Wednesday, April 22, 2015

SCUMM Console Ports - Turbo Duo Loom vs. Sega CD Monkey Island

LucasArts was established by computer game programmers, but by 1990 they were becoming increasingly involved into consoles.  Having the Star Wars and Indiana Jones licenses practically demanded home console games using the licenses.  Except for the port of Maniac Mansion for the NES, LucasArts produced or licensed nothing of note until the SNES.

LucasArts was interested in porting its highly acclaimed adventure games series, using the SCUMM engine, to consoles.  Their adventure games were relatively large by cartridge standards, but the new CD-ROM add-ons for the Sega Genesis and Turbo Grafx 16 could easily contain their adventure games and allow for 16-bit CD Audio.  LucasArts commissioned a port of Loom for the Turbo Duo and a port of The Secret of Monkey Island for the Sega CD.

Loom

Loom - Turbo Super CD Title Screen
Loom for the Turbo systems was intended to run on a Turbo Duo or its equivalent : a Turbo Grafx 16 with the TurboGrafx CD and a Super System Card.  It will also run on the Japanese equivalents.

The Turbo port is  graphically in between the 16 color floppy and the other (mostly) 256-color CD-ROM versions.  If I had to give a hierarchy of ports based solely on the graphics, it would go something like this :

Loom IBM PC 16-color floppy
  • Atari ST 16-color floppy
  • Amiga 16-color floppy
  • Macintosh 16-color floppy
Loom 256-color FM-Towns CD 
Loom 256-color IBM PC CD
Loom 16/256-color Turbo CD

The Turbo CD and FM-Towns CD have similar CD-Audio tracks, which are used for music.  The first set of FM-Towns arrangements (first nine audio tracks) are used for the Turbo CD music.  Musically, this may be the best version, as the FM-Towns also uses second set of music tracks.  The second set sounds more like a synthesizer than the first set and in my opinion is inferior.  Unfortunately, the FM-Towns version plays the first set, then the second set and keeps repeating the second set.  

Loom Turbo Super CD 16 Color Original Background
What is odd is the graphics used on Turbo Loom.  Both the FM-Towns and the IBM PC have full 256-color graphics above the distaff.  Turbo Loom uses a mixture of backgrounds (including portraits) from the 16 and 256 color IBM PC releases.

Consider the sources of the closeups :

Bobbin Threadbare - 16 Color
Hetchel - 256 Color
Elder Atropos - 256 Color
Hetchel as Cynget - 16 Color
Master Goodmold - 256 Color
Fleece Firmflanks - 16 Color
The Dragon - 16 Color
Rusty Nailbender - 256 Color
Master Stoke - 16 Color
Dragon finds Rusty - 256 Color
Bishop Mandible - 16 Color
Cobb - 256 Color
Rusty as a Ghost - 256 Color
Lady Cygna Threadbare - 16 Color
Chaos - 256 Color

Generally, most of Loom island is taken from the 16-color version, with notable exceptions of the Dock, the Loom Sanctuary and Lady Cygna's gravestone closeup.  Crystalguard is entirely 16-color.  The beach, the Shepherd's forest and meadow are taken from the 256 color version, except for the interior of Fleece's hut. The exterior of the Dragon's volcano and its lair are 256 color, as is the Forge and the plain surrounding it. Bishop Mandible's cathedral and the Outside is 16-color except for the very end of the game.

Loom Turbo CD - 256 Color Original Background
The characters are always 256 color, as are most of the animated objects.  The distaff portion of the screen is 16 color regardless of version (although the FM-Towns version has a distaff that does not use the EGA palette).

Why did LucasArts take roughly 50/50 from each version when the Turbo Duo was capable of almost 256 colors (but only a 512 color palette)?  Storage was not an issue with a CD game.  One theory is that the remaining 256 color graphics were not available in time for the Turbo port, so LucasArts had to make do with whatever 256 color art was available at the time.  I am not satisfied with this theory because the FM Towns 256 color version, done in-house by LucasArts, was ready by April, 1991.  The PC CD version was ready by June of 1992.  The Japanese PC Engine Duo version was released in September of 1992 and the US Turbo Duo version followed in December.  I can see no reason why all the 256 color artwork would not have been available for the Turbo port.

An alternative view is the 256 color graphics that they did not use either did not look very good once the color depth had been reduced or they did not look good on a composite monitor.  No NEC console, whether Japanese or US, supported better than composite video at the time Loom was being ported.  What may have looked good through an RGB monitor on the development hardware may have looked like crap on composite.

In instances where the 16 color graphics are being used, the Turbo through a composite monitor looks scarcely better than a Tandy 1000 outputting the 16 color IBM PC floppy graphics to a composite monitor. I recently made a post extolling the underrated virtues of composite video on the SNES and Genesis, but this game was designed on a PC and looks best through a lossless analog connection.  In other words, it looks best on an RGB modded Turbo Duo.  Unfortunately, no NEC console in the TurboGrafx line, not even the SuperGrafx, has native RGB support.

