Sierra games - The great mystery

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Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-28 @ 22:39

None of the AGI games were ported to the Commodore 64 although it certainly should be possible from a technical standpoint. Especially since they had no apparent problem putting them on the Apple II, which was a lot more limited hardware in a number of ways. Anyone have any ideas as to why this was?
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby leileilol » 2012-11-28 @ 22:49

A dying C64 market in America?

No, I really don't know.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-28 @ 23:25

A dying C64 market in America?


Nah, this would have been when King's Quest came out in the mid-80s when the C64 was at its zenith.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby Gemini000 » 2012-11-29 @ 01:04

Maybe no AGI games were ported to the C64, but at least one C64 game, Donald Duck's Playground, was ported to the AGI engine. ;)

Actually, when Al Lowe and I exchanged eMails about the game way back when I did my ADG episode about it, he had mentioned how certain aspects of doing the AGI port were pretty ridiculous because of the way the AGI engine handled certain things, the cash register sequence being a prime example.

Something to consider about the AGI engine though is that the reason it uses doubled pixel widths, resulting in a seemingly 160x200 screen resolution, and the reason why the scenes are choped off by the text parser with plenty of extra space, is so that the graphics can accomodate Hercules, CGA, Tandy and EGA display systems without any additional coding.

But, consider too that the C64 is a sprite-based computing system, whereas the PC is not. IE: The C64 uses hardware sprites to speed up the processing of various graphics operations. The limitations of the C64, combined with the different programming paradigm, is probably why there were never any AGI to C64 ports, despite the identical screen resolution and superior sound capabilities. :P

Also don't forget that Sierra was a big player in getting the Roland MT-32 on the hardware map. I imagine that was a factor in not supporting the C64. :P
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-29 @ 01:56

Maybe no AGI games were ported to the C64, but at least one C64 game, Donald Duck's Playground, was ported to the AGI engine.


Yes it was originally written on the C64 in straight assembly language and the other versions (Apple II, PC, Amiga) were done with the AGI engine. Curiously, a version also existed for the TRS-80 CoCo (Sierra had a close relationship with Radio Shack for a number of years and the latter may have commissioned that port)

BTW, you may find DOS conversions of DDP on abandonware sites. These aren't rips of the original PC game (which was a booter), but actually the Amiga version's data files with the executable and drivers from some other AGI PC title.

Something to consider about the AGI engine though is that the reason it uses doubled pixel widths, resulting in a seemingly 160x200 screen resolution, and the reason why the scenes are chopped off by the text parser with plenty of extra space, is so that the graphics can accommodate Hercules, CGA, Tandy and EGA display systems without any additional coding.


It may be a factor that the AGI engine was originally designed around the more powerful 16-bit PC hardware. LucasArts did adventure games on the C64, but the SCUMM engine was built around it first and foremost. Maniac and Zak have much simpler animation than AGI games.

But, consider too that the C64 is a sprite-based computing system, whereas the PC is not. IE: The C64 uses hardware sprites to speed up the processing of various graphics operations. The limitations of the C64, combined with the different programming paradigm, is probably why there were never any AGI to C64 ports, despite the identical screen resolution and superior sound capabilities.


The real reason may have been that the C64 has character/tile graphics while the PC and Apple II are bitmap-based. In fact I thought I remember reading an old interview with Roberta Williams that someone posted on Usenet where she says something to the effect of "The [Commodore]'s three colors per tile limit didn't permit us to get the graphics detail we wanted." But maybe my memory is faulty.

On the C64, most all games use character graphics. Two of a tile's three colors can be selected individually, but the third color is global and must be shared by all tiles (except in Extended Color Character Mode, but then you're limited to only 64 tiles). You also have bitmap mode where tiles don't have to share colors, but it uses a large amount of memory (8k), is slow, and cannot be scrolled. Plus you can't mix multicolor and hi-res tiles. Most of the time, it's only used for title/loading screens. I know that Dig Dug and Donkey Kong use bitmap mode and that's why they run so slowly.

They did have some of the early static-screen Sierra games on the C64 like Wizard and the Princess, but they still used character graphics and not bitmaps.

Also don't forget that Sierra was a big player in getting the Roland MT-32 on the hardware map. I imagine that was a factor in not supporting the C64.


Sierra never seemed to be that committed to the C64 as their development efforts were first centered on the Apple II and later the PC. Platforms like the Atari 8-bit, C64, and Amiga appear to have been periphery ones.
Last edited by kao on 2012-11-29 @ 20:33, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby Great Hierophant » 2012-11-29 @ 15:48

Perhaps all those the money Sierra wasted on cartridges for the Atari and Commodore computers soured it on further development for those systems. They found a niche in the IBM PC market that was not well-served by other companies.

