Thursday, 19 June 2014

Summer Games (Epyx/US Gold, 1984) - Part 1

Designed for the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit computers by Scott Nelson, Stephen Murphy, Brian McGhie and Jon Leupp. Coded by Stephen Landrum; Graphics by Erin Murphy; Music by Randy Glover. (At least according to most sources.)

Converted for the Apple ][ in 1984 by Chuck Sommerville and Kevin McClard.
Converted for the NEC PC-8801 in 1986 by Pony Canyon, Inc.
Converted for the Atari 2600 in 1987 by Epyx.
Converted for the Atari 7800 in 1987 by Atari Corp.
Converted for the Amstrad CPC and Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers by Choice Software Ltd, and released by US Gold in 1988.
Converted for the Sega Master System by Hitoshi Akashi (code) and Tokuhiko Uwabo (sound), and released by Sega in 1988.
Atari 8-bit version slightly altered and re-released by Atari Corp. in 1988.
Converted for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST/STe by Creative Materials:
Graphics by Adam Steele; Music by Dave Lowe; Sound effects by Phil Morris. Released by US Gold in 1992.

Re-designed for the Windows Mobile devices in 2005 by Epyx; released through AIM Productions NV.
Emulated version of the C64 original released on the iPad/iPhone devices in 2012 through Elite Systems Ltd.



Due to popular demand, here is another major seasonal undertaking, as I did with Winter Games during the last Christmas period - this one nicely just in time for the summer solstice period. I thought about doing Summer Games II first, because I enjoy it more, but then I yielded, because this one had to be done first. After all, it started the famous Games series from Epyx. As with Winter Games, this game will be done in two parts, and the second part will be posted by the end of June. This will be the last game comparison before I take my first proper break from the blog, so take your time enjoying this one!

At the time I began writing this entry, probably around March, Summer Games had comparatively scarce reviews and ratings to be found. Shortly thereafter, I started frequenting MobyGames for further research purposes, and found their "MobyScore", which comes rather handy in these cases. Here are the MobyScores for those versions I couldn't find elsewhere: NEC PC-8801 - 4.5 from 2 votes; Atari 2600 - 2.6 from 5 votes; iDevices - 4.0 from 2 votes; and Apple ][ computers - 3.3 from 5 votes. The Windows Mobiles version had gotten 5 out of 5 from 10 votes at Handster, but only a 3.7 from 4 votes at MobyGames. SegaRetro had an average score of 54/100 based on 9 old reviews for the Sega Master System version, but I was unable to find any more recent ratings for it. CPC Game Reviews gave the Amstrad version a fairly good 8 out of 10. AtariAge's average score based on two reviews of the A7800 version was 64%. Atarimania's rating for the Atari 8-bit computers version was 7.5 from 70 votes. Only the Atari ST version had no reviews or ratings to be found whatsoever. The other native version had an 8.5 from 183 votes at Lemon64, residing at #50 in the top 100, based on games with at least 100 votes. The Amiga version had a 7.19 from 21 votes at LemonAmiga. Finally, the ZX Spectrum version had a 6.94 from 17 votes at World of Spectrum.



Multi-event sports games had been done before, mostly for the arcades. Most of them had done it quite well, naturally concentrating on the fast waggling action that early sports games are so well known for, so there wasn't much to find difficult about them. Konami's Hyper Sports and Track & Field had become household titles in the arcades, and were only waiting for good home conversions. Not too many conversions managed to bring out the best of them, so Activision brought their own version of a traditional Decathlon into the field. With the emphasis on easy arcadey playability, and not so much on the graphics, the game easily became an all-time favourite.

I think a brief history lesson about Epyx is in order at this point. Epyx started out as Automated Simulations in 1978, and mostly wrote role-playing adventure games in BASIC for computers like TRS-80 and Apple ][. When the company decided to go for more "mainstream" action style video games, the original group of programmers left in 1981 to form a new developing team called Free Fall Associates - some of you will recognize the name in connection to the Archon games if nothing else. Meanwhile, a video game company called Starpath Corporation (formerly known as Arcadia), known for their Supercharger add-on for the A2600 and a few games (one particularly well-regarded Starpath title is Dragonstomper), was on the verge of bankrupcy, and had just done a prototype of a game called "Sweat: the Decathlon Game". Epyx and Starpath had some investors in common, so Epyx decided to take the programming staff from Starpath.
Screenshots from the Atari 2600 prototype of
"Sweat! - The Decathlon Game" by Starpath.

