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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Donald Duck's Playground (US Gold/Sierra On-Line, 1984)

Designed by Al Lowe and the Walt Disney Personal Computer Software Design and Development Staff.

Written by Al Lowe for the Commodore 64, and released by US Gold in 1984.

Converted for the Commodore Amiga, IBM-PC and Atari ST by Al Lowe, Jeff Stephenson and Chris Iden, with graphics by Mark Crowe, and released by Sierra On-Line in 1986.

Converted for the Apple ][ computers in 1986 and TRS-80 CoCo in 1987 by Al Lowe, Jerry Moore and Doug MacNeill, and released by Sierra On-Line.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS

This is the 50th blog entry here, which requires some sort of special thing to celebrate the occasion. So, instead of making a boring celebratory blog post just to mark the occasion, I decided to write something a bit out of the ordinary. For one, it's the second Disney-licenced game to feature on the blog, and it's also the first title on the blog to be originally advertised as educational entertainment. It was mostly aimed for the younger audience, but today, it's nothing if not one of the biggest nostalgy trips for us old C64 folks.

Donald Duck's Playground was the first exclusively C64-released Disney-licenced game, but due its popularity, it got ported a couple of years later to machines with better capabilities of constant disk access. It is also the first of only two games Al Lowe (of Leisure Suit Larry fame) ever coded for the C64, the other one being Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood.

I put off making a comparison of this one for a long time for three reasons. One, because it's not all that well known generally; two, it's already been quite well written about at the Hardcore Gaming 101 website; and three, because apart from the C64 original, I really have never bothered to try out any of the other versions, because Sierra's Adventure Game Interpreter engine put me off so completely in this context. Even Al Lowe himself has described some aspects of porting the original to the AGI engine as "ridiculous". If for some reason, you have no idea of what sort of games use the AGI engine, the earliest Sierra adventures might be good pointers - such as the first three King's Quest games, the first two Space Quest games, the first Police Quest, the first Leisure Suit Larry and such.

Originally fairly well received, this game hasn't lost any of its charm in 30 years. 99 Lemon64 voters have given the original version a respectable 7.7; at LemonAmiga, 23 voters have given their version a less desirable 6.48; the editor at Abandonia has given the DOS version a 3 out of 5, while their readers have rated it 3.4 with 2493 votes; the only rating for the Atari ST version I could find was at MobyGames, which had a 3.9 out of 5.0; even the TRS-80 CoCo version had a 4.5 rating at Mobygames, while unsurprisingly, I was unable to find any reviews for the Apple version.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW

In Donald Duck's Playground, you take the role of Donald, whose job is to earn money so that he can buy playground items for his nephews. To do this, you can take jobs at four different work places: the Airport, the Railroad, the Toy Shop and the Greengrocer's. All the other jobs require you to pick up items and sort them into their designated containers, except for the Railroad, where you will need to operate six switches to make the train go to the correct places to pick up and deliver goods. So, as far as educational aspects go here, you get to practice money handling, shape matching, dealing with spatial relationships and some logical thinking.

Depending on the version, buying items from shops and placing them in the playground can be either clearly 2-dimensional affair or a very AGI-like tilted top-down 3D'ish view, which makes the whole shopping and  playground-building experience completely different. Since I have never properly tried out the AGI versions, I cannot give an honest review of the two versions until the Overall section, but as far as the C64 version goes, I think it's safe to say Donald Duck's Playground is one of the most classic examples of properly good use of a comic book/cartoon character in making children more interested in edutainment, without even noticing it. And even though it might be thought of as a prime example of materialism and the downsides of it, it's still a fun way to waste about an hour of your life with every now and then.

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LOADING

Loading screen from the C64 tape version.
Since the game loads either from a floppy disk or a hard drive in all other cases except the C64, it seems useless to even include this bit here. But, one might consider the fact that the loading affects the flow of the game in all the versions that have constant disk access and no hard drive or an all-at-once tape loading method, as is on the C64. It's really a no-win situation on any other format than anything with a hard drive. But nevermind that, the point is moot enough in this case.

