Matt Reviews The Bard's Tale

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Hi, guys. Do you remember The Bard's Tale, the epic 1985 role-playing game by Michael Cranford? You should! In any case, perhaps this video will show you why you should care about this classic.

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Bill Loguidice
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Superb job, that episode had

Superb job, that episode had it all!

I have several versions of The Bard's Tale. Perhaps the most intriguing one is the one from Britain I have on cassette tape. I can't imagine what voodoo they did to make it run from tape, but one of these days I'll have to try it. I don't recall having either the Amiga or ST versions, but I believe I have the IIGS version, which I'm sure is pretty much the same as those, and that is likely the one I'd try to play it on. I've certainly tried to play The Bard's Tale before, but as you say, brutal, brutal difficulty and I had a great deal of trouble finding my groove with the game...

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Matt Barton
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Thanks, Bill. I was a bit

Thanks, Bill. I was a bit disappointed that the Amiga, Atari ST, and IIgs versions are so similar. They must have been working hard to make them identical rather than do anything special for the platforms' particular strengths. I'm starting to get that impression from a lot of different games for that set of platforms. For whatever reason, the DOS version (which I should probably have shown) is noticeably different, such as the opening graphic of the bard (that's right, the more advanced platforms got a still graphic instead of the great opening animation in the C-64/Apple II versions!)

At least the guys doing the NES version took some liberties with the license.

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Bill Loguidice
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Ports
Matt Barton wrote:

Thanks, Bill. I was a bit disappointed that the Amiga, Atari ST, and IIgs versions are so similar. They must have been working hard to make them identical rather than do anything special for the platforms' particular strengths. I'm starting to get that impression from a lot of different games for that set of platforms. For whatever reason, the DOS version (which I should probably have shown) is noticeably different, such as the opening graphic of the bard (that's right, the more advanced platforms got a still graphic instead of the great opening animation in the C-64/Apple II versions!)

At least the guys doing the NES version took some liberties with the license.

I think RPGs especially suffered from that syndrome of a minor graphical facelift, and maybe a slightly "improved" interface to take into account the standard mice on those platforms. Just like ports to the C-64 from the Apple II often used the inferior graphics (particularly color) of the source platform (and sometimes even the sound), I imagine one 16-bit graphics/sound package was created that would then be shared across those respective platforms (however it was done, it absolutely was a common occurrence to create shared engine types and assets across a certain range of systems).

With that said, I think there's a deeper issue with any port--how much time, effort, and financial resources do you want to put into another version of the same game, when the original formula works and you have to develop for a variety of platforms, meaning that your resources are already greatly stretched. By my count, The Bard's Tale was available on 11 different platforms. I'm sure the game sold better on some platforms than the others. Simple economics for the time I guess.

I remember the first Gold Box game ported to the Amiga. The development team responsible for the port took the time to create enhanced 32-color graphics and sound. Most of the subsequent Gold Box games were pretty much straight up 16 color IBM EGA ports, with minimal sound. The Atari ST, Amiga, and even the Apple IIGS all suffered through a bevy of straight up EGA ports (the hallmark was the distinctive and garish EGA color pallette, that weren't necessary on the other platforms, even in their respective 16 color modes), and even from the biggest names at the time, like Sierra.

I for one don't mind minor sound/graphical facelifts for ports, as long as the ports retain ALL of the features of the original. When you LOSE features, like incidental animations or even feature-sets, then you start to REALLY disappoint in my opinion. Naturally, some development toolsets and environments were designed to do certain things on certain platforms (like The Bard's Tale into animations you spoke about, Matt), but it's logical that when it's something relatively straightforward like that, it should be incorporated into the game even if it requires a little extra effort.

As a kid, as a C-64 user, I was ambivalent about shoddy Apple II ports. The example I often use is Origin's AutoDuel, which was a literal clone of the Apple II version, with ZERO consideration for the capabilities of the C-64. It looked, sounded and played like an Apple II game. You know what, though, once I got past my initial disgust, I still loved and beat the game. So I think even though we don't have to really like ports of old, if it still plays well and looks and sounds at least reasonable, that's probably enough these days to enjoy it, since the technological prowess no longer matters.

