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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Savage (Firebird, 1988)


Developed by Probe Software for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum: Programming by David Perry - Graphics by Nick Bruty - Additional graphics for the Spectrum version by Alan Tomkins - Music by Jason C. Brooke and David Shea - Additional sounds for the Spectrum version by David Whittaker.

Converted for the Commodore 64: Programming by Grant Harrison - Graphics by Steve Crow - Title screen by Paul Docherty - Music by Jeroen Tel.

Converted for the Atari ST: Programming by Tim Moore - Graphics by Nick Bruty - Music by Jason C. Brooke.

Converted for the Commodore Amiga in 1989: Programming by Chris Long and Tim Moore - Graphics by A. Aquero and Alan Tomkins - Music by Kevin Collier.

Converted for IBM-PC compatibles in 1989: Programming by Brian O'Shaughnessy and David McKibbin - Graphics by Alan Tomkins - Music by Jason C. Brooke.

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GAME STATUS


The blog is back, and we're starting this shortened month by fulfilling another request to appease the Amstrad folks. Again, we have a Probe game on our hands, and this one started its life apparently on the Amstrad, although some sources like to claim that the Spectrum was the original platform. Whatever the case, both parties seem to think well of the game. I'll be honest: I wasn't very familiar with the game beyond the first level on perhaps two versions, so I knew beforehand that I would be faced with not a little bit of work, but judging by the people that have been involved with the game on different platforms, this seemed like another potentially interesting comparison.

At the time of starting to work on this entry, here's how the game was ranked on each of our favourite community websites: at World Of Spectrum, the score was 8.21 from 93 votes; CPC-Softs' strange-looking rating thing for the game showed a 17.25 out of 20.00 - if it indeed is a rating; the more personal score given at CPC Game Reviews is a 9 out of 10; at Lemon64, the collective rating was 6.9 from 42 votes, while at LemonAmiga, the score was 5.0 from 27 votes; and the ST score at Atarimania was 6.6 from no more than 5 votes. Only the DOS version's score had to be taken from MobyGames, where 5 voters had given it a rating of 3.9 out of 5.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


At first glimpse, Savage can easily fool you into thinking that it's not much more than an upgraded version of Trantor, but happily, that sort of thinking would prove you quite wrong, eventually. Savage is an intense action game in three parts (four, if you count the intro sequence), all of which are loaded in separately. The first level is a side-scrolling action-platformer, with less focus on the platforming and more on the action. The second level is played in a first-person mode, sort of combining elements from Deathchase and Space Harrier. The final level is a multi-directionally scrolling maze-shooter, where you fly around as an eagle. Confusing? Yes, this description doesn't really offer much in terms of plotline, so I shall try to write a short version of the plot.

The game's titular main character has been imprisoned in a castle, from which he has to break free, only to find out that his lady love has been imprisoned as well, so you must progress through the 3 parts of the game in order to rescue her. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? The mystery of the eagle in level 3 is somewhat explained in the introduction sequence, where it is suggested that the eagle is Savage's pet or something, and instead of himself turning into one, it is just a regular eagle you control in level 3.

There is an Urban Dictionary definition for "NES Hard", which is used to describe a nearly impossible challenge in a video game. I wouldn't necessarily say that the expression in question could be used for describing Savage, but it does come damn near it. All three levels are stupendously long, and feature as much of things to make your life miserable on the screen as possible a bit too often, but then it does give you some other things to balance the gameplay a bit. Due to Probe Software's inherent need for showing off with large graphics, the game feels more than a bit tight way too often, but at least you're not required to be pixel-perfect in your actions. Still, the game is brutally difficult for even some of us old-timers, and modern gamers will be quivering because of the difficulty before having gotten past the first big enemy. It's not exactly a game to recommend to any modern gamer, but for retro enthusiasts who haven't heard of it, Savage might come as a positive surprise. Since you can practice all three parts of the game without having completed any of the others (albeit with only one life), having the game on a disk can be considered almost a necessity for any fan.

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LOADING


Our usual threesome presents an interesting set regarding the release media types. Unless the World of Spectrum archive is incomplete when it comes to this particular game, it appears as if the Spectrum version is the only one that never got a disk release. The original Firebird release for the Spectrum also happens to be the only one that requires you to play the game sequentially in order - the Spanish MCM Software re-release has this fixed the game to play like the rest of them, which means that each segment is loaded in separately after a computer reset. The Amstrad and C64 versions make good use of the disk media, even though you still need to load each segment separately. At least it'll be quite a bit quicker than loading from tape, particularly if you need to wind the tape. I have listed here the total amount of data in loading times for each tape version I was able to find...

C64 total: 21 min 43 sec
CPC Firebird total: 46 min 23 sec
CPC MCM Soft total: 48 min 43 sec
SPE Firebird total: 21 min 33 sec
SPE MCM Soft total: 22 min 47 sec

Compared to the Amstrad tape versions, the Spectrum and C64 tapes seem almost tolerable. On the Amstrad, any segment will take well over 11 minutes to load, and even completing a loading screen will take more than 3 and a half minutes, while the other two can load a level in about 5-6 minutes. I cannot put enough emphasis on how much quicker the disk versions are. Still, even disks aren't as quick as a hard drive, so if you're looking for quick loaders, there's always the DOS version, but even that one needs to be run in a pure (or as pure as you can get) CGA or EGA mode, depending on which version you happen to have in possession. Otherwise, the game will be unplayable, although it might run a demo mode and freeze after a while.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum + DOS main menu.
Bottom row: Commodore 64 tape and disk.


