Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Inside Outing (The Edge, 1988)

Design and main programming by Michael St. Aubyn.

Programming for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum versions by Pamela Roberts for Timedata. Graphics for Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC versions by Michael St. Aubyn. Graphics for the ZX Spectrum version by Mike Smith. Music for the 8-bit versions by Wally Beben.

Originally published for Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum by The Edge in 1988. Alternative titles were "Raffles" in Germany and Epyx's release "Devon Aire in the Hidden Diamond Caper" in North America.

Atari ST and Commodore Amiga versions:
Atari ST programming by Michael St. Aubyn, Commodore Amiga programming by Glyn Kendall; Graphics by Mike Marchant; Sounds by Dave Lowe. Published as "Raffles" in Europe by The Edge, and "Devon Aire in the Hidden Diamond Caper" in North America by Epyx in 1989.



FRGCB's long time readers might recognize my general indifference towards isometrically viewed 3D arcade adventure games, but the keyword there is "general". I do like them when they are comfortable to play, and The Edge's Inside Outing just about crosses that threshold for me, which is why I've had this game lurking for its moment on my to-do list for a few years now. A request from a Lemon64 forum user by the name of MinerWilly (apparently a fellow countryman, too!) forced me to finally let this beast have its share of blog space.

Partly because of its three different release titles - "Inside Outing", "Raffles" and "Devon Aire in the Hidden Diamond Caper" - the game never really got the exposure and fame that it deserves, but remains a guilty pleasure for the few lucky ones that ever picked it up. The old World of Spectrum, accessed through the Internet Archive, shows a score of 8.19 from 34 votes from 2018. At CPC-Power, the voted score is 14.67 from 20.00, and the review at CPC Game Reviews has a 7 out of 10. Lemon64 lists the game under two names - Inside Outing has a score of 7.8 from 31 votes, while Devon Aire has 7.5 from 10 votes. From the 16-bits, the Atari ST version has been voted only 5 times at Atarimania, reaching a score of 6.2, while the entry at LemonAmiga shows a fairly similar 6.1 from 10 votes. So, it looks like an 8-bit winner already.



This game of multiple titles only gives some sort of idea what the game is all about in its North American release by Epyx, at least if you don't have that much of an idea over English sayings and idioms. What we can see as soon as the game launches is, that it's an isometric adventure game, somewhat in the same style as Knight Lore, Head Over Heels, Bobby Bearing and such. After that, we need to consult the cover leaflet.

You are, as the instructions say, a thief. You have been given a mission to retrieve twelve gems by Lady Crutcher, whose deceased husband had left all his richnesses "safely" scattered around the house. Basically, what you need to do is find a gem, bring it to Lady Crutcher by dropping one in front of her, and she'll pick it up. Of course, your job will be made more difficult by mutated canary birds and mice. Some of the gems are more deeply hidden, so you need to pull and push things around - experiment as you wish. After retrieving all twelve gems, you are given access to a hidden safe, which contains the key to the front door, because obviously, a burglar cannot escape a house he doesn't have a key to.

Inside Outing/Devon Aire/Raffles has been criticized largely for its high difficulty level and odd logic, but praised for its atmosphere and smooth playability. For my part, this doesn't really affect my opinions much, since I have never completed one single isometric adventure game. But I do enjoy exploring this game a lot more than I ever did the likes of the Great Escape, Chimera and Alien 8, just to name a few. If you do enjoy isometric adventures, this might be right up your alley, even if it's a fair bit different from the usual lot.



As old as this loading times information is getting on so many levels, this particular game offers an interesting variable in the form of differently titled releases. Unfortunately, some localized versions were only ever released on disk, namely the "Devon Aire" version released by Epyx, so I can't make a proper loading time comparison with that one. Just as a reminder, the explanation for this is, that there are so many types of disk drives for the C64 alone, that have differing disk reading speeds, that I have no realistic possibilities of getting all the disk loading times reported by myself, hence only the various tape loading times have been collected.

AMSTRAD CPC - Inside Outing, org: 5 min 34 sec
AMSTRAD CPC - Inside Outing, Dro Soft: 4 min 51 sec
COMMODORE 64 - Inside Outing: 2 min 33 sec
COMMODORE 64 - Raffles: 1 min 52 sec
ZX SPECTRUM - Inside Outing: 3 min 51 sec
ZX SPECTRUM - Raffles: 3 min 43 sec

Not very interestingly, the re-releases are quicker to load than the original ones, but on a more cheerful note, the C64 "Raffles" version has to be one of the quickest official tape loaders FRGCB has reported so far. The AMSTRAD tapes are the slowest of the bunch, as usual, and the SPECTRUM tapes fall between the other two 8-bits.