If Sierra could port their AGI titles to the Apple II, then why not the Commodore? Both run the same CPU at the same speed, and the Commodore has more powerful graphics and sound hardware. Actually, the AGI games only work on an 128KB IIe or a IIc, which supports a high resolution bitmap mode with relative color placement freedom. Sound is almost non-existent. These Apple II ports run much, much better with an accelerator. There is no equilavent bitmap mode with the C64. I think that for Donald Duck's Playground, the porter had to convert each graphics screen manually. Compare the screenshots on Mobygames, I think Sierra was not particularly pleased with the end result.

Consider if it takes 8-10 seconds to load a new screen on an IBM PC, PCjr. or Tandy 1000, it probably takes almost double that to load on an Apple II machine and probably double it again for the C64's slow floppy interface. Is that playable?
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby VileRancour » 2012-11-29 @ 16:19

kao wrote:In fact I thought I remember reading an old interview with Roberta Williams that someone posted on Usenet where she says something to the effect of "The [Commodore]'s three colors per tile limit didn't permit us to get the graphics detail we wanted."

yes - I believe that was said in the context of King Quest, explaining why they chose to target the (then new) PCjr. An '80s game dev singing the praises of a PC over other platforms wasn't something you heard often...
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby Great Hierophant » 2012-11-29 @ 16:38

VileRancour wrote:
kao wrote:In fact I thought I remember reading an old interview with Roberta Williams that someone posted on Usenet where she says something to the effect of "The [Commodore]'s three colors per tile limit didn't permit us to get the graphics detail we wanted."

yes - I believe that was said in the context of King Quest, explaining why they chose to target the (then new) PCjr. An '80s game dev singing the praises of a PC over other platforms wasn't something you heard often...


Then they found out how slow the PCjr. was going to be, and quickly found the means to port it to the PC and Tandy 1000.

Gemini000 wrote:Also don't forget that Sierra was a big player in getting the Roland MT-32 on the hardware map. I imagine that was a factor in not supporting the C64. :P


No, by the time Sierra was adding the MT-32 to its list of supported hardware products in its games, it had no further intent to develop games for any 8-bit computer. The C64 can support an MT-32 with an MPU-401 interface and a MIF-C64 adapter (cartridge).
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby sliderider » 2012-11-29 @ 16:49

"Then they found out how slow the PCjr. was going to be, and quickly found the means to port it to the PC and Tandy 1000. "

Ummm...the Tandy 1000 is virtually the same machine as a PCjr. only without the cartridge ports or the clunky sidecar expansion system.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby collector » 2012-11-29 @ 17:07

VileRancour wrote:yes - I believe that was said in the context of King Quest, explaining why they chose to target the (then new) PCjr. An '80s game dev singing the praises of a PC over other platforms wasn't something you heard often...

It was not so much targeting the PCjr as IBM commissioned Sierra to produce a game for the release of the PCjr. KQ was the result of that. In fact, the first release of the game was published by IBM. It also came in the typical IBM plastic case. It was the first AGI game, but Sierra designed AGI to be highly portable.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-29 @ 20:22

Perhaps all those the money Sierra wasted on cartridges for the Atari and Commodore computers soured it on further development for those systems.


You mean stuff like BC and Oil's Well.

They found a niche in the IBM PC market that was not well-served by other companies.


Perhaps so. Sierra had fully committed themselves to the PC platform by the time KQ1 came out while most major devs (Epyx, Microprose, Electronic Arts, etc) were centered around the 8-bit machines. They had AGI ports for the Amiga, ST, and IIgs as well, but those were rush jobs with inferior sound and sloppy programming so it was obvious Sierra didn't really care about them.

In the end, their decision to withdraw from the 8-bit market paid off in a big way as PC clones started proliferating. After 1985, PC game sales were way more profitable than the C64, Amiga, etc.

Actually, the AGI games only work on an 128KB IIe or a IIc, which supports a high resolution bitmap mode with relative color placement freedom.


Which is something the C64 lacked (it has a bitmap mode, but is still effectively a tile-based system)

I was browsing some old threads on Lemon 64 where Sierra games were discussed. They mentioned that the AGI engine is quite a bit more complex than the one used by Maniac and Zak (which were designed around the C64's hardware from the get-go). There's a lot more animation and game logic, in addition to having a text parser (much more complicated than the click and point verbs in LucasArts games). In addition to which AGI was designed for a system with bitmap graphics and software sprites. This was perfectly suited for the Apple and PC hardware, but much less so the C64.

They also said on Lemon 64 that it probably would be impossible to shoehorn the AGI engine into 64k. The Apple II ports as you mentioned require the 128k models, which also don't have a standard 6502 but a 65c02 which was an enhanced version with added instructions. Loading time on the 1541 would also be horrible. The C128 could definitely pull it off as far as memory and faster disk access, but you still have to content with the limitations of the VIC-II.

