Review: Stunt Car Racer

Stunt Car Racer

ST Format Review

My Review

For this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 117. The menu has a cool picture of Garfield, but more importantly some rather excellent chip music, along with the traditional scrolly message.

I fired up the menu, enter my name and I’m in a single-player league. I could have chosen to race two Atari STs linked together with an RS232 cable, but then I’d have to find two Atari STs, an RS232 cable and someone else who likes ST games.

I decided to start with practice, and found my car being airlifted onto the track and then dropped unceremoniously to its surface. Graphics are basic, with the rather plain outer panel disguising the small 3D rendered area which chugs along at a fairly sedate pace. That said, controls remain responsive, and when I crash it’s my fault. This is of course to be expected because this is the creation of the legend himself, Geoff Crammond.

For those who don’t know, Geoff created the F1GP games for Microprose, and they were legendary. However, Stunt Car Racer is what he made before embarking on his F1 journey. Where his F1 games were fairly pure simulations, SCR is a bit more arcade, though it is among a fairly select few early games to use vector 3D to create a real world, things which tended to be a hallmark of simulation vs arcade racers which tended to use a sprite and rolling road (think Outrun or Super Hang-On).

Kicking off the career mode I faced my first race against Jumpin Jack. In this race I would be tasked with racing a track with a jump and a ramp, against my single AI opponent. Controls are simple enough, with the stick controlling acceleration, braking and steering and fire enabling the boost (which lasts for a limited time and sees flames come from your engine),

The race began with him hurtling off into the distance, leaving me in the dust. I did however fight back and on the 3rd and final lap it seemed I’d passed him, only for him to pass me on the final sprint to the line. As has become tradition in these reviews, I had failed.

This failure screen gives an early hint of how Microprose (MicroStyle was one of their labels) would go on to become one of the best companies for pixel art scenes – you can clearly see it’s a conversion from an 8-bit image where we’ll get more impressive work later more tuned to 16-bit graphics, but the techniques and the house style are starting to take shape.

Stunt Car Racer is a decent early effort at a 3D vector racing game, and one with fairly unique subject matter due to its peculiar tracks. That might itself be recommendation enough for some, as it’s a solid game. For me however, I’d rather play Geoff’s F1 games.

ST Format Issue 4

ST Format Issue 4 – Download

[btw – just a little something about why I post news from the previous month.. the magazine is marked as November 1989 but it comes out in October, so I talk about October].

The World in October 1989
In the UK we had our first World Wrestling Federation event. Rover launched the 200 series, and England qualified for Italia 90 by drawing with Poland. The stock market fell dramatically fuelling fears of a recession, while the party formed from the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party renamed itself to the Liberal Democrats. They were irrelevant then, had a brief spell in coalition in the 2010s but then faded back to irrelevance. The Guildford Four, wrongly convicted of terrorist activity in 1975. Labour had a 10 point lead over the Tories, but with the previous election in 1987, they would have to wait until 1992 to have a crack at the Tories, and in reality they had peaked too soon. British rail announced YET ANOTHER delay to the Channel Tunnel.

In America the Dow Jones hit a record high of 2791.41 (at time of writing it’s currently 26501.60). The Galileo Probe was sent on its journey to Jupiter (I love shit like that), and the Flag Protection Act came into effect, sparking protests. It was eventually struck down.

Elsewhere, Communism was in decline, with East Germany having to close its border with Czechoslovakia to prevent emigration among other things, with Hungary declaring its Third Republic, marking the end of Communism.

On TV Jeremy Paxman made his first appearance as presenter of Newsnight where he would gain a reputation for a combative style. Michael Palin began his career in travel TV by debuting his Around The World In 80 Days. ITV added a third weekly episode of Coronation Street, contributing to the over-saturation of soaps on British TV. Birds Of A Feather first appeared on BBC1 – it was billed as comedy but it was never funny. It would last for 11 years, and then return in 2014 for fuck’s sake.

The film charts see Robin Williams being fucking brilliant in Dead Poets Society at #1. At #2 was the silly but kinda fun in a cheesy way K9, with Lethal Weapon 2 at #5, and The Fly 2 at #7 (I honestly didn’t know there was a sequel).

The album chart sees a new entry from Kylie Minogue, the difficult second album which saw a continuation of the Stock, Aitken and Waterman formula with some absolute bangers. Tracy Chapman’s Crossroads and Tina Turner’s Foreign Affair follow with Gloria Estefan next, in a female-dominated top 4.

