Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Day 66 - en route

One of my favourite game genres is the racing game.  I love flogging the life out of a car (or bike, truck, whatever) engine, roaring down highways or around tracks at the highest speeds possible, all the while fending off the attentions of evil opponents who will stop at nothing to leave me eating their dust, or worse, the asphalt.

Unfortunately, they were quite difficult games to pull off effectively on the 8-bits.  That didn't mean there wasn't a multitude of choice, and even when they weren't great, I would often play them for hours on end.  What can I say?  I needed my speed fix.

Time? You'd think they'd have had time to clean the track before we raced on it!
What our favourite computers lacked in power when attempting to convert arcade racing giants, though, they made up for through the programmers' imagination and creativity.  And so for every failed or disappointing 3D arcade racer, you could find enjoyable and playable original racers or stunning overhead-view 2D games.  And they weren't all "racers", either... not all games where you drive a vehicle take place against the clock.

Some arcade conversions were successful, though.  On the Commodore 64, Buggy Boy is renowned as one of the best games available.  For the Spectrum, Chase HQ is generally regarded as being among the cream of the racing crop.  It's hard to argue... I played Buggy Boy to death in the day, and I've heard many a similar testimony regarding Speccy Chase HQ.

Erm... can you get my driving gloves out of the glove compartment, please?
What of the original games, though?  Most were based on arcade games, as was the way back then.  It was hard to be truly original with a racing or driving game.  The Kikstart games managed it, though, and managed to be fun, challenging and maddeningly addictive.  The urge to shave milliseconds from your best times pulled you back time after time, even if you did tend to end up gnashing your teeth with frustration.  Those games were so good that they live on today in spirit, through the Trials series.

Then there was Turbo Esprit on the Spectrum.  I must emphasise "on the Spectrum" here... the difference between Spectrum and C64 versions seems to have been like night and day, with possibly the largest ratings disparity I've ever seen in reviews... the ZX version receiving an impressive 88% in Crash magazine, with ZZAP! 64 awarding the Commodore version just 9%. With its original viewpoint and plot-driven gameplay, it made for a highly-satisfying alternative to the usual on-wheels fare.

It's burning like a flame, now nothing seems the same, I've lost control of mind and body...
From successful arcade ports like Turbo Out Run and Power Drift, to amazing originals like Stunt Car Racer and Turbo Charge, to those inspired by the arcades like BMX Simulator and Speed King, to other types of driving game like Deathchase and The Fury, our need for speed was very well catered for.  And I'll be writing about them all, and hopefully talking to their authors.

And with that, I'm going to leave you with this: a Commodore 64 game called Stock Car.  A lot like Super Sprint, it was a game you could customise almost to no end, and my mate Graeme and I played it for ages.  Trying it again now, I'm not quite sure why... it's not as much fun as I remember.  It must have been for that remarkable end sequence...


  1. Being stuck in a boring training course today gave me an opportunity to go back and reread your entire blog from the first entry. I'm even keener for your book now!

    I'd love to see something from Mike Lorenzen and/or Mimi Doggett. Mike was programmer and Mimi did art Accolade and they worked on one of my favourite C64 games (which you've already mentioned in your blog).

  2. Now they are a couple of names that bring back memories, particularly Mimi Doggett! Those Accolade games were so distinctive, in both art and sound, that I doubt I'll ever forget them.

    They may be on a road to travel another day, though... my original intention was to concentrate on the great programmers from outside the US and Japan, as they never get exposure in game books. But I would certainly love to do something featuring them at some point, it's just a question of when, and where it would fit in.

  3. Buggy Boy - now there's a game I've not played in a while! The arcade behind my house when I grew up had the 3 screen sit down cockpit cabinet and at the time it was just about the most amazing thing I'd ever seen! (they later had the upright Roadblasters, and the cockpit Hard Drivin' but Buggy Boy was always my favorite driving game in that arcade)

    Driving games in general were never my favorite genre, but thinking back there were some real classics (Spy Hunter, The Last V8, Supercars, The Lotus Turbo Challenge series... so many memories!)

  4. I can't believe someone has mentioned The Last V8 as a classic! Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it (completed it, which was actually no mean feat)... I'm just surprised anyone has especially fond memories of it as it was rock hard and not much fun for most people I know. Good on you!

  5. It was a tough game, you've got that right! But I think that was why I liked it... plus I seem to remember the music was pretty good.

  6. Good point, Paul. Had a mental lapse and forgot that Accolade was US. Looking forward to the next update.