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PLAYABILITY

There are three distinctly different versions of Donald Duck's Playground around: the original C64 version, the AGI version released for the IBM-PC compatibles, Amiga and Atari ST, and the one that falls in between the two main versions, released for the Apple ][ computers and TRS-80 CoCo. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the actual CoCo version working on any emulator I tried (all of which are very much past their best before date), but judging by the screenshots at MobyGames, it's the exact same version as the one for the Apple ][, which I did get working very well.

Before we head into the massive list of differences, the similarities in all the versions are easier to go through, so let's do just that. Well, the idea is the same, and the basic idea of the game, the objects, the scenario - the basic structure, so to speak, is the same. Up to the effects of every "difficulty" level, every version is the same: the speed of the game is higher with every higher level, and simultaneously, all the job payments increase:

Advanced level
AIRPORT - 9 c for every item thrown
TOYSTORE - 15 c for every toy placed
GROCER - 3 c for every successful drop
RAILROAD - 30 c for every successful delivery

Intermediate level
AIRPORT - 6 c
TOYSTORE - 10 c
GROCER - 2 c
RAILROAD - 20 c

Beginner level
AIRPORT - 3 c
TOYSTORE - 5 c
GROCER - 1 c
RAILROAD - 10 c

Suffice it to say, you should always go for the advanced level, unless you're a really bad player. The other levels will likely bore you to death within a minute. In the original and the Tandy/Apple version, you get a simple arrow-driven menu for the level selection, and in the AGI version, you have to walk through a gate corresponding your choice of difficulty level, which already makes the game feel slower than necessary.

Speaking of speed: the original, as well as the Apple and Tandy versions are very compact in their presentation. The main street takes place in one screen, and has very little flashiness to it, but everything is recognisable - except that perhaps the way to the playground isn't too clearly pointed out. But if you read the manual, or even used your imagination only a little bit, you would notice that the park is exactly where you would imagine it to be. No need to point out the obvious, surely. The AGI version points you into the direction of the park in the left screen of the main street, and even then, there is another screen you need to walk through, before you get to the park itself. It might make the game more fun to look at, but it takes away from the pacing. That said, there are shortcut keys in the AGI version to make you jump straight to either the playground or the main street, so it isn't wholly bad.

Shopping in the three stores already has three different methods in the three main versions. The similarities in all versions is that you can only choose three items at once to buy, and after you have chosen them, you will be taken to the cash register, where you will give money to the register, and if you give more than the exact amount, you will need to take the change yourself from the cash register. The differences are in the way you choose the items you will buy. In the original, you will browse through a catalogue of five items in all the shops, push the fire button to select an item you want (making the icon's borders red), and push the joystick up to pay or down to exit. In the Tandy/Apple version, you get the same catalogue thing, but you will need to select an item you want to buy and then confirm that you want to buy it by pushing up and fire button - one by one - until you want to actually go and pay for the lot, which still can only be three items maximum. In the AGI version, you need to walk around the shops and pick the items up by pushing the fire button next to the items. Then you go to the cash register and do the same thing you do in every other version.

The first thing you will most likely do any time you start the game, is go to work, unless you are unfamiliar with what is what, and where. All the work places are the right side of the street, the order of which depends on the version you're playing. From bottom to top, the original and the Tandy/Apple versions have the Airport, the Greengrocer's, the Toy Shop and the Railroad. The AGI version switches the placing of the Greengrocer's and the Toy Shop. The common difference in the work places is the amount of time you are able to spend at any job: in the original and the Tandy/Apple versions, you can choose your workshift to be anything from 1 minute up to 8 minutes, while the AGI version allows you to stay up to 9 minutes. It sounds very little in comparison to reality, but trust me, it's all plenty enough. All the other differences need to be divided in their own chapters. Note that all my observations are made only on the Advanced level in every version, if it has any relevance to the results at all.

