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Why was Pinball Dreams series never released for the Atari ST

Posted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 2:47 am
by ivarf
Why was Pinball Dreams/Fantasies/Illusions never released for the Atari ST?
Growing up, it must have been hard seeing this great game on your Amiga-owning friends machines and not your Atari ST. I know that a good version of it was eventually released for the Atari Falcon. But that machine was seriously more powerful than the ST and sadly it didn't sell as well as Atari hoped.

Could the decent version of the game be coded today on the bog-standard Atari ST?

Re: Why was Pinball Dreams series never released for the Atari ST

Posted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:51 am
by Antiriad2097
It could have been coded back then, the standard ST was quite capable for this type of game.

In terms of overall smoothness of movement and presentation, Obsession on the STE would be the closest comparison to Pinball Dreams

Even Starball on the STFM was a pretty good attempt. Ball movement was a little janky, but let's make some allowances for it being a PD game. It shows promise that with a little time and money, it could be improved upon.

Certainly, vertical scrolling was a simple feat on any ST, since you could move the screen address pointer to any address. It struggled with horizontal scrolling, as there was no hardware to display a screen with an offset from the byte/word boundary of that screen address.

If there's a reason for no release of Pinball Dreams on ST, I'd suggest it's a financial one. Pinball games are a bit of a niche and ST conversions from Amiga had tailed off by 1992 due to the reduction in game sales on the system. I think that was the driver rather than any technical hurdle. Digital Illusions were Amiga coders themselves. They could probably have ported it, but I doubt they'd have wanted to.

Re: Why was Pinball Dreams series never released for the Atari ST

Posted: Sat Jun 13, 2020 4:52 am
by ivarf
Starball is new to me. Looks pretty decent, although it runs way smoother when running on the Atari Falcon. I wonder if that is the way it is captured, the processor difference or that the game actually can use the Falcon hardware scrolling.

Obsession is impressive, it seems like the Atari Falcon hardware is on par with the Amiga 1200. Would have loved that the newer 16-bit platforms could have had more success and it hadn't ended with the A500 and ST. Home computers to me was more fun than consoles.

I am used to software houses like US Gold and Domark that converts to many platforms no matter how bad the conversion is. KInd of refreshing having softwarehouses that doesn't do shovelware. Digital Illusions were from the swedish Amiga demo scene, so you have a good point there. Maybe 1992 or 1993 was late in the life for ST games. The Amiga and Atari ST didn't really get that many years as viable platforms compared to the 8-bits.

Re: Why was Pinball Dreams series never released for the Atari ST

Posted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 2:13 am
by English Invader
The ST did better with 90s ports than most people realise. It has respectable ports of Zool, the Lemmings games, Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder, the Lotus games, Premier Manager 1 and 2 and the STe only Sleepwalker is more or less identical to the Amiga version (the only drawback is that it was released on 4 disks instead of 2 and requires a disk change just for the continue screen - easily circumvented with the hard disk version).

The ST lost out on Team 17 for ideological reasons. I believe it was very core to their philosophy that they wanted to make games that pushed the Amiga to its limits and that meant not giving any consideration to porting games over to the ST which is a shame as I would love to have Worms, Alien Breed, Overdrive and Superfrog for my ST. It's also a shame that we didn't have a developer with a similar commitment to the ST back in the 90s but we're making up for it now with some impressive homebrews like r0x and Giana Sisters STe.

Re: Why was Pinball Dreams series never released for the Atari ST

Posted: Sun Jun 14, 2020 3:49 am
by Matt_B
Even vertical scrolling isn't that simple on the ST, as you can only point the start of the screen to a 256 byte boundary. With each line being 160 bytes long, that means only every eighth one is at a valid screen position (because 8*160=5*256) so a vertical hardware scroll ends up being a juddery 8 pixel jump. Thankfully, vertical software scrolling finer than that only requires copying the existing screen data to a new position and the 68000 can do that fairly efficiently, particularly if you scroll just two or three bitplanes rather than the whole screen. In contrast, horizontal scrolling requires rotate and shift operations that the 68000 is hopelessly slow at, so your only option is to pre-shift everything and hope nobody notices how repetitive your backgrounds look.

It looks like Starball is doing a software scroll on both the ST and Falcon, because there's that big status panel to the right of the screen that doesn't move, buying a bit of time for the CPU to scroll a smaller area. On the other hand, Obsession is seemingly using the hardware scroll on the STE and Falcon, which allows it to use the full screen at very little CPU cost. A third possiblility, at least if you were a reasonably knowledgeable demo coder, would be to use a technique known as sync scrolling. This works allows you to coax the ST's Shifter chip towards a particular start address by having a number of blank lines of varying lengths, and even allows for a horizontal hardware scroll of sorts.

Porting Pinball Dreams would certainly have been possible, although the talent necessary to pull off a version that looked good on all STs would have been thin on the ground and the platform was rapidly dying a death.