Ports: Far beyond resolution and FPS

Port comparisons in today’s era of multi-platform releases usually amount to minor differences, such as slightly better visual effects, a slightly smoother frame rate or slightly higher resolution, especially when comparing Sony’s and Microsoft’s consoles. PC ports might have more nuances, such as 4K resolution, additional options like Field of View and support for mods.

Still, it’s a far cry from the 80s, when dozens of wildly different platforms were fighting for consumers’ preference, each with its own hardware particularities. Even basic elements like colors or sound were up for grabs – a 1986 Macintosh had a sound card but could only render black and white images, while an IBM PC from the same year could display colors but the only sound it could produce was beeps from its internal speaker.

Even among computers with color, there was a wide range of color pallets and limitations. The blue of a Commodore 64, an Amstrad CPC and an NES had completely different tones, often making art designed for one hardware look weird on the other.

Defender of the Crown

Defender of the Crown (1987) was designed to show the Amiga’s graphical power. While its 16-bit rivals – the Apple IIGS and the Atari ST – could display a very similar image, they still lost some of the finer details. The comparison also shows some peculiarities of each machine, such as the C64’s darker colors.

Another factor was the time difference between ports. Dungeon Master was released for the Atari ST in 1987, for the Amiga in 1988 and was only ported to MS-DOS in 1992. Some companies would update the ports as time went by, so the original 1985 release of Phantasie for the Commodore 64 had crude graphics and clunky UI, while the 1987 Amiga version uses a new, colorful art and has mouse support.

Even playing in the same platform could result in very different experiences. SSI’s Eye of the Beholder (1991) was released for MS-DOS with gorgeous VGA graphics, but it also supported older graphics cards. While those playing today on emulators or GOG’s re-release usually default to the superior VGA mode, back then, players with older machines had no choice but to play in EGA or even CGA mode.

Eye of the Beholder

The original Bard’s Tale for the Apple II was an impressive graphical feat since, until then, dungeon crawlers like Wizardry all used wire-frame graphics. However, the Amiga version, released just a year later, added mouse support and had a massive leap in graphical quality, overshadowing previous versions. Still, the high cost of the 16-bit computers meant ports for weaker but cheaper machines like the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC would still be produced in the following years.

The Bard’s Tale

Not all re-releases and later ports are improvements. Wizardry VII received a Japan-only remake for the PlayStation, but the fully 3D graphics aged much more poorly than the original’s pixel art. Worst yet was Wizardry Gold, a re-release of the game for Windows and Mac that added many bugs, blurred pixels, inconsistent art style and only ran in a window. In this case, just stick to the original release.

Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant

Combat in most versions of Might and Magic II is very similar, using keyboard controls and showing only one enemy at a time. The Mac version, however, is fully mouse-driven and uses the Mac’s GUI to display multiple windows at a time. While slick, many players find that managing a party of six characters is much easier with the keyboard’s hotkeys. The Japanese PC-98 port is also mouse-driven, but instead of multiple windows, it has an entirely different combat screen, which shows the party and the enemies.

Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World

Might and Magic I was first released on the Apple II. The DOS port arrived later, and it’s very faithful, just changing some colors and fonts. The Mac port, however, makes full use of the machine’s mouse support and high-resolution (albeit monochrome) graphics, introducing a vastly superior interface. The Japanese machines were much better at handling colors, so their versions have the best visuals among PC releases.

The NES port has some drastic changes – the interface is menu-based, a mini-map was added, and graphics are much better, making it arguably the best version available in English. Finally, the PC Engine version is actually a remake. Adapted to Japanese audiences, it features a cast of six fixed heroes, a fancy intro sequence, adds an on-screen mini-map and it’s fully voiced. Sadly, it was only released in Japan.

Might and Magic I – Exploration Comparison

Might and Magic I – Combat Comparison

This style of game porting would continue until the early 2000s, when several factors such as the massive popularity of consoles, the economical struggles of PC developers, the market dominance of a few giant publishers and the arrival of the Xbox pushed all games towards multi-platform releases.

Overall, the Commodore Amiga version of some games released between 1985 and 1990 had much superior graphics and sound, but getting the WinUAE Amiga emulator to run can be slightly more complex. Your best option is using the more friendly FS-UAE release, or the Amiga Forever emulator – it’s paid, but comes with pre-configured setups.

For titles released before 1985, the Apple II versions are usually the best alternative, as the AppleWin emulator is extremely easy to use, and you can also play online at Virtual Apple II.

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