Thursday, 2 October 2014

Friday the 13th (Domark, 1985)

Written by Brian White for the Commodore 64.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum in 1986; credits unknown.



Horror is one of my favourite genres in everything, particularly games, if made well enough. Proof of people being able to write successful horror games came  surprisingly early on - sometimes in the form of text adventures such as Dracula (1986) and Jack the Ripper (1987) from CRL, and Temple of Terror (1987) from US Gold; and less often in the form of action/arcade games such as Forbidden Forest (1983) and its sequel from Cosmi, Chiller (1986) from Exidy and Ant Attack (1984) and its sequel from Quicksilva. However, when it came to translating a horror movie into a video/computer game form, the results were more often less desirable. Since it's October now, I thought I might do a few horror-based game comparisons, and make it more fun by focusing first on some bad horror games.

Call it a guilty pleasure or whatever, but Domark's Friday the 13th has always been on my top 10 list of favourite games to waste time on when you can't think of any properly good game. I will come to the reasons a bit later. I always thought the game was reviewed with a rather unfairly critical eye by a lot of the gaming press at the time, although some did think it at least above average (Your Commodore and C&VG gave it a 7/10 in 1986). Now, though, CPC Softs has an amazing 17.50 out of 20.00 rating (if that's what it is); Lemon64 has a surprisingly fair score of 6.6 from a total of 102 votes; and 48 World of Spectrum voters have given it a lowly 4.75. All I can say is, it sure divides people. But is it because of the game content or the version at hand?



Friday the 13th is a rare breed of an arcade-action game. It's viewed from a similar point of view as all those old Sierra adventure games, giving it a pseudo-3D sort of a feel to it, as you can go behind and in front of objects and buildings. You could also compare it to the old Legend of Zelda games, but Friday doesn't look (or play) even nearly that good. What's so rare about this game is that you start as a potential victim, and once you grab a weapon, you will become a potential serial killer, even if the idea is to hunt down a cunningly hidden Jason Voorhees, who is back from the dead to kill your friends.

If you happen to be a movie buff as well as a retro gamer, you should be aware of the fact that Jason Voorhees didn't really become the mass murderer he is known as until the second movie. So if you never made the connection, I guess the game title is only chosen to represent the brand. And, you should also be aware that Jason Voorhees, unlike his digital version here, is not a shapeshifter, and doesn't normally take the form of one of your friends. But that's a minor detail, which will only take away from the fun of the game if you think too much on it. The famous villain roams around, killing your friends one by one, while you try to figure out who Jason is posing as and kill him before he kills you. That's the whole premise of the game.

There is an optional task to accomplish, which is to find a safe sanctuary (pick up the cross and place it in any location to make it a sanctuary), and persuade your friends to gather there. If they get bored or Jason enters, they will leave, so it will help you identify Jason without harming your friends, but it can be a slow procedure. To give the game any sort of replay value, you are given five different characters to play the game as, all of whom have different levels of strength, panic and sanity. Scattered around the map are ten weapons you can pick up and use.

Being a horror game, the entertainment value comes from the utter ridiculousness of the required actions in it, that it is almost therapeutic. I mean, what better way to spend your day than hack your friends' limbs off with an axe just to find out if he turned out to be your enemy after all? Sick, but entertaining. I can only recommend this game to anyone with a grotesque sense of humour and an ability to appreciate bad games.



Although Friday the 13th wasn't that big of a game in terms of release volume or success, for various good reasons I might add, it did have a number of different re-releases, mostly in tape format. The only floppy disk release that I'm aware of this game having, is on the Amstrad. Frankly, it sorely needed one, if you only judged the game by its loading time. Here are all the currently known  cassette versions' loading times:

C64 Tape, original: 4 minutes 25 seconds
C64 Tape, Thriller Pack: 3 minutes 48 seconds
CPC Tape: 13 minutes 22 seconds
SPE Tape, original: 5 minutes 19 seconds
SPE Tape, Bug-Byte: 6 minutes 17 seconds
SPE Tape, Z Cobra: 4 minutes 58 seconds

All of these, apart from the C64 Thriller Pack re-release, are multi-phased loaders. Specifically, the title screen set (including pictures of the "cast" and the game's plot etc.) is loaded separately from the main game code. The Thriller Pack version offers no loading screen or any other bonuses, it's just a quicker loader that goes straight to the game. If the "true drive emulation" and speed settings on the WinApe emulator are to be trusted, the Amstrad disk version would load up in 50 seconds, minimum, depending on your quickness to react to the loading screens.



