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Arcade Conversions
by Taper/Triad

What was Hot and what was Not?

Do you remember the days when the hottest and most technically advanced games originated in the arcades? When part of your weekly allowance was exchanged into quarters and with much anticipation rolled down the coin-slots of the latest offerings?

If lack of funds, or nearby arcades for that matter, was a problem you could always trust the software houses to bring out arcade conversions for your favourite platform. However not all of them were worthy of their arcade-parents, or your wallet...

In the early days both the arcade hardware and the home-micros had 8-bit CPU's. Even though the graphics and at times also the sound capabilities were superior on the arcade motherboards, the similarities between the platforms gave the micros a fighting chance in reproducing good conversions. This became increasingly hard for our 8-bit machines as arcade games progressed onto faster 16-bit CPU's, more memory and special co-processors.

However, there are quite some good conversions available also from later arcade games, but the number of bad conversions definitely increased. The blame for this can not alone be attributed to the arcade games running on faster hardware, but also sloppy conversion work. Especially in the later years of the C64's commercial life, there are quite some examples of conversions being rushed for monetary reasons, titles which could have become good games if only more craftmanship was put into them.

In our previous issue we gathered some TRIAD members and conducted a round-table discussion about joysticks. That article proved quite popular, so we decided to go at it again - but this time discussing arcade conversions, focusing on the Commodore 64 of course.

Let's begin by discussing early conversions from 8-bit arcade games, and then go from there into the future...

Taper: I must begin with a real classic! Pac-Man, released by Namco in the arcades back in 1980, two years before the launch of the C64. The official conversion for the C64 was made by Atari and was published 1983. It's a decent conversion, but the play field is stretched, which kinda makes it look like you are playing a 4:3 game on a 16:9 display, if you get the comparison. In some ways, the unofficial and unlicensed Pac-Man clone Munchy is closer to the arcade parent than Atari's conversion. Still, Atari's effort on the C64 is way better than what the poor Atari 2600 gamers got on their machine...

Nith: There are so many arcade ports out there it's hard to cover them all... As a frequent reader of the Retro Gamer magazine I came across a lot of articles about arcade games where in many cases there's a review for every single home computer port. Some that come to mind are Dig Dug, Rampage and Xenophobe, where I personally don't know both versions or even one in some cases. However, over the holidays I fire up my MAME Arcade cabinet from time to time to play with my sister (mostly Bubble Bobble), and one day a game caught my attention and I gave it a try: Wonderboy. I think the conversion is pretty good, though the levels felt somewhat shortened on the C64. Most importantly though is the fact that I think the C64 version which I had back then was the first time I ever saw the TRIAD logo!

Tao: I want to mention a few titles I regard as excellent conversions; Bubble Bobble, Commando (obviously the hacked N0S version is even better), Arkanoid and Ghost'n'goblins.

Taper: Bubble Bobble is indeed an excellent conversion, just as Tao says. The arcade original runs on dual 6mhz Z80 CPU's, with an added Z80 cpu handling just the sound. Still, the C64 conversion contains everything the arcade parent does and plays just as well.

Wonderboy felt pretty dated when I last tried the arcade original (I have an original PCB laying around somewhere here), and I actually prefer the C64 conversion to the original these days. Could be that the music is better, but somehow it feels faster in some way as well.

Also I like Commando, both the original and the terrific N0S remake. The same goes for Ghost'n'goblins. About Arkanoid; it rocks, but does the C64 version support paddles as well as joystick? I must check up on that. The original arcade game plays with spinners, which is more like a paddle than a joystick.

Nith: I'm pretty sure that Arkanoid supports paddles on the C64 [fact checked and it's indeed correct]. And one remark regarding Bubble Bobble: It's fairly complete, but had one major change (glitch?) in the collision checks: When the player jumps into a wall above his head, it was possible to move left/right while being in the wall. This made certain levels significantly more easy than in the arcade version where it wasn't possible to move in that situation.

Tao: I always thought the jump through walls thing was intended.

Taper: Yes, me too. Interesting fact there, Nith! Even though I played through the whole of Bubble Bobble on arcade together with Joyride/Noice, I didn't reflect on that difference between the versions myself.

