Thursday, 2 January 2020

Dragonfire (Imagic, 1982)

Originally designed and programmed by Bob Smith, and published by Imagic for the Atari 2600 in 1982.

Converted in 1983:
Mattel Intellivision version by Alan Smith, with graphics by Dave Durran. Commodore VIC-20 version by Tim Yu. Both versions published by Imagic.

Converted in 1983 for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum by Jim Rothrock; published in 1984 by Cheetahsoft.

Converted in 1984: Apple II version by Imagic; details unknown. ColecoVision version by David Ross, with graphics by Matthew Sarconi and Wilfredo Aguilar. Commodore 64 version by Bob Smith and David Ross (to be confirmed); published by Imagic.

Also converted in 1984 for the Tandy TRS-80 CoCo by Frank Ellis, with graphics by Matthew Sarconi; published by Tandy Corporation.

Unofficial conversions: Commodore 64 remake written with Garry Kitchen's Gamemaker by Fabian Del Priore in 1990; Atari 400/800 version written by Kemal Ezcan in Turbo Basic for a Zong magazine release in 1993; Sinclair ZX Spectrum version called "Dragonfire ZX" was made by Luca Bordoni with AGDx in 2018.

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INTRODUCTION & GAME STATUS


With no real time to make plans for an actual Christmas/New Year's entry for 2019, here's something at least perhaps a bit unexpected, so... Happy New Year, everybody, and welcome to 2020! While starting to write this entry, I was having a difficult time thinking of any other game in the history of my blog, that started its life as an Atari 2600 game. There is a perfectly good reason for that, however: apart from some random gaming through emulation, I had not been properly initiated to the Atari 2600 gaming lore until a few months ago, when I finally bought my very own Atari 2600jr, along with about a dozen games to start with - Dragonfire being one of them. Thus began a new obsession.

Dragonfire was one of Imagic's bigger successes, along with classics such as Atlantis, Cosmic Ark and Demon Attack. Sadly, the company did not recover from the North American video game crash of 1983, so their legend is forevermore tied firmly to the Atari 2600. As are their games, to be honest, since most of the positive reviews and nostalgia are directed towards the Atari versions of the games, not their conversions. So, we are here to find out, whether that's at all sensible or not.

Readers that are familiar with my earlier comparisons will not be shocked of the major lack of rating the game has been given on the internet, mostly due to the lack of major fanbase or dedicated websites that would allow scoring. For some reason, Atarimania visitors are not particularly interested in giving scores to A2600 games, but at AtariAge, the average score counted on three external reviews is at 81%, and at MobyGames, the score is 3.6 (out of 5.0) from 11 votes. MobyGames also has user ratings for the ColecoVision version, which is a 4.2 from 5 votes. Most oddly, the only website where I could find scores for the C64 versions was the German-based C64 Web Resource (www.c64games.de), where the official Imagic version has a score of 5 out of 10, and the unofficial Gamemaker creation has a 2 out of 10. The only other score that I could find was at the World of Spectrum website, the users of which have so far a measly 4.33 from only 6 votes. As for all the rest, I suppose we're here to find out, then.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


By any more modern standards than, let's say, 1983, Dragonfire is a fairly old-fashioned and simple arcade game. However, by Atari 2600 standards, it's an interesting game with at least some variety, and that is how we should view the game as.

There are only two basic screens in Dragonfire. First, you need to cross a bridge while fireballs are flying at you from the other side of the bridge. So, a fairly basic platforming idea, although you do go from right to left here. Second, you need to collect all the treasure from the dragon's chamber while avoiding getting hit by more fireballs that are being shot by a dragon at the bottom of the screen, before a doorway appears to the next level. This goes on until you're dead, basically, but of course, the difficulty level goes up at each new level, which mostly means that the dragon is quicker and shoots at a higher rate.

Consider yourself coming across this game in 1982, when practically every other game was a single-genre thing which repeated to infinity, and this one had two different genres. It would have been mindblowing back in the day. In that sense, it's a good game to get acquainted with from the earliest days of home video gaming, and old-timers will likely get misty-eyed over this game. Have a few goes at it, though, and you will find that it doesn't take all that much to make a masterpiece. Just plain and simple playability.