On the 8-bits, Savage has some of the most curious loading systems that I have ever seen. Although the separated levels thing is not a particularly new idea, the intro sequence doesn't have a proper loading screen, and it is only introduced once the intro has loaded, if even then. On the Spectrum and Amstrad, the loading screen is included in the level loaders, but the C64 tape version has no loading screens apart from a bit of text indicating which level you are loading. The C64 disk version at least has a proper loading screen (as well as a briefly shown booter screen), but for some reason, they have thrown in a horrible constant beep thing to play while the disk version loads, probably to indicate that everything is going as it should. Even the 16-bit versions need to load all the bits separately, which is a bit bothersome, and the Amiga and ST versions don't even have any sort of loading screen, at least apart from the level selection screens.

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PLAYABILITY


Once again, having had very little of previous experience with the game, I needed to have a few days' period for intense research and practice. Savage offers very little rest during any of the levels, and all the action is frantic and all kinds of dangers will be coming at you in hordes every two seconds. Happily, the controls are almost as basic as you could possibly hope for, which make up for the intense difficulty level.

In all versions, the in-game controls can be handled with a joystick - you get to use the main four directions, and apart from the first level, all diagonals as well (you can only crouch in level one, not crouch-walk), and the fire button will use your weapon. Also, the keyboard can be used, but in a native environment, a proper joystick is mostly the preferable choice. I might argue that the DOS version is the only one that is better on keyboard, but I guess it's a matter of taste and equipment at hand. Then again, the DOS version seems to be the only one that has extra keys for adjusting the in-game speed, which is a nice and unique feature. For some reason, I couldn't get any of my joysticks to work properly with DOSbox, even if their calibration seemed okay - I could only go up and left. Apparently, an IBM joystick is a completely different thing from a regular one.

Level one makes you plough through the castle dungeons in a side-scrolling action-platformer style, with your trusty battle axe as your primary weapon. Funnily enough, you throw the axe (plural) at enemies, and you have an endless supply of it, which makes no sense at all, but works well enough for the game. During the level, you will be faced with four basic enemy types, most of which are defeatable with a single hit, as well as a few singular-looking minibosses of sorts, all of which bounce around and shoot lightnings at you. Half-way through the level, you can pick up a lightning weapon, similar to those used by the bigger enemies along the way, and it is for the most part preferable to your battle axe. Defeated enemies will occasionally drop bonus items such as energy potions and shields, but most of the time they're just there for the extra points and to make your journey onwards more troublesome.

The second level is of a first-person automatic runner genre, reminiscent of Deathchase, Space Harrier and Encounter. You will be running through a series of outdoor areas, where slowly moving monoliths with ugly grotesque faces and other huge solid-looking objects will be homing in on you as you try to make your way through an endless stream of them while shooting at certain kinds of smaller enemies rolling and/or bouncing around on the fields. The further you get in the level, the more difficult your mission will become, with missile-shooting enemies and whatnot. You can move your camera around both horizontally and vertically, although the vertical movement doesn't really help much.

In the final act, you will be controlling Savage's pet eagle through another side-viewed area. This time, you actually need to collect a bunch of items before the game can be completed, but getting to some of the items requires you to shoot a lot of magical fire projectiles at enemies. Your eagle will die from colliding with water, spikes or other traps in the maze, but he does have an energy meter which allows for some collisions with enemies and hits from enemy projectiles. To make your journey through the maze slightly more tolerable, there are some sorts of cauldrons placed around in the castle, which you can stand on to slowly replenish your energy.

The first level is the only one of the lot which you can play with all three lives by default, and the other two require you to input a password you obtained from completing the previous level. Otherwise you will only be able to practice the latter two levels with a single life. Because the game is savagely difficult, I might as well give you the codes for the second and third levels to help you out. As it happens, three lives isn't necessarily enough to make you enjoy the game any more, because the game requires you to shoot almost constantly, as well as progress slowly in order to maximize the avoidance of collision with enemies or falling into traps. Now, for all versions, the password for level 2 is SABATTA (some versions give you a password with another B, which is wrong - the password only has 7 letters), but for the original Spectrum and Amstrad versions, level 3 password is FERGUS, while the other versions have PORSCHE in its stead.

But although that's certainly a beginning, I wouldn't call that even a notable difference as such, when there are much more interesting and dramatic differences to be found between all the six versions. In this particular game, even the loading times and release media matter a great deal, as you saw above.

Let's start with looking at the AMSTRAD version, the first of the two claimed originals. For level 1, we can easily find a point of comparison in the earlier Probe game, Trantor. Our hero's movement is very similarly styled: no inertia, one run speed, a barely useful crouch, and a similar jump that allows  you to go straight up or in your chosen direction, but all jumps are of a similar length and height. Your vertical position at the time of firing your weapon affects the weapon's path of flight. Your speed of progress seems to depend quite a lot on your method of progress - if you decide to collect a lot of bonus items, you will be faced with an increasing amount of enemies as you go, but if you skip on the bonuses, the biggest number of enemies coming at you will be during the mid-level boss battles and whenever you decide to stay still. At least, this is how I have experienced the game - the game's actual fans might have a better idea on it. Please do leave a comment if you can be more informative on the matter.

Level 2 will always start relatively peacefully, but after you have destroyed a target or two, the monoliths will come at you with more force and determination, so you will need the extra lives in order to have any chance of passing the level. Happily, you will gain an extra life after every 100 points, so with some practice, you might be able to win the level with no password. Indeed, I consider this to be the easiest of all three levels. Still, after having cleared one phase, you will be taken straight to the next one with different enemy targets, which will also now fire some sort of homing missiles at you. The third phase is not much different from the second one, but the enemies are a bit different.

