Pages

Sunday, 18 May 2014

TWOFER #6: Neptune's Daughters + Henry's House (English Software, 1983/1984)


NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTERS

Original game design by Ralph Frumin.
Commodore 64 version written by Mark Taylor, released in 1983.
Atari 8-bit conversion written by Michael Hedley, released in 1984.

HENRY'S HOUSE

Original Commodore 64 version written by Chris Murray in 1984; released through English Software.
Converted by Chris Murray for the Atari 8-bit computers; released in 1987 through Mastertronic.

---

GAME STATUS, PLURAL

English Software was a software developing and publishing company that didn't last for a very long time, but managed to put out many memorable and quirky titles between 1982 and 1987, most particularly for the Atari 8-bit market. Before they kicked the bucket, Philip Morris, the head of the company, sold the publishing rights of their back catalogue to Mastertronic, which explains the reason why the Atari version of Henry's House, for example, was not released by English Software.

Both of the games under the magnifying glass this time have a fairly similar status in the gaming
history as the previous twofer - well remembered cult classics, but not what anyone would call groundbreaking or even particularly interesting in the long run. What they do have in abundance is old-fashioned charm, warts and all. Now for the ratings from our favourite websites at the time of writing this entry: at Atarimania, Neptune's Daughters has been given a 7.7 by 13 voters, and Henry's
House also has a 7.7, by 493 voters. Lemon64 users have also voted Henry's House for a 7.7 score with 61 votes, while Neptune's Daughters only has a 6.5 from 43 votes, so it appears there is a clear
disadvantage already, at least for the other game. But now that we know what gamers think of them, let us have a look at how do they compare against themselves.


---

DESCRIPTIONS & REVIEWS

Of the two games here, Neptune's Daughters is the more unusual sort of a piece. For the most part, it's a straight-forward underwater shoot'em-up, in which you need to go through underwater caverns and shoot your way through them, but it ends with a scene in which you need to kill crabs, pick them up and feed them to a snake, holding one of Neptune's daughters hostage. Your mission is to rescue all four daughters, one at a time, and after each rescue, the game gets more difficult. For a 1983 game, it is one of the more inventive and plotted examples of its genre and its time.

Henry's House holds more significance to me personally, as a gamer, as it was one of the first games I ever played on any home computer, so it's always a great nostalgy trip to get back to it. The game can only be described as a single-screen platformer, with familiar set of rules regarding physics and enemy behaviour, but with relatively big and colourful graphics and "Rule Britannia" as the theme song. It really doesn't bring much new to the table, when it comes to the genre itself. You walk and jump through single-screen levels, avoiding enemies and other lethal obstacles, and try not to fall too far down. You need to collect all the items from the rooms in order to get a key, which you require to proceed to the next room. The only thing that really makes a bigger sort of difference is that when you get a game over, you don't need to start the game from the beginning - you continue from the same level you died in. It's not much, but for a young gamer at that time and age, it was rather brilliant. Compared to games like Manic Miner or Miner 2049'er, you had a good chance of seeing all the levels in one sitting.

To be brutally honest, neither of these games have much to offer that hasn't been done many times better, but for those who played these games when they were young, the nostalgy value is sky high. Both games do have very high playability - simple and accurate, and both require just enough skill from the player to make neither game unplayably easy. I would almost go so far as to call both games somehow the perfect archetypes of their genres, but I still have to question their recommendability to modern gamers.

---

LOADING

It's time to feature a good old cassette loading times battle again. This time, our twosome might be a bit surprising to some of you. At least one of them should be. Most of the 8-bit Atari related games that I have covered so far have been superbly slow to load up, and haven't had much to offer in terms of visual indicators that any loading is actually happening. Well, the visual bit is still very much non-existant, but from the only tape image files of Neptune's Daughters that I could find for both Atari and C64, the Atari comes out as the clear winner, with exactly half of the loading time that the C64 version takes to load. This time, the C64 version also has non-existant visuals.

Neptune's Daughters loaders
C64 (left) and Atari 800 (right)
Neptune's Daughters:

Atari 800 - 5 minutes 17 seconds
Commodore 64 - 10 minutes 34 seconds

In the case of Henry's House, it's more than just the other way around conserning loading times. The C64 version uses Pavloda, which gives you some sort of flashing border action for the duration of the loading, but not much more. But that matters very little, when the loading itself is so much quicker, and at least it does give you some indication that the game is actually loading.