Unlike Konami, Imagine and Ocean, Epyx had not ventured too far into the sports area before they did their version on the theme. Naturally, with their early history in simulations and RPG's, they did their first multi-event sports game more into a simulation than a simple arcade game, gradually evolving the idea with their subsequent games in the series. To make the game as interesting to play as possible, they cut down on the simpler joystick-waggling sports, and added in some other events requiring precision and skill. The events for all the versions of the game vary slightly, but the basic set of events are Pole Vault, Platform Diving, Sprinting, Gymnastics, Freestyle Swimming and Skeet Shooting. Unlike all the other sports titles so far, Summer Games allowed the player for the first time to compete in all of the events sequentially, choose a few events, choose just one event or practice an event. Most of the disk versions of the game also saved all the world records to the floppy disk, which was a completely new feature in sports games on home computers back then. So, it's not a very great wonder that Summer Games was such a great hit game in 1984, and spawned so many sequels. It is somehow funny, that the Epyx Games series never got an official IOC licence for their games, but were easily the most interesting and popular sports games in the 1980's. Then again, perhaps that might be exactly the reason why they are so good..?

While Summer Games cannot with all honesty be called the best of the series in any way, it did bring something completely new to a game genre that was beginning to die away before it properly even began flourishing. That said, I have recently often felt that the current gaming industry needs something like this to come out - innovative and refreshing, bringing life to an old forgotten genre. And I'm not talking about remaking these games to some mobile platforms - more like utilising the new wireless controllers and motion detectors to the advantage of sports games.

Screenshots from the Windows Mobile version of Summer Games.

Speaking of mobile platforms, I will not include the mobile (iDevices and Windows phones) versions in this comparison, because of two reasons: I have no access to them, and the hardware is too damn new anyway, so not too many people reading this blog would be interested about them anyway. Besides, the screenshots you can see above of the Windows mobile version are too different from the original game, so I wouldn't know how to compare it to the original anyway. I suppose it has something to do with tapping the screen with your fingers. Now, on to the original game then.



Just because I'm a bit lazy, I shall paraphrase myself from my Winter Games comparison. Unless the game was either released on a cartridge or a disk, you are going to have a bad time, although I have to say that even some of the disk versions are a bit irritatingly produced, namely the ones for the 8-bit and 16-bit Atari computers. Still, in most cases the least stressful way to play Summer Games, and Epyx games in general, is to get a disk version. To make this section even the slightest bit useful (again), I shall show you the loading/start-up screens here to break up the massive amounts of text to follow. Note that the Atari 7800 version has no title screen as such.

Loading/Title screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Apple ][.
Mid row: Atari 400/800, Commodore Amiga/Atari ST, NEC PC-8801.
Bottom row: ZX Spectrum, Sega Master System, Amstrad CPC.



Just like with Winter Games, let's start this one off with the order of events, followed by all the exceptions. The basic order of events is such: 1. Pole Vault, 2. Platform Diving, 3. 4x400m Relay, 4. 100m Dash, 5. Gymnastics, 6. Freestyle Relay, 7. 100m Freestyle and 8. Skeet Shooting. The Atari 7800 version leaves out Pole Vault and Skeet Shooting, but the order is otherwise the same, so at least there are more events this time (A7800's Winter Games only had four events). As was the case with Winter Games, the Atari 2600 version leaves out some events and replaces them with others, again ending up with 7 events, which are in order: Hurdles, 100m Freestyle, Skeet Shooting, 100m Dash, 4x400m Relay, Gymnastics and Rowing. Finally, the Sega Master System version goes one-up from Nintendo's attempt at Winter Games, and instead of 4, gets 5 events included (in the following order): Pole Vault, 100m Dash, Gymnastics, Platform Diving and 100m Freestyle.


The problem with writing comparisons of games from a series consisting of ultimately very similarly made games is that already for the second such entry, it is difficult to write anything new and interesting about things that are basically copied to sequels from the original game, so again, most of this bit of text is copied from my Winter Games comparison.

Screenshot from the Atari 8-bit Opening Ceremony.

Where available, the game starts off by showing you an opening ceremony, which you can skip at different times depending on the version. Some versions allow you to skip it right at the beginning, but some require you to watch it until the olympic fire has been lit and the music has passed. Exceptionally, the Sega version has no option to view the opening ceremony when you want to, although you can wait for it to appear in the title screen. As it was with Winter Games on the Atari 2600, you only get a torch and the game's title in the opening screen, but the colouring is more summery than wintery. Also, because some of the versions were made after Summer Games II had already been released on the C64, the later conversions included the closing ceremonies as well - more specifically, the 16-bits. Boringly, the closing ceremonies are copied from SG2, and offer nothing new for those of us who have already seen it there.

Most versions of Summer Games are joystick-controlled, with either one or two joysticks in use, however you choose. In case of having chosen one joystick, all human players will play with one joystick against a computer opponent where necessary, and in the case of having chosen two joysticks, as many human players as have entered the competition will play simultaneously, two at a time, in an event with the possibility. Naturally, the Sega utilises a pad controller by default, but unlike the NES, the Sega consoles use 9-pin D-shaped ports and connectors, so you can use a regular Atari joystick on them. Only the Spectrum and Amstrad versions seem to have a keyboard-only controls setup, but you can redefine the keys to suit your own fingers.