On the PC and other versions, the main graphics window uses 320x136 pixels. The Turbo uses 338x136, but the cursor is limited to the right-most 320 pixels.  Virtually all this horizontal resolution can amazingly be squeezed into the viewable screen of a CRT.  If a screen is non-scrolling, then there will be a noticeable black border on the left side of the screen.  The same is also true of the leftmost side of a scrolling screen.  Vertically, the game does not appear to use any of the vertical space above the main graphics window, but the cursor will descend to line 240 and perhaps line 242, which is the absolute vertical limit of 240p.

Even though the PC Engine did have a mouse available for it, Loom does not support it.  However, it does have some neat options.  It can change the text speed, it can turn the sound effect and music, or just the music, off, and also has a sound test that allows you to listen to any of the CD audio tracks.  The Overture (from Swan Lake) is not otherwise heard in the game.  It also has an option to limit the animation to improve speed, but Loom is not an animation-heavy game (The Secret of Monkey Island is much more animated), so this option would not often be useful.

The saving system is non-intuitive.  Loom will save a game to the backup RAM of the CD unit.  However, it really only saves a checkpoint, the first being when after you reach the beach leading to the Shepherd's forest and Crystalguard.  So if you save prior to leaving Loom Island, you will load back to the very beginning before you acquire your distaff.  You can lose a lot of progress this way because the save points seem quite spread out.  Button I skips cutscenes, perhaps for this reason.

The Secret of Monkey Island

The Secret of Monkey Island Sega CD
The Secret of Monkey Island for the Sega CD is based on the IBM PC CD-ROM version, reducing the on-screen number of colors from 256 colors to a maximum of 64 colors, similar to the Amiga.  The actual game's hierarchy is less complicated :

The Secret of Monkey Island 16-color floppy
  • Atari ST 16-color floppy
The Secret of Monkey Island 256-color floppy
  • Amiga 32-color floppy
The Secret of Monkey Island 256-color IBM PC CD-ROM
  • FM-Towns 256-color CD-ROM (uses 16-color inventory icons, Japanese and English available)
  • Sega CD 64-color CD-ROM
  • Macintosh 256-color CD-ROM (has graphical filtering option) 
The Sega CD does not use the save RAM inside the CD unit, instead it gives a 4-digit passcode to restore a game.  It is rather amazing that LucasArts could fit all the information needed to restore a game in essentially four bytes.  This passcodes will only restore your game if you have made a substantial achievement like completing one of the three trials.  Your inventory may not be exactly as you had left it, nor may your character be where you left him and the dialogue options may be reset (which is terrible for the sword fighting trial), but you will not get stuck because you don't have an object you need.  You may have to acquire some items again unfortunately.  Button C is used to skip dialogue, and this was probably implemented for this reason.

The Secret of Monkey Island Sega CD SCUMM Bar
Interestingly, this port has support for the Sega Mega Mouse peripheral, making it function much more closely to the computer versions.  This is not mentioned in the US manual or on the US box, but there is a symbol for it on the Japanese box.  The mouse support is present on both the Japanese and US versions of the game.  The game was not released in Europe.

The gameplay itself is not too bad, but it will slow down if there is a lot of animation on the screen.  Scrolling is also jerky when there is a lot of animation on the screen.  When you are selecting dialogue, the cursor disappears, even if you are using a mouse.  The only option of is to change the text speed.  The dialogue options are sometimes redone for this version to decrease the number of dialogue choices that use a second line.

The Secret of Monkey Island Sega CD Portrait
The graphics are dark, especially the backgrounds on Melee Island.  The backgrounds are those used from the Amiga version, 256-colors reduced to 32-colors, but the Sega color palette appears much darker than the Amiga palette.  I guess LucasArts believed that people would simply turn the brightness of their TV up if they felt the screen was too dark.  On the other hand, the character, object and inventory graphics have been converted from the 256 colors of the PC CD version.  The CD audio is more or less identical to the PC CD version and plays the music as it does in the PC CD version.  One positive thing to note is that the Genesis Model 1 and 2 always support RGB output, so the graphics can look pretty nice.

The load times are rather annoying.  There are load times for every time you enter into a new screen, begin dialogue, acquire an item and other characters move on the screen.  Much of this is due to the limited RAM available for the Sega CD.  The average 1992 PC would have had 4-8MB of RAM while the Sega Genesis and CD combined have 832KB.

So, Which is Better?

This is a hard decision, because I cannot honestly recommend either port.  Both have klunky saving and loading, and both have graphical issues.  The Secret of Monkey Island is too dark (but can be improved with RGB), Loom is too inconsistent.  Audio-wise, both are excellent.  There are noticeable slowdowns early in SoMI and lots of CD load times.  It is the load times that kill the Sega CD port.  Loom is a much simpler game and was better suited to the 8/16-bit consoles of the 4th Generation.  

2 comments:

Alfonso "King of GnG" Maruccia said...

"The average 1992 PC would have had 4-8MB of RAM while the Sega Genesis and CD combined have 832KB"

Well, that's hardly the reason :-P

I still remember how well the game ran on my first PC, a 16MHz 286 with 1 MB of RAM and a 50 MB HDD where it was installed. I think Monkey Island didn't use other chunks of memory beyond the 640 KB conventional boundary...

pmarin said...
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