There is not all that much to explain about the game's engine, really. As I mentioned earlier, it's played similarly to, say, Police Quest or Leisure Suit Larry in that it's viewed from a similarly angled above point of view, and you move your pre-designated character around in a similar manner. Only the buildings and other objects are badly modelled - they're basically flat. But at least it's easier to go around things this way than if you needed to circle around the entire space that the object takes on the screen.

Apart from the basic moving controls, you can use the joystick's other gadget, the fire button for picking up and dropping a weapon, if you don't move the joystick while doing it. If you move the joystick and push the button, you will perform an attack, but only either left or right. Already we have a difference in the game: the SPECTRUM version only allows you to attack to the right for some reason. Throwing a spear or some other throwable weapon will take a while to get off the screen, only after which you can throw it again. The non-throwable weapons are for swinging or stabbing, which can work for situations when your victim/killer is on the other side of a fence or something, but close enough still for your weapon to hit him/her.

I could say something about the game's map before heading on to the actual differences. There are 24 screens in the Outdoor map, which contains a Church (containing four other rooms), a Barn (four more rooms), a House (12 more rooms), a graveyard, a forest and an archery range. Specific map layouts can be found at GameFAQs, for example, but the whole area can be quite easily memorized.

Since the game doesn't offer much in terms of gameplay elements, the basic things need to be tested thoroughly, starting with the game speed. I measured the time it took for your character to walk across the screen, and both vertically and horizontally were the same. The differences between the three versions are thus: on the C64, it takes 2 seconds to walk across the screen; on the AMSTRAD, 3 seconds; and on the SPECTRUM, 5 seconds. You can already see where this is going, right?

The only notable differences that I could notice on the AMSTRAD, compared to the C64 original, were few. For one, the non-playable characters don't visibly react to a hit, they're just taking "silent" damage, and continue their roaming around without a pause - this gives you a bit of a hurry when you're fighting Jason. Second, walking through doors isn't very precise, because the collision detection is a bit random occasionally. Third, and the last one that I could find, has again to do with the speed of the game: it slows down a bit more when you use a weapon. Particularly the throwable ones cause a more notable slowdown.

It's easier to talk about the game's features, when there's a version that is so very different to what the original has. This time, the SPECTRUM version has quite a lot of differences, all of which require attention. First of all, unlike on the other two versions, you get no starting screen after the main game has loaded in; instead, you'll be thrown randomly somewhere onto the game map, and the game begins.

Secondly, there's an immense amount of bugs in the Spectrum version. Although there definitely are some in the original, as well as the Amstrad conversion, this one has a LOT of them. You can see people walking through fences, walls, buildings and whatnot. You can quite often even walk through stuff yourself. Sometimes, there are invisible obstacles blocking you. Some locations don't get shown properly - you might get the graphics of the room you were in before, but the structure of the room you're supposed to be in. This will often cause some serious confusion. The barn's insides in particular suffers a lot from this problem. Also, the score counter doesn't seem to work at all, not that it counts in the end...

Finally, the biggest difference on the Spectrum is Jason himself. While he is slower, but certainly relentless on the other two versions, here we have a maniacal serial killer who runs your speed, if not slightly faster, so it's next to impossible to make an escape once he's on your trail. Also, before you finally find Jason, it's almost impossible to find him without killing your friends while at it, because all the non-playable characters die from a single hit. That said, the hit detection is hilariously bad, and only seems to work when it wants to. Or to be more precise, I couldn't figure out how it actually works here.

So really, there is no contest here. I was actually surprised at how well the Amstrad version plays, but I was even more surprised at how bad the Spectrum version does. Still, you can rarely beat the original, and this isn't one of those times.




Since the loading screens weren't originally even shown during the actual loading, I will make an exception here and show them in the main Graphics section. As the so-called loading screens are so very similar from each other in all the versions, they will have very little effect in the results.

Loading sequences from Commodore 64 (left), Amstrad CPC (middle) and ZX Spectrum (right).