Screenshot from the Atari 8-bit signing-in section.
When you have decided to compete in one or more events, you will go through a sign-in process, where you will enter the name of at least one player, followed usually by choosing a country for each player. Again, the Atari 2600 version only has the country selection screen as the main menu. Of course, as with Winter Games, you can use the switches on the A2600 main console to get into practice mode and choose whether you use one or two joysticks. At least this time, Choice Software have taken the trouble of including everything that was missing from the Amstrad and Spectrum conversions of Winter Games.


If for some reason you happen to be unfamiliar with the event titles, I will give each event a short description before going for the controls. The idea in pole vault is to make a high jump of sorts with the assistance of a long pole. At least in my case, the first event of the game is also one of the more difficult events, because some of the versions have a slightly different sense of timing about the controls.

After you push the fire button to start running toward the bar, you are supposed to pull the joystick back (down) to plant your pole in the vault box. Then, once the pole is planted, push the joystick forward (up) to kick up and flip over the bar. Finally, press the fire button again to release the pole. That is how it's supposed to go, but the timing is REALLY tricky, and differs a bit for each platform. You can also select one of three grips on the pole before you set off - high, medium or low. The low grip is supposed to be easier to use for lower jumps, and the high grip can give you more height. You get three attempts for each height, and three successive failures will eliminate you from the competition. It does get easier with practice, but I'm not entirely sure whether the different grips make all that much difference to the resulting vaults.

Now, I have to point out that this event is particularly dependent on graphics, because you have to be completely certain how the pole is animated to fall down, where does it land, and from which point on the track are you supposed to start planting the pole. My method is looking at the top end of the pole and its relation to background elements. For example, on the original C64 version, I push the joystick down when the pole reaches the second dark red flagpole or a lamp post or whatever it is. On the Amstrad version, however, I think the sweet spot was right on the centre stairway. In some cases, it's not as simple as that, because either the pole animation is really bad, or the graphics are too rich to have a clear sweet spot, or the animation is too quick for you to react in time.

Screenshot from the Commodore Amiga version of Pole Vault.
Although even the original C64 version has some slight glitching in graphics, it doesn't affect the gameplay one jot. It has a good pacing and it's easy enough to control once you've gotten the hang of it, but it's not the most fluent of the lot. Actually, from the 8-bits, the ATARI 400/800 version is the one to choose, because it flows a bit better. The most playable version of this event, however, is on the AMIGA, which reacts to your commands extremely well, and has no problems whatsoever in animation or anything else, for that matter. The ATARI ST version looks similar to the Amiga version, but it has a bad framerate, which makes it difficult to time your actions properly.

At the other end of the line, the SEGA and NEC versions fight for the honour of the worst conversion of Pole Vault. The NEC version has really bad flickering in graphics, so it's already a bit uncomfortable to play. Added to that, you have to be really close to the vault box before lowering the pole, because it falls down surprisingly quickly; and when you position your man to jump off the pole, you cannot go to the other extreme position, because he won't jump. Instead, he is left floating high on the LEFT side of the pole - clearly a bug. In the SEGA version, the problems are quite different, and possibly more painful. Singularly, you don't need to hit the vault box in order to perform a pole vault - just see that the pole doesn't hit the mattress. This helps in a sense, because your man runs the short distance so quickly that you rarely have time to aim for the sweet spot. Then again, it's nearly impossible to succeed in letting go of the pole, because you still have to have lightning-fast reflexes and possibly even real hardware to play it on, because I only managed to pass the 4.00m height once on an emulator. It could be that the controls have some slight lag when emulating, and in a sports game, speed is often crucial.

In the middle of all the above, the SPECTRUM, APPLE ][ and AMSTRAD versions are quite close to each other. The APPLE version plays really slow, and the pole is lowered slower than in all the other versions, which requires some slight adjustment from the player. Also, you need to be really precise about when to start planting the pole. Once you have gotten used to all that, it's not really too bad. The SPECTRUM version's problems lie elsewhere: you can mistakenly skip the grip selection bit by bashing the fire button just to get to another attempt, in which case you will have the grip you used on your previous attempt. It's not necessarily a problem, but since you can't visually notice your chosen grip here like in some other versions, it's a bit difficult to time your plantings, because all the grips act differently. Also, the framerate is almost as bad as on the Atari ST version. But still, not too bad. The AMSTRAD version is also a bit different - in fact, it's a bit too quick, and the animations don't allow for much preparing. Otherwise, it's surprisingly playable, once you have gotten used to the speed of the event.

7. APPLE ][
8. NEC PC-8801


One of the more fun events in the game is platform diving, in which you need to dive into a pool of water, and perform a certain type of a maneouvre before hitting the water. Performing the maneouvre for as long a time as you can and landing it perfectly should give you some very good points. There are four different maneouvres you need to perform, all of which can be performed in a very similar manner.
Screenshot from the Commodore 64 version of Platform Diving.

