Sunday, August 2, 2009

Emulation Blues - Frankie Goes to Nowhere

I had hoped to share some screenshots and gameplay impressions of Ocean Software's quirky 1985 release Frankie Goes to Hollywood this weekend, as part of my ongoing series on licensed oddities of the videogame world, but I've had a difficult time getting the game up and running.

I tracked down a suitable emulator program for the Sinclair Spectrum home computer, found the configuration files necessary to get it running, and found a snapshot of the game itself. But my Windows Vista laptop kept throwing ACCESS VIOLATION errors on startup. I finally dissected the image file and realized that what I thought was a snapshot of the game was not actually the system memory capture file I needed, but the raw HTML page content leading to the link for downloading the file. My bad. Two different emulators are now working with it -- sort of.

Unfortunately, I clearly need to get myself up to speed on the Sinclair Spectrum's quirky operation and/or the Frankie game's bizarre behavior in general. I have managed to start the game, but I believe I'm supposed to hear an 8-bit rendition of Two Tribes on startup, and instead I am hearing what sounds like an infuriated mass of bees (or catty Duran Duran fans.) I can opt to start the game and assign my keyboard controls for the Frankie mascot character's left, right, up, down and action-button operations; they even work sometimes, though at other times left seems to mean right and vice-versa.

Anyway, I have not yet managed to get our hero to leave the living room depicted in the game's first screen, let alone find his way anywhere near the fabled Pleasuredome. I did manage to figure out that touching the TV with his outstretched hand pops up a frame within the game that has a zero or an O (depending on how one reads it) bouncing around in it, likely a nod to the early MTV days, and I can enter the pop-up frame in a nice meta-reality moment. But besides allowing me to play a sort of hacky-sack with the bouncing object using the character's hand, this experience has so far led me nowhere.

So this project remains tantalizingly incomplete. Here are a few introductory screenshots, anyway. I may break down and grab the Commodore 64 version to try an alternate approach, but the Spectrum is a peculiarly British PC and feels like the proper way to experience this game.

Title screen -- textless, naturally, but a faithful rendering of the band's logo, right down to the pixelated spermatozoa:

Gameplay screen below. This is a good example of the Spectrum's color-clash problem -- the system had an impressive-for-its-time 16-color palette, but could only display two colors within each fairly large block of pixels onscreen. So game programmers had to decide which colors should dominate within a block at any given time, and allow items to shift colors as objects moved across the screen. Seems perfectly appropriate for a Frankie Goes to Hollywood game, though, especially with those pastel pinks and purples mixed in with the primary colors.

More to come, someday fairly soon, I'm sure. Unless I decide to relax and do not do it.

1 comment:

  1. I know I'm a little late to the party here, but the C64 version is definitely the one to go for, not the least because of Fred Gray's wonderful covers of select Frankie tunes.
    One of my all time C64 favourites!