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PLAYABILITY


Since Dragonfire was originally released as a cartridge, it's only logical that most of the conversions were cartridge releases as well, so we shall skip the loading section. That said, the only versions that seem to have been released on tape are the SPECTRUM and TRS-80 versions. I suppose the importance of having a game, specifically such as this, on a cartridge, is the instant gratification factor, which goes well together with the amount of content the game actually has. But let's not focus on that right now, because it would only be unfair.

Regarding the few gameplay elements that are characteristic for the original A2600 Dragonfire, for there aren't many: these should all be considered with utmost importance. Firstly, as you cross the bridge in the first half of each level, you always go against two firebolts that are shot at you in certain intervals - usually the higher (and quicker) one first, and the lower (and slower) one slightly afterwards. You have been given the abilities to duck and jump (even jump WHILE ducking!) to evade the firebolts, but the one quirk that this part of the game has, is the proportional jump distance to how soon you jump after you start running. If the placement of the two firebolts coming at you looks impossible to jump through, you can always retreat to the starting point, inside the first tower, to avoid getting hit.

The second half of each level starts off with you hiding behind the only visible door in the dungeon, which is guarded by a wandering dragon at the bottom of the screen. The instant you exit your hiding place by moving left, is when the dragon starts shooting firebolts straight upwards in series of increasing numbers as the levels progress. Once you have collected all the treasure in the dungeon, the exit appears at the top left corner of the screen. Exit the room and proceed to the next level, and that's all there is to it. As with most A2600 games, the available options are altered with the switches on the console itself, and with them, you are able to choose the number of players (in turns), as well as the difficulty levels for each player, but you can instantly start the game in the default single-player easy mode with the joystick fire button.

In order of publication, the next are the INTELLIVISION and COMMODORE VIC-20 versions. The INTV version starts off in the much more title screenish title screen, and as you start the game, you are first made to go through the game options (the number of players and difficulty level), which are handled with the controller's numpad, before actually getting to play. The disc in your INTV controller guides our hero in all necessary and possible directions, while the top fire button makes you jump. Here, the jumping strength has not been made proportional to your state of "acceleration". Also, neither the dragon nor the firebolts feel nearly as quickly rising in difficulty, but you do get an additional hazard in the later levels in the form of a guard shooting arrows from a tower at an increasing speed (level 5 onwards).

Obviously, the VIC-20 version doesn't make you guess the controls, since a regular joystick is all you need, like in the original. Perhaps the best way to describe this version otherwise is, that it's a slightly more simplified version of the A2600 original, in that the proportional jump thing has been replaced with a single-length jump. There are no additional hazards, like in the INTV version, and the dragons and firebolts progress in difficulty in much the same manner as in the original game.

The 1984 batch of Dragonfire versions brought in three new hazards, the first being a drawbridge. Actually, it's more of a sliding trapdoor kind of a thing within the bridge screen, rather than an actual drawbridge. It is visible from the beginning of the game, but it only activates once you get to level 3. The tower guard that was already featured in the INTV version, is featured in all the 1984 versions, only he activates at level 6 instead of level 5. The second new hazard is a wandering sword-wielding guard in the dungeon, who also makes his first appearance in level 3. There's also another hazard that was previously just a part of the game's background: if you make the error of jumping just before entering the dungeon, you will bump into the wall and fall down. This will sometimes put you in risk of walking into an appearing firebolt, which would make timing your actions even more important, if the firebolts didn't come out so randomly. In other words, that's an unnecessarily added difficulty. In addition to the new hazards, another common alteration for the 1984 versions is, that the dungeon is viewed in a 3D'ish, tilt-viewed manner, but otherwise similar to the original. Also, the dragon in the dungeon has been changed to stay in one place, but now he shoots fireball in various angles, making the effort of dodging a bit different.

I have no real knowledge of the order in which the 1984 versions appeared, but I would hazard a guess, that the APPLE ][ version was the first one, since it has some elements that were altered for all the other 1984 versions. There's a unique hazard featured here, which I haven't seen elsewhere: arrows flying in the dungeon, from (I think) level 5 onwards. Also, the Apple version feels slightly slower than the rest.