The final level is a bit uncomfortable. Although you are given an energy meter, it will only be of any use against smaller enemies. Any sort of traps directly below you will somehow drag you into them when you get too close to them (which can be surprisingly far), and any collision with any other sort of traps - even stomping stones going up - can turn you into a bird meat pie. Most of the enemies require about a dozen shots from you, and you will be taken constantly down by gravity, so it's not an easy job getting past even the first obstacle. All this uncomfortableness is only made doubly awkward with the huge graphics that take away the much needed field of view, and you will be often bumping into things you don't want to bump into if your reaction time isn't spot on with the game's requirements. Much like with Trantor, the graphics have been made way too show-offish for its own good, and the game is nearly unplayable because of it. But with a lot of practice and memorizing the map, you can still finish the game.

Since the SPECTRUM version was made by the same team as the Amstrad version, the gameplay is very much the same throughout, but I thought it was perhaps even more brutal here. In level 1, both versions suffer from a slight slowdown when there is too much action on screen, but on the Spectrum, this is more noticable, particularly during those rare times when there are no enemies on the screen and less background graphics. Also, since the scrolling method isn't exactly the most natural one around, all the character-block based enemy movements are more difficult to follow - but that concerns both Amstrad and Spectrum. Level 2 is surprisingly different on the Spectrum, because of one single thing. All the enemy targets are of a decidedly rectangular shape, and during the first section, the skulls look almost nothing like skulls, and will cover any on-coming monoliths behind them more effectively than in any other version. So in a way, you are going to be needing better reflexes for the Spectrum version. The Spectrum version of level 3 suffers from the same problems as the Amstrad version, but it has a rather severe bug regarding the score counter - it doesn't work, and therefore you cannot gain any extra lives.

The C64 version takes a few rather peculiar liberties regarding a few things. The first thing you will notice is that the big mid-level bosses in level 1 act differently, some being quicker than in the originals, and some being more random in their moves. This adds to the difficulty slightly, but affects the overall gameplay fairly little. The second thing is that moving through the platforms is easier than in any other version, because the jumping mechanics are radically different - unlike in the originals, here you can stop your jump going forwards in mid-air. Despite my fear of getting lynched by all the fans of the original, I would say that this enhances the gameplay, and is definitely better for it. However, the weapons seem to be less effective here, but then again you can destroy the big enemies' lightnings by shooting lightnings at them. What makes the C64 version clearly inferior is your inability to save items for later pick-ups, because they will be gone after you have made enough distance past them. In level 2, vertical movement has been switched into "pilot" mode, and the latter target enemies have been made slightly less aggressive. Also, the 3D movement is a bit less impressive, and the monoliths' movements are more difficult to see, but in the end, it's only marginally worse than any of the others. The third level is easily the worst of the lot, simply because they have made the bird's vertical movement painfully slow. But that's not all - you have also been uniquely deprived of the ability to shoot downwards. The worst of it all is that the level appears to utilise the dreaded NES problem: enemy spawnpoints. Whenever you come to certain areas in the map, you will be attacked by a swarm of smaller enemies, and this will happen every time you come across the same spot. To balance all this horridness out, there is a new vertical stop mechanism introduced: if you are flying alongside a wall, you can stop the bird from dropping by moving towards a wall when going against it. This does ease the level quite a bit, but it's too little too late. Unless something radically unexpected comes up, I shall have to consider this the worst one of the lot.

Having played just about more than enough of the 8-bit versions of Savage, I suddenly got intrigued by the relatively low scores of the 16-bit versions. The DOS version is its own sort of thing, but the AMIGA and ST versions play very much the same, so I'll be speaking of those two in a mutual capacity. What struck me as odd about people's comments about the 16-bit versions of Savage, is that everyone seems to think it as mediocre at best. I thought both the Amiga and ST versions play slightly better than the 8-bit originals, but then again, having the power to make the game look, sound and play as well as it could at the time, makes it painfully clear, how mediocre the game truly is. Here, level 1 scrolls beautifully and all the enemies move around gracefully. There are only a couple of mentionable differences to the original gameplay: for one, you are given energy potion drops more often, and two, jumping across the small platform areas needs to be performed differently. Whereas on the 8-bits, you are given an error marginal, the 16-bits have a shorter jump, which requires you to go a bit over the platforms in order to reach the next one. Once you get used to it, I found that the 16-bit versions of level 1 was easier to play than any of the 8-bits, even though sometimes the enemies would come at you in bigger numbers.

In level 2, the 16-bits have the altitude controls similar to the C64. Other than that, there are no notable difference to the gameplay in either of the 16-bits to the Amstrad version at least. The final level also feels much easier on the 16-bits, since the collision detection is slightly less brutal, but also because the smaller enemies move around slightly less energetically, and some of the more annoying enemies can be killed with less hits. Also, the same thing regarding moving towards a wall that is on the C64 applies here as well. Perhaps all this makes the 16-bit versions less savage in difficulty, but they're certainly more playable, and are great at pointing out the lack of actual gameplay value.