RAILROAD:
Your mission is to control the six levers to switch the routing of the train around the map. In the original and the Tandy/Apple versions, you can control Donald left and right across the switchboard by tapping the joystick left and right, and he will automatically stop at every lever by himself. He will grab the lever and let go of it by pushing the fire button, and you will have to control the levers by pushing the joystick left and right while grabbing one. In the AGI version, Donald will walk left and right without stopping at the levers, unless you give him the command to stop by pushing the button. Pushing the button will also make him grab a lever and change its direction, and only pushing the joystick left or right again will make him let go of the lever. If that was not quite confusing enough, the train is insanely quick compared to Donald's walking speed in the AGI version, making it most of the time impossible to reach all the required levers during one round trip the train makes while trying to make a delivery. I thought at first that this might have something to do with DOSbox's speed problems, but the same thing occurs on Amiga and ST as well, so it must be a problem with the unbalanced difficulty setting. No such problem in the other versions. The Apple/Tandy version's only notable difference to the C64 original is the placing of switch #6, which is now closer to Duckburg, making it impossible to get from Duckville to Duckburg within the same round. You can see this change in the screenshots down at the Graphics section.

TOY SHOP:
Your mission is to stock up the toys that come in from the platform at the left end of the screen, by placing them to their own places on the huge shelves in the toy store. For this, you will need the ladder, which you can move around by pushing the button at the bottom of them, and pushing the button again once you have moved them enough. Note that the original version, as well as the Tandy/Apple version will place the ladder at certain designated spots between the shelves. In the AGI version, you seem to be able to place the ladder anywhere you can reach to put it. Also note that you cannot carry a toy and move the ladder at the same time, and dropping a toy will make you lose one toy's worth of pay (unless you have no pay yet), so you will need to move the ladder before carrying the toys around. Only on the C64 are you able to actually fine-tune the placing of the toy you happen to be carrying by pushing the joystick left and right while on the ladder, but you rarely need to do so, so it has been taken off from all the other versions, and therefore, the needed precision for placing the toys has been loosened a bit. Now, because the toy shop is located so near the railroad, you will need to close the curtains every 50 seconds or so, and that can be accomplished by turning the lever at the right end of the screen. As before, on the C64, you will need to push the button to grab the lever, and the pull left or right to operate the curtain, which will reach its the other end in less than 3 seconds. The AGI curtain/lock thing is fairly quick as well, but works like the previous lever: pushing the button for each direction - with a surprising exception to the rule on the Atari ST version, as you only need to push the button once for each direction, so it works fairly well, actually. Only the Tandy/Apple curtain is ridiculously slow, taking 7 seconds in each direction, but can sometimes have a 1-2 second lag to actually start moving, so effectively, you will rarely get more than one toy within the 45 second break to the shelf. Not good.

GREENGROCER'S:
This time, your job is to catch flying greenies, thrown from the back of a lorry, and put them in the correct containers. So, basically, you only need to move left and right, and push the button when you want to drop the item in your hands. The first notable difference is the flight path of the items. In the C64, Apple and Tandy versions, the items will all be within your reach, and will fly in a bow-like form. In the AGI version, the items have a less natural-looking flight path, and sometimes they can even fly out of your reach - either too close to the lorry or too far. Second, the AGI version shares a similarity with the C64 version that the third version doesn't: the Tandy/Apple version requires you to catch the items at the very tip of your hands, and sometimes even the precision isn't enough, while the other versions allow you to catch the flying things with the general vicinity of your body's middle area. Unfortunately, the AGI version and the Apple/Tandy version share a similar problem: badly responding controls and framerate problems. In the AGI version, though, the bad controls can be learned, as they can be identified: tapping the joystick into a direction once will make you move (slide) to that direction, and tapping it there another time will make you stop, but if you tap the joystick into the opposite direction, you will instantly start sliding in that direction, instead of stopping, which is what your instincts would most likely tell you first. Sometimes, due to the relatively slow input rate of the joystick/keyboard, the game will translate a long keypress as repeated ones. This, of course, isn't the computer's fault as such - it's the AGI engine's unsuitability for this type of game.