The COLECOVISION and COMMODORE 64 versions are, in theory, similar to the APPLE version. But: both have the collision detection a bit off, albeit in different ways, and the aforementioned dungeon guard has been fixed. On the C64, jumping on the bridge requires a bit of re-thinking, because the control response isn't as fast as it should be, as the firebolts fly at too close intervals to each other and the diagonal jumping angle is too low. Perhaps as a direct result, the duck-jump is more useful here than in any other version. Contrarily, in the COLECO version, the duck-jumping is almost impossible to perform successfully, but it does have the proportional jump speed thing implemented, however useless it is. Another difference in the Coleco version is, that the dragon in the dungeon screen shoots quicker firebolts at a more rapid pace than in the other similar versions. The C64 version also has a bug regarding the wandering guard in the dungeon: he cannot hurt you, but you can pick him up like you do with all the treasures in the dungeon.

-technical problems rant-
Trying to get the TRS-80 CoCo version working was a nightmare for me, and will undoubtedly remain so, since there is very little documentation available for the TRS-80 games, and the launching of them, in general. The only way that I could find to get this game to work, at least for me, was to get a cartridge image file of the game, and boot it up with XRoar with CoCo 2B (NTSC) setting. The tape image file would only load, but not run - I tried using CLOAD"DRAGFIRE", CLOADM"DRAGFIRE" and RUN, CLOADM"DRAGFIRE":EXEC and I think there was yet another command chain that I tried, none of which brought the desired result, so if there's someone who can tell how to get the actual tape version to run, I'd be much obliged to have a solution to that. (I suspect getting CoCo to work through MESS might help, but I couldn't locate the required files to run it, so the less than user-friendly XRoar had to do it.) Anyway, at least the cartridge worked in the aforementioned setting, but to actually get to play the game, plugging in a joystick was practically required on the XRoar. Having tried to get the game working previously on the VCC emulator, I was able to play the game on my keyboard, but the game was unplayable after the first screen.
-technical problems rant over-

Now, to get to the actual gameplay on the TRS-80 CoCo, I'm happy to say that at least it's one of the better ones from the 1984 bunch, although once again, a slightly different experience from the rest. Both of the firebolts in the bridge screen travel at random speeds, which often results in both traveling at the same speed in such placement as to making it necessary for you to run back to the starting point to avoid getting hit. Like in the other 1984 versions, the tower guard (or to be more precise, his HAND) will appear on level 5, but here, he's throwing bombs instead of shooting arrows, and the bombs' explosions linger for a second before disappearing. Happily, you don't have to worry about bumping your head into the doorway if you decide to jump through it. Running around in the dungeon screen feels a bit strange, since moving the joystick up and down will only go in diagonals. I suppose, to make up for this oddity, the dragon in the dungeon never seems to get any more aggressive than when you first enter the dungeon. There's a unique feature regarding the dungeon, however: if you happen to get hit by the dragon's firebolt, you respawn your next life from the bridge screen instead of the dungeon.

From the official versions, the original SPECTRUM version is the most different from the other 1984 versions, but then, it was actually made in 1983 and published in 1984, so I guess that's a good indication as to why so. For one, the firebolts on the bridge come at you more randomly than in any other version, and they also fly much quicker at you. This makes it practically impossible to plan your moves. Happily, like in all the other versions, if you feel like you cannot dodge the firebolts flying over the bridge, you can still retreat into the starting point, even though there's no visible spot for retreat. The duck-jump feature is here, but you can't jump forwards with it. The Spectrum version also takes after the original Atari version in that it doesn't have either the drawbridge or the arrow-shooting guard in the tower, nor does it have the dungeon guard at any point - even the possibility to bump into the door hinges by jumping is absent. The dragon in the dungeon is also modeled more after the original Atari version, however: a completely unique feature on the Spectrum is, that there is only one doorway in the dungeon - you enter and exit using that same one, but you still have to collect all the treasure from the dungeon before you are able to exit.

