Thursday, 9 January 2014

Booty (Firebird, 1984)

Written by John F. Cain for the ZX Spectrum.

Converted by Kevin A. Moughtin for the Commodore 64 in 1984 and for the Commodore 16 in 1986.
Converted by Paul Johnson for the Amstrad CPC in 1986.
Converted by Jupiter Software for the SAM Coupé in 1995.



British Telecom used to have a computer software division in the 1980's, called Telecomsoft, before Microprose bought it from BT in 1989. Their first and most legendary label, Firebird, was launched in 1984 with a few fairly memorable titles to boot, one of them being Booty by John F. Cain. Although it now seems rather  unfathomable, especially considering the ever so much more famous Manic Miner was released the previous year, Booty was the first game in the United Kingdom to sell over 100,000 copies - at least, according to the Bird Sanctuary, Telecomsoft's refuge website for memories.

Whatever the case back 30 years ago, Booty is currently not all that well regarded really, the best score having been gotten from its native audience at World of Spectrum - 7.7 from 113 votes, not even nearly reaching the current Top 100. The two Commodore versions almost share the scores, the C64 one having gotten a 6.2 at Lemon64 from 36 voters, and the C16 one having gotten a 6.1 with 9 votes. CPC Game Reviews have given it a predictable 6 out of 10. The only info I found of the SAM Coupé version was a review by Steven Pick at the Sam Coupé Scrapbook (with the same review copied straight to World of SAM), with an overall score of 84%, which is strangely high. Even more strangely, the SAM Coupé version is nowhere to be found currently, because the game was fairly recently (6 years ago) re-released in the SAM Revival magazine, and as such, is being sold - therefore, pulled out from all over the internet, so I can't review it myself and compare it to the others. But, let's get on with the ones we have access to.



Booty is basically a flick-screen doors-and-ladders maze that takes place in a pirate ship. Your mission as Jim the Cabin Boy is to loot the whole ship while avoiding patroling pirates, the ship's resident parrot and rats and randomly appear, and quickly evading booby-trapped booty containers. Also, getting around the ship requires the use of keys, each set of keys for each room. If you ever manage to collect all the booty, you have a limited amount of time to find the key to the next pile of booty, as the cover leaflet has it. There is just one catch: you have no ability to jump. This is not a traditional platformer, although it very much looks like it could be one.

Quite possibly the most interesting bit of information about Booty is that it has a hidden game built-in, only accessable by either having the Currah MicroSpeech inserted, or using some pokes. Of course, this hidden game was only available in the original Spectrum version, so let's have a quick look at it before heading into the actual comparison.

Hidden minigame in the ZX Spectrum version of Booty.
Apparently, you play again as Jim the Cabin Boy, but your mission this time is to dive under the pirate ships floating above you, collecting 20 goldfish before your oxygen runs out. Luckily, you can get up to the surface to get some more air, and you can't actually die in this mini-game, but colliding with the fishes and other underwater lifeforms will make you lose all your goldfish. Jim isn't much of a swimmer, so his underwater movements are uncomfortably slow, but it's a small price to pay to have a game within a game, all stuffed within 48k of memory.

In 1984, it might have been a very good game, particularly for being a budget title. For £2.50 at the time of release, it certainly was worth the money, considering most new games for the Spectrum would have cost from £5.95 to £9.95 or so. Now, 30 years later, it shows a sad amount of playability problems even for a budget game, and frankly, does not really make for much continued interest because of its trail-and-error style of play and still requiring an inordinate amount of luck with looting. Still, it's a fine piece for a quick nostalgia session every now and then.



Although this game has been released on disk for at least three of the computers, we will only concentrate on the tape versions, because that is where the biggest differences always seem to be. As the game was originally only available on cassette tapes anyway, the final scores will also feature an optional score addition for loading times.