If anything, the effect will be made by the number of other material included in the mid-loading section. The original and the Spectrum conversion both additionally feature a copyright screen (not shown here due to being merely text), the plot description (shown here due to funny typos) and a "Who's Who?" screen, with pictures of all the five playable characters and some character descriptions in two of the versions. The Amstrad tape version for some reason doesn't feature the "Who's Who?" page, but can be found on the disk version. A really curious omission for the cassette version, but there you have it. Also, the copyright and plot description screens are aligned differently on the Amstrad tape and disk versions (tape version has everything centered, while the disk version's text is all aligned left), but it has so little meaning in the end that I didn't even include it in the picture.

Start up screens from Commodore 64 (left) and Amstrad CPC (middle) + controls setup screen from ZX Spectrum.

After the main game code has loaded, you will be normally greeted with a fairly basic starting screen, showing your first playable character and the plotline. It's not much, but it's better to have one than not. The SPECTRUM version throws you straight into the game on a random screen. Hence, the screenshot of a control menu featured earlier, uniquely within the mid-loading sequence.

Screenshots from outside all three buildings.
From left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC.

Here is a good look at the basic differences in both detail and colour in all three versions, compared from screenshots taken outside each of the three enterable buildings in the game. For the most part, all the action screen graphics look strangely similar in execution in all three versions. Even the SPECTRUM version has been dealt with a hint of half-arsedness, seeing as the backgrounds and details are mostly as blocky as in the other two versions. I do like the better picture of the player's face on the Speccy, which shows the level of fright better than on the other two machines. Too bad all the non-playable character sprites are single-coloured, so it's really difficult to figure out who's who, and the low amount of animation frames helps not at all. I like the AMSTRAD's ground colour being green, but missing the damage animation and having slightly less colours in use for all the sprites than the C64 takes away some points from it.

Screenshots from inside the three buildings.
From left to right: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum (red borders edited out), Amstrad CPC.

It could almost be called interesting, that all the three buildings have their own particular sort of interior design. Mostly, it can be seen in the colours (particularly on the SPECTRUM), but the building structures and their furniture make them all very... well, particular. The C64 version's colours are more gentle on the eyes than the AMSTRAD's, which is how I like my interior design in real life as well. As I already hinted on it, the SPECTRUM's colours are kind of restricting - one colour per building. That's not all that's wrong with it, though: the action screen doesn't show the fourth wall, closest to the camera, so you have to guess if there's a door going south or not.

Screenshots of the visuals of someone dying.
From left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.

When Jason kills someone somewhere, the game pauses and, depending on the version, shows some sort of a visual effect. In this case, the SPECTRUM version wins. But if you happen to get on the scene just when Jason does his duty, you'll get a surprise...

Machetes, blood and skulls from Commodore 64 (left & middle) and Amstrad CPC (right).

The first time I saw the gore shot, I had already played the first Elvira game, which was my first experience in horror gaming. So, the picture didn't give the nightmares it could well have, had I been a few years younger, and had not had an experience in interactive horror. It did give a nice jump scare, though. The shock of it, however, was more due to the fact that something like this could be seen in a C64 game, than anything else, and I've been dying to find anything similar and better presented than what it was here. Too bad only the gore shot is available from the two jump scare shots on the AMSTRAD, and even more so for the SPECTRUM not having either shot. At least I couldn't get either of them to appear.

Screenshots of either Jason or the player dying.
From left to right: Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum.

Whenever Jason kills you, or you kill Jason, the game throws another screaming pause at you. This time, the C64 version also has a similar effect in the borders as the SPECTRUM version, but the AMSTRAD is again left without.

Game Over screens from Commodore 64 (left), Amstrad CPC (middle) and ZX Spectrum (right).

Finally, when you inevitably die at some point, either out of boredom or because one of the versions is too damn unplayable, you'll be greeted with an end message, which is a variation of the same thing, as you can see above. Only the SPECTRUM version doesn't have a dedicated game over screen, but instead the text is placed at the bottom of the in-game action screen, when you die. None of these screens are particularly impressive, or give anything new to the game in terms of graphics, so it's all the same, really.

Considering the game is supposed to take place at Crystal Lake Holiday Camp, it's a bit strange that the game has no water-based area at all in the map. But that's an omission shared by all three versions, so there's not much we can complain about in that sense. Perhaps that's why some re-releases of the game don't include the plot description screen at all. Now, having cleared every bit of detail that I can see having any point in this comparison, I can only come to the conclusion that once again, we have a very clear order here.