And so we end with the DOS version, which offers a unique challenge of getting the game to work properly in the first place, but that I already mentioned in the Loading section. Also, you get a unique ability to change the game speed just by pushing a button or another - these can be changed as you redefine the keyboard controls. And since it would be more than a bit silly to reboot the whole system just to get to the other parts of the game, the game has a main menu, where you can get back to by pressing F1 in each level's title screen, or Q during play. All that aside, the game plays like a cross between the Amstrad original and the other two 16-bit versions - mostly best of both worlds, but a mixture of different versions in the third level. Although not quite as heavily bent on killing you at every turn as the Amstrad and Spectrum versions, the DOS version suffers from a similar screen size problem, and the enemies act almost as frantically here as they do on the said 8-bits. Still, since you can modify the game speed and the controls to your liking, there isn't really too much to moan about. On an optimal setup, it could almost be considered the best version of the game you can get, but a bit of work is required in order to get there. The only bigger problem I noticed with the game is, that if you define your keys to use any of the letter keys required by the passwords, you cannot enter the passwords to get the full three lives to play the second and third levels properly. There is just too much trouble in getting the game to work exactly to your liking, and even then it's still not a particularly enjoyable experience on the whole, so it's more a matter of your level of perseverance than anything else. If you're not one to consider yourself a patient person, the other 16-bit versions will do just as well.

1. AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. DOS
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. ZX SPECTRUM
5. COMMODORE 64

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GRAPHICS


Happily, the rest of the comparison is rather simple. Most of the versions have their own distinctive style in graphics as well as sounds, that putting them in some sort of an order should be a walk in the park. And as we have already dealt with the loading screens, let's start with the intro screens.

Intro sequences. Top row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari ST.
Bottom row: Commodore Amiga (first three) and DOS (right).


Most of the versions show a wizard-type person, who is animated to speak the words scrolling below him in the scroll. Every now and again, he stops to either sniff his finger or adjust his mustache, but meanwhile, the text scrolls onwards. From the Savage logo style, you can clearly see which versions were made by the original team and which ones were not. I just cannot get my head around why they wrote the publisher's name wrong on the Amstrad. The same typo appears on the loading screen as well. Overall, the ATARI ST version looks the best of the basic lot, as the DOS version doesn't have the Firebird logo and it looks a bit squeezed sideways anyway, making the wizard look a bit skeletal. From just the 8-bits, it's more difficult to decide, because they all have their own problems, but I think I prefer the AMSTRAD version overall, regardless of the typo. The wizard there looks the most human and the logo looks like it was intended to. Most of the conversions have the logo look like it looks on the cover, which is okay too, but it just doesn't look quite as stylish as the original. The SPECTRUM screen would otherwise be fine as it utilises hi-res graphics quite well, but there are some colouring issues which I'm not very fond of, particularly around the logo.

The AMIGA intro sequence requires its very own paragraph, so different it is. It all starts with a screen with a portcullis of a kind. Then the wooden door thing is lifted to reveal an open passage, which is covered with a spiky knife sort of a thing with a dragonhead handle and the word "Savage" probably supposed to look like it has been embossed on the steel with gold, coming from the dark passage to the front in a rolling manner. Very subtle. Next, the screen turns otherwise black, but the Savage knife starts moving to the top of the screen with a wobbly sort of effect. The final bit looks like it was made by a demo programmer trying to show off many things at once, only managing to make a complete mess of the otherwise promisingly different intro. The knife is separated with a blue line into its own space, and given a background with lots of Savage texts and two red chains going upwards and wobbling every two seconds. At the bottom of the screen, the text scroller is now presented with an animated fire background and the text itself is in a blue medieval-looking font. The middle bit offers us a yellow-skinned monster with animated green reptilian eyelids standing next to a yellow-haired man, who might be our Savage hero, but who looks more like some early 1990's rock ballad singer. No sir, I don't like it.

Level 1 title screens. Top row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari ST, DOS, Commodore Amiga.


Happily, the rest of the game is relatively faithful to the original on the AMIGA. Well, at least the actual game bits are. Each level's title screens feature a menu for setting up controls and sounds on both the 16-bits, and strangely, the ATARI version has a red menu with a blue highlight, and the AMIGA version has the other way round. Also, you can see some slight differences in shading all around, but only if you look closely.

The 8-bit title screens are understandably quite a bit uglier, but they offer a variety in a rather unique quantity. The DOS version has been styled to replicate the 8-bits as far as possible, and in some ways, it even manages to look slightly better than any of the 8-bits. The C64 palette isn't really able to do much justice to the graphics, but at least there's a good attempt to cover the effect of the relatively light colours by having a different looking message box. I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as it usually is, but we shall have to move on to see how the rest of the graphics compare to each other.

Screenshots from level 1: Amstrad CPC (left), Commodore 64 (middle) and ZX Spectrum (right).


Let's take a look at the 8-bit versions first. As expected, the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions have been tried to make to look as close to each other in the basic style and colouring as possible. While the Spectrum version has been made to utilise the various possibilities that the hi-res monochrome graphics would allow in a very decent manner, the Amstrad has gone for a very colourful, but lo-res style. Both styles fit the game well enough, making our hero look heroic, ugly monsters look very ugly indeed and violence look graphic and violent. I have to admit being partial to the more colourful lo-res graphics on the Amstrad, which convey the darkness and the violence slightly more convincingly than the Spectrum graphics. Compared to those two, the C64 graphics are as lo-res as on the Amstrad, but the palette and overall styling makes the monsters look more like cuddly ugly dolls, and our hero a cheap figurine from a clone series of Masters of the Universe. The dungeons, on the other hand, have a slightly more natural look with more colours used in shading the bricks and everything, but strangely, it doesn't fit that well with the game's overall atmosphere. But what the C64 version lacks in colour and detail, it wins this lot in scrolling and animation fluency. The Spectrum version, in particular, often looks incredibly messy, but the hi-res graphics make it tolerable.