Technically they had 8-bit ports of KQ1 and KQ5 on the Master System and NES, but those versions are garbage. They do though trade the text parser for a LucasArts-style verb system.

These Apple II ports run much, much better with an accelerator


That it is. They're slow as molasses compared to the PC and have absolutely no sound.

Consider if it takes 8-10 seconds to load a new screen on an IBM PC, PCjr. or Tandy 1000, it probably takes almost double that to load on an Apple II machine


I don't know how fast the Apples are, but the load time isn't that bad on the PC. About 3-4 seconds to load a screen.

I think that for Donald Duck's Playground, the porter had to convert each graphics screen manually. Compare the screenshots on Mobygames, I think Sierra was not particularly pleased with the end result.


I covered that earlier. DDP was written first on the C64 and then remade for the AGI engine.

yes - I believe that was said in the context of King Quest, explaining why they chose to target the (then new) PCjr. An '80s game dev singing the praises of a PC over other platforms wasn't something you heard often


I guess it boiled down to this: Since the PCs allowed much better application software than 8-bit machines, by logic, they should be able to have more advanced games as well. 16-bit CPU power and six times the memory of 8-bits certainly is an advantage.

But even Maniac and Zak, despite being designed around the C64, are still a pain to play on there compared to the PC because of the amount of disk access they need to perform along with not being hard disk installable and needing a special save game floppy.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby OmerMor » 2012-11-29 @ 23:16

I believe Sierra's lack of C64 support started even before the AGI era: their earlier so-called Hi-Res Adventure titles (Mystery House, etc.) were never ported to C64 either, and I have no doubt it was technically possible.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby OmerMor » 2012-11-29 @ 23:24

OK - I take that back: I just noticed that a few Hi-Res adventures were indeed ported to the C64.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-30 @ 00:27

OK - I take that back: I just noticed that a few Hi-Res adventures were indeed ported to the C64.


Sierra made a lot of arcade and adventure games for the Atari 800, C64, and VIC-20 in 82-84, but afterwards essentially withdrew from the 8-bit market to focus on PCs. The only exception was the Apple II, which they supported until 1988 presumably because they had a lot of experienced Apple programmers.

By comparison, they only made one PC game prior to 1984, which was Adventure in Serenia. This was most likely because all their PC resources during this time period were going into the huge AGI/KQ project.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby VileRancour » 2012-11-30 @ 04:55

kao wrote:In the end, their decision to withdraw from the 8-bit market paid off in a big way as PC clones started proliferating. After 1985, PC game sales were way more profitable than the C64, Amiga, etc.

I'd be very surprised if the PC's game market domination really started that early... not that I've seen any figures, but I don't believe this happened until 1990 or so, when the PC was winning over the home market and starting to offer clearly superior capabilities in terms of graphics and sound.

it's rather telling that, even in 1989, a technically innovative game like Prince of Persia was still being developed as an Apple II original, and that platform was clearly inferior to the PC. It was just too entrenched.

I guess it boiled down to this: Since the PCs allowed much better application software than 8-bit machines, by logic, they should be able to have more advanced games as well. 16-bit CPU power and six times the memory of 8-bits certainly is an advantage.

Yes, and that's exactly where Sierra benefitted. But your average PC of that era lacked other things that many 8-bit machines provided - hardware sprites, colorful graphics (initially) and a dedicated sound chip, and that tended to blunt the edge it had in terms of raw power. The PCJr did try to fix things up on that front somewhat, but then again IBM made sure it was crippled in other ways.

AGI games may play better on the PC, but for their time they were the exception rather than the rule... flight sims did better too, but other than that, a great many games were suffering from crappy PC ports. A lot of them might have been _unnecessarily_ crappy - many commercial programmers were only starting to discover the 16-bit world and the PC in particular, and still weren't too experienced in optimizing for its capabilities or steering around its shortcomings.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-30 @ 07:17

I'd be very surprised if the PC's game market domination really started that early... not that I've seen any figures, but I don't believe this happened until 1990 or so, when the PC was winning over the home market and starting to offer clearly superior capabilities in terms of graphics and sound.


After 1985, PC clones became an important platform in the home/educational markets and everyone was now developing for them. But it is true that during the 86-89 period, they were still well behind the Amiga and even the C64 in terms of sound and graphics capabilities.

it's rather telling that, even in 1989, a technically innovative game like Prince of Persia was still being developed as an Apple II original, and that platform was clearly inferior to the PC. It was just too entrenched.


Like I mentioned above, most devs except for Sierra were primarily focused on the Commodore machines during the 84-88 period. Microprose, EA, LucasArts, Accolade, etc. Games were developed on them first and ported to other machines afterwards. Origin was a rare exception since they were Apple II-centered until 1989.