AIRPORT:
The final workplace on our list is by far my favourite. Your job is to pick up packages that have a three-letter code written on them, and then throw them into the containers pulled by that yellow truck thingy. If you didn't know of it previously, the three-letter codes stand for different American airports. To pick a package up, just push a button when it's in front of you, and to throw it, push the joystick up and push a button when in front of the corresponding container. In the original C64 version, some items on the line don't belong to any of the containers, although most of them do. In the Apple/Tandy version, ALL of the items are for each current set of containers. By contrast, the AGI version gives you packages that don't belong in the current set of containers at least half of the time, which is quite a lot. In the Advanced level of the AGI version, the line moves in a seriously deranged speed, so this once, I was forced to check, if the lower levels affected the playability to make it any better. Sure enough, it was more playable on the intermediate level, but then again, you will make less money on a lower level. But guess what? Here again, the Atari ST version is slightly more playable than the other two AGI versions, since you can actually see quite well what's happening, although watching the line of packages can still make your head dizzy. Finally, because the AGI and Apple/Tandy  versions don't show the truck moving slowly across the screen as the C64 version does, I took the trouble of measuring the time they spent on the screen. In the original, you have 25 seconds to throw packages at each turn the truck is in front of you, and it takes 15 seconds to make it back to its loading position. In the Apple/Tandy version, it stays in front of you for only 22 seconds, and the unloading turn takes 17 seconds. By contrast, in the AGI version, the truck only takes three turns to unload during a nine-minute workshift, so with the correct combination of hardware and skill level, it's the best way to make money of the lot. Unfortunately, it still suffers from that AGI engine  problem with controls.

Finally, once you have made enough money and bought the shops empty for Donald's nephews, you can go to enjoy the fruit of your work in the playground. The original and the Apple/Tandy versions have a grid-based structure that you need to buy ladders and/or cargo nets to climb on in order to get to all the levels, and most likely, you will need to edit the structure yourself, because when you buy the items, all the toys and such are placed in the grid randomly. All of this takes place in one screen, which doesn't allow for much adventuring, but it is memory-efficient, and works well enough in the context. The AGI version has a three-screen wide playground, with some surprisingly elaborate constructions, which is more like the stuff you would usually expect from an AGI game. You have some control over the placing of all the items you have bought, but not quite as much as in the other version, since some of the items are clearly designed for certain places in the park. So, perhaps the AGI version wins this time around - a playground is supposed to be a place for adventuring as well as using some toys of more elaborate structure.

As a whole, the game is very much an arcade/puzzler game, with a heavy emphasis on timing and quick controls, so the controllability of your character, and relative ease of timing (particularly as the game is aimed for children) are of massive importance. Making the game also compact, while enjoyable considering the inclusion of Disney characters, can only be more to the point, when the game is played by young people with little patience. This is exactly why the C64 original succeeded in what it was supposed to do so well. Now, though, Donald Duck's Playground has little more to offer than a good amount of nostalgy for the old folks, but what can still be experienced from this gem, should be experienced as comfortably as possible. This is why the C64 version wins this round, easily. If you want to test the AGI version, go for the Atari ST, because it's the least unplayable.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. ATARI ST
3. AMIGA/DOS
4. APPLE/TANDY

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GRAPHICS

There are three main variations in graphics, as could be expected. The AGI version looks almost exactly the same on every computer that it was released on - only some minor differences in palette and font can be seen clearly. Also, from what I know, the TRS-80 and Apple ][ versions share the same look, also with some minor differences in palette. And then there is the original C64 version. Well, let's take a look at the title sequences first.

Title screens/sequences from Commodore 64 (top left), Apple ][ (top middle and right) and Commodore Amiga versions.