Pushing the fire button will make your man jump from the diving board, and each of four main directions on the joystick will give you a different position: up for a layout position (slowest rotation), left for a half-pike (second-slowest), down for a pike position (second-fastest) and right for a full-tuck (fastest). Of course, you need to be in the layout position when hitting the water at such an angle as to give the least amount of water resistance in order to get the least amount of penalties.

From what I can tell, the versions for C64, SPECTRUM, NEC, ATARI 400/800 and ATARI 7800 play equally good, and the APPLE version also gets very close to them, only slightly hindered by the screen update, which isn't quite up to scratch. If I really had to nitpick about some minor details, which might or might not have some effect on some individuals' ability to enjoy the event, I'd say the SPECTRUM version isn't quite as easy to follow as the others, because the diver is represented by a monochrome sprite, so with the speed the event plays at, it's not always so easy to follow the diver's position. Also, the NEC version seems to have harsher judges than all the others, but it could also be that the NEC version's requirements for a good dive are more strict.

The more problematic ones are now a bit different from the previous event. You might not notice it at first, but when compared to the original, the AMSTRAD version's diving arc is strangely angular, and the speed is unnaturally slow and steady towards the end of the dive. In the SEGA version, the problems are again quite different, but they have very little to do with controls or actual playability. The only thing that could be called a problem with the controls is the reversal of left and right, which now have opposite purposes. What is more disheartening about this event on the Master System, is that you will always hear a fanfare before you jump, which you cannot skip. It becomes irritating quite quickly. Also, the screen update is slightly awkward, but otherwise it's not all too bad.

Strangely, both the 16-bit conversions seem to have some problems with the diver's animation. All of the jumps have the actual maneouvre animations going the same way, although two of the jumps should be backwards. I'm not sure it really affects the diving results, but it is a bit distracting. The more effective problem is that the diving platform seems to be placed a bit lower than in all the other versions - at least it seems so, because you have less time to perform. The AMIGA version plays just slower enough to be quite playable, but the ATARI ST version is a bit frantic. Another problem with the ST version is that when you push the button in the instructions screen, sometimes your diver starts the jumps automatically, giving you even less time to prepare for your performance.


4x400m RELAY AND 100m DASH

These two running events, while look pretty much exactly the same, are played surprisingly differently. In the 100m dash, you only need to concentrate on waggling the joystick as frantically as you possibly can. In the relay event, your mission is to run a 400m stretch of track with four athletes in turns by balancing your four athletes' speed and energy by moving the joystick right and left carefully, while keeping an eye on the energy meter. If the athlete has no energy, his performance will drop off sharply. Also, you need to keep in mind that all four athletes have a different amount of stamina, so you need to learn to utilise them to get the most of their strength. To pass the baton, press the fire button when you're close enough to the next runner in line.

Because two versions of Summer Games have been spared the Relay event, I'm rather inclined to give these two versions a bonus point or two for the final playability scores, but let's see if anything of the sort is required. I suppose it would only be fair, because they have less events as it is, so the final scores would not be very friendly towards them. Besides, I consider the running events just as much penalty events as I think of the two Figure Skating events in Winter Games.

Let's start with the ones I'm the most comfortable with - the 16-bits. Both of the AMIGA events play as perfectly as I can imagine them to in the context, as the screen scrolls at a comfortable pace in both events, and the logic behind the Relay event is quite possibly the best one around. The same could be said of the ATARI ST version, but unfortunately, the framerate is quite bad in both events.

When you try out the original version after either of those, the first feeling that follows the experience (and during the experience) is confusion. Both events are very strange to follow, as if you didn't have very much control over the athletes. Although the scrolling has been made constant, it feels more uncomfortable here than on the 16-bits due to the way the athletes move around on the screen, which feels wholly unrelated to the scrolling. No sir, I don't like it. What should be noted, though, is the way you have to balance with your energy. Pushing the joystick right will make your athlete run faster, but will deplete his energy in a steady manner, one pixel-width of the energy bar at a time. If you pull to the left, you will usually gain two pixels worth of energy back. You can even get the athlete to run at a steady pace, that will bring his energy consuming to a minimum. This system has been converted for the 16-bits perfectly.
Screenshot from the ZX Spectrum version of 100m Dash.

On the SPECTRUM, for example, they cocked the Relay event up a bit. The energy is constantly draining away, while the computer keeps on forging on with the same speed throughout the relay without losing any energy, making it practically impossible for you to win. The Dash event is more player-friendly, even if it requires frantic waggling, which some of you love to hate so much. I'd say, it's still better than the original, because it has the power indicator, so you will know better what is happening on the screen. The AMSTRAD version play similar to the Spectrum in both events.

The ATARI 400/800 version's running events are a bit divided. The Dash event is happily almost as good to play as the Amiga version of it, although perhaps not as good to follow. The Relay event, however, is again very awkward, but it's awkward in a different way. I have no idea how to exactly describe the manner in which the runners perform in relation to the screen scrolling, and also in relation to time. It feels really strange at first, but only with the last runner of the relay event are you able to really get any sort of speed. Every time I play this event leaves me in confusion.