But your average PC of that era lacked other things that many 8-bit machines provided - hardware sprites, colorful graphics (initially) and a dedicated sound chip, and that tended to blunt the edge it had in terms of raw power.

AGI games may play better on the PC, but for their time they were the exception rather than the rule... flight sims did better too, but other than that, a great many games were suffering from crappy PC ports.


Where 80s PCs primarily had an advantage was in the same area as the Apple II, which was adventure and RPG games. When it came to arcade stuff, both machines were clobbered first by the Atari 800 and C64 and then the Amiga and NES. As you mention, flight sims were another area where the PC was superior because it had analog joysticks (trying to play them with digital Atari sticks or a gamepad is not so good).

A lot of them might have been _unnecessarily_ crappy - many commercial programmers were only starting to discover the 16-bit world and the PC in particular, and still weren't too experienced in optimizing for its capabilities or steering around its shortcomings.


That is true. Most major devs of the period didn't even develop for the PC in-house and outsourced their ports elsewhere. There weren't a lot of companies other than Sierra who understood the hardware well.

Most of the PC arcade ports of the late 80s like Bad Dudes, Robocop, and Double Dragon cut a rather poor figure compared to the C64, Amiga, or NES versions. Trying to write arcade games with limited sound, no hardware sprites or scrolling, analog joysticks, and clunky 64k memory segments was tough and not a lot of devs except ID Software could get it right.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby SquallStrife » 2012-11-30 @ 09:33

kao wrote:After 1985, PC clones became an important platform in the home/educational markets and everyone was now developing for them.


IBM PCs were mainly found in businesses, well into the late 80s, PCjr's failure is evidence of that.

Apple II was dominant in education for a long time. The Apple II card for Mac LC was on the market until 1995 because of this.

I agree with VileRancour, 1990 is about the year PCs started to displace "home computers" with real momentum.

kao wrote:As you mention, flight sims were another area where the PC was superior because it had analog joysticks (trying to play them with digital Atari sticks or a gamepad is not so good).


Flight sims were better on the PC, because of the comparatively large amounts of RAM available, and the speed of hardware floating point arithmetic if you had an 8087/80287.

Atari supported analogue joysticks, the paddle controllers were analogue. If the systems had been capable of running a simulation well, the joysticks would have been easy to implement.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby sliderider » 2012-11-30 @ 13:07

There was a convergence of things that led to PCjr. failing. The first Macintosh was coming out at about the same time the PCjr. was released, PCjr. was more expensive than other home computers that were out, billed as being IBM compatible, it turned out to be only partially compatible, the chiclet keyboard sucked, the replacement full stroke keyboard was only slightly better because the infrared worked only by direct line of sight. If you moved it too far in any direction it stopped working. Battery life in the keyboard was initially very bad. Commodore 64 had by that time established itself as the dominant player in the home market and had more software support. The expansion system of adding sidecars was ridiculous. Machines like the Atari ST ,Amiga and Apple IIGS were already on the drawing boards and would have made PCjr. obsolete overnight even if it had managed to survive. Apple II was firmly in control of the education markets, so PCjr. had no chance there.

That IBM even got the idea that they could succeed in those markets at that time with such entrenched competition is beyond all logic and reason.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby kao » 2012-11-30 @ 21:59

Flight sims were better on the PC, because of the comparatively large amounts of RAM available, and the speed of hardware floating point arithmetic if you had an 8087/80287


I'm not well-versed in flight sims, but did any actually support the x87? I was sure that no games performed floating-point calculations until the Pentium era when it was integrated into the main CPU.

I agree with VileRancour, 1990 is about the year PCs started to displace "home computers" with real momentum.


That was about the point where most of the competition started disappearing due to technological obsolescence.

Machines like the Atari ST ,Amiga and Apple IIGS were already on the drawing boards and would have made PCjr. obsolete overnight even if it had managed to survive. Apple II was firmly in control of the education markets, so PCjr. had no chance there.


Technically it did in the form of the Tandy 1000, which was not as good as the Amiga, but had the advantage of PC compatibility and was highly successful in the low-end market.

As for the 16-bit machines, the ST was mostly irrelevant except in Europe, and the IIgs was mostly a school computer as it was too slow to handle arcade stuff and most of its software was educational titles.
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Re: Sierra games - The great mystery

Postby SquallStrife » 2012-12-01 @ 00:20

kao wrote:I'm not well-versed in flight sims, but did any actually support the x87? I was sure that no games performed floating-point calculations until the Pentium era when it was integrated into the main CPU.


I dont know about MS Flight Simulator, but Elite and Falcon did.

Also SimCity, apparently. And there may be others.
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