DJ Gruby: My personal all-time favorite port is undoubtedly Bomb Jack!

Taper: I really like the Bomb Jack conversion, just as DJ Gruby does. It's a solid effort of a fast paced platformer. However, I hear there is a new conversion being developed right now, which probably will come even closer to the look of the arcade parent. Gameplay-wise it's probably hard to improve much on the original port.

Tao: While not excellent, I find 1942 and Gauntlet being good conversions as well.

Taper: As for 1942, I would personally rank it as an excellent conversion. The music/sound on the C64 version totally blows the arcade parent with it's annoying beeping out of the water. The arcade version has cleaner graphics, though. In comparison, the C64 version also crush the NES version, which adopts the annoying beeping from the arcade game, and also have a really buggy scroll-routine in place.

Gauntlet is a great game, but I agree that the conversion only ranks as good and doesn't live up to excellent.

Tao: Star Wars (all three of them) stinks, though...

Taper: I haven't actually played the original vector Star Wars arcade game, so I can't comment on how well the conversions turned out, but I was under the impression that there is two conversions, not three?

Tao: It might well be that my memory betrays me regarding Star Wars. I'm getting old, and I probably last played them back in the tape days...

Taper: I checked up on Star Wars, and there seem to be two conversions, the old one from Parker Brothers and the newer one from Domark. However, I wonder if you perhaps thought about Empire Strikes Back as well?

Tao: I did mean Star Wars as in the series, not Star Wars as in the original title of A New Hope...

Taper: Ah, that explains it then.

ilesj: I'd like to mention Buggy Boy, since I was really surprised that it was an arcade conversion. I've never seen it as a cabinet, nor even played it on MAME. It's just that the C64 game is an excellent C64 racing game that does not feel like a compromise in any way. Like the game was always made for C64.

Taper: Really good point about Buggy Boy! It's a great game, and also I learned that it was originally from the arcades way later. I still haven't played the arcade version, actually.

Lynx: Does the Asteroids emulator from Norbert Kehrer count as an arcade conversion?

Taper: Well, yes I assume it kinda does... and I hardly think you can do a better conversion than that from a vector display to a raster display. I mean, it's an actual emulator so perhaps it shouldn't be labelled a conversion after all... it's great none the less.

As Nith pointed out earlier, there are so many conversions available for the C64. And not only that - in many cases we have two conversions, one for the European market and one for USA. If I remember correctly, the US port of Ikari Warriors sucked while the European version was fine. When it came to Street Fighter (the first game, mind you) the US one was fine while the European sucked.

Nith: Yes, that's another thing I heard about.. Bionic Commando had an ok port in Europe while the US port looked really bad on the C64.

Taper: So, let's move away from the 8-bit arcade games into the next generation, the 16-bit systems. Many of them were powered by the Motorola 68000, some utilizing a second CPU, most commonly an 8-bit Z80, as a dedicated sound-CPU. Later games ran dual 68000 CPU's as well as the additional sound CPU, quite a few prominent SEGA titles were wired that way. Some of the last 68k based SEGA boards were even powered by no less than three 68000 CPUs running at 12.5mhz, as well as an 8mhz Z80.

As far as I know, the only arcade game running on such a set up that was converted to the C64 was G-Loc R360. The conversion wasn't very successful, but probably holds the record for the largest difference between source and target platform when it comes to C64 ports. One contender might be Hard Drivin', though. It houses one 68000 CPU but several custom co-processors running on 40-50 MHz speeds. As we all know, Hard Drivin' might be the most failed conversion ever for the C64.

I personally have some very dear memories of Golden Axe. I spent one week of vacation in Greece playing Final Fight in an arcade, and Golden Axe in the hotel lobby (why are there no more arcade games in hotel lobbies...?).

I was very pleased with the C64 conversion. Sure, like many conversions it stripped away the 2-player option, but the rest was there. Most importantly the playability was there. And Jeroen Tel's soundtrack beats the original arcade soundtrack.

I recently revisited both the arcade game and the C64 conversion, and while you can't really argue that gameplay is very deep in this kind of games (which not necessarily is a problem), beside the 2-player mode missing I actually think the C64 conversion is more fun to play than the arcade parent. However, I heard some people think the C64 conversion stinks! So, what do you guys think of it?