Understandably, having any more than the actual title screen on the C64 version would be waste of memory, and so there is only that one title screen - and even that one only appears in the disk version. The other two screenshots in the above row are from the Apple ][ version, which is a nice in-between take, and shared by the TRS-80 version, although it has some slight differences in shading of the first screen, and Donald's necktie is as blue as the rest of his clothes. So, it can already be suspected that the Tandy has less colours in use, but I will get to the comparison of those two versions' graphics later on. The AGI version has almost the same first screen as the Apple/Tandy version, only with more colours, and less text. I wonder, why did they leave out "on-line inc. present" from the AGI version? Somehow, that particular screen looks more balanced in the Apple/Tandy version. Moving on to the actual intro bit, then: you get a lengthy animation under the game title, where Huey, Dewey and Louie jumping over each other (I suppose it's some kind of a children's game, but I don't know the name of it), after which Donald comes from behind the title and walks down. Then, the screen switches to the credits screen. If you wait long enough, the game gives you a demonstration of the idea and the places in the game, but we will not go into that now, since it doesn't really bring anything new to the game in the end.

Difficulty selection screens from Commodore 64 (left), Apple ][ (middle) and DOS (right) versions.
I really don't think having a difficulty selection screen that takes more time than it would take you to move the cursor to highlight the one you would choose, and pushing the button to start the game, is necessary at all, but since it's another screen with more graphics in the AGI versions, then why not. It might add some relevance to the young child who is eager to get working, and sees the welcoming gates of Duckburg before getting to the main street. It does look almost inviting, and adds to the feel of actually belonging to some bigger town than what is given in the other versions.

Main street. Screenshots from DOS (two on the left), Commodore 64 (middle-right) and Apple ][ (far right).


The same thing goes here. Having the main street split onto two screens doesn't help the playability, but it does make it look more intriguing, particularly as you get those funky neon signs that switch colours, and the fountain at the bottom, which sprinkles water cheerfully on the left side of the street.

Playground variations. Top-middle and top-right screenshots from the Apple ][ version; bottom-left and bottom-right from
the Commodore 64 version; center and middle-right from DOS and all the others from Atari ST.


As with the title sequence, the difference between the C64/TRS/Apple versions and the AGI versions are enormous here. There is a separate screen for the entrance to the park in the AGI version in addition to the four whole screens dedicated to the playground itself. The entrance screen even has the nice easter egg sort of a thing, where Donald's nephews occasionally cross the railroad bit with a draisine. In the other versions, the entrance is included in the screen with the view of the main street, and has no real speciality, other than the railroad bit, over which Donald must jump, and he will always take a look both ways, even though nothing ever goes there, unless he's working at the Railroad or the Toy Shop. And then, the playground itself is a grid-based structure in one measly screen. Not necessarily the most adventurous place for a young cartoon duck to be in, but then again, what do I know.

Shop variations. Top row: Commodore 64. Middle row: DOS. Bottom row: Apple ][.


This one is a bit strange. The AGI shops look and work much like any AGI games' rooms look and work, and thus give you more of the feeling that you are actually picking the objects up yourself. However, I would imagine that a young Disney fan would like to see the shopkeepers - Mickey, Minnie and Goofy - closer and bigger than what the AGI versions show, which is just a small randomly moving sprite at the bottom, behind the counter. At least on the C64, Apple ][ and Tandy versions, you get to see the familiar characters close-up. For that reason alone, I prefer the non-AGI versions. But from here on, it gets difficult. On the Apple ][ and TRS-80, the big Disney characters look better, that is to say less problematic in hi-res drawing and filling in the colours. Then again, the C64 version's colours are closer to what you are used to seeing in the cartoons and comics. I really can not make a decision this time.

Money transaction screens from Commodore 64 (left), Apple ][ (middle) and Commodore Amiga (right).


To be honest, I have no problem with simplistic graphics in this case, because the only thing that anyone will concentrate on, is how fast the money gets moved across the screen. In that case, the C64 wins easily, but if you really wanted to focus on how good the money and everything around it looks, then I would have to choose the AGI versions, because Donald appears on those screens. The in-between version looks strange, because the dollar bills have been cut in half, and although it matters very little, the order of your "wallet" is a bit backwards. The most notable thing about the AGI versions is that it has the most information of all three.

Amquack Railroad variations: Commodore 64 (left), Apple ][ (middle) and Commodore Amiga (right).