Henry's House loaders
C64 (left) and Atari 800 (right)
Henry's House:

Atari 800 - 13 minutes 15 seconds
Commodore 64 - 3 minutes 27 seconds

---

PLAYABILITY

NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTERS

This is going to be a short one. As there are no noticable difference in the actual controls, which are the eight directions of the joystick and the fire button for shooting, I figure it's a bit useless to even talk of it. Both versions have pretty much the same game speed, so it's really not worth paying attention to. Both versions have the same idiotic problem with shooting, that you can only have one arrow on-screen at a time, so the basic gameplay is pretty much the same.

The important differences are really in the way the underwater monsters act and spawn. On the C64, the "sucker plants", as the manual calls them, can be shot to the head, and they will lower down, while on the Atari, they need to be shot below the head. On the C64, the octopuses will always spawn from the same places, which are at certain points at the left and right ends of the screen, although the first level will only have one octopus coming from the left. On the Atari, there seems to be only one octopus, at least in the first two levels (I failed at getting past level 2), which spawns randomly from a few different spots on the screen, and once shot down, will fall to the bottom of the screen and come back up from where it fell. The speed of the octopuses will get higher as you get through the levels. In the section with the amoebas, they will spawn and move in sporadically towards you on the C64, and will spawn in set numbers and move constantly on the Atari. Depending on the level you're in, they will spawn as many times as is your level.

When you finally get to the crabs, the debris and the snake, they are almost the same in both versions. You need to shoot one crab while avoiding the falling debris and the other crabs, pick the crab up and enter the room with the snake from the window in the tiled structure. Once you're in the room, go to the right end of the screen and drop the dead crab on the snake's tongue. Then go back and do it four more times, and you have one of the daughters free. The only noticable difference between the two versions is that on the Atari, the dead crabs will fall to the bottom of the screen and stay there until you pick them up, while on the C64, they will fall down and off the screen, and you need to catch them in mid-fall.

Other than all that, there is one thing that seems a bit unfair on the Atari version: the need to collect air bubbles from killing giant amoebas in the amoebas' lair comes sooner than in the C64 version, and the bubbles are more difficult to collect. If it weren't for that, I would say the two versions are pretty much on par with each other - not exactly similar, but suited for different types of gamers. The Atari version is the more difficult one, but it's also certainly a bit more advanced than the C64 one. I would say it's a tie.

C64 - ATARI : 1-1

*

HENRY'S HOUSE

This is going to be an even shorter one. As there are no noticable differences in the actual controls, which are the four basic directions and fire button for jump, I figure it's even more useless to talk of it. However, Henry's higher speed of movement and his ability to grab to ladders from slightly off the middle on the C64 version are just that tiny bit more comfortable than the Atari's slower and more precise movements.

Also, a lot of the enemies move in a different way, for example: the Pythonesque shoes go up and down by notches on the C64, while the Atari version slides both ways; the clocks, the radios and the slipper in level 6 move more quickly on the Atari than on the C64, and is impossible to make it through the level without losing a life; the ghost in level 8 spawns and moves more quickly, but the bat flies through the screen less often. Some levels are slightly easier in the Atari version, some easier on the C64, but on the whole, the C64 version is easier, while being more progressively difficult. I can't honestly say which one of them is better, but they are just different enough to warrant extensive playing of both versions. Perhaps I like the playability on the C64 version better, but I suppose it's just because I have gotten more used to it.

C64 - ATARI : 1-1

---

GRAPHICS

NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTERS

Since the game is so old, you really cannot expect too much quality in graphics. Even though the Atari version was released the following year to the C64 version, there is really not that much development to be seen in the graphical output.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.


In the C64 version, the most disturbing thing about the graphics is either the yellow surroundings or the early version of Lara Croft's triangular breasts clearly on the show, which the Atari version chastely covers. At least there are more hi-res sprites in this version than in the later Atari release, but I'm not so sure about anything else being any better. The animation is pretty similar in both versions, and both versions utilise each machine's system font to display most of the information.

Screenshots from the Atari 800 version.


