (C64/APPLE/A7800)

So, not including the unique Atari 2600 events, it's the DOS version that has been mentioned most of the time, the C64 coming at second place, and Atari 7800 the third. This, in turn, invokes the question: if the Atari 7800 version would have had all the events, would it have been the best one available?

Well, it took me a good month to get to this point, and Part 2 is coming along with a good pace. But for now, Merry Christmas and all other holidays that you prefer to celebrate, and thank you very much for reading! I hope you enjoyed Part 1, and keep your eyes open for the second part coming up before the end of the year.

4 comments:

  1. Great man!! I have a question, how do you manage to play the NEC PC-8801 version? If it is emulator, which one do you use?

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    Replies
    1. I have been using PC88win, which is a discontinued emulator from 1998, but seems to work just fine enough for these purposes.

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    2. Ok, I just wonder about the screenshots you are using from the NES PC-8801 version. Yours seems to be very different comparing to what the game looks like when I try it on the PC88win...Yours pictures is much more brighter and colorful while on my emulator the screen has very few colours...Strange.

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    3. There are a couple of things you could try, if it indeed is the same emulator you're using. From the "Option" menu, go to "Mode" and choose V1. If you're using V2, the emulator will only show a few colours, mostly greenish blue. N mode doesn't seem to show much of anything. Turning off interlaced mode might also help in the brightness issue, if it's on. Other than that, I can't think of anything.

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