Then we get to the unofficial remakes. Unfortunately, the Gamemaker-made version for the C64 is almost unplayable - it's clearly unfinished, which can be already seen from the score never increasing. The game is controlled with a joystick in Port 1, although sometimes pressing the fire button resets the game to the title screen. Whenever it does work, the jumping action will very likely get you floating/walking above the firebolts over the bridge. The dungeon doesn't work all that well either: sometimes, the treasure items spawn outside your area of reach, so the only way to escape this dilemma is to kill yourself. How quaint.

The only available version for the 8-bit ATARI computers is a German magazine release made with Turbo Basic, which has all the basic elements in it - the firebolts and treasures and the two locations. It's an approximation of the A2600 original, with slightly updated graphics, except the original game a dragon, this one only has its firebolts. Happily, the firebolts are so slow, it's practically impossible not to dodge them until much later levels. Unfortunately, the game gets rather boring very quickly due to the missing elements and the lack of haste in the action. I first thought the game was unfinished or broken, because I couldn't pick up the treasure items, but on further attempts, I realized that in this version, you need to keep the fire button pressed while trying to pick up the treasures, because they only get picked when you're sort of half-way on top of the items. The dungeon has no doorways, so as further approximation, you enter it from the right and exit to the left.

At least the 2018 SPECTRUM version is actually a fairly successful port of the Atari original, although there still are a couple of problems in it: the firebolts on the bridge fly at the same speed, and two can come in a row on the same altitude; and you still get no accelerationally proportional jump. But unlike the other two unofficial versions, you can clearly tell this was made by someone who actually knew what he was doing.

There is no other way to put it, but the original ATARI 2600 version is the only one that just feels right, even without all the additional hazards that would have made it more interesting on the long run. The VIC-20 version comes close, as does the TRS-80 version, once you get it working. The SPECTRUM version is surprisingly solid, even though it's not as complex as the other 1984 versions, but it definitely gets the rhythm of the game right, even if it feels a bit too fast. The INTV and COLECO versions are a bit too cumbersome due to both of the machines' controllers,
and every other version has something different wrong about them, and having additional content don't save them from being practically broken in comparison to the original. The unofficial remakes will not be taken into consideration for scoring. In any case, here's how I would line them all up for this section:

1. ATARI 2600
2. COMMODORE VIC-20 / TRS-80 CoCo
3. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM
4. INTELLIVISION
5. COMMODORE 64 / APPLE II / COLECOVISION

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GRAPHICS


Being an ATARI 2600 original as Dragonfire is, you wouldn't necessarily expect the game to have much in terms of graphics. And you would be right there, of course. The question is, does better graphics make the experience any better? The original presentation is fairly simplistic:

Screenshots from the Atari 2600 version.


In the first picture (top row), the lighter-coloured bridge is neatly under two darker-coloured towers, with the only real graphical detail being the six odd-looking figurines on the side of the bridge. The water under the bridge remains blue for the entire duration of the game, as do the red firebolts flying over the bridge. As for our hero, he has a yellow head, a red shirt and light-green trousers. The info panel is seated at the bottom of the screen, and features nothing more than the current score and the number of lives shown as little stick-figures below the score.

The second picture (bottom row) shows us the dungeon in a similar progression of levels. Here, the new graphical elements are the randomly placed treasure items, the top and bottom walls of the dungeon, the doorway(s) and the dragon. Of course, the firebolts look different here, than in the bridge screen, but have the same colouring. Much like in the bridge screen, the building colouring changes as the levels progress, but also the colour of the dragon changes - and these are the only indicators of difficulty level. The only annoying thing I have to say about the ATARI original is, that in the dungeon, your character starts flickering like a maniac, when there's any firebolts on the screen.

Screenshots from the Mattel Intellivision version.


The INTELLIVISION version goes with a more simplified style. All the buildings are similarly coloured, and the only visual indicator of each difficulty level is the colour of the dragon. The INTV has more colours on the screen than A2600, but the graphics are blockier by nature, and afford less details and colours in the treasure items. Our hero has only two colours here, making it look like he's wearing no trousers at all. The new element in the game, the archer in the left tower, is set in his place from the very beginning of the game, although he doesn't do anything until level 5, as previously mentioned.