C16: 1 minute 17 seconds
C64: 2 minutes 16 seconds
CPC: 9 minutes 16 seconds
SPE: 4 minutes 23 seconds

There was another tape version released for the C64, which was 2 minutes and 41 seconds long, but there's hardly any point in even mentioning it, since the other one was already a better contender in the list. Now, as usual, here are the loading screens to go with the loading times. For a change, all the loading screens look completely different, but certainly have a constancy with the quality of each version of the actual game. Although I grew up with the Spectrum version, I have grown to like the Amstrad loading picture the most lately. And once again as a reminder, these will affect neither the graphics scores nor the overall scores similarly.

Loading screens, left to right:
Commodore 64, Commodore 16, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC



The controls are simpler than one would suppose: you can only walk left and right, and climb ladders up and down, and pushing the action button merely acts as a command for Jim to go through doorways. All the items will be picked up by walking over them. The loot will only be added to the score, but you can only carry one key at a time.

There are two big problems in the playability of this game. One is that Jim always picks up booty objects when he collides with the right edge of them, which makes escaping a possible bomb completely impossible if the object happens to be at the right edge of the screen. The second is timing your movements right, especially regarding lifts. In all of my years and attempts at playing this game, I have never learnt how to properly exit the vertical lifts. The ability to jump would have helped, but no. So, not for the first time, I have had to look at a YouTube video to learn a playing technique that has baffled me for years and years - just to get this blog done as properly as possible. It seems you need to sort of walk-drop your man to the next platform from just slightly above the platform of destination, instead of trying to aim for a perfect lining with the lift and the platform. If you try to do that, the chances are very slim indeed for you to survive.

The Commodore conversions differ quite a lot, not only when compared to the Spectrum original, but when compared to each other. First, and one of the biggest things you will notice is that the vanishing/re-appearing floors are in different places - not necessarily even in the rooms that the original has them in, and even the lifts are a bit more seldom. Second, you need to push the action button also to pick up keys, and you are thus enabled to walk through keys you don't necessarily want to pick up. Of course, this takes away some of the puzzle element from the original, but if the C64 version's scroll text in the menu is true, the game was programmed in under two hours, which it very much feels like, even if it's rather impossible. Third, the pirate guards don't patrol the rooms constantly, and they change their spots after they have done a round. This looks more like a bug on the C16 version, since they just teleport from place to place, unlike on the C64, where the guards roam in and out of the rooms in a more natural sort of manner. Fourth - and this one is only true for the C64 version - the collision detection with booty objects is actually the best one of the bunch, making you pick up the objects when you collide with the middle of them, but you walk fast enough to get away from bombs easily enough. On the C16, the general speed of the game is so much slower than on the other machines that you would expect Jim to blow up every time he comes in contact with a bomb, but no - the bombs are a tad slower to explode as well, so it's not too bad. But it is a chore to play. The fifth major difference I could come across was the vast inabundance of bombs scattered within booty objects in the C64 version, making the ship much more carefree to walk through, but again, it's considerably less exciting. The ship's map could also very well be different from the original and the Amstrad version, but I can't be bothered to play the Commodore versions enough to figure it out. Nor the original, to be honest.

Falling somewhere in between is the Amstrad version with a game speed almost as slow as the C16, but the collision detection is closer to the C64 version, and the bombs act slightly more quickly. The gameplay is otherwise very close to the original, so had it been made any quicker to play, it would have even beaten the Spectrum in this area. Now, though, it has to share the second place with C64.

3. C16



Now, this here is as diverse a bunch as I have ever seen in terms of graphics for 8-bit computer games, particularly considering the amount of graphics to be worked on. Although the Spectrum version has the best animation, it doesn't have all that much colour, but then you wouldn't expect such from it. The little amount of colour it does have for different objects and sprites, there is always some problems with the infamous attribute clash. But you sort of forgive that, mostly for it being a budget title, but it does make noticing a bomb more difficult than it should be, and the character block based sprites make the collision detection problematic.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version.