Loading screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64 (EU), ZX Spectrum, Amiga/Atari ST (EU).
Bottom row, left to right: Commodore 64 (US), Amstrad CPC, Amiga/Atari ST (US).

The game title variations had a couple of odd consequences to the loading screens. Nothing too odd, I'm afraid, but rather, the loading screen is completely missing in the C64 version of Raffles, and the SPECTRUM version of Raffles still uses the original Inside Outing loading screen, despite what's written on the tape label. The two 16-bit versions only appeared as Raffles and Devon Aire, and all three loading screens have such vast differences, that they need not even be explained in words. However, the SPECTRUM loading screen of Inside Outing is curiously very different from the C64 and AMSTRAD loaders, and it gets drawn onto the screen in a very peculiar manner, as well. You will see it animated in the accompanying video in the end section.



One of the reasons why I dislike certain types of isometric adventure games so much, is the uncomfortable controls, often resulting from a lack of freedom in movement. In this particular game, though, the control method feels more designed to the sole purpose of this game, instead of as a multipliable game engine, even though it easily could have been multiplied with a similar purpose in mind. Anyway, the way you control the thief is, any straight direction on your joystick/keyboard is a corresponding diagonal on the screen - up being up-left, down being down-right, and so on. The designated fire button jumps, so that leaves three actions you need to perform on your keyboard. This basically means, that the game is easier to play on the keyboard, unless you happen to have a reconfigurable multipurpose game pad in your use... which you most likely don't. And certainly didn't in 1988.

So, the keyboard controls, then. The C64 version has the directional keys set up as A, Z, O and P, with SPACE as the jump button. Picking up items happens with F1, dropping items with F3, and pulling pieces of furniture happens with F7. The game pauses from Run/Stop and restarts from CLR. The SPECTRUM version is controlled with Q, A, M, N and CAPS SHIFT, while the more action-related keys are P, D and ENTER, in the respective order to the previous. H pauses and R restarts. The AMSTRAD version rather neatly uses the cursor keys for movement, with jump being designated for the COPY key, pick up for SPACE, drop for CTRL and pull for the small ENTER key. Rather logically, P pauses and ESC restarts. All of this information is more neatly viewable in the game's instructional leaflet.

As the 16-bit versions came a bit later, the 16-bit controls are only shown in the 16-bit manuals. If the manual is to be believed, the AMIGA version can only be controlled with the joystick, while the ATARI ST version can also be controlled with the keypad arrows, with ALT being the jump button. For both versions, the action keys are the same: pick up with SPACE, drop with SHIFT, pull with RETURN, toggle pause with P, quit with Q, and - lo and behold - save and load the game with S and L. Rather convenient, since the game can take easily a couple of hours to complete even if you know what you're doing. If you don't know what you're doing, you might as well prepare yourself for months of exploration.

Now, as far as I know, there are only three gems that can be found relatively easily, and only one of them can be found without any aid from other items. On the 16-bits, another one is visible, but you need to use another item to gain access to it. But since my personal experience with the game only extends to the time you start wondering where to look for the fourth item, I will focus my playability comparison to how the game actually controls, how much of slowdown you experience while playing, and some other minor tidbits.

Probably the most notable little tidbit is, that the 16-bit versions have 3 lives to spare, while the 8-bits force you to make do with a single one, which is a bit overestimating anyone's skills. The second most notable little tidbit is, that the 16-bit versions are a bit larger, and you need to collect 16 gems instead of only 12, but I suppose the number of lives somehow correlates to the amount of work needed to be done. But then, as I already mentioned, you also get to save and load your game on the 16-bits, which makes the entire experience a lot more sensible.

At least there are no insta-deaths in Inside Outing/Raffles/Devon Aire. You only have two types of roaming enemies - the pigs and the canary birds, both of which only drain your energy slowly. The pigs can be stopped temporarily by feeding them cheese, but there doesn't seem to be a similar strategy for the canary birds. If you happen to be in contact with fire or something as dangerous, your energy will be drained more quickly. The game also drains your energy on a timely basis, so obviously, there has to be some sort of way to replenish your energy - and that's when the wine comes to use. Try to find full glasses of wine, which by picking up will instantly replenish your energy. I have yet to find a way to actually refill the glasses, but I'm not really sure that's even possible here.

The only thing that really annoys me about this game is the random way all the enemies move around, even though they clearly have a tendency to center upon you. With the pigs, you can see their movements pretty clearly, even though anticipating them is next to impossible, but with the canary birds, you are left to guess their actual position, since they're always flying around on your head's levelm, so it's hard to tell for certain, at which exact point in the room they are, because they cast no shadows. But all the versions are on the same level with this.