What the Atari has in a bigger quantity is colours, although it doesn't really show in the screenshots, since all the extra colours are used in flashing effects for the background of the title screen, although it takes a good while to wait for them to appear. Also, the cavern layouts are more detailed in the sense that there are some narrow hollow areas in the screens that the C64 version doesn't have. It doesn't necessarily make it any better, but perhaps more life-like in presentation. However, one can argue to infinity about the basic palette of the game. I do agree with the choice of colours to be darker than lighter, but I also think the colours of the water and the diver match better in the C64 version. But I suppose the matter with the colour palette is another one of those personal opinion things. Both versions have their good and bad things in equal amount, so it's another tie. This is getting a bit silly, isn't it?

C64 - ATARI : 1-1

*

HENRY'S HOUSE

Title screens: C64 (top) and Atari (bottom)
With this one, I'm almost forced to take another way to make the comparisons, since the details are so important, and the levels in the game change as you make progress. But considering the age difference for the two versions, it might come as a surprise that the changes are ultimately quite small. Merely for the reason that I don't have to indicate which version is which in all the screenshots, the ones with a blue border are from the C64 version, and the ones with a black border are from the Atari version.

Starting with the title screen, the biggest difference is that the score bar has a clear framing on the Atari, and it is pretty damn awesome with all the colours. As with Neptune's Daughters, though, the palette is a bit darker, but in this case, it doesn't really make much difference.

Level 1: Clothes cupboard.
Once you have gotten over the awesomeness of the score bar in the Atari version, the first thing you will notice is Henry's height difference - the Atari version has a slightly taller Henry. I suppose he's grown a few inches in the few years between the two versions, so you could think of it as a nice continuity trick. It doesn't affect the gameplay all that much, though. More affecting are the Pythonesque shoes, the movements of which I mentioned before, but otherwise look very much the same. The circling line of severed heads on the third platform flicker quite a lot on the Atari, making it impossible to grab a screenshot with every head in there. Not only it is annoying, but also makes the game feel slower, although it really isn't. Another thing comparable to Neptune's Daughters here is that some of the collectable items on the C64 are monochrome hi-res sprites, while on the Atari, all of them are multi-coloured lo-res sprites. Again, a matter of preference, but I think the C64 version has the best of both worlds.

Level 2: Bathroom.
When proceeding to the next room, you always get this intermission bit, where Henry walks through a hallway, from one door to the other, and it's always the same. Other than the previously stated and otherwise obvious, there isn't really any difference to these screens.

At first look, level 2 isn't that much different. When you play it, though, you will notice there are some elements in the Atari version that are missing from the C64 version. Just to the right of the teeth, there is an additional platform in the Atari version, allowing you to jump over the top part of the teeth, which actually chomp occasionally and hurt you in this version, unlike on the C64 version. Also, the very lethal toothbrush looks more alive and elastic on the Atari than the very elementary version on the C64. And for all you nitpickers out there, you will love to know that the exit door is slightly wider on the C64 version than on the Atari (as are, in fact, all of the graphics), and has "OUT" written above the door instead of having a down-arrow.

Level 3: Kitchen.
Level 3 - the kitchen looks surprisingly different. The most notable differences are the eggs dropping down the first shaft (more fresh-looking on the Atari, more fried shape, but animated as being flubbery on the C64), the colour of the tea randomly pouring down (flashing and constant on the Atari, slight drips in one colour on the C64), the flying toasts (unlike on the C64, you get a warning when the bread pops up from the toaster on the Atari), and the colours of all the platforms and the big wavey pole thing that the can opener is attached to.
Level 4: Henry's lounge.

In the lounge, the fireplace looks better on the C64 for two reasons: the fire itself is coloured more like fire, and there is also a plateau that says "CPM", giving it some sort of personality. Also, the TV looks more like a proper early 80's TV, because the C64 screen has more room to make it so. By contrast, the cuckoo clock, the birdcage and the exit door look better on the Atari.

Level 5: Henry's playroom.
Strangely, although the Atari allows more shades to be used on the screen at a time, this particular room looks more colourful on the C64. When you consider what's coming up, though, the darker green-and-blue shading on the Atari makes a bit more sense. Still, as it is Henry's playroom we are at here, you would want it to be colourful and bright, certainly not too ominous.