Interestingly, if you compare say the Xbox 360 to the PS3 and their respective multi-platform games, you often need to break out the heavy duty analyzers to discern any differences, which often come down to a frame rate stutter or two, or the occasionally less sharp texture. Again, shared assets will do that, and I'm sure that's what we were dealing with in the past, though I'm sure it wasn't always quite that straightforward...

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Bill Loguidice
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Facebook and more on ports

You probably need to be a Facebook member (or my friend on there, I'm not sure), but there are some interesting comments there as well: http://www.facebook.com/billloguidice?v=wall&story_fbid=1456054796049 . I'm not sure if this comment from Bill Johnson is IIGS-specific like he claims, but if it was, then that's an example of throwing a little something extra into the port: "Little known Easter Egg.. On the IIGS Version of Bards Tale I, if you go to the Temple of the Mad God and say HAMBURGER you will get destroyed for uttering such a profane word."

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Matt Barton
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That's interesting about the

That's interesting about the Hamburger. It's an obvious reference to Burger Bill (aka Becky) Heineman, who is my friend on facebook! So, I sent her a message to ask for clarification/verification on it. In any case, from what I've gathered from personal email correspondence with Michael, there seems to have been some bad blood between the two; he wanted to emphasize that Becky had no role in the development of the original game. Here's exactly what he said:

Matt, I should mention that some of the stuff out there, particularly things written by Bill Heineman (who was barely involved the first few couple of years relating to the Bard's Tale and had virtually nothing to do with BT1 and BT2) are incorrect. I knew Bill well at the time and he was something of a hermit who huddled in his cubicle, out of touch with the larger process at Interplay. So feel free to check back on any facts with me and I'll give you the accurate account.

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Orakio "O Gagá" Rob (not verified)
Excellent stuff

Very very nice show as always, Matt. I have never played this game (in fact, the only old CRPGs I've played were Ultima I and Might and Magic I), but I was very curious to learn about it. And the "live action remake" was really funny... congratulations!

Matt Barton
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Burger

I have received clarification from Ms. Heineman:

The word is BURGER. If you say that in the temple of the Mad God they will summon a huge pile of monsters to kill you for the crime of blasphemy. It was homage to me putting an Easter egg in my old games when you type that word."

She also adds that she did most of the ports and Bard's Tale III, so the mystery is solved as far as I'm concerned.

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Matt Barton
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By the way, Ms. Heineman just

By the way, Ms. Heineman just agreed to be a guest on the show, so we can finally get all this cleared up.

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Chris Kennedy
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Excellent show, Matt.

I've enjoyed the interviews and look forward to the Ms. Heineman interview (...Matt Chat or podcast?). That said, it was nice to see a return to gaming commentary with this one.

I was also quite happy that my character appeared to survive! (at least in the footage that made the cut)

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Matt Barton
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A bit more clarification from

A bit more clarification from Ms. Heineman:

Rebecca Heineman wrote:

I wrote the graphics routines, the animation system, the audio code, the 1541 fastloader (C64), and all the art processing tools and was the one who did the ports, such at the IIgs versions. It was because of my background involvement with Bard's Tale I and II (And with Wasteland) which was why I was the one who was given the task to do Bard's Tale III and then Dragon Wars. I have the full source code to all the Bard's Tale games, and there is a lot of it with my name in it, not Michael's. Michael wrote the game logic and the main scenario code (Quite poorly, I had to re-write pretty much all of it to get it to work on other platforms). So, Michael did "write" Bard's Tale, however all the graphic and audio tricks that made it unique were of my design.

Cranford had a reputation for being a glory hog, plus the falling out with Interplay was caused by Michael holding the final version of Bard's Tale I hostage in exchange for Brian's signature on a contract giving Michael royalties. You see, no one at Interplay got royalties. We all were "work for hire" and Michael didn't appreciate that. Because the contract gave Michael control of Bard's Tale II, that's why it was so difficult a game (No one could challenge Michael's design). For Bard's Tale III, Michael Cranford was dismissed and I had Michael Stackpole work with me on both the story and the play balancing which was why I've been told that BT III was the best of the series.

Hmm, "Bill"? Did you speak to Michael over 6 years ago? He is fully aware of my transition and if he's still referring to me by that name, it's a bit disrespectful.

It certainly appears there is some serious misinformation out there about this series. I've tried repeatedly to contact Mr. Cranford to no avail (apparently the email address I have for him is no longer in service).

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