Screenshots from the Commodore VIC-20 version.


In the VIC-20 version, the building colours also remain the same throughout the game, but there is a flag indicator on top of the left tower in the bridge screen, which shows you the colour of the dragon in the dungeon. There are a few unique details in this version that are worth mentioning: for one, the Imagic logo stays at the top of each bridge screen. Two, as the levels progress, the black facial figures at the side of the bridge change. Three, the doorways are fitted into the walls, making the dragon's flames unreachable for each exit, although the effect is more cosmetic than useful. Four, the firebolts flying over the bridge are more brownish, whereas the firebolts in the dungeon are clearly dark red. Five, the info panel's colours invert when going into the dungeon. Also, the bricks that are all around in the walls have more pixelated details than in any other version. Similarly to the ATARI original, our hero and the treasures are multi-coloured in the same way.

Screenshots from the Apple ][ version.


Due to the APPLE ]['s display, the graphics look uncomfortable - as you might have guessed, they should be viewed on a proper CRT screen. Alternatively, you could use a different display mode in the emulator of your choice, but it is what it is. There are quite a few differences here to the earlier versions, the most notable perhaps being the change in the depth and angles of views of the backgrounds, which will be a running theme from now on.

There are also some notable changes made for the overall graphics style. Now, there's an actual background scenery drawn for the bridge segment, and the water underneath is somewhat animated. The bridge has been made thinner, so there can be no details of the sort that were seen on the ATARI and VIC-20; however, we now have the drawbridge, which in the APPLE version is orange. Outside, the towers are white, with purple shading to make up for the lack of proper shading colours, while the dungeon walls are orange, with some blue showing from the window and doorway on the right side. The treasure items are nicely multi-coloured and have nice details, and the dragon looks rather large and detailed at the bottom of the screen. However, the dragon only has his head animated to move in three different directions. The great thing about the dragon is, that his firebolts are now animated to change in size relatively to the distance from the camera. The minor setback here is the solid whiteness of our hero, but he is better animated than in the previous versions. Also, the dungeon guard suffers from a lack of colour. The info panel is now at the top of the screen, and alters in presentation between the two screens, which is slightly annoying.

Screenshots from the ColecoVision version.


The COLECOVISION version has otherwise similar graphics to the APPLE version, but our hero has blue trousers, and every treasure item and the dragon have been practically monochromized. Only the dragon's tongue has some different colour. Many of the round shapes have been turned to rectangular ones, in order to keep the attribute clash (more familiar to Spectrum gamers) at a minimum. The distance effect in the dungeon screens is a bit better implemented here than it is in the APPLE version.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.


We continue with the same style on the C64, but the monochromized items are now, for some reason, made in wide multicolour pixels, completely missing the point of going monochrome with higher-resolution sprites. The dragon is missing its tongue and the scaling in the dungeon doesn't work quite as well as in the COLECO version, but it's basically otherwise similar to the COLECO graphics.

Screenshots from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum version.
As mentioned previously, the SPECTRUM version does its own thing regarding graphics. In the bridge screen, the right tower is missing, even though the effect of it remains; and there is only one exit in the dungeon. On a more general level, the graphics are very simplistic, since there is no indication of which level you're on. The dragon - which, by the way, looks like it was drawn by a five-year old to make it look like it was viewed straight from above it - is always green; the building graphics are always the same colour and have no alterations in details either. All the treasures are, as expected, in single colours, as is the sprite for our hero. The info panel is at the bottom, with room for two players' scores and lives to be displayed in black, as well as the current high score in the middle in blue. All in all, it's not horribly bad, but by comparison, it does feel a bit inadequate.

Screenshots from the TRS-80 CoCo version.
The TRS-80 CoCo version is garish in its own special way, but that's just the way things are (mostly) on the CoCo. All the game's graphics are made of blue, green, yellow, red and white, except there is no white in the dungeon screens. That said, the background graphics are rather nice - at least there are some, unlike on the SPECTRUM and the earliest versions of the game. The dungeon screen looks as odd as it feels to play, because it's circular - no, perhaps half-oval is closer a description. Our hero boasts all of two colours, but is animated rather well and is the only one of all the original versions, in which he is actually wearing a pair of shoes and a hat, and you can even make out his hands separated from his shirt. That's high quality work right there. But basically, the CoCo version's graphics follow the style of the other 1984 versions, and is surprisingly good at it, despite the lack of colours and the relative blockiness of everything.