Both running events play incredibly slow on the APPLE ][. Even the timer goes about one third of real time. This makes it incredibly bothersome to play, particularly the Dash event. Additionally, in Relay, passing the baton is confusing, as the controls respond with slight delay, and you can't be sure which runner are you controlling, particularly as both runners continue to run for a while after the passing zone has been passed. Finally, when running against the last computer opponent, he starts off slowly and will easily sprint past your runner without losing any energy. It's not only uncomfortable, but also unfair.

Screenshot from the NEC PC-8801 version of 4x400m Relay.
The NEC version again has a different gameplay style for the relay event - you need to push right on every step your athlete takes in order to get forwards faster, at least so it seems. In truth, your actions have very little effect on the whole, as most of the time, you will be getting a time of 2 minutes and 31 seconds regardless of your actions. The dash event requires more frantic waggling than in any other version, and it's next to impossible to beat the computer. At least, your actions have more effect in the Dash event.

Then we have another exercise in unfairness on the ATARI 7800. In Relay, the computer has less max energy, but it depletes slower than yours. Also, the timer runs a lot quicker than in any other version, making it impossible to make it under 7 minutes. Same timer problem in Dash event. Also, the Dash event plays much like the original - very difficult to follow and determine whether you have any sort of control over your athlete at all.

The only ones left are the two console conversions that have no Relay event. On the SEGA version, the Dash event is played by tapping the "1" and "2" buttons frantically, and unlike the original, which gives you the option to waggle the joystick also vertically as well as horizontally, the Sega version offers no optional controls. Still, not too bad. The ATARI 2600 version of the event seemed to work best by rapidly moving the joystick in a circular motion, although I guess the controls are similar to the original. I could never beat this one, though, for whatever reason, so I'm not entirely sure how to perform well on it.

Of course, since there are so radical differences between the two events, one major difference being that the other one doesn't even exist on two conversions, I will need to make two different lists for them.

4x400m RELAY:
4. NEC PC-8801
7. ATARI 7800
8. APPLE ][
9. ATARI 400/800

100m DASH:
3. ATARI 400/800
4. ATARI 2600
7. COMMODORE 64 / ATARI 7800
8. NEC PC-8801 / APPLE ][


Another very difficult event, but also one of the more interesting ones, gymnastics will require extreme precision and grace of movement. Your mission is, in all its simplicity on paper, to jump on a gym horse, jump off of it, perform some somersaults in mid-air and land as perfectly as you can. At least in most cases.

To start running, tap the fire button. Then tap it again to jump onto the springboard. Hold the joystick left or right as you leave the springboard to perform a 180-degree axial body twist. This will increase the difficulty of your performance, but it also makes a higher score possible. On the horse, aim for your gymnast to become almost vertical before pushing the fire button again to push yourself off the horse. In the air, you have three possible rotational positions: full-tuck (forward), layout (center) and landing position (back). The execution of your performance is considered perfect if you land your gymnast completely upright on her feet.

Although one step towards the springboard is all you can take before needing to jump, the C64 original gives you ample time to prepare for the performance, which is nice, because you need to take into consideration so many things in this small amount of time that a correct amount of preparation time is nice to have. The short period of balancing on the horse is just clear enough for you to make a good guess of when is the right time to jump off from it. Once you get off from the horse, you will have a clear visual idea of when you're doing well and when you're not, and it's fairly easy to control, considering the difficulty of this event.

On the SPECTRUM, the speed of the event is just a tiny bit slower than the original, but not to make any difference. The difference is more in what kind of a mood the game happens to be in at any given time. You need to be REALLY precise when to take off from the horse, but for all my efforts, I have only managed to hit the sweet spot twice - both from just slightly different angles. From a certain point onwards, it feels more like a game of luck than skill. I don't know how else to explain it, but that's my interpretation.

For a change, the AMSTRAD version plays incredibly slow. If you haven't played this event before, it might be a good idea to start practicing on this slower version, so you can see what is really going on, and when to pull the right strings. Still, it doesn't really play as well as the original, nor even quite so well as the Spectrum version. But it's close enough for a player who requires a slower version.

Much like all the other events so far, the APPLE ][ version plays slowly - almost as slow as the Amstrad version, in fact. So, it's another good one for a beginner, except for one thing. Here, you need to use the diagonals to get the required positions. Other than that, it's not too bad. I suppose, if this is the version you grew up with, it's also the only version you will ever be comfortable with.

Another really awkward presentation from the SEGA team - the event starts off very normally, but you can spend a surprisingly long time on the horse to aim for the perfect position to jump off. Once you are performing the mid-air trick, though, your gymnast always revolves in the same speed, which is stupidly fast, regardless of her position. This makes her next to impossible to land. Not good.