Tao: Honestly it's been so long since I played it that the only thing I remember is the awesome music. For almost every arcade conversion on the C64 it can be said that the music is better than the arcade. Except Out Run...

Taper: True... The Out Run music on C64 is just equally good as the arcade original... ;)

ilesj: There weren't much arcades around when I grew up. Being a bit younger than most of you, most of my arcade memories are from the 16-bit and 3D-hardware machines. So it often happened that I learned only much later that many games I liked playing on C64 were actually arcade conversions. And often it made sense. It kind of explained why some games felt so "pushed" when thinking about them in retrospective.

Taper: I think what ilesj is trying to say is that the rest of us are old gits... ;)

Tao: There are a lot of lousy 16-bit conversions. Out Run and Operation Wolf for instance.

Taper: Naturally, as arcade hardware developed - and keeping in mind that the arcades always contained top of the line hardware, it would be increasingly difficult to make conversions for hardware a lot less capable. However, as long as a title was popular enough we could bet our asses that a conversion would be made.

However, it seems like Tao is a lot harder judging the 16-bit conversions than I am, as I'm ranking Operation Wolf as a really good game on the C64. It will always be hard to convert an arcade game that offers a heavy Uzi in front of you to a home computer, but I think the C64 version does a really good job at it.

And, I know I might be in minority here, but I also like the Out Run conversion. There is no denying that Turbo Out Run for the C64 is way more technically advanced, but at least for me the original conversion captured the playability of the arcade game in a good way, and the music was excellent. That some things were left out in the conversion process can't be denied - but the game was still a lot of fun to play.

I recently played the Out Run conversion for Sega Megadrive. While graphics are quite good, music and also playability is not as good as the C64 version offers. So, I still think Out Run on the C64 gets quite some undeserved bashing!

ilesj: Talking about racing game conversions and powerful sprite scaling arcade hardware, I think Power Drift is an impressive and entertaining conversion. Sure it lacks a lot of features from the original, but still resembles the arcade game and works really well on its own.

Lynx: Maybe Operation Wolf is a good conversion, but the game itself is awful.

Taper: Are you guys sure you're not talking about the sequel, Operation Thunderbolt? That one was pretty dire... Operation Wolf on the other hand - great game! Take my word for it! :)

Glad to see I'm not the only one who enjoyed the Power Drift conversion, it was solid and didn't feel rushed. The arcade original is ever better though, I must confess.

Tao: Two more that I didn't like was Afterburner and Combat school.

Taper: The Combat School conversion is decent if you ask me, but nothing to get too excited about I guess. As I have an After Burner arcade in my garage, I can verify that especially the European C64 conversion, from Activision, is a very weak effort. It could have been done a whole lot better, and for once the Americans did just that! The US version from Mindscape is a whole lot better, but there are still other C64 games in the same genre I would rather play. Typhoon comes to mind.

While discussing After Burner I also want to mention its cousin, Thunder Blade, which runs on the exact same hardware platform (dual 68000 CPU's running on 12.5mhz with a 4mhz Z80 as sound CPU - essentially a beefed up Out Run hardware able to display twice the amount of sprites on screen). Thunder Blade is probably a game even more difficult to convert to the C64, with it's sprite-scaling pseudo 3D. Still, I think Chris Butler did a really good job converting it! Sure, the movement of the environment is choppy but not entirely displeasing to watch, and most importantly - the gameplay and fun is there. It's a much better conversion than either of the two After Burner games.

Nith: I will see to it that I play the Wonderboy sequel, Wonderboy in Monsterland, some time soon since I remember this was also a pretty good port. Mostly played it on the SEGA Master System, though.

Taper: Wonderboy in Monsterland is a great game, but was that a computer/console exclusive or an arcade conversion...? The C64 version of Wonderboy in Monsterland was well done in any case.

Nith: Wonderboy in Monsterland definitely had an arcade version, saw it a while back. Also Wonderboy 3 was an arcade game, but that never made it onto the C64 as far as I can tell.

