Tuesday (Night) Treasures: Indianapolis 500: The Simulation

On this past Sunday, the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 went underway. The Indy 500 is an automobile race that I have enjoyed watching since I can remember, and as a youth I rarely missed seeing it. Actually, I loved auto racing so much that in third grade, I dressed up as sport legend Mario Andretti by wearing a blue tracksuit similar to the fire suit Andretti wore during races. Ah, to be young and have heroes…

For this post, I’m going to cover a game that I’ve been meaning to write about since this blog began. As the title of this post suggests, that game is Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, an auto racing simulator released for DOS in 1989 and Amiga in 1990. Published by Electronic Arts and developed by Papyrus (which went on to develop more quality racing simulators) Indy 500 is an auto racing simulator that recreates the actual 1989 running of its namesake race in great detail. With its early 3D graphics and meticulous physics engine, Indy 500 is one of the quintessential games of the racing simulator genre, providing a blueprint for similar racing games to come.

Before I get into the game, here’s a little history on the race itself. Constructed in 1909, the 2.5 mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway began as a brick and tar track that hosted small racing events, the first of which was raced by helium gas-filled balloons. In 1911, the track hosted its first 500 mile motorsport event, and since then has continued to do so on Memorial Day weekend. Some of motorsports’ most legendary names have competed in the Indy 500, from 4-time winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, to current greats like 3-time winner Helio Castroneves and 2008 winner Scott Dixon.

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Picture comes from mobygames.com

It should be noted that there were not a lot of racing simulators available when Indy 500 was released. Most driving games focused on arcade-style thrills as opposed to simulating actual driving. Two notable simulators are Geoff Crammond’s Formula One simulator Revs which debuted in 1984 and Atari’s stunt racer Hard Drivin’ which was released in arcades five years later. It was games like these along with Indy 500 which provided a change of focus in the genre of racing video games from solely focusing on arcade action in favor of simulating the nuances of driving.

Indy 500 places the player in the driver’s seat of a high-performance race car. Played from a first-person perspective (within the cockpit of the car), the game gives the player a choice of three vehicles: the red Lolo-Buick, the blue March- Cosworth, and my personal favorite, the yellow Penske-Chevrolet. The player can control his or her car with either a keyboard, mouse or joystick. A practice mode is available for players to hone their skills, and a qualifying mode is present should players want to shoot for a better position than the default placement of 33rd, which is last place.

Hard drivin’.                                                                 Picture comes from wikipedia.com.

Before a race, the player can customize the settings of his or her car, with options to modify everything from tire pressure to turbo output. The player has four lap settings of 10, 30, 60 and 200 laps which determine the length (and difficulty) of the race. The 10 and 30 lap settings disallow damage to the player car only (computer controlled cars are still vulnerable), while the remaining two settings allow damage to all cars. During a race, computer cars can suffer from random mechanical issues such as engine failure and oil leaks which can take them out of the competition.

One of Indy 500’s best features is its replay system, which allowed the player to watch the previous 20 seconds of gameplay. The replay mode features six different camera angles: TV, Leader, In-Car, Behind, Track, and Sky. It’s actually quite remarkable how thorough the replay feature is because it virtually covers all the action race. Furthermore, it adds to the overall authenticity of the experience, making it look as though an actual televised race is occurring.

I forget exactly how I got Indy 500, but I believe it came from a friend of my mother’s. It had everything– the manual, game diskette and other papers– but the game box. The game’s manual was of particular joy to me (I loved reading game manuals as a kid); it included a map of the track as it appeared in 1989 and provided lots of information on past drivers of the Indy 500. The driver info is especially important because it’s needed to start the game. Indy 500 was released during the days of rudimentary copy protection, so if you wanted to play the game you really needed to hold on to the manual.

Better dig out the literature…                             Picture comes from mobygames.com.

It was a good thing I enjoyed reading manuals, because the game’s harder difficulty settings demand further attentiveness to the nuances of driving. Every little detail about the car– from the health of its tires to the status of its engine– comes into play, and just like the real thing, one untimely move can end the player’s race for good.