Team Pony Canyon representing the NEC PC-8801 doesn't fare much better. Here, the gymnast handles completely different to all the other versions. She doesn't even make a proper stop on the horse, so you can't really aim for a good take off. After that, you can't really tell what you're doing, because she handles so quickly, it's next to impossible to perform anything at all. Really not good.

Screenshot from the Atari ST version of Gymnastics.
From the 16-bit camp, the AMIGA version's gymnast has slightly less running distance before she has to jump, but at least it's as slow as the original, so it's not too much of a problem. Once you get off from the horse, though, you're in for a surprise, as the angle of descension from the horse is quite gentle, so getting a higher-than-mediocre score is easier than in most other versions. The ATARI ST version, on the other hand, is quite a bit faster than the original, but otherwise very similar to the Amiga version. I do prefer to have a bit more time to react to things.

As for the other ATARI's, the 8-bit computers' version would be otherwise very good, but there are some speed issues in it. For every other section of the event, except for when you're aligning yourself on the horse, the event has been made a bit too quick. The A7800 version at first feels very similar to the original, but there are a couple of things a bit off: you get very much less time to balance yourself if you happen to land awkwardly (mostly resulting in a fall), and hitting the sweet spot when taking off from the horse is more precise, so it's quite a bit more difficult.

Screenshot from the Atari 2600 version of Gymnastics.

Finally, we get to the ATARI 2600 version, which really is completely different from the others. If not for the title and the basic idea of the event, I would have included it into the exclusive A2600 events section coming up below. You start from the opposite side of the screen, run towards the horse, and mount it by pushing the fire button. Once mounted, the gymnast holds the horse's bars and circles the horse's axis in rhytmic motion. Points are given for mounting and dismounting correctly, for traversing the horse and for each 360-degree spin your gymnast makes. Points are taken away for incorrect hand placement, for moving in the wrong direction, for falling off the horse and for faulty dismounts. The upper screen shows the gymnast in motion on the horse from a side-view, and the lower screen shows your gymnast's hand position by a pair of dots that follow his motion up and down on the horse. You can adjust the circling speed and your placement on the horse by moving the joystick in certain directions, but you can only move the hand that is in the air, so you need to time your moves carefully. Surprisingly, while the A2600 version looks to be the least impressive, it's the most difficult and complex one around. Unfortunately, I can't really count it in with the rest of them, so I will have to figure out something completely different for it.

2. APPLE ][
4. ATARI 400/800
5. ATARI 7800
10. NEC PC-8801


We also have two swimming events in Summer Games, and similarly to the running events, the other one is a relay version, and the other one is a 100m quickie. Also, similarly to the running events, I consider both of the swimming events as penalty events. Anyway, both events utilise similar controls: push the joystick right to leave the starting block (once the countdown has reached "GO", of course) and left at the other end to give a good kick to start the journey back to the starting blocks more powerfully. The swimming itself is a matter of tapping the fire button exactly when your swimmer's arm reaches the water, which will speed-up your swimmer.

There is not much to say about the original - it plays as wonderfully as you could expect it to, with the given controls. One noteworthy observation would be, that it takes a couple of seconds for your swimmer to get from the starting block into the water, so you might want to anticipate the start gun a little. Unhappily, you cannot jump over the arriving swimmer in the Relay event with the next swimmer in line, but that's a default problem.

Some more noteworthy observations regarding the C64 version might come up as we progress through the other versions, and one such can be found on the ATARI ST: when you get to the other end of the pool, you will not have much time to prepare for the kick-back, due to the strangely restricted screen size and the amount of graphics shown due to it. Also, it seems to take about 3 seconds for your swimmer to get from the platform into water in this version. The AMIGA version otherwise plays very similarly to the ST version, but it gives you a bit more time for the kick-back.

The C64's closest competitors seem to have some issues regarding gameplay details. First of all, the ATARI 400/800 is basically similar enough to the original, but you have to push the fire button longer instead to make longer power strokes. Also, the swimmers seem to react to the power strokes with a bit more gusto, although the event does feel slightly lower here than in most other versions.

Screenshot from the Amstrad CPC version of Freestyle Relay.
The SPECTRUM, AMSTRAD and NEC versions are the most similar to each other in playability, although perhaps the Amstrad gets slightly closer to the original. Its problem is really with the graphics, more particularly the animation of your swimmer, which has less frames than in the original, so it's a bit more difficult to follow. All three versions will give you a false start warning just by pushing right before the start gun has been shot, even though it takes one second for your swimmer to jump off from the platform, and three seconds before you actually get to swim. Both Spectrum's and NEC's biggest problem is with scrolling, which slows down quite a lot at both ends of the pool. This makes it really difficult to see when to push the button or perform the kick-back.

In the APPLE ][ version, you start off by pressing the fire button to jump off the platform, instead of pushing the joystick right. In the middle of the pool, the animation gets too quick for you to see the swimmer's movements at best, but when approaching the ends, the animation slows down. Also, the right end of the pool feels a bit glitchy, like you would be turning back even before you reach the end. Both events feel really strange and not very playable.