Our first work place to examine is the spot as the Amquack Railroad junction operator. As expected, the AGI version is the most busy with graphics, giving you even some sort of idea what the area around the hometown of Donald and all the other characters could be like. Of course it's only speculation, but it's a nice idea. What the AGI version doesn't have, is the train picture below the switches, as the other two versions have. Unusually, Donald himself actually looks the best in the Apple/Tandy version, even if the colouring is just slightly off. The C64 version has the train animation made the best, and the texts are also the clearest.

Toy Store variations: Commodore 64 (left), Apple ][ (middle) and Commodore Amiga (right).


Funny how all the toy stores in different versions have a different owner. Then again, all the toy stores have a bit different selection of toys, the cabinet is a different model in each version, and the curtain is different in every version as well. Becky's curtain is a full brown curtain and closes up sideways; Lisa's curtain is white and striped, and closes up vertically; Sandy's toy store doesn't have curtains as such, but instead the lever draws out these long poles in front of all the toys, preventing them from falling, and still you will be able to see all the toys while they are locked behind bars. Lisa's Toy Store has only five rows of toys, while the other two toy stores have six rows. But it does have the most detailed toys and other items. Sandy's Toy Store is the most colourful and believable of the three. However, Becky's Toy Store doesn't have any toy repeated on display, which makes it more fun and challenging to navigate.

Greengrocer's: Commodore 64 (left), Apple ][ (middle) and Atari ST (right).


For some reason, I really dislike the AGI version in this case. I'm not exactly sure why, but I don't get that nice hand-made feel from it like I do from the other two main versions. For one, the forest in the back, or park, whichever it is supposed to be, looks too generic there, although it does have slightly more colour than the Apple/Tandy version. Even with some rather Spectrumesque attribute clash problems on the C64, the forest manages to look rather more natural. Also, I never felt that the city view in the background was supposed to be all that in-your-face and grandiose as it is in the AGI version. And having full-colour pictures of the items you are supposed to drop in the boxes looks a bit silly - I mean, for a game from the early 80's, how often would you have seen a greengrocer in the 80's, selling anything from boxes with a full-colour picture tacked on the side of the boxes? Maybe I'm just overanalysing it.

Airport variations: Commodore 64 (left), Apple ][ (middle) and Atari ST (right).


I can't help but be rather biased about this one. The C64 version has one huge advantage over the other two: the truck pulling the package containers is actually on the move all the time. Also, the conveyor belt moves the packages the most smoothly there. What it doesn't have, though, is the most convincing-looking airplane, which can be credited to the Apple/Tandy version. The AGI version has the most background items to not look at while you are concentrating on the packages, but the brick walls to your left and right are a bit disturbing.

Above: Tandy Radio-Shack TRS-80 CoCo
Below: Apple ][


Finally, two quick comparisons of the two similar versions, starting with the less obvious TRS-80 CoCo versus Apple ][ screenshots. The most obvious differences that you can easily see here, are the differences in the amount of colours (Apple has clearly more) and the screen width, which gives some more graphics on the Apple version. Unfortunately, I cannot tell if there is any more actual differences, since I haven't seen the TRS-80 version in action yet.

AGI versions. Top row: Atari ST. Middle row: Commodore Amiga. Bottom row: DOS.


Apart from the clear, but minor differences in palette, there is only one thing I found that is noticeably different: the mouse cursor. The DOS version doesn't have one, the Amiga version has a red arrow pointer, and the Atari ST has a black-and-white flashing plus-sign. I have no idea whether it has any purpose in the game, other than navigating the drop-menus, but it's there. Of course, it's a matter of opinion, who likes what best, but I would say that the Amiga version has the most diverse set of colours overall from the three. Still, I prefer the ST version.

In this case, more has to be considered being more. Some aspects from the C64/Tandy/Apple versions might be more appealing to the majority of potential players of this game, but when concentrating on the amount of graphics and the execution of them, I have to concede that the AGI versions beat the others by a mile or two. From the rest, the C64 comes as a close second, but the others aren't all that far, really. All of the versions have their own advantages, as I have pointed out.

