For those not familiar with it, “Axe of Rage” is the title with which Epyx released “Barbarian II” in the USA back in the day.
To say that Epyx botched “Barbarian II” is an understatement. I’d say the Epyx guys that were involved tried to get away with as little work as possible during their adaptation for NTSC. They ended up changing things that were not necessary (such as certain colours and the characters in the initial load picture) but avoided doing a proper NTSC adaptation for what concerns the load tune playback (absent), level-end transitions (absent) and inter-level load pictures (absent)!
Together with Flavioweb we worked at an enhanced release. Part of the work involved restoring the original feeling of the game, essentially filling in the gaps the Epyx guys left in their questionable release.
One practical example of the extra work I personally did was to re-instantiate the inter-level load pictures that the Epyx guys removed, as they released under a different title. In fact, the original pictures show the game’s title, “Barbarian II”, which they could not use:
Therefore I adapted these load pictures, as per example below:
As it happens in the original version of “Barbarian II”, mine are char-mode pictures too. However, unlike the original game, where each picture is a different file with just a different level number in the font-set, I created a single font-set with all three level numbers in it and some code to just put the relevant number in the “LEVEL x LOADING” message.
The way I went from the picture to a font-set involves using my own tool, “C64 Hires2Charmode”. I know: I shall change its name at some point as “hires” is used with a different meaning in the C64 graphics community, but bear with me on this one for now.
The first operation I had to do was decide which colours were going to be represented by each of the four two-bit combinations %00, %01, %10, %11. I picked these according to the original pictures, of course. Therefore I produced a grey-scale version of the picture, using the C64 palette, leaving level numbers as the last elements so that they would all end up at the very end of the font-set:
Running the picture through my tool, I got the following:
And the output was:
As you can appreciate, “C64 Hires2Charmode” left level numbers where instructed, i.e. where they can be accessed in a predictable way. Not only that, my tool also produced the video map for Subchrist’s CharPad 1.8.3, with which I was then able to fill in the map’s colour data, do a few tiny adjustments, and finally export font-set, video RAM and color RAM data to separate files.
Here’s the final product for loading level 2:
You can download the CharPad project from here.
Finally, the code that puts the level number in place is as per below:
lda $39 ; Current level clc adc #$93 ; Index of the char '2' sta $ee43
Another contribution I made to this release is the maps for all levels! Yes, if you have ever played the game back in the day you know how frustrating it is to navigate each level without maps! I am putting a copy of the maps here for future Web searches.
That’s all for now, enjoy this release 🙂