One of the more curious version out there is unsurprisingly for the ATARI 2600. Somehow, the best way to play this event on it is to tap the fire button exactly when you hear the splash-like noise in order to make your swimmer go faster. The graphics can be deceiving, so you'd best ignore them. Still, the events play principally quite similarly to most of the other versions.

Happily, the SEGA MASTER SYSTEM only has the Dash event, but even that one seems like a bad choice. The only thing that seemed to have any effect on the swimmers was frantic tapping of buttons "1" and "2", but even then, making better progress seemed like a matter of luck.

The version I had the most problem to get co-operative with me was on the ATARI 7800, and it has both swimming events. I have no real idea how to control the swimmer in this version, as the original instructions don't seem to work too well here, nor the A2600 method. The only thing I could find that had some effect was pushing the button for the entire duration of when one of your swimmer's hands was above the water, but even that failed more than half the time for whatever reason. Really irritating and uncomfortable.
Screenshot from the Sega Master System version
of 100m Freestyle.

Since the Sega version is the only one not to feature both of the swimming events, I will make another radical decision, and choose to give only one score for both events, regardless of whether you get one or two swimming events for any particular machine. I admit, it's because I hate the events. Deal with it.

4. ATARI 400/800
7. ATARI 2600
9. APPLE ][
10. ATARI 7800


This event shares the place of my favourite event in this game with platform diving. As the title says, it's skeet shooting. You shoot clay pigeons. What's not to like? A round of this event consists of 25 targets, which appear in a standard sequence as you move through eight shooting positions. Unlike in most other clay pigeon shooters in other multi-event sports games of the time, gravity plays a big part in this event, so you need to sharpen up your focus here.

Again, here we have an event that relies much on visual elements, so it's pretty important that you can see everything clearly enough. The original C64 version has a bright cyan sky, with dark blue and red clay pigeons flying against it. Also, worth noting is that all the other nature elements are faintly drawn and strictly there for background purposes. The event plays quickly enough to be challenging, but not as quickly as to call it perfectly realistic. But there's a fine line between making a game playable and making a game realistic, and I prefer my games to be playable.

Continuing on the 8-bit line, the AMSTRAD version has an otherwise similar set of colours, but the background elements tend to mix with the blue skeets, because of similar colouring and not being unpronounced enough. Instead of having 25 skeets, this version has 32 skeets, which always go in a similar order: one from the left, one from the right, and then both - for all the eight positions.

The SPECTRUM version similarly has 32 skeets, which is understandable considering the conversion team. The clay pigeons now have no real colouring, only outlines against the background, which actually works rather well. What makes these two conversions almost stupidly easy are the way the clay pigeons always have the same flight path. I mean, you can even "save" some bullets here - when the two clay pigeons fly simultaneously, they always cross each other's flight path, and you can shoot them both with the same bullet at their crossing point.

Curiously, the ATARI 400/800 version uses dark blue clay pigeons against a dark cyan background, which isn't a very friendly combination, so you really have to focus your eyes on this one. Otherwise, it's quite playable and quick, much like the original.

As expected, the ATARI 2600 version has a very simplified look to it, which really works to its advantage. It even plays remarkably well, so it's easily one of the better versions of this event.

Screenshot from the Apple ][ version of Skeet Shooting.
The APPLE ][ version has well enough colouring - white skeets with slight black outlines against light blue sky. Happily, it even plays quite close to the original, if not quite as fluently. But it's still one of the better versions of the event.

...which is something that cannot be said of the NEC version. Somehow, the programmers have managed to break the laws of physics in some part. The clay pigeon coming from the right side starts floating upwards gradually when reaching the left side of the screen. But it wouldn't be too bad, if the event didn't play a bit too quickly for comfort. At least the skeet are plain black against a relatively naturally colourful background.

From the 16-bits, the ATARI ST version also slightly disobeys the laws of physics. Either that, or the event is played in slow-motion, I cannot decided which it is. Apart from that, it's not too bad. The AMIGA version is slightly quicker, so it's preferable of the two. In these two cases, the colouring is similar to the original, although perhaps the background graphics are a bit too pronounced.

2. ATARI 2600
5. APPLE ][
9. NEC PC-8801


Because Pole Vault and Platform Diving would have been really difficult to get to work on the Atari 2600, particularly with all the other events in already, Epyx took the easy way out of the problem and replaced the events with something more suitable. As it would be unfair not to give the A2600 any points for not being in the same league as the rest of them, I will give these two exclusive events - along with the completely different Gymnastics event - a reasonable amount of points that I think are suitable enough, and hopefully fair as well.

Screenshots from Atari 2600 exclusive events: Hurdles (left) and Rowing (right).

The first event in the A2600 version is Hurdles. For those of you who don't know what it stands for, it means running a certain predetermined distance and jumping over fence-like obstacles that are placed every 10 meters or so. The way how it plays here is superbly simple: you just push the joystick right to run, and push up (diagonal is okay) every time you need to jump.