Playing the game was an engaging experience. Cars made that signature high-pitched sound similar to that of the real Indy Cars, and the game’s physics engine made it feel as though I was driving on a superspeedway at over 200 MPH.

When I played Indy 500, it was mostly on the 10 lap setting. I tried to play the 60 and 200 lap modes but it was no go. The challenge level was too much for me. I would run backgrounds on the track until I wrecked every car, then watch the crashes on the replay. It was brainless fun for sure, but my main method of enjoying the game.

The attention to detail in Indy 500 was impressive for its time, and remained so even when I played it some 6 years after its release. Even now, considering current  advanced racing simulators such as Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport games, it’s difficult not to appreciate the work Indy’s creators did in simulating an auto race, especially considering the technology available at the time.

That does it for this segment. Below is some video footage of the game from YouTube user Subypowa. Until next time.

Peace & Pistons

P.S. I’d like to give a big thanks to Jim Nabors for singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” for the last time at the 500, after doing so for 42 years.

Edit: Added some info on the state of racing games in the 1980s.

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Please Excuse the Dust

We’re in the thick of spring, and in the spirit of new life and cleanup I’ll be looking over my articles and making some changes to things that I may have missed while writing and (poorly) editing them. I will still be posting new material, but for now my primary concern is on cleaning up the work that I’ve already done. To any new readers, please excuse the mess and know that steps are being taken to correct the errors and make sure future articles will be of better quality.

Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

More Batman Games

April 30th marked the final day of the DC Comics and Warner Bros. event, “Batman Month,” the month-long celebration of the Dark Knight’s 75th anniversary. Throughout April, I wrote several posts about Batman’s history in video games, but I definitely left out a number of titles. In the spirit of May, the month in which the first Batman comic was cover dated, here are some more games that star Gotham’s caped champion.

Batman: The Caped Crusader (Ocean Software and Special FX Software, 1988)

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Ocean’s second Batman game after its 1986 game Batman (the first video game Batman appeared in), Batman: The Caped Crusader is an action/adventure game for the home gaming computers of the time. Batman squares off against supervillains Joker and Penguin. The game is split into two parts, one for each villain, and features side-scrolling action and puzzles.

Batman: Return of the Joker (Sunsoft, 1991/92)

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Developed by Sunsoft, makers of Batman: The Video GameBatman: Return of the Joker is an original adventure in which Batman must battle the Joker after the crazed criminal escaped from a mental institution. Originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991, the game would later appear on the Sega Genesis as Batman: Revenge of the Joker. A different version of it appeared on the Nintendo Game Boy, though it does share the name of the NES original. Interestingly, the NES version features Batman using a jetpack which, amazing as that is, doesn’t happen often.

Batman Returns (Various, 1992/93)

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There were several games based on Tim Burton’s 1992 film Batman Returns. Konami made the DOS and the Nintendo Entertainment System versions and published one for the Super Nintendo; Dentons made one for the Amiga; Atari made one for its Lynx handheld and Sega hired developers to make the Sega CD, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear and Genesis versions which it published.

Most versions of the games are standard side-scrolling action games in which Batman battles Penguin and Catwoman, the villains from the film. The DOS version, however, is more of an adventure game that focuses on detective work.

Batman: The Animated Series (Konami,1992)

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Developed and published exclusively for the Game Boy, Batman: The Animated Series is the first game based on the cartoon show of the same name. A side-scrolling platformer, the player controls Batman (Robin is occasional available for play at certain points) through five levels as he battles supervillains such as Catwoman and Joker.

Batman Forever (Acclaim, 1995)

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Oh, man… where to begin? Based off the 1995 film of the same name, Acclaim’s Batman Forever is a side-scrolling beat-em-up in which players can choose either Batman, Robin (or both in two player mode) to fight the forces of Riddler and Two-Face. BF saw release on all the major systems of its day, including the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Game Boy and DOS.