Level 6: Henry's nursery.
Henry's nursery can be thought of in two ways: it's either the passageway to his nightmares to come or just a bedroom. Certainly, the Atari version is increasingly more nightmareish to play. The C64 version is more constantly colourful, and the hi-res enemy sprites really make a difference in this particular level. The Atari version just looks messy, and the few dots shown through the windows indicating nightfall don't help all that much.

Level 7: Dining room.
Although the dining room looks more stylish and clear on the C64, the gameplay is slightly ruined by the sprite sizes. Mind you, it's mostly learning your timings differently for each version, so I can't really give penalty for the C64 version for that reason alone, when it looks so much more crisp and clear. I wonder, though, at the change from bananas to apples.

Level 8: Henry's creepy dungeon.
Finally, we get to the basement, or dungeon, whatever you want to call it. Atari's colouring is darker and frankly more atmospheric than the C64's, but I do like the little details more on the C64. The coffin clearly saying it belongs to Dracula, the little spiderweb (which actually kills you), the witch by her cauldron spawning a ghost in clear intervals, the spiders actually looking more like spiders instead of spiky chandeliers with eyes on them. Because the gameplay is so very similar, the graphics take a more important role in the game, and I'm sorry to say, the Atari version's messier look brings it down a little. However, the more atmospheric use of colour can only be commended. And, in case you hadn't noticed already, Henry wears the same colours throughout the Atari version, while on the C64 version, his colours change in accordance to the level. So, once again, they both have equal amount of pros and cons, and I'm forced to give them a tied score.

C64 - ATARI : 1-1

---

SOUNDS

NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTERS

Again, there isn't too much to say because the game is so primitive in presentation in both versions. There isn't any clear reasons why either one of these versions should win, so I'm going to have to make a deeper analysis of all the melodies and sound types in the context.

Let's take one version at a time, starting with the Atari one. The first sound you will hear is the Jaws-like two-note melody, which in this case plays relatively quickly in a perfect fourth interval. When you have shot the octopus, you will hear a high dweedling noise while he's down and out, but the Jaws-like melody will go on in the background. When you shoot an arrow, you will hear a short white noise over the Jaws-like melody, which can turn into a constant flow of white noise if you keep shooting. Once you get to the right end of the screen, the bonus points will be counted from the left-over oxygen, which will be indicated with a clean and stepless, quickly ascending boop tone. When you lose a life, you will hear a brief series of strange distorted noises. Killing the giant amoebas will result in bubbles floating up, which make randomly pitched blip-blip noises. Once you get to the area with the pillars and the broken chamber entrance, the primary background sounds come from the falling debris (which is pretty much a backwards version of counting bonuses) and their destruction when they collide with the ocean floor. The game's so-called theme song comes in as a distant, faintly played version in the screen where the snake keeps one of Neptune's daughters as a prisoner, and the only sound effect on that screen (apart from your unlikely death) is when you feed the snake with a dead crab, which plays a short ascending "tsshp". Finally, once you have rescued the girl, the melody will be played in clearer sound.

The Jaws-like melody in the C64 version is slower and is played in an octave, making it sound more dangerous. When you have shot the octopus, you will hear a high dweedling noise while he's falling off the screen, but it's quicker than the one in the Atari version, and you will not be hearing the Jaws-like melody in the background, but it sort of makes more sense in this slightly different context. When you shoot an arrow, the noise is otherwise similar to the Atari, but is by default a longer, fading one, which can be cut by any collision in mid-flight. The bonus counting sound is similar to the Atari version, but a bit slower. When you lose a life, you will hear a low and descending, relatively long boop tone. Shooting a giant amoeba will result in an ascending bloopy sound, which is somehow clearly different from all the other sounds, but I can't really describe it properly. The same sound is the primary background noise for the screen with the snake and the girl prisoner, where the ascending bloopy sound indicates the girl's breathing, so the game's only theme tune is yet to be heard. When you feed the dead crab to the snake, the noise is only slightly different, but in a similar tone than what's on the Atari. The area with the falling debris is sound-wise so similar to the Atari that I see no reason to describe it further. On the C64, the theme song is only heard in the intermission bit where you escort one of Neptune's daughters towards his palace, and it is slightly different here, as it starts off from G minor, instead of H major, as it is played on the Atari version.

