WC1 EMS vs Non-EMS video comparison

-danr-

Vice Admiral
Going to be making a few WC1 related videos for the anniversary, since I've not done this much before, figured I'd test out the software and my microphone with this oddball curiosity video.

Inspired by a thread from earlier this week, this one's aimed mostly at the kids that don't remember seeing Wing Commander in low memory environment, or even in EGA.

The music I've used is from the Amiga version.


In the coming weeks I'll be putting together a video comparison of all the WC1 ports.

I miss those days.
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
Nice video. It's good to see a reminder about how the PC version of a game could change radically on different systems and configurations. While my computer ran VGA/MCGA just fine, I spent many hours seeing how well different games handled EGA. I'd like to extend a dishonorable mention to Space Quest V.
  • Most colors turned gray.
  • Many scenes contained color cycling and other palette effects which the EGA driver simply ignored.
  • In my version, the crest scrubbing arcade sequence had an option to skip in EGA, but using it didn't work and left the game incompletable.
Minor correction: at 0:14 in your voiceover, you refer to EMS as "Extended Memory". XMS is Extended Memory, EMS is Expanded Memory. I do not know any useful way to remember this distinction.

To really limit a game, you can reduce the amount of available memory still further by using the LOADFIX command. (That's the one we use in small doses to make WC2 behave properly.)

WC1 Low memory launch.png


If no EMS memory is available, by the time I use LOADFIX to consume an additional 80kB, the explosions turn into flak bursts, and music is gone during flight sequences.

WC1 Low memory explosion.gif


This happens up to 86kB. If I try this with LOADFIX -87 WC.EXE, the game won't even launch. These numbers may vary slightly with your DOSBox configuration, since what actually matters is the amount of low memory available, not how much you consume.

At some point the cockpit damage effects (sparks and dangling wires) also vanish. Overall, WC1 had impressively graceful degradation under low memory conditions. Graphics and music vanish one at a time, as the game still loads everything it can squeeze into the remaining space. However, I do remember a futile series of attempts to tweak the CONFIG.SYS on a boot disk for a friend's 286 in the hope of getting WC1 to even launch. Meanwhile, my fancy 486DX-33 had to be slowed to 16MHz to make the game playable.
 
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-danr-

Vice Admiral
@Dondragmer - thanks for the great reply, can't believe I gave the video the wrong name! That flack blast in your GIF is just how I remember the explosions, I was unaware about the music stopping too - but that's because in my early PC playthroughs I didn't have a soundcard, instead I used to enjoy the glorious PC speaker SFX. Thanks for straightening all that out.

Fortunately by the time I played Space Quest V I was up to a 486!
 

Owyn_Merrilin

Chief Petty Officer
Nice video. It's good to see a reminder about how the PC version of a game could change radically on different systems and configurations. While my computer ran VGA/MCGA just fine, I spent many hours seeing how well different games handled EGA. I'd like to extend a dishonorable mention to Space Quest V.
  • Most colors turned gray.
  • Many scenes contained color cycling and other palette effects which the EGA driver simply ignored.
  • In my version, the crest scrubbing arcade sequence had an option to skip in EGA, but using it didn't work and left the game incompletable.
Minor correction: at 0:14 in your voiceover, you refer to EMS as "Extended Memory". XMS is Extended Memory, EMS is Expanded Memory. I do not know any useful way to remember this distinction.

To really limit a game, you can reduce the amount of available memory still further by using the LOADFIX command. (That's the one we use in small doses to make WC2 behave properly.)

View attachment 7354

If no EMS memory is available, by the time I use LOADFIX to consume an additional 80kB, the explosions turn into flak bursts, and music is gone during flight sequences.

View attachment 7355

This happens up to 86kB. If I try this with LOADFIX -87 WC.EXE, the game won't even launch. These numbers may vary slightly with your DOSBox configuration, since what actually matters is the amount of low memory available, not how much you consume.

