Pacmania STE edition..
An Atari Forum collaboration (but mostly Zamuel!)
The whole business of enhanced remakes of classic games can be a tricky one. Unlike the professionally made, but often rushed to market and thusly compromised originals, the remakes tend to be subject to hobbyist timescales. Memory serves of a Turrican remix for the Atari STE some years ago, which has stalled due to circumstances. There is also an R-Type remake for that same machine, which is slowly proceeding, no doubt affected by time killing "real life issues" too.
However, just occasionally, we are gratified by a successful outcome. A remake project that is actually completed! This is one such story.
A big chat on the interwebs is had by many:
The interest in an enhanced version of 'Pacmania' started from comments made over the summer go 2012 on the Atari Forum site. At this point, there were thoughts expressed that the ST series in general could do better than the original commercial release by Grandslam Entertainments. One commentator suggested that the STE could easily host something comparable to the Amiga version.
Our hero of that hour, Zamuel, took part in that debate. He was initially reluctant to take up a Pacmania remake as he preferred to spend his time making something new. There is a rather stunning Strider styled game he is making for the STE. However, he seems to have been gradually drawn in when presented with the original ST version's source code and took on the challenge of dissembling it.
Other parties also perused the code. As the days passed by, some folk were starting to mock up redrawn sprites, even going as far as painting mocked-up screen grabs of the game as they thought it could be improved. Another thing to mention is, that it was decided that the sixteen colour limit should remain intact fairly early on.
Interestingly, this thread also inspired the first efforts of Anima to investigate converting Sharp X68000 games to the Falcon. His proof of concept game? Pacmania of course!
There were discussions about the music too. It was decided to keep the original sound chip tunes. Amiga style module files and even the original arcade music in .wav format had been considered.
After a fair bit of consistent work, the development effort centred around Zamuel, the others falling by the wayside. Pacmania, the STE remix, was released as a fully finished version, with minor bugfixes, over February 2013.
In Zamuels own words, this is what he actually did:
"This project was a little bit more difficult to convert than I had first suspected. The only thing I could use from the original ST version was the game logic, collision detection and the music player. The rest is rewritten from scratch."
"Firstly I had planned to keep the original intro menu but it looked like crap compared to the Amiga version so I had to redo it. The Amiga menu screen used thirty two colours and I tried to convert it to sixteen, but it never turned out good so I had to keep it at thirty two colours. That's why the grey background can't be behind the Pacmania logo. I do a palette split here."
"The Amiga level select screen doesn't look so good, so I used the arcade version here. It's also thirty two colours with sixteen colours for the levels and another sixteen colours for the selected level (the one in blue)."
"All sprites are drawn with the blitter and the palette is set up so that I can do it as fast as possible. The score display is drawn in 1 bitplane, the lives in 2 bitplanes and the ghosts in 3 bitplanes. This needs a 2Mb machine as a minimum, or else it can't run. I had to use a lot of memory to be able to run it at 50fps."
From the player's point of view:
So what is greeting us with this new enhanced Pacmania then?
The reworked title screen and the menu system are very nice to behold, super sexy in fact. These benefit from the abolition of top and bottom borders, like the main game.
Of course, it is in the game itself that the player sees the major improvements over the original. You get a full-sized viewable playfield and not the tiny window from the original STFM version. There is no pretty side-panel needed to fill the right hand half of the screen. It's all game! Even better, the screen resolution has been expanded to a pleasurable 320 x 270 pixels, so the top and bottom borders have been effectively removed. (This is closer to the picture aspect of the original arcade game, as I remember someone saying.)
You should take a moment to look at the 'before' and 'after' screen grabs here.
Before - The original ST version..
After - Zamuel's revamped STE version!
It's not just how much more of the Pacmania world there is in plain sight. How you get around it has been injected with STE goodness too. The scrolling makes full use of the STE hardware. It is practically buttery in smoothness, with no judder and at 50fps. This is demonstrated most graphically when you find the speeder-up power up, as Pacman *really* shifts around the screen!
Comparing with the original reveals that what came before wasn't really a bad version as such, just that once you've had the 50 fps almost full screen experience, you don't want to go back there!
Graphically, there has been a bit of a tweak but nothing too dramatic. Fans of the original would not find too much out of place here.
Sonically, the original music has been retained. This is not a bad thing at all, as they used the YM sound chip to good effect. The STE version has access to many more sampled in game sound effects, all at the same time as the music through the DMA sound, if you wish. Alternatively, you can opt to do without the tunes. (This is not recommended with the original ST version, as the sound effects are rather grim parodies of proper arcade noises.)
The levels are re-used from the Amiga version. As Zamuel mentioned it, I thought this article should too.
So what have we got at the end of all of this?
A speculative project, which reaches a successful conclusion after the first online chat, a mere six or so months later, is something very rare in the Atari scene. In fact, I'm still not sure if this happened whilst I was in a dream state and I'm going to wake up disappointed? So we have to give a very large vote of thanks to Zamuel for seeing it through to the end. Not to mention the enthusiastic support and offers of help from the members of the Atari forum.
With the gains afforded by the STE's hardware assistance, an already acceptable classic game is given fresh zip and new purpose!
CiH - For Mag! - Sept 2013,