I think, on the whole, the C64 soundtrack is more constant in style, and a bit darker than the Atari version, but somehow, neither version suits the graphics all that well. If it were the other way around, I would have agreed with the results, but now it feels like the feel of the soundtrack is exactly the opposite to the feel of the graphics in both versions. Still, although the Atari has a more advanced use of sound technique on a couple of occasions here, I think the C64 has the better overall set of sounds due to the better connection with the game's context.

C64 - ATARI : 1-0

*

HENRY'S HOUSE

Right off the bat, the C64 version starts on the wrong foot, as the main theme tune (refrain of "Rule, Britannia!") has a very amateurish execution - wrong note lengths and only a single voice playing the bit in two different octaves back-to-back. The Atari version gives a nice three-voice rendition of the tune, and in a good rhythm as well.

The basic sound effects during gameplay are for collecting items (3 different sounds, I think), jumping, falling down from platforms (both of which differ according to your vertical position on the screen), and death. The sounds for collecting items has been replaced in the Atari version by the sound of Henry's very noisy walking and his ascension on the ladders. Henry's death has a muddier tone on the Atari, in contrast to the C64's very shattering glass styled effect, but other than that, the basic sound effects are quite similar... at least for what can actually be compared.

In level 1, the only background sounds you will get on the C64 are the shoe stomps, while on the Atari, you will also hear the circling severed heads constantly going back and forth, which can become a bit irritating after a while. In level 2, the two versions share the toothbrushing and sink flushing effects, but the Atari version has an additional noise for the false teeth making contact. In level 3, the only two sound effects come from the tin can dropping from the tin opener and the toasted bread flying out from the toaster - these apply for both versions. Level 4 gives you noises for the TV changing channels and the cuckoo clock, and here the C64 version beats the Atari one for being just a bit more realistic, and more importantly, less irritating. Note that when the bird is out of its cage, the Atari version's cuckoo clock gets slower. Level 5's constantly droning airplane is less noisy on the Atari, and the only other sound, which is the Jack-in-the-Box popping up occasionally, gives a lower tone. Level 6 has some more of those constantly ascending-and-descending sounds on the Atari, which is even more irritating now, since there are two of them on top of each other, and they go at a different speed. The C64 version, luckily, has settled for easy hit sounds for when the two up-and-down moving bell things in the middle hit both ends of their paths. Level 7 is almost as irritating on both machines, as you get another set of constantly up-and-down going tones, but while the Atari version has two, the C64 only has one for the chicken on the dining table, and the mad cooks on both sides of the screen give a random tick sound every time they reach an end in their path. The final room is very different for each machine: on the C64, you will hear each of the spiders' strings make a very string-like noise, the other one going up, and the other one going down in a settled rhythm; and on the Atari, you will hear the ghost coming up from the floor and move all the way to the left end of the screen in a constantly ascending boopy tone.

Although the C64 version has worse music, it's the only thing that actually irritates more there. The Atari version has too much of the same types of sound effects, and gets very old more quickly than the C64 version. For that reason, I will have to give the C64 version the point for this section.

C64 - ATARI : 1-0

---

OVERALL

Rarely has a game comparison been such a close duel, and here we have two of them. Honestly, I was pretty confident that the Atari versions would win on both occasions, because they were developed for a longer period of time, and I was always a bit more impressed with the Atari versions... but that was probably because I'm usually more impressed by well-made music and more realistic colours and all that. For some reason, neither of these are the primary focus in these games, and only get in the way of better entertainment value. Therefore, the end results are, as unfair as it might seem:

NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTERS AND HENRY'S HOUSE:

Commodore 64 - 3 , Atari 800 - 2.

Still, I have to say, both of these games should be experienced on both machines in order to get an idea, what would be the perfect versions of both of these games. So, contrarily to the final scores, I cannot recommend just one version, nor do I really think either one is better than the other - they're just different enough. Make of it what you will.


On a final note, there exists another game called Henry's House on the Commodore Amiga, developed by State Of The Art with AMOS. This game can't be called a straight conversion, since most of the level layouts, obstacles and enemy behaviour, not to mention graphics and sounds are so far from the original. A remake is probably closer to the truth, but even in that, it's not an altogether very faithful one. It's still not a bad game, just different.

Henry's House (Amiga, 1995, State Of The Art)
Well, hope you enjoyed this one, see you next time with something a bit more modern.
Thanks for reading! Comments, suggestions and corrections can be dropped into Henry's mailbox.

2 comments: