Friday, April 20, 2012

East vs. West: LOOM (1993, PC Engine)

It's LOOM week at Gaming After 40, apparently, as after tackling the U.S. version it seemed like a good time to sample the Japanese PC Engine edition.  Published by Victor Musical Industries in Japan, this Super CD-ROM was a port of Lucasfilm Games' PC point-and-click adventure:

You can read my earlier post to get full details about the game itself; I'm going to focus on some more subtle differences here.  This adaptation is an interesting hybrid of the versions published in America.  It appears to use the game data from the original U.S. release, with the text translated to Japanese.  And it features no voice acting at all, but has more CD-quality music than the American CD-ROM edition.

It's interesting to note that character closeups and other material omitted from the US "talkie" are present here, with brief interruptions of the music as necessary for loading.  These images seem to be based on 256-color VGA updates of the 16-color EGA original, which were reportedly created for but not used in the PC CD-ROM version.  Similar images were also seen in the Japanese FM-Towns version, so this PC Engine port may have been based most directly on that edition.

It must have been tricky to adapt the PC-oriented SCUMM engine to sprite-based hardware; this version of the engine probably could not have been updated to handle sprite scaling, so porting of later games like The Secret of Monkey Island would not have been possible.  Fortunately, LOOM's design uses an old trick, employing multiple sprite sizes for hero Bobbin Threadbare, with changes carefully concealed behind the scenery.

I didn't play through the entire game, but the story appears to be identical.  It looks like the width difference between platforms (320 pixels on the PC compared to a standard 256 on the PC Engine) is accounted for by keeping the original graphic data as-is, and just leaving extra pixels off the left side of the screen. It's easy to see this with the Magic Engine emulator -- the text is off-center, and sometimes sprites that would be offscreen are not displayed until they scroll into the active area:

The engine gets bogged down when there's too much going on -- I presume it's translating spriteand background data to pixel-level rendering, no mean feat on the PC Engine.  But LOOM is completely playable on the PC Engine, and this version was re-ported to American shores for the Turbo Duo, late in the system's life.

I'd really recommend the North American "talkie" over this version, but it's an interesting historical artifact for adventure gamers.  You might be able to track it down here.

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