Screenshots from the currently known unofficial conversions, left to right:
Atari 400/800 (1993), Commodore 64 GKGM (1990), ZX Spectrum AGDx (2018).


Here we have a couple of screenshots from the three unofficial versions that I'm currently aware of. The 8-BIT ATARI version from 1990 looks like someone styled it sort of in the same spirit as the original, but tried to achieve a slightly more modern look. The main focus is perhaps on the wall textures, but everything else feels a bit work-in-progress, which it is, really. Nothing particularly interesting to see there. The 1992 C64 version made with Garry Kitchen's Gamemaker looks more like the A2600 original, but is only a crude approximation of it.

The fairly recent SPECTRUM remake looks the most like the A2600 game, with each level coloured differently - both the bridge and the dungeon screens. Although you can't see it here, the dragons are also differently coloured for each level. The hero is monochrome, because any more colours would have made him even more of a mess with the attribute clashing going on with all the treasure you pick up. Speaking of the treasure, though, they all flash in multiple colours, so the effect of attribute clash doesn't bother as much from that point, either. The Spectrum remake also has a unique loading screen, as well as a nice title screen featuring a menu for selecting controls, which we will skip, just to keep the collage clean. But it is very good.

Title screens from the official versions, where available. Top row: Commodore VIC-20, Intellivision, Apple ][.
Bottom row: Commodore 64, TRS-80 CoCo, ColecoVision, Sinclair ZX Spectrum.


I suppose the ATARI 2600 cartridges didn't have enough memory for storing that amount of additional graphical data, so it only has a playerless screen of the bridge of the level you died in as the title screen, with the boot screen obviously being the first bridge. Therefore, the INTELLIVISION and VIC-20 versions were the first ones to have actual title screens. But even there, the title screen is set in the same starting bridge, and you get the game logo - or title text in the case of INTV; the copyright year and the publisher stamped into different places.

Many of the graphical characteristic and detail changes are already visible here, but interestingly, only the TRS-80 CoCo and ZX SPECTRUM versions have the specific versions' authors mentioned in their title screens. The SPECTRUM title screen is also the only one that is clearly separated from the game graphics, which is a nice change, although the game logo isn't much prettier than the one you see in the INTV version, but at least it is animated to flash red and yellow. The logo styling itself varies a lot between versions, with the TRS-80 version perhaps being the most showy of the lot, and the COLECO version being the most iconic and highest quality. Most oddly, the VIC-20 version's logo is the only one to feature the trademark marking.

Game Over screens. Top row, left to right: Atari 2600, Intellivision, Commodore VIC-20, Apple ][.
Bottom row: TRS-80 CoCo, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Colecovision.



In the ATARI original, the end of game is indicated by a fairly quick flashing of all the building covers in a few greyscale colours. The VIC-20 version doesn't do the greyscale thing, but it shows a blank bridge screen for a while, as a few sound effects are played to indicate the game being over. The next closest thing is the TRS-80 version, which takes you to the current level's bridge screen with the game title logo showing (with no credits, unlike in the title screen) and our hero being unable to move until you press the fire button to start again. The SPECTRUM and INTELLIVISION versions display a basic "Game Over" text in the screen you died in, while the other three official versions give you a medievally stylized text "Thou art finished" at the top of the bridge screen - or if you're playing the C64 version, it's "Thou art done", due to the chosen pixel size. From those three, the COLECO version is the only one that doesn't show the damsel in considerable distress on top of the left tower.

If all that wasn't enough, there are still some variations in death animations, which I'm not going to show here, if only because I want to get this damn article out someday - explanations will have to do. In the original A2600 game, there's only one death animation, which is the hero performing some sort of a backwards somersault in three frames, then disappearing. The VIC-20 and SPECTRUM versions follow this tradition. The INTV version features two death animations - one for each screen. If you take a hit on the bridge, you drop down head first, and make a splash as you hit the water. If the dragon's firebolt hits you in the dungeon, you will simply kneel down and vanish after a second.