Friday the 13th's original theme song is definitely one of the most recognizable tunes in horror movie history, even with its slightly off-rhythmic melody. Perhaps that's part of the reason, actually. But the "kih-kih-kih, kah-kah-kah" whispers are the most recognizable bits on it. Naturally, none of the 8-bit game releases have it.

Instead, the shared soundtrack on the C64 and AMSTRAD is a huge library of other very  recognizable bleepy tunes, which are initiated when you walk into certain places. These include, but are not limited to "Old McDonald Had A Farm" when you enter the barn, Mendelssohn's Wedding March and Beethoven's Fifth in different parts of the church, "Teddy Bears Picnic" in the woods, and the theme song from "Adventures of Robin Hood" (or as it is for us Monty Python fans, the Dennis Moore theme) at the archery range. There are also two or three default tunes that play, when no other event has happened, or set in motion. My favourite of these is the rendition of Bach's cantata "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" (BWV 140), or as it is known to English-speaking people, "Sleepers Wake". The AMSTRAD version seems to have one or two songs more in its repertoire, but the instrumentation is less expressive and sometimes the bleeps overlap each other's frequencies enough to make it sound really muddled.

The only actual sound effect in either of the said versions is the horrible scream of death, which is first sampled when the loading screen kicks in, but is played during the game everytime someone dies. Depending on where you happen to be while the death happens, the scream is played at a different level of volume. Regarding the loading screen, now that I mentioned it: on the SPECTRUM and C64 versions, you hear two consecutive screams when the screen comes, but the AMSTRAD version plays it only once.

Contrarily to the other two, the SPECTRUM version has a very limited amount of sounds: a rhythmic tapping noise for running around, and the inevitable death screeching. That's all there is. Of course, considering the memory restraints, it's still nice to have the scream, but I can't imagine the game being actually that demanding of the hardware, that you couldn't have fit in a couple of bleepy tunes for certain occasions. But perhaps the quiet gives a better sense of suspense, I'm not really sure. A well-placed ominous tune works just as well as seemingly endless silence, if not better.




While not one of Domark's finest achievements, Friday the 13th has its moments. It's a fun game for a person who can take bad quality games with humour, and it does offer a jump scare or two with the correct version, as well as a nice (if strangely unrelated) soundtrack. So, our first Halloween-themed game has earned another questionably deserved win for the C64. Here are the full mathematical results, just in case you missed all the information above:

1. COMMODORE 64: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
3. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 3

Screenshot of a mission accomplished from Sunday the 15th.
--UPDATE! 3rd of October, 2014--
A Lemon64 forum user by the name of Compounded reminded me of an enhanced C64 version of the game, which I did know about, but for some reason, had completely forgotten about. In my defence, I can only say that the enhanced version was released 5 years ago already, so it's way too recent for my memory. The enhanced version was released by a group called Flandertainment on the 3rd of April 2009, and re-titled it "Sunday the 15th". This version has a huge list of bug fixes and alterations, but most notably, the game has been made more difficult, which is nice. If you ever were one of us who enjoyed the original despite all its faults, you should try the Flandertainment enhancement.

Now, I'm sure everybody knows of the Nintendo game made a few years later by LJN, but in case you didn't, let's end this one with a quick look at it as a bonus.


Friday the 13th (LJN, 1989)

Developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System by Atlus.

This video game adaptation of Friday the 13th is a 2D/3D mish-mash of action-platforming and maze adventuring. Frankly, none of the elements go that well together, but with a bit of practice, it's surprisingly playable. You just need to have a bit more patience than the Angry Video Game Nerd.

In this game, the player controls one of six camp counselors, all of whom have slightly different abilities. Your mission is to find and defeat Jason three times, which can be tricky if you don't know how to read the in-game map. This also needs to be done within a time limit of three days and nights. The job is made quite a bit more difficult, when compared to the Domark game, by adding some wolves, zombies and other horrid things into the mix, because one villain just isn't enough.

So it's still not a very good horror game, but has some "nice try" elements, which, with little adjustment, could have made this into a rather good game even. Well worth a try, but doesn't have the same b-movie-like entertainment value as the Domark attempt.

Screen collage of LJN's Friday the 13th (1989) for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

That's it for now, hope you enjoyed it! Tune in next time for more Halloween-themed gaming fun!
Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome as ever!

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