Because the game controls pretty much the same way on every platform, there's only the placement of the action keys to be criticized. Frankly, there are no optimal choices here, but each version has its own positive sides. If you play on the C64, the function keys work nicely, since they're all clumped together. The SPECTRUM version has a logical set of action keys, mapped somewhat intuitively according to the first letter of each word of action - Pick up, Drop, Halt, Restart. The rest of them are a bit less logical and oddly placed, but as I said, each have their positives.

The only thing left to dwell on is the speed of the game. All versions exhibit some amount of slowdown whenever there are any other moving things in the room, and more so when any of the movable objects start moving around. In this matter, there are so little differences in game speed, that it really doesn't matter. When a room is otherwise free of other moving objects, though, the AMSTRAD version has the quickest walking speed, followed by the 16-bits, and the last one being the SPECTRUM version, but you so rarely get to experience such freedom that it matters very little. The more pressing matter is the speed at which the rooms get drawn, which is easily the quickest on the 16-bits (perhaps just a little quicker on the ST than on the AMIGA), the next one being the SPECTRUM version, and the AMSTRAD and C64 versions pretty much sharing the last spot in this.

Unfortunately for some, speed isn't everything, although it does add a good dose of playing comfort on the long run. It's just as, if not more important to have good controls so you don't have to wave your arms around the keyboard all the time, or worse yet, switch between keyboard and joystick all the time. This is why the ATARI ST version takes the lead here, and the multiple control options solidify the third place for the ZX SPECTRUM version.




Usually, when you see an isometric adventure game that was primarily designed for the 8-bit computers, chances are they're monochrome and have very samey looks all over the map, regardless of which version you're playing. Happily, this is not the case with Inside Outing/Raffles/Devon Aire.

Starting room (title screen). Left to right:
Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Atari ST/Commodore Amiga.

The only unfortunate thing about this game is, that it doesn't have much of anything graphical to offer aside from the in-game graphics, because you don't even get a dedicated title screen. The AMIGA and ST versions have the loading screen altered slightly for the sake of having a title screen, but other than that, all versions start off by showing the starting room, so that is what I have included in the above picture for all versions; the AMIGA and ST versions look so much alike that one of them should do.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version.

As you saw from the collage of starting screens, the SPECTRUM version looks pretty much exactly like any other isometric adventure game on the Spectrum - monochrome as far as the playing area goes, and some other colours in the two info panels, but no background graphics. As far as I can tell, the entire house consists of three different room colours, which are yellow, blue and green, with some lighting differences here and there. On the plus side, everything looks very detailed, but on the minus side, you get no floor patterns and the wall papers are largely very similar.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.
To be fair, the C64 version doesn't look all that much different in sense of style. There are a notably greater amount of colours in the house, and the thief is consistent in his colouring. The info panels are a bit more stylish here than in the SPECTRUM version, as they have some paneling that change colour according to the rooms, but the info stays the same colour everywhere. Overall, the presentation is neat enough, and looks like its own thing instead of a Speccy port.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.

In the AMSTRAD version, the rooms are pretty much restricted to using three colours on the walls - blue, red and green - and the floor is always pitch black. However, since the other items in the rooms are more colourful, and the general look is very similar to the C64 version, this choice of colouring does appear to its advantage over the C64 version. Also worth mentioning is, that the info panel is otherwise similarly paneled as on the C64, but here the paneling always stays red, which gives the game a nice bit of constancy. Yes, the SPECTRUM version is similarly constant, but without the paneling, that one feels comparatively barren.

Screenshots from the Atari ST version.

The ATARI ST version, or I should say, the 16-bit versions both have a more natural look to the house, its furnishings and floor and wall design. No sharp colours, all write marbles and brown woods and other natural-looking design choices. Even the info panels have a wooden look. Although this could be considered a good thing for most of the time, it does make this game feel a bit blander than it should. Otherwise, there's such an odd feel about this game with all the mutated pigs and canary birds, as well as the lonesome old lady in her bedroom, that the look of realism feels like its going to waste. Don't get me wrong; technically, it looks good enough to be called better than any of the 8-bits, but it just feels a bit off.

Screenshots from the Commodore Amiga version.

Of course, the AMIGA version looks almost exactly the same, but there's some minor differences in the lighting and palette - barely noticable, really. So I decided to use pictures of other rooms here.

I suppose, with the above commentary, the order should be pretty clear here. And just because we're being more technical here than artistically oriented, doesn't mean there isn't a bit of truth to these scores. Just don't hold them to any real value.