The final event in the A2600 version is Rowing, which already appeared earlier in Summer Games II on other platforms. Again, this event is very straight-forward, which suits the A2600 just fine. You just need to time moving your oars back and forth in a manner that will keep you in a steady, fast speed.


From all the versions in which the media form supports the possibility of keeping high scores, neither the Amiga nor the Atari ST versions have this feature. Even all the tape versions have the world records lists, although in those cases, saving the world records is impossible. Still, even in the tape versions, all the world records stay in memory for as long as the machine stays turned on. Too bad the disk versions of the Choice Software conversions only have a tape-based system for the world records, as in not keeping the records on disk.

The disinclusion of the high scores list on the 16-bits seems to suggest that the conversion team focused strictly on an instant player-versus-player type competitive match gaming style, which is not a very good long-term plan. Also, the 16-bit conversions were released in 1992, which would suggest that the conversion team had very little faith in the more modern gamers' longevity and faithfulness to stay with the said machines. Also, by the time all the console versions (A2600, A7800, SMS) had been released, battery memory-based save feature had been introduced to game cartridges, but none of these versions had that feature.

For this bit, I will give zero points for the versions that have no world records; one point for those that have them, but cannot save them for later use; and two points for those that keep the world records.

A7800, SMS, CPC, SPE: 1
A2600, AMIGA & ATARI ST: 0


As I did for my Winter Games comparison, I will show you a couple of different types of calculations that might or might not have their merits for representing the real scores for this section in the Final Overall scores in Part 2. Again, if a version has less than all the original events, or some different events than the original, as the A2600 version does, the first method of calculating scores will be useless for their part. So, this one is just a demonstration of how wrong the mathematical results would look in this case, and base my further balanced ratings on the differences. The order of events in the calculations is the order of their regular appearance in the original game, unless otherwise mentioned. The Atari 2600 version gets +2 points for each unique event in this case - including Gymnastics. The last number in the counted scores is for the world records table, as explained above.

COMMODORE 64: 7+6+7+2+10+10+9+2 = TOTAL 53
COMMODORE AMIGA: 9+4+9+8+4+9+6+0 = TOTAL 49
ATARI ST: 6+3+8+7+3+8+4+0 = TOTAL 39
ATARI 8-BIT: 8+6+1+6+7+7+2+2 = TOTAL 39
ZX SPECTRUM: 4+5+5+3+8+5+7+1 = TOTAL 38
AMSTRAD CPC: 5+1+4+3+5+6+3+1 = TOTAL 28
APPLE ][: 3+5+2+1+9+2+5+2 = TOTAL 27
ATARI 2600: 5+4+8+2+2+2+0 = TOTAL 23
NEC PC-8801: 2+4+6+1+1+5+1+2 = TOTAL 22
ATARI 7800: 6+3+2+6+1+1 = TOTAL 19
SEGA MASTER SYSTEM: 1+2+4+2+3+1 = TOTAL 13

Surely, that looks a bit off, doesn't it? Even if we took out only the events each of us is the least likely to ever play and calculate it again, it just wouldn't work properly. So, I need to go back to the system I made for Winter Games. What it means, is I will give 2 points for each winning version of any event, 1 point for a good or at least relatively playable conversion, and 0 points for a really bad one. This time, I will give the three "unique" events on A2600 one point each. Also, this time, only the inclusion of a world records table will give a point.

COMMODORE 64: 1+1+1+0+2+2+2+1 = TOTAL 10 = 6
COMMODORE AMIGA: 2+1+2+2+1+1+1+0 = TOTAL 10 = 6
ZX SPECTRUM: 1+1+0+1+1+1+1+1 = TOTAL 7 = 5
ATARI 8-BIT: 1+1+0+1+1+1+0+1 = TOTAL 6 = 4
ATARI ST: 1+0+1+1+0+1+1+0 = TOTAL 5 = 3
ATARI 2600: 0+1+1+1+1+1+0 = TOTAL 5 =3
AMSTRAD CPC: 1+0+0+1+1+1+0+1 = TOTAL 5 = 3
APPLE ][: 1+1+0+0+1+0+1+1 = TOTAL 5 = 3
NEC PC-8801: 0+1+1+0+0+1+0+1 = TOTAL 4 = 2
SEGA MASTER SYSTEM: 0+1+1+0+1+1 = TOTAL 4 = 2
ATARI 7800: 1+0+0+1+0+1 = TOTAL 3 = 1

Although it's not all that much different from the previous list, this might look closer to the truth, but only one version of it. We'll see if the score should be that way for the final calculations, coming up in part two of this comparison later this month. Hope you enjoyed it so far!

Comments, suggestions and corrections are as welcome as ever, although for the duration of July, I'll try not to take any notice of them. =P

1 comment:

  1. I love this game, and many other Epyx!
    I have many versions of SUMMER GAMES,
    including the PC-8801