Screenshots from level 1: Atari ST (left), DOS (middle) and Commodore Amiga (right).


Although the DOS version looks quite awkward with its constantly grey walls, nerdy hero and a general lack of focus on any of the details, the advantage here is that it never looks particularly messy. The closest point of comparison would be any of the 8-bits, but it falls a bit awkwardly between those and the other 16-bits. The AMIGA and ST versions at first look don't have much different, but look a bit closer, and you will see plenty of differences in shading, shapes, sizes, even colours. For a brief session, it wouldn't make much difference which version you would be playing, but for detail fanatics, the Amiga version is the preferred choice. Also, fans of detail will be pleased to know that the animation is slightly slower on the 16-bits (DOS version not counting), so you will be able to see the very detailed and praiseworthy animations more clearly.

Level 2 title screens. Top row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row, left to right: Amiga/ST and DOS.


As we saw in the title screens comparison for level 1, the AMIGA and ATARI ST screens look very much alike. This is true for the other title screens as well, so I have only included one of the two for the other title screen comparisons.

At least for me, the title screens for level 2 are an even more interesting bunch than the ones for level 1, because apart from the C64 screen, every title screen has its basis on one original, but they all look very different. The C64 version has a really nice and different screen that could have been a rather unique loading screen as well, and I actually like it more than the others exactly because it's such a different one and doesn't feel like it's just there because it's part of the actual in-game graphics. But the rest of the title screens have their basis on either the Spectrum or the Amstrad version, whichever was made first. Both versions feature the same theme - the title and a scroller text inside a box, but while the Spectrum version has the box thing framed in the area where the level's action screen would later be, the Amstrad screen only features the box. The DOS version's title screen is a variation on the Amstrad version, the DOS version being more colourful and the Amstrad version having a more Egyptian feel to it. Of course, the AMIGA/ST version combines a variation of the Spectrum version's borders with all the colours from both Amstrad and DOS versions, and gives it a higher resolution while at it.

Screenshots from level 2: Amstrad CPC (left), Commodore 64 (middle) and ZX Spectrum (right).


Once again, the 8-bit threesome offers a very interesting set to compare. While the C64 version scrolls the most fluently, it is easily the ugliest of the lot, having less colours and worse scaled sprites than the Amstrad. The AMSTRAD version isn't perhaps the prettiest of the lot either, but in this particular level, it is becoming increasingly clear that Savage was truly designed for the Amstrad primarily. What gives it away is basically the awfully rectangularly shaped enemy sprites on the SPECTRUM, which, although look fine enough with their colours and details, don't really look like they're supposed to.

Screenshots from level 2: Atari ST (left), DOS (middle), Commodore Amiga (right).


In the DOS version, all the scaled sprites look very nice, but some of the items come in a different order compared to all the other versions. Interestingly, the stone golem monoliths have a brick wall behind them to form a rectangle, which neither of the other two 16-bits have. Regarding the other two 16-bits, this level reminds me of the Batman the Movie comparison I made earlier, because the only notable difference in the 3D section in that game as well was the colour of the sky.

Level 3 title screens. Top row, left to right: Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum.
Bottom row, left to right: Amiga/ST and DOS.


Curiously, the title screen in the final level on the AMIGA and ST versions feature the original Savage logo, which of course takes its colouring after the Amstrad version. That said, all the title screen again look surprisingly different, considering that they all feature little more than text and the top section with the energy bar and extra life indicators. Again, it's more a matter of taste than anything, which floats your boat the most here, but for me, the C64 version is the most suitable in its darker colour scheme, as the level isn't a particularly cheerful one either. Technically, of course, the 16-bits are easily the best ones.

Screenshots from level 3: Amstrad CPC (left), Commodore 64 (middle) and ZX Spectrum (right).


Most of the comments about this game I have come across on the retro gaming forums will be praising the final level to unknown altitudes, probably because of the animations and the size of all things. Sure, all of it is rather nice and swell, but it doesn't really make the level very playable, when you have trouble seeing anything around your own beak. The bird takes about one sixth of the space from the action screen, and at the worst of times, you will not be seeing any dangers coming from above or below until it is a fraction of a second away from the top of your wing pointing upwards. I grant you, the animation of your eagle is rather magnificent, but it is so on every version, so I can't really put any emphasis on the comparison of that. Nor any of the other animations, for that matter. The focus shall have to lay on the colouring and detail, then. Again, the C64 version looks rather pitiful compared to its closest competitors. From the other two, the AMSTRAD version has the better colouring, and the SPECTRUM has a slightly better detailing, so for this level, they shall have to settle for a tie.

Screenshots from level 3: Atari ST (left), DOS (middle) and Commodore Amiga (right).


Naturally, the AMIGA and ST versions are light years ahead of any of the 8-bits, and there's no point in dwelling on that. In the DOS version, everything has a different colouring again, and some things have a distinctly different look, but when it comes to animations and scrolling, it's not all that far from the other two 16-bits. It's just not nearly as pretty.

For the most part, the game is very clear for the advantage of the 16-bits, but I know it's the 8-bits that raise the most interest. As it happens, and as it often does, the platform for which the game was primarily designed for has the version that looks most its part from the 8-bits, and this time it's the Amstrad. While the C64 gamers can enjoy a better scrolling and smoother animation for the most part, the Spectrum version wins with a better overall graphical output.

1. AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. DOS
3. AMSTRAD CPC
4. ZX SPECTRUM
5. COMMODORE 64

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GRAPHICS REVISITED - Update, April 15th, 2015


Since one of FRGCB's most active commentators, an anonymous user by the name of paperinik, took the trouble of scolding me about not having been thorough enough in comparing the graphics, I tried to fix this problem as much as I was able to in a "brief" update bit here. All the graphics that are necessary to see have been posted before into the above section, so this will be a words-only type of an update. Most of my neglects concerned the game's graphical design and the effects, which I shall be concentrating on here, but I still feel that I have to point out that if I left something out from the original comparison text, it was because I didn't feel them important enough at that time. Perhaps I still don't. So before you make a decision to read any of the text after this paragraph (before the SOUNDS section), keep in mind that most of this is written with paperinik's comments kept in context, and you might need to read the wordy exchange in the comments section before moving on. Most of you will probably not give a flying particle of a f**k with this stuff, so feel free to move on if nitpicking is not your thing.

So, let's start with level one, on which my focus was the least spot-on earlier. The first apparently important missing point from my earlier text was that when you kill enemies, their death should result in an explosion with particles flying around. In my opinion, the death animations are mostly a matter of necessity, not as much style or taste. If I had my way, all death animations in this type of a game would have the enemies just spluttering blood and guts, and leaving a dead mess of a corpse behind. Instead, we are given different variations of fireworks here, or a small fluffy cloud of smoke and dust, as it appears on the C64. The SPECTRUM version does the particle effect a bit differently - it sends off masses of few different types of characters, including stars, rectangles and squares, which is probably my favourite, because it's so ridiculous.None of the versions around really feature death animations I would be happy with, but if fireworks is what you want, then the AMSTRAD version is probably the best choice for having the most colourful and still most contained particles. Actually, the DOS version has both: a bit of (red) cloudy matter and insane looking particles. But I'm not very convinced this bit has all that much of importance.

The shaking camera effect might have, though. Still in level 1, there are a couple of big jumping bosses, which cause the whole screen to shake and jump, almost making you fear for your TV screen's or monitor's safety. I admit, it is rather impressive on the AMSTRAD, since the whole screen - including the top section with the scores and everything - moves up and down almost half a screen's worth. The effect has been included in its original form on the AMIGA and ST, but removed entirely from the SPECTRUM and DOS versions. The C64 version, however, has some of it, and I honestly think it has the better version of the effect, since only the actual action part of the screen has the effect, and not the top section with the scores and other bits. Perhaps it's not as impressive, but it looks more sensible to me. Whether you're looking for sensible in this sort of a game is another thing entirely. At this point, I'm just trying to get rid of this comparison as quickly as possible.

I will focus on the style of the graphics next, since it seemed like such a huge deal, and I will start with the DOS version. Granted, it's ugly. The hero looks very different to the original, but I don't really know whether it's out of proportion or not. It's a fantasy-themed game, how are you supposed to know whether it's proportionally correct or not? If the DOS version's graphic artist liked to have his barbarian hero more flabby and uncouth, who am I to judge, whether this is historically correct or even thematically proper? As paperinik pointed out, he's got a bigger nose and almost like a female chest in the DOS version, which to me, only makes the hero look more like a slightly French caricature of a barbarian hero than Nick Bruty's original vision, which looks like something from a Manowar song. Frankly, I'm not very convinced that's how a proper barbarian looks like either. But if there are some problems regarding constancy in body parts within different animation frames, my eyes aren't quick enough to see all that in action, so I'll have to take paperinik's word for it.

Regarding the rest of the versions: if some of the sprites are smaller, I made no notice of it, since I didn't think them particularly important in the grand scheme of things. Also, if I left some of the background/foreground details without a mention, it's because they're not necessarily important points of focus when playing the game for the first time on any of the machines, as they do not offer any kinds of reference points in terms of memorizing the levels, nor do they look particularly impressive in the setting. Whether they add any element of believability to the environment, is very much in the imagination of the player, but there's only so much you can convey with graphics in an 8-bit game.

The problem with revisiting a game comparison and adding stuff to it is that it makes me usually even less appreciative of the game at hand. This time, it's no different. Every time I take a look at the game either on video clip or emulator, it makes me find more and more things I hate about the game, so I'd better stop soon. The other two levels do feature some similar points of focus that I missed earlier, although not nearly as bad nor important compared to the other versions. But taking all the new information under consideration, I guess I have to admit that the graphics section needs to be given new scores, and therefore, the overall scores need to be recounted as well.

1. AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. AMSTRAD CPC
3. ZX SPECTRUM / DOS
4. COMMODORE 64

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SOUNDS


It's been a very unbalanced comparison so far, with a clear advantage on the 16-bits. This time, you might be in for a bit of a surprise. See, the AMIGA version features - once again - sampled music and sound effects. Unfortunately, all the music sounds like they were made by The Art Of Noise, which doesn't fit at all with the game's theme or atmosphere. By itself, it's a fun soundtrack to blast out when you're browsing through a collection of chiptunes, but I would rather turn the music off on the Amiga and listen to sound effects than listen to a late 1980's sampled drum machine and sampled voices saying "Savage!" and other very non-medieval things. So, in essence, I would call it a fight between the other four versions. But in case you're not particularly fond of the original soundtrack, the Amiga does offer a good alternative, and it can play both music and sound effects simultaneously.