From the 1984 versions, the APPLE, COLECO and C64 versions share the death animations. In the bridge screen, if you take a hit, you fall down with the walking animation still in action, and you get the obligatory splash, too. Any such animation has been taken out from the dungeon, since the game will only reset your position straight to the right doorway, in case you take a hit. In the TRS-80 version, the hero turns fully red if he takes a hit on the bridge, then starts waving all his limbs around as he falls; and of course, the fall ends with a splash. In the dungeon, we have a unique visual effect for the hero's death: if you catch one of the dragon's firebolts, you turn into a floating and colour-flashing smoke puff and vanish gradually. All in all, I'm surprisingly pleased with the TRS-80 version, even with its garish colours. And that brings me straight to the scores for this section...

1. COLECOVISION
2. APPLE II
3. COMMODORE 64
4. TRS-80 COCO
5. ATARI 2600 / COMMODORE VIC-20
6. ZX SPECTRUM / INTELLIVISION

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SOUNDS


Although Dragonfire is a very old, fairly primitive and decidedly small game from today's point of view, it is a very balanced one in all terms of production. In the original ATARI 2600 version of the game, there were quite a few sound effects, most of which are surprisingly high quality for the machine, to make your experience more wholesome and entertaining. You get a good foot-tapping noise, a sharp "panngg" for jumping, a splash of soft saw-shaped noise for appearances of firebolts, a high-pitched "pinngg" for picking up treasure, a randomly generated high-pitched blurpy sound effect for dying, and a familiar descending bleep sound (used in many other Atari games) for Game Over. It's not too much, but just enough for an A2600 game.

The INTELLIVISION version was the first one to add music into the game, although (thankfully) there's only a couple of short tunes - more like fanfares, really. The first one can be heard when you push the button to start going through the options in the title screen, and it's the longer fanfare to last you through the entire 6 seconds it might take the time to make your choices. The second one is a "badoom-badoom" that plays each time you enter a dungeon. The third and final one is another longer one that plays at Game Over. Added to those, there's still a few nice sound effects, which are close enough to the original not to disturb your experience further.

The VIC-20 version doesn't have music, but again, it's quite close to the A2600 original. In general, the sound effects here are softer than on the A2600, but most of the effects are very similar. Only the death effect isn't randomized as it is on the A2600, and the Game Over sequence has three weird noises played in tandem, instead of just one. I would say it's equal to the original.

Having only a single channel beeper to play sounds from, the SPECTRUM version makes up for the lack of possibilities with the amount and volume of noise. You do get the foot-tapping running noise, when there's nothing else to hear, but most of the time, your ears will be attacked with funny jumping "bweeewp"-sounds, a couple of different booming noises from the firebolts for both screens, unnecessarily long descending bleepy noises for picking up treasures, and a very short three-note non-melody for your death. The Spectrum version does have its quiet moments as well, though - each time you enter the next screen is thankfully silent.

Similarly single-channeled, the APPLE version is much less noisy. It only plays a few carefully planned bleeps and pips for actions that don't happen too often in the game. Picking up the treasure has probably the funniest method of playing sound effects from all the versions, as the quick "pip"-noise's pitch gets higher from right to left. Even your death effects are short, but effective: getting hit in the dungeon plays a very short ascending beep, that will not take away focus from the action, but it's still distinctive; and falling into water from the bridge plays three different and short "pip"-noises.

From the 1984 versions, the TRS-80 version has the least to offer, and the least interesting sounds while at it. You get no foot-tapping noises for running, no firebolt swooshing, no jumping sound, and all the damage-related sound effects are similar boomish noises. The dungeons only have a couple of different high-pitched beeps for picking up treasure and going through doorways.