Taper: In one way it's a bit strange to learn that Wonderboy in Monsterland was an arcade game. It has quite some non-arcade paced features, like buying weapons in shops and talking to characters if I recall correctly. Most arcade games are more fast paced to ensure a steady inflow of coins...

I don't think we discussed Ninja Spirit by the way... I was rather disappointed when I revisited the arcade game, it was not at all as good as I remember it. However, it was pleasant playing the C64 conversion - again it's an example of when a conversion is better than the arcade game its trying to mimic. Ninja Spirit still holds up quite nicely on our favourite 8-bitter!

Also SMASH TV must be mentioned, it is an excellent conversion! Again, only one-player mode made it into the game, but it still rocks! The SNES version was even better, though. I would love to see N0stalgia tinker with this one, if anyone can top the SNES offering on the C64, it's them!

Nith: Not only the 8-bit Bubble Bobble port was great, also the 16-bit sequel Rainbow Islands is a fantastic conversion for the C64.

Taper: Yes, Rainbow Islands is such a good one, that's for sure. I can't really think of anything that I dislike in that conversion! Except for the fact that they didn't include the three hidden islands from the arcade game perhaps, but I think that is true for all the home computer versions.

The same praise can sadly not be said about two other 16-bit conversions I must mention. Two real stinkers in my book...

First up is Final Fight. The arcade game came out in 1989 and is one of my absolute favourites, containing really big sprites, colourful characters and above all - good button-mashing gameplay! The C64 conversion came out a year later and was published by US Gold. It's one of the most disappointing conversions ever. Sure, it's a hard task converting a game running on a much more powerful platform (the Capcom CPS1 in this case), but there is simply no excuse to release a pile of crap like this. Not only is the game really ugly, it retains none of the playability and you can jump-kick through the whole game - something certainly not possible in the arcades. If you want a good side-scrolling beat'em'up on the C64 with big sprites, go play Bop'n'Rumble instead of this crap.

Street Fighter 2 is next up in my hall of shame. I've always preferred SNK's King Of Fighters series in the arcades, but I totally acknowledge that SF2 is a fine fighter. The SF2 C64 conversion is another story, though. Just like Final Fight, it's also a pile of shit. And - surprise - it's US Gold responsible again! This conversion is, if possible, even worse.

Published in 1992, it's clear that it was quickly made just to cash in on the name. The backgrounds are converted, probably from one of the 16-bit conversions, and not touched up what so ever. In other words, the backdrops look awful. And then the sprites... Oh, the horror! There is no excuse for this mess! I recommend IK+ and Way of the Exploding Fist to wash away the filth after re-visiting SF2 on the C64. Yes, I feel so violated here... so, perhaps someone can suggest a better conversion we can discuss instead?

ilesj: Haven't played the arcade version of Cabal, or any other version either, but I enjoyed the game on C64.

Taper: The European C64 version of Cabal is indeed excellent, and the US one actually ain't half bad either - even if I prefer the euro Ocean release if I have to choose between the two. I played Cabal quite a bit in my youth, and I'm tempted to load it up again soon and fire some more rounds!

Talking about shooters in the vein of Operation Wolf and Cabal, I played a bit of Space Gun on the C64 a few weeks back, and I can't really decide if I like the conversion or not. Graphics are real blocky and they (again) ditched the two player mode, but apart from that they seem to have crammed in the whole game. It's not at all a stinker like other late arcade conversions (Final Fight, SF2) so I guess it's commendable that Ocean put a decent amount work into this as late as 1992. I think my main concern is that you get bored quite quickly, it doesn't have the playability of Operation Wolf. The box art is top notch, though.

ilesj: It's noteworthy that if you check for example Lemon top-100 games list, especially with lower amount of required votes, there are not that many arcade conversions that make into that list. Towards higher number of required votes there's more, but that probably tells more about those games' popularity, not about the quality of the conversion.

Taper: That is a good point. Still, I would argue that there are as many real good conversion on the C64 as there are stinkers. Don't ask me to prove that with statistics, though... ;)

That concludes our round-table discussion about arcade conversions. You probably have your own favourite, so make sure to revisit it on a rainy weekend to see if your memory serves you right!


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