Of course, the DOS version features only beeper music or optional beeper sound effects. Surprisingly, all of it works rather nicely, but it doesn't really beat anything with more than two voices for simultaneous use. Too bad there are only three tunes in the whole game, one of which is repeated from the main menu to level 2.

Surprisingly, all the music on the SPECTRUM version sounds superb considering it's all made for the single-channel beeper. The thing is, the sound team has played quite a few tricks to make the Spectrum beeper sound like a multi-channel sound system, similarly to what Martin Galway did earlier for Cobra, for example. Too bad, then, that you can only ever hear any of the music during the title screens, and during the action you are served with a feast of bulk beeper effects with no personality whatsoever. To be more specific about the music: for level 1, the title tune can only be heard by toggling music with any key during the text "Press any key for music"; level 2 has three different tunes, one for the intro, one shorter tune for mid-level pauses and one for Game Over; and level 3 has a title tune and a Game Over tune. The soundtrack is a properly varied set, and should make any chip musician proud.

Compared to the Spectrum version, the AMSTRAD seems a bit unfinished when it comes to the sounds. You get a nice tune for the intro sequence, another longer tune for level 2 title screen and a short little ditty for level 3 title screen, but that's all the music you'll get. None of it is even particularly impressive. Happily, the game makes up for it in sound effects, which are much more effective and explosive here than on the Spectrum. But all in all, I'm still not impressed.

The C64 version starts off on a fairly different note. Since Jeroen Tel of the Maniacs of Noise was put on charge of the sonics here, it's no wonder that at least some part of the game would feature sampled drums and voices. The intro tune is fairly similar to anything you would find on the Amiga soundtrack. To be sure, it's technically just about as impressive as the Spectrum tunes in its own way, but I'm not sure it really offers the proper introduction to a game of this style. At least the tunes for each level are more suited for the game, taking a more traditional approach to sounds. Of course, the intro sequence is basically a not much more than a demo, so when you consider that you need to load more than 5 minutes of it from a tape, the style of the intro music matters very little anymore. Each level offers only one tune each, but they are much better constructed than on the Amstrad at least, and by default are played even while you're in the game. Like in the DOS version, you also have the option to listen to the sound effects (toggle music and sfx during play by pressing M), which occasionally can be considered even rather remarkable. While the C64 version doesn't offer the biggest soundtrack, it offers quality in both music and sound effects, and therefore it's the most pleasing of the 8-bits.

Much like the Amiga, the ATARI ST can play both sound effects and music simultaneously. The game sounds quite a lot like what any game soundtrack designed for the 128k Spectrum AY-chip would sound like, so it's not quite as impressive as the Amiga soundtrack. Basically, you get almost all the same tunes that are featured in the Spectrum version, but with the option to hear both sound effects and music where music is available. This makes it easily the best one around, but only if you don't count the very different Amiga soundtrack among the lot. Which, unfortunately, I have to do.

1. AMIGA / ATARI ST
2. COMMODORE 64
3. ZX SPECTRUM
4. AMSTRAD CPC
5. DOS

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OVERALL


David Perry had for a long time been one of those names for me that were only vaguely familiar. Some people seem to regard him as one of the gaming gods, and indeed he has been involved in quite a large number of games since the early 80's, and his later titles include Earthworm Jim, MDK, Messiah and The Darkness to name a few. He was even working a new Michael Jackson game in 2009 before the said artist's unfortunate demise. But in any case, some of his work should be considered as part of any gaming enthusiast's checklist, even if you end up none the wiser for it.

Savage was, of course, one of his earlier titles, and certainly an improvement over Probe Software's earlier titles, but I wouldn't still consider it a masterpiece - at least based on the gameplay. Sure, it's an exercise in advancing the art, but for any gamer who likes their games to be playable, or even worth the experience, this one will not be one for you. For its time, and particularly for the original machines it was developed for, Savage is an impressive playable demo, and should only be considered that way, if you happen to try it out. But as a game, and not based on the machine's capabilities, this is how they round up:

1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 15
2. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 9
3. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8 

4. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 7 
5. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 6

UPDATE, April 15th, 2015:
Due to the revised graphics analyse and consequently, the section's new scores, here is how the overall scores are affected:

1. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST: Playability 5, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 14
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 3, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 8
3. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 7
3. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 7
4. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 6

The original magazine advertisement.
So, although the 8-bits (still) round up close to each other, the 16-bits gain an easy win. Of course, this is only to be expected when you compare a game, which has the primary focus on graphics and sounds. Therefore, I cannot really recommend any of the 16-bit versions, because they are not so impressive for their hardware to impress you in any particular way, unless you're a fan of the Art of Noise, in which case you might like the Amiga soundtrack. Deep down in its ugly heart, Savage is very much a demonstration in 8-bit programming, and should be considered only as such.

The most interesting thing about Savage, actually, was its original magazine advertisment, as is shown here. That's pure uninhibited mad photoshopping skillz, if I've ever seen such. And the conceptual connection of it is the most amazing work of art I have ever seen.... as if.

Well, that's it for today, hope it was worth the wait! I'm still a bit too busy with real life, so I'm not entirely certain when the next entry will be posted, but I'm hoping to get at least two more entries up this month. But thanks for reading, and do leave a comment if anything's amiss or whatever.

5 comments:

  1. To be honest, I think that this comparison is a little bit on the weak side. It feels somehow rushed and unfinished. I’m not talking about the mathematical score; my main complaint is instead about the quality of the comparison itself.