Okay, time for the easy part, and we'll start with the easiest one to deal with. The SPECTRUM version only plays 48k sounds, so it's bleepity bleep all the way. The title music is passable, but as it only utilises single note at a time with no trickery, it's a bit hurtful to listen to for longer periods of time. There are only two sound effects in the SPECTRUM version, as far as I've heard at least: one chirp-like noise for losing energy and getting a gem successfully delivered to Lady Crutcher, and one sound that can definitely be identified as the ringing of a telephone. Overall, rather poor, but I suppose the game itself takes so much of memory, that there must not have been much room left for sounds, if they aimed the game strictly for 48k users.

In the AMSTRAD version, you don't get any music, but it has a lot more sound effects instead. The majority of time is filled by the tapping of your feet as you walk around the house, but you also get to hear your energy being drained, items getting delivered and picked up and telephone ringing and some other noises as well, all made with good taste and to the advantage of the AY-chip.

The C64 version features the title music in all its possible 8-bit glory, and it really is one of Wally Beben's best works from his career, definitely up to his hypnotic 20+ minute masterpiece in the C64 Tetris. While the sound effects are more or less as rich as in the AMSTRAD version, I don't think they're quite as subtle and fitting for each occasion. I found the muffled thumping of your walking especially annoying on the long run, but the rest of the sound effects are also a bit hit and miss. Because of the music, though, I'd say the C64 and AMSTRAD versions are on the same level.

Of course, the ATARI ST version features the music that the AMSTRAD should have already had, and if the producers were wise enough, they would have made a 128k SPECTRUM version as well to have some better sounds in it. But no. Anyway, the music, as usual, is played only during the title screen, and it features more percussions than the C64 rendition, and it feels a bit faster as well. The sound effects aren't quite as plentiful as you would expect, because most of them are samples. Because the 16-bit versions have more than one life to spare, you actually get an "ughh" noise uttered by our thief when he loses a life. The canary birds actually make tweeting noises, and the pigs squeal almost constantly when they're in the same room. Really loud, really irritating. The only actual disappointment is the missing noise of your footsteps, but that's not too bad, all things considered.

As usual, the AMIGA version uses samples all over the place, so even the music has properly sampled drums and a nice synth bass as well as various types of other instruments - it really sounds almost like the theme was recorded by the Art of Noise. The sound effects are superbly made - none of them are uselessly obtrusive, yet there's plenty of sounds to listen to. You get your footsteps in a nice soft, but wooden clunk; the canary birds sound like... well, I assume like canary birds; the pigs sound like little squeaky pig toys; the sounds for damage and getting jobs done are plastic, yet exhuberant; the telephone ringing sounds like from the 1930's, and your death noise is more death-noise-like than just an utterance of getting too tired to continue. I wouldn't precisely call it a masterpiece in sound design, but it's clearly the best of the lot.




As is the case so often, there is no optimal version of Inside Outing/Raffles/Devon Aire. Considering
the matter strictly through technicalities, it's clear that the 16-bit rule over the 8-bits, which leads us to this unforgiving mathematical set of scores:

Playability 4, Graphics 4, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 11
1. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 11
2. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 1, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
3. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 5
4. SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 1, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 4

However, there is such a thing as gut feeling, which sometimes rules over logic. While the gameplay is definitely honed to... well, not perfection, but as good as it can get with this game, on the 16-bits, the 8-bits have quite enough of area to cover, and despite the unfair number of a single life, the 8-bit versions are all manageable. The graphics are more of a matter of taste, but also a matter of what kind of atmosphere they give along with the sounds. As all versions share the lack of music during play, they're all surprisingly close to each other in that regard. For my money, I thought the AMSTRAD version had the best overall atmosphere to it, while the C64 version had the best overall 8-bit experience, complete with music and a larger number of colours. The SPECTRUM version didn't inspire me in similar ways, but as it's a matter of taste, some of you might enjoy that one more than any of the others because of the classic monochrome graphics and minuscule sound effects. If I were to give an alternative order of preference for this game, which I will, it has a 95% probability of looking like this:


And I'm not even that much of an Amstrad fan. Anyway, as usual, here's a video comparison to go along with all this written nonsense.

After writing and video'ing all of the above, I came across a modification of the SPECTRUM version for the 128k Spectrums. It features AY-music from the Atari ST version, less of slowdown, alternative controls, multiple loading screens and a cheat mode. It's currently in beta stage, and only available in either a TR-DOS disk image or an SCL image, but by following this link, you can also play the 128k version in a browser. It really is a nice upgrade to the original Spectrum version, so whenever it comes out of beta stage, let's hope it comes available in other formats as well.

That's it for now, folks - hope that proved at least as interesting as isometric games usually are. Thanks for reading, see you soon with more obscure game comparisons!

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