I rented the Genesis version of BF and it frustrated me greatly. The gameplay is rather clunky, and though are apparently a number of special moves for Batman and Robin to perform, the game intentionally doesn’t tell you how to do them. Two things about this game are worthwhile: the commercial for it (which is better than the actual product) and the friendly fire option in two-player mode. Hitting your partner when trying in vain to hit enemies? Utter brilliance.

Batman and Robin (Acclaim, 1998)

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Based on the 1997 film of the same name, Batman & Robin is an action/adventure game for the Sony PlayStation and Tiger Electronics ill-fated handheld, the Game.com. The film’s three heroes, Batman, Robin and (in the PS version only) Batgirl are available to do tackle against supervillains Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy.The PlayStation version is a sandbox style game set in a Gotham City with traffic and civilians, and the Game.com iteration is a side-scrolling action platformer. Neither game was well-received, much like their film inspiration.

Batman: Gotham City Racer (Ubisoft and Sinister Games, 2001)

Developed by Sinister Games and published by Ubisoft, this game is an action/racing game based off The New Batman Adventures cartoon show, which debuted in 1997. A PlayStation exclusive, the game features 51 levels set throughout Gotham City as well as clips from the cartoon.

Batman: Rise of Siz Tzu (Ubisoft, 2003)

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An original title, this is an action/adventure game for the Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox. The titular Sin Tzu is a villain made especially for the game, and players must defeat Tzu and a host of classic villains such as Bane and Clayface. The game features a two-player cooperative mode in which players can choose to control Batman, Batgirl, Robin, or Nightwing.

Batman: Justice Unbalanced (The Learning Company, 2003)

An adventure title for Windows and Macintosh, Batman: Justice Unbalanced is a game for grade school age children. It features the Dark Knight and Robin as they attempt to thwart Two-Face and Penguin from stealing valuable jeweled eggs and destroying Gotham City property.

This is one of the few Batman games that focuses more on adventure and puzzle solving than beating up random thugs. Interestingly enough, it’s the only game I know of that includes the Batcopter!

Lego Batman Series (Warner Bros. Interactive and Traveler’s Tales (UK) Ltd., 2008 and 2012)

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By the Summer of 2008, game developer Traveler’s Tale had Lego-fied both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. In the Fall of that year, the company developed Lego Batman: The Video Game, for all of the major systems at the time, including the PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS, Windows and Xbox 360. An action/adventure title, Lego Batman stars the Dark Knight and Robin as they battle a number of supervillains that have escaped the maximum security mental institution Arkham Asylum. Noted for its fun gameplay and light-hearted humor, the game appeals to both children and adults.

In 2012, Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, was released, and includes several other heroes from the DC Universe like Superman and Green Lantern.

Arkham Series (Eidos, Rocksteady Studios, Warner Bros. Montreal, Warner Bros. Interactive; 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014)

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Batman’s video game history took a big leap in 2009 when Eidos and Rocksteady Studios’ (with Warner Bros. Interactive) Batman: Arkham Asylum dropped for Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. As Batman, the player curb the chaos at Arkham Asylum after the newly arrived Joker has taken it over. Arkham Asylum is one of the few games that takes advantage of all of Batman’s traits: his detective skills, gadgets and martial arts prowess are all available for the player to use. Furthermore, legendary scribe Paul Dini (who penned several stories for Batman: The Animated Series.) wrote the game’s story.

The game became a critical and commercial success, spawning three sequels: 2011’s Arkham City, 2013’s Arkham Origins, and 2015’s Arkham Knight, which will include the series’ first drivable Batmobile.

That does it for this segment. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

All pictures, save for the Arkham series (gameranx.com), Batman Forever and Batman: Gotham City Racer (both from wikipedia) come from mobygames.com. 

Edit: Had to update this post a little. Removed the video game history month bits and noted that Batman: Arkham Knight will come out next year, not this Fall as originally stated.