    You missed so many things that the reader is not able to see how different the single versions really are. For example, if I would not know the 8bit versions, I would think that they are pretty close to each other (quality wise) after reading your post. But in reality it’s more like a night and day difference. Especially the C64 is so bad that it’s not even funny.

    I try to explain what I mean by comparing the graphics of the first level for example. The C64 has, like you mentioned, better scrolling, but it’s missing everything else what makes the Amstrad version good looking.

    Cons of the c64 Graphics (only the 1st Level) compared to the Amstrad version:

    You mentioned
    - Sprites look ugly (especially the colors are pretty bad )
    - Broken art design because of the color choices

    You forgot about
    - Particle Effect” is missing
    - Shaking Camera Effect for the jumping bosses is not nearly as impressive as in the Amstrad version
    - Some foreground objects are missing (look at the doorframes when entering the boss room)
    - Graphical details in the background are missing (for example the windows in the room with the jumping “boss enemy”)
    - Some sprites are noticeably smaller

    The difference is huge, but your text does nothing to make this clear.

    Regarding the DOS version; sure it’s running on a more capable hardware compared to the 8bits, but that doesn’t mean that it has the better graphics. You already mentioned the pros of the DOS graphics, but what about the cons?

    - Shaking Camera Effect for the jumping bosses is completely missing
    - “Particle Effect” looks ridiculous
    - Broken art design because of the colors and badly drawn sprites (Art design seems to be a thing that you always like to ignore)

    Overall the Amstrad version delivers the better graphical experience.

    By the way, there is a small error in the overall scores. The Amstrad version should have the score of 8 (3+3+2), not 7.

    paperinik

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    1. Okay, thanks for the very detailed comment. You're correct that the comparison was rushed, because I was doing it in very brief periods of time at a time, and I often lost my track of thought while doing it. I did make note of the shaking camera effects while playtesting the versions, but forgot to mention it in the text, due to the rushed writing, and I'm sorry for that, but that's what you get when the blog comes further down my priority list.

      Then again, I wrote what I felt like was truthful to my experience, and since I'm not a fan of the game, nor do I know everything about the effects and everything which I should be concentrating on, this is the result. My focus is always on the gameplay, which is mostly horrible for ALL versions of the game, and I cannot always force myself to focus on graphics when the gameplay is so sh*tty that I have trouble focusing on finding anything good about it. The reason why some of the detailed descriptions were missing: I didn't think they were all that important considering the whole. And about art design - it's a subject which will always be taken personally, and everyone has their own views which is good or bad. I don't care either way - some people will like the DOS or the C64 version better than the Amstrad or Amiga version, because they're partial to it. In a game where I don't necessarily understand all the art design related decisions, I prefer to keep them out of my text. So there. Apart from the calculations mistake in the end results, I mostly stand by my words. But I also agree, it's not my best work due to real-life issues. If you feel like writing a better comparison, be my guest.

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    2. Real-life is definitely the most important thing. Because of this it’s fully understandable that it’s simply not possible to write a blog on a constant high quality level. I guess all of your readers appreciate what you are doing here. One "not so well written" comparison will not hurt the overall quality of your blog.

      But please believe me; you are wrong about the art design issue. I hope you allow me to write about a few things that I learned over the years.

      Art is always a different thing. As you said, a part of it will always be about different tastes and the viewer’s own opinion. But on the other side there are many aspects of visual art that can be judged objectively. Among these are things like color composition, drawing style and body/object proportions. If you know about these things, then it’s easy to see if the piece of art in question is well done or not. You can objectively judge if it was the artist intention to make his/her work look like it does or if it’s simply looking like it is because the artist could not do it any better.

      Ignoring this does hurt your comparison between the Amstrad and the DOS (and C64) versions of Savage (it is objectively wrong). Since we already agree that the C64 version is not looking as good as the Amstrad version, let’s concentrate on the DOS version (again only the 1st level):

      Drawing style / Body proportions
      - The Sprite of our hero is totally out of proportion and not well drawn
      - His nose is to big
      - His arms are too thin (in some animation frames)
      - His chest is drawn badly; looks more like a female chest
      - Chest gets even worse in the side view

      Drawing style / object composition
      - The missing “eye candy” hurts the overall graphical result
      - The loss/or downgrade of special effects leads to a loss of the dynamic/dramatic graphical presentation that was present in the Amstrad version

      Color composition
      - The coloring of the sprite is badly done
      - Because of the color composition (and the bad drawing style) the dynamic/aggressive look of the original sprites (especially the hero) is not there in the DOS version
      -Color composition makes sprites and background look as if they are not a part of the same world

      So even if the DOS version is running at a higher resolution and at better framerate, the overall graphical performance of it is not as good as the Amstrad versions. And that can be said totally objectively. Sure, some people will still think that the DOS version looks better. But do these people really know what they are talking about? Aren’t they confusing taste and facts? Ask a person that knows something about art (should be an educated (art wise) person) and you will get a clear answer to these questions.

      Nick Brute did a wonderful job with the design of the Amstrad graphics. The DOS version is only a badly executed try to copy that design.

      paperinik

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    3. I admit you've got a few good points there, that I completely overlooked, but again, in my defence, I was too busy otherwise to concentrate too much on the detail. So, as far as the graphics are concerned, I might as well do a re-write of this one, but I believe that'll be enough. But because I'm currently very busy preparing a couple of entries while riding the crazy real-life train, I won't be looking into it quite yet, but I might update this entry in a couple of months, when I get the chance. Anyway, thanks for the input.

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  2. that c64 animated eagle is one of the best main character sprites I had seen on c64 come 1988

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