The singles chart has Jive Bunny at #1 but there is at least some decent stuff below with Black Box, Technotronic, Sydney Youngblood and Rebel MC. The big stand-out is of course Billy Joel with We Didn’t Start The fire.

The Magazine
Issue 4 has quite an interesting cover, showing the mythical 4160 STE, along with a screen showing Interphase, a game they seemed curiously obsessed with but which to me was a tech demo in search of a game, a curio no doubt but of little real interest. The news is somewhat critical of Atari’s poor effort at the PC show, where the TT and Stacy (ST laptop though at 13lb it’s bloody heavy) were in hiding, with the STE also ignored, as Atari tried to flog a 286 PC. Atari hid them because they didn’t think they’d sell. That lack of confidence in their product shows the lack of professionalism in Atari at this time.

We have a hands-on of the new STE, including damning verdicts from a number of game developers (back when developers spoke their minds with no PR handlers). Atari would later complain about this, but the feedback is fair and perhaps explains the lack of support for the STE’s featureset, given it was such a minor upgrade from the STFM, with such muddled marketing.

The disk had a demo of Interphase, though a later issue would feature the full game, prompting a ban on full games being attached to magazines. We have an interesting feature on viruses, which worked a little differently in those days. These days viruses are written by criminals looking to make money, either by stealing data from you, or locking it cryptographically (eg CryptoLocker), or using your machine in a botnet. In the old days however, STs generally weren’t connected, so viruses were transferred on disks, usually doing so by writing themselves to the boot sector so that when the disk was run they would remain in memory and write themselves to any unprotected disk that was later inserted. Some would even stay in memory after a reset. They were generally done for fun by hackers, rather than for profit, and in many cases would just do something mischievous like inverting the Y-axis of your mouse.

We have a feature on laser printers, but that’s not very interesting as they were still pretty niche and VERY expensive (£1-2k in 1989 money… ouch). More interesting is a section on cracking, giving advice on how it’s done using a demo game for the purpose. Remarkably brave, but then this is from the days when magazines included things like addresses of hardware registers. It was a different time, more techie and more dedicated to nerds learning how the box works. I miss those days.

Elvira got her tits out for Elvira Mistress of the dark, while Ubisoft were preparing Pro Tennis Tour, and we continued to wait for Damocles from the wonderful Paul Woakes (spoiler – it’s one of my all-time favourites). There were a few other games which weren’t terribly notable but the remaining standout is Tower Of Babel, which I’ve never played but remember having a huge buzz around it when I first got my ST on Christmas 1989.

There’s an adventure game preview for some reason, covering Larry 3, Space Quest 3, Colonel’s Bequest and Hero’s Quest.

Games reviewed this month:
Indiana Jones – The Graphic Adventure (SCUMM adventure – US Gold – £24.95 – 77%)
Interphase (Abstract 3D shooter – Mirrorsoft – £29.99 – 93% Format Gold)
Altered Beast (Beat Em Up – Activision – £19.95 – 82%)
Continental Circus (Racer – Virgin/Mastertronic – £19.99 – 83%)
Stunt Car Racer (Racer – Microstyle – £24.99 – 74%)
Ferrari Formula One (Racer – EA – £24.99 – 62%)
TV Sports Football (American Football – Mirrorsoft – £24.99 – 68%)
Rainbow Warrior (Greenpeace Propaganda – Microstyle – £24.95 – 47%)
Battletech (RPG – Infocom – £24.99 – 72%)
Space Quest 3 (Comedy Adventure – Sierra On-line – £29.99 – 83%)

Not as exciting a selection as last week – I think Stunt Car Racer will likely be my main review, and I’ll have a look to see if the SCUMM system runs a little better in Indy than it did in Zak, but otherwise I think this is an issue to move on from as quickly as possible. I’m aware that Space Quest 3 might be of some interest but I feel that’s one of less value for me to review given it’s still available today from gog for instance. That said, again I might poke around to see if it’s any fun, and if I feel I can get anything worthwhile out of it I’ll put something together.

Review: Stunt Car Racer

Stunt Car Racer ST Format Review My Review For this review I’m running Steem with my usual 1MB STFM. This is from Automation Menu 117. The menu has a cool picture of Garfield, but more importantly some rather excellent chip music, along with the traditional scrolly message. I fired up the menu, enter my name…More