Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oddities: Frankie Goes to Hollywood

After some additional wrestling (see previous post), I managed to get the Commodore 64 edition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood up and running.

These days, it's rare to see any significant difference in game design or visual style between the same title released on, say, the XBox 360 and the PS3; even the Wii often gets the same design and audiovisual assets, with some downscaling of visual quality to accommodate its weaker hardware. Generally, the same game engine gets ported to all the different systems, using C++ as a foundation, with gameplay largely implemented using platform-portable scripts.

Back in the day, however, each platform generally got an independent conversion, because games were written very close to the metal to get adequate performance out of the limited hardware. Assembly language was key, and what worked on the Z-80 in a Sinclair Spectrum was not going to make any sense to the 6502 in a Commodore 64. This was also the craftsman era of coding, when project management and specifications were looser than they are today. Very often, when games were shooting for the same release deadline on multiple platforms, even working from the same design document, the "following" projects had to guess at what the lead project was doing, and sometimes came up with different implementations of the same basic idea.

Thus, Frankie on the C-64 is a different beast from the Spectrum edition I briefly covered last week. The differences start even before the title screen, with no setup menu for selecting controls -- the Commodore had a built-in game controller port, so publishers were able to assume (or detect) the availability of a joystick. The title screen itself is different -- it has some annunciatory text, not just the band's logo. Also, the game character starts out in his rightful place at the right end of the logo, and is freed up by a charming bit of animation when the fire button is pressed to get the game underway.

I also managed to work out a little more of the gameplay in this version -- apparently the game character is trying to become a real human being, a la Pinocchio. Unlike the Spectrum version, which starts with the player already inside the house, the C-64 starts outside a series of English row houses with a SID-chip rendition of "Two Tribes" thumping in the background. Entering a door transitions to a room inside, also connected to other rooms and streets via doors; everything's rendered in lower resolution but more colors on the C-64, as compared to the Spectrum, except for the black silhouette of the game's hero, whose sprite remains in the higher resolution mode.

The game progresses more or less like an adventure -- the player runs around the house, looking for interesting objects to add to inventory and earning points for doing so and employing these objects later on. Most of the pointworthy objects are elements from the Frankie Goes to Hollywood logo. For instance, picking up a heart yields:

And the band provides a reward in the form of points towards the game's ultimate goal ("Frankie give" is not Frankenstein's monster-ese, it's the British use of the plural for an organized group of people):

I can't imagine having the patience to earn all 100%, as it took me a while to reach this point and the gameplay already feels repetitive. But the game is an interesting bit of 80's licensing mania, and I'm sure sold a fair few copies to the band's fans.

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