On the C64, the collision detection problem is fixed, but somehow, there's even a bigger lack of colour here than on the Spectrum, only making the player character and the doors and the keys something other than brown. And that's a really weird decision from the coder, to have the keys colour-coded. What if the gamer only had a black-and-white television or a monitor? The lack of detail is also rather astonishing, considering the C16 even has better detailed - and coloured - objects in all the rooms. Strangely, the C64 version has a problem with the scale of Jim compared to the roaming pirates, which also doesn't exist on the C16, but then again they have been made smaller there, and almost unrecognizable compared to the original sprites. Although it sounds as though the C16 version looks better - it actually does in many ways - there are some animation problems on the C16 version, as well as an annoyingly blinking cursor at the top left corner. It's not there because you can write with it, it's there to annoy you. All in all, the C64 has a less annoying look, but it also looks blander. So, I will have to give them a shared spot.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 (above) and Commodore 16 (below) versions.

Surprisingly, the Amstrad version takes the cake here. It is easily the most colourful, and most detailed version around, and while the animation isn't exactly the best around, it's more than adequate, and just enough better than the C64 animations. All this, and no attribute clash problems - and good collision detection.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.
3. C64/C16



Originally, the 48k Spectrum soundtrack featured a funny bip-boppy beeper version of a traditional British sailing song called "The Sailor's Hornpipe", with some very neatly done sound effects for picking up objects, opening doors, bombs blowing up and even a small effect for signaling the bird flying through the screen. A nicely entertaining sound package overall.

Both the Commodore soundtracks are just dismal, which is a highly unusual occurence. The theme tune is completely different and less fitting for such a game to try and create a proper mood for it, even though it sounds like it could be a real seafaring song. Other than being from the hand of the programmer himself, I was unable to find any information on it. The small amount of sound effects the game originally had, have been somehow managed to get completely wrong and bulky. There's no other way to put it, but both of the Commodore versions share the same place for being the most uninviting sound environment of the bunch.

Quite spectacularly, the Amstrad version has not only very nice sound effects to go with an adequately fine rendition of the theme tune, but a whole lot of piratey songs to go for the duration of the loading part with the picture. This is actually the first time I have ever heard music played during an Amstrad game loader - although it does have the faint sounds of the loader screeching in the background. Still, for the game itself, not quite as fun as the Spectrum soundtrack.

3. C64/C16



Clearly, this is one of those cases again that has a great advantage on the original hardware. As it usually is, really. Having never played the Amstrad and C16 versions before, I have to say I was somehow positively surprised by both of them, but most particularly with the Amstrad version. Having some loader music and the best graphics is a rare thing for an Amstrad game to boast about. But the original Spectrum version can boast with a better playability, which is usually the most important thing for a game to have - and additionally, a hidden bonus game. Well, here are the results then:

1. SPECTRUM: Playability 3, Graphics 2, Sounds 3, Loading 2 = TOTAL 8/10
2. AMSTRAD: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 2, Loading 1 = TOTAL 7/8
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1, Loading 3 = TOTAL 4/7
4. COMMODORE 16: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 1, Loading 4 = TOTAL 3/7

And there you have it. Some surprises perhaps, and some not so much so. Of course, some people would even go so far as to call this the overall true order of things, but I say it all depends on the games you choose to like and play and practice to be good at. I never was very good at this game, but I like it because it has some strange nostalgic value to me.

Too bad the SAM Coupé version isn't available, because by the looks of it, it seems to be the best version out there. I found some screenshots from the internet and copied them here just for comparison's sake; I hope no one will be offended by this action. Anyway, if you enjoy playing Booty, you might want to try out John F. Cain's other game made with the same engine, Moonlight Madness from 1986, released by Bubble Bus only for the ZX Spectrum 48k.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!
Comments, corrections and suggestions are as welcome as ever!



    sam coupe demo animation ok?

  2. The SAM Coupe version is available via SAM Revival Magazine issue 20, via