At some point the cockpit damage effects (sparks and dangling wires) also vanish. Overall, WC1 had impressively graceful degradation under low memory conditions. Graphics and music vanish one at a time, as the game still loads everything it can squeeze into the remaining space. However, I do remember a futile series of attempts to tweak the CONFIG.SYS on a boot disk for a friend's 286 in the hope of getting WC1 to even launch. Meanwhile, my fancy 486DX-33 had to be slowed to 16MHz to make the game playable.
Is it weird that I actually like that explosion better than the ones you see on a system with enough EMS? They kind of remind me of the explosions in WC2, but smaller.
 
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FredDude32

Commodore
EMS?
Oh sweet Jebus! I thought I had repressed all those bad memories about making EMS work on old DOS games...I think I need some more therapy now!
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
Is it weird that I actually like that explosion better than the ones you see on a system with enough EMS? They kind of remind me of the explosions in WC2, but smaller.

No, it's not weird, and it may be because you're noting a limitation in the regular WC1 explosion.

WC1 High memory explosion.gif
WC1 Low memory explosion.gif


The WC1 explosion (on the left) only has 6 cels. The game stretches this by displaying each cel for multiple frames - 1, 2, 3, 3, 4 and 6 frames respectively, for a total of 19. The cels are scaled up between frames to make some movement happen. This is clever programming to overcome limited memory and art resources, but still feels a little odd to watch.

In comparison, the low-memory flak burst (on the right) has 10 cels, each displayed for 1 frame. It may be smaller and shorter, but it is smoother.

Let's watch them in slow motion, the way our 286-using ancestors did.

WC1 High memory explosion slow.gif
WC1 Low memory explosion slow.gif


For completeness, let's look at WC2.

The WC2 fighter explosion (below left) has 17 cels, and the WC2 capital ship explosion (below right) has 12 (ending with the whole screen flashing yellow, then white, then fading back.)

WC2 Fighter explosion.gif
WC2 Capital ship explosion.gif


I extracted the WC2 sequences with the Wing Commander Bitmap Navigator. While WC1 and WC2 store their explosions in GAMEDAT\OBJECTS.VGA, the programmatic enhancements to each (the scaling in WC1 and the fading in WC2) mean you probably can't just use editing tools to swap explosion sequences between the two games.

With all that said, I still have a soft spot for the 6-cel WC1 explosion and its scaling tricks. However, there's no question that every other explosion used in WC1 and WC2 animates more smoothly.
 

Howard Day

Random art guy.
So! I've been wanting to share this for a while...Did you know that the WC2 explosions were pulled directly from Star Wars? Return of the Jedi, to be exact. The Primary "ship destroyed" explosion is from a Tie-Fighter that crashes into the command tower of a Star Destroyer (4:37):
And the Capital Ship explosion is Pull from the first Calimari Cruiser destroyed by the second Death Star (3:39):
I assume the art team scanned in some VHS tapes of the movie and converted the frames to the WC palette. I always knew that the WC explosions looked familiar, but I was never sure exactly why until later, when I got access to DVD versions of the film...

Anyhow, I hope you've enjoyed this small slice of historical context!
 

-danr-

Vice Admiral
So! I've been wanting to share this for a while...Did you know that the WC2 explosions were pulled directly from Star Wars? Return of the Jedi, to be exact. The Primary "ship destroyed" explosion is from a Tie-Fighter that crashes into the command tower of a Star Destroyer (4:37):
And the Capital Ship explosion is Pull from the first Calimari Cruiser destroyed by the second Death Star (3:39):
I assume the art team scanned in some VHS tapes of the movie and converted the frames to the WC palette. I always knew that the WC explosions looked familiar, but I was never sure exactly why until later, when I got access to DVD versions of the film...

Anyhow, I hope you've enjoyed this small slice of historical context!

I can't believe I never noticed that! Well spotted, an intriguing crossover.
 
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