1. DOS/AMIGA/ST
2. COMMODORE 64
3. TANDY/APPLE

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SOUNDS

Luckily, there is something easy to write about in this game. In most versions, you get a very basic-sounding three-channel soundtrack, although the DOS and Apple ][ versions naturally use a one-channel beeper, which makes them useless to write about, although I could say that they both have exactly the amount of the regular soundtrack in them, that they are capable of performing. Too bad I couldn't get the TRS-80 version working, because that one might have been a more interesting version to hear. And there isn't even a video on YouTube to have a look at. So, until I have been proven otherwise, I will consider the TRS-80 version as bad as the Apple ][ version in sounds.

Al Lowe mentioned in an interview for the Hardcore Gaming 101 website, that he wrote the music very quickly because they had no budget for another person to do it, and as he had training in music, it was only natural that he made it. He was aiming for a child-like soundtrack, and he certainly succeeded in that. The original C64 soundtrack utilises the SID chip rather peculiarly, as all of the three channels used in each song have the same sound, but it's a different sound for each tune. The playground theme has a clear and playful, very cartoony quality to it, and plays on a loop in the playground screen, as well as once through in the title picture. A very similar sound has been used for the bits where you are choosing the length of your workshifts, and the tune is a very brief and simple 6/4 loop. The most recognizable tune is the slow one played on the main street, which sounds very much like being played on a barrel organ. Finally, all the shops have a short 4-bar 4/4 bluesy, business-like tune, played in a rather murky tone. The shop tune reminds me of some Laurel and Hardy clips for some reason. Anyway, the strange multi-channeled monotonal soundtrack works extremely well for this type of game, and you wouldn't want it any other way, since you still get a bunch of nicely percussive, not to mention funny sound effects for all the job stages. The most memorable sound effect has to be Donald's angry yammering bit when something goes wrong at the Greengrocer's, but there are all those train-rolling and tooting sounds, the airplane noises and other whoops and bips to remember. All in all, a surprisingly rich sound environment, considering the game's age and the hurry it all was made in.

After having gotten used to the SID soundtrack, you can't really help but feel like all the other versions pale in comparison, even though it really isn't all that much to pale to. But even with the most able machines, the AGI version just hasn't been made to utilise the machines' true sound capabilities, which is a pity. All the instruments feel expressionless, and have no sense of... for a lack of a better word, terroir. Somehow, there are even less sound effects in the AGI version than you would expect, but then again, if you have ever played any AGI games, you might be aware that the game usually offer very little in terms of sounds. But still, it is a huge disappointment after having played the C64 version for so long. However, the Atari ST and Amiga owners can comfort themselves with the fact that the DOS and Apple ][ versions sound even worse.

1. COMMODORE 64
2. AMIGA/ATARI ST
3. DOS/TANDY/APPLE

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OVERALL

For a game that wasn't originally meant for an engine that was primarily designed for graphic adventure games, all three versions fared surprisingly well. The nicely flashy graphics help a great deal, but ultimately, it's all about the playability. Because Donald Duck's Playground is an action/puzzle game at heart, with emphasis on responsive and manageable controls, it's only natural that the original game engine handles it the best. Too bad, that the Apple ][ and TRS-80 versions - as far as I know - botched the whole thing quite effectively, because it would have been nice to have a properly good alternative for the original version. But there are some aspects even in the worst of the lot that you might want to take a look at, so never completely dismiss anything, just because someone has taken the trouble of trying to convince you otherwise. Here are the final mathematical results:

C64: Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
ATARI ST: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
AMIGA: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
DOS: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 6
APPLE ][: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3
TRS-80: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

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3 comments:

  1. Awesome review! Very thorough. Can't wait to get my c64 back in action to play this.

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  2. There should have been an "ultimate" version. With the AGI graphics and details, with C64 sounds and playability. That would have been a winner.

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    Replies
    1. Hmm. Good idea. Could some of the current C64 programmers and artists be able to whip up such a marvel..? ;-)

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