The COLECOVISION version has probably the weirdest set of sound effects. While you're going through the options, the game throws a very mixed bag of sound effects at you simultaneously, I can't even tell what they all are. Again, you get no running noise, nor any firebolt noises, but you do get a nice splash sound when you fall into the moat. Getting hit plays a couple of different kinds of odd noises - one crash noise mixed with a weird beepy thing or a low gong sound, depending on which screen you're at. Jumping sound is a fairly common "bonnggg" sound, and picking up treasure gives similar-yet-different pitch-altering ping noises as the Apple version does. Not a big fan of this one.

Then we have the C64 version, which does a bit better than some of the worst versions around. It's not too loud and obnoxious as the SPECTRUM version, nor is it too quiet like the TRS-80 and APPLE versions. It neither is quite as weird as the COLECO version, but it's dangerously close to that. The starting options play differently, but similarly strange sounds as the COLECO version, but here, it's almost charming due to their cheapness. Still no running tapping noises, but jumping sounds - for the first time - like jumping does in games of this age, and when the firebolts enter the screen, you hear a short "kschwut"-noise, don't know how else to describe it. At least it's closer to the original. You also get a proper splash like you do in the COLECO version, but getting hit plays another weird mixture of noises. Picking up treasures in the dungeon gives only one kind of a bleep, but at least they didn't go weird there. All the 1984 versions have one thing in common: there is no Game Over sound effect.

From the unofficial versions, the C64 remake made with Gamemaker has no sounds at all, further displaying its clearly unfinished state. The ATARI 8-bit version has various kinds of grey noises, with the only melodic sounds being for your death and picking up treasures. The 2018 SPECTRUM remake is much more sedate in terms of sounds than the 1984 Spectrum version, with most of the sound effects being short and staccato. Only your death plays a longer series of short pips and entering the next screen plays a slightly longer crash-like noise. But as the remakes are not given scores, this is what you get:

1. INTELLIVISION
2. ATARI 2600 / VIC-20
3. COMMODORE 64
4. COLECOVISION
5. APPLE II
6. ZX SPECTRUM
7. TRS-80 CoCo

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VIDEO


To make up for the lack of energy to compile screenshot collages of the death animations and other tidbits, I compiled this video for further proof of everything that's written above, and your consideration. It also includes footage from the three unofficial conversions, just for completion's sake. NOTE: The slight jittering in the recording of the TRS-80 version could not be avoided, at least with the equipment/software at my disposal, but you'll get the idea.



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OVERALL


Like most of the games that originated on the Atari 2600, Dragonfire is a difficult game to evaluate. You would think that having better graphics or sounds amounts to something in these kinds of cases, but it just doesn't. Sure, it would be nice to play these kinds of games with better sounds and graphics, but I have realized - and to be perfectly clear, this is just my personal opinion - that the games that were made for these grandaddy consoles, belong there, and should be experienced as such. If you want better graphics, better sounds and more interesting gameplay, you're better off playing Skyrim or God of War or Witcher or whatever.

For Dragonfire, there is no perfect version, unless you count the original as such. For me, there are only compromises, and this is as good a chart as any to make your own journey into Dragonfire by.

1. ATARI 2600: Playability 5, Graphics 2, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 13
2. COMMODORE VIC-20: Playability 4, Graphics 2, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 12
3. COLECOVISION: Playability 1, Grpahics 6, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
4. INTELLIVISION: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 10
5. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 10
6. APPLE II: Playability 1, Graphics 5, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 9
7. TRS-80 CoCo: Playability 4, Graphics 3, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 8
8. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 3, Graphics 1, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 4

As far as the top 2 go, it's as close to a truth you can get. I'm not too sure about the rest of them, though. Just to be clear, this is still not an exact science, if a science at all. I grew rather fond of the oddball TRS-80 version during the making of this article, but I'm still aggravated by the machine's emulation. The APPLE version feels slow, the official SPECTRUM version feels too fast and random while the remake goes easily into my personal top 5 of Dragonfire's versions; the COLECO version feels harsh and it sounds weird, the C64 version feels like it could have been so much better, and the INTV version is... well, just what I expected it to be. But after this article, I'm one step closer to getting myself a VIC-20.

Thanks for reading, and have a better new decade! Keep on retrogaming, and see you later!

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