The first Indy 500 themed game we’ll be looking at this month is Indianapolis 500: The Simulation by Papyrus Design Group. This was released for the Amiga and DOS PCs in 1989. Papyrus were around for a long time and made some very popular and influential racing simulators, most notably NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. The source code of that game would later be used as the basis for the early builds of iRacing.com which was co-founded by Papyrus co-founder David Kaemmer.
The game simulates the full race weekend of the Indy 500 from practice through to qualifying and then finally, the race itself. The field is made up of the real entries for the 1989 race including their qualifying order. You as the player take the number 17 car which was driven by Rich Vogler who qualified in 33rd and last place for the race.
The 1989 Indy 500 is remembered for its dramatic finish which saw Al Unser Jr and Emerson Fittipaldi fighting for the lead 6 laps ahead of their nearest rival, Paul Boessel in 3rd place. With 2 laps to go, Unser and Fittipaldi were running side by side until they collided in turn 3 sending Unser into the wall and Fittipaldi to the first of his two Indy 500 wins.
Indianapolis 500: The Simulation let’s you choose to race any of three cars; a March, a Lola or a Penske. In its baseline setup the March is the slowest and easiest to handle, the Penske is the fastest and the Lola is in the middle. You can tune all these cars to your liking though if that’s something you’re into. With the right setup, even the March can be a competitive car. There’s all the different setup options you’d see in a modern sim: tyre pressure, stagger, camber, toe-in, all that kind of stuff. If I’m being honest, I don’t really understand it myself. Luckily there are still some FAQs floating around on the internet that include some good car setups.
You’ve got a few options for the kind of race you’d like to have. You can choose to race 10, 30, 60 or the full 200 laps. Each increment gradually adds more realism to the race, you start off at 10 laps with no cautions or player damage then 30 with just no damage and then full realism for 60 and 200. This also includes the need to look after your engine and occasionally take on fresh tyres and fuel.
This game is old but for 1989 it looks excellent. The track is recognisable with all the major landmarks present. You can make out the famous pagoda and the yard of bricks on the start finish-straight and all the grandstands including the distinctive VIP salon just outside of turn 2. It’s as accurate a depiction as you could get back then. With old 3D games you quite often get frame-rate issues but when you play it today in Dosbox, it’s pretty smooth. The same can’t be said for the Amiga version unfortunately.
With the game being 27 years old, the graphics aren’t the big draw here. What still makes this game worth bothering with is how it plays. After all this time, it’s still a lot of fun. The handling can be a bit challenging but it’s supposed to be. With a joystick or a mouse it actually handles well but it’s certainly not a game to be playing with keys.
Although this is a good game and in general it’s aged very well, there are a few rough edges. The AI is a bit clumsy. They have a habit of running you off the road and lapped cars don’t yield to you, quite the opposite in fact. This is compounded by the vision you have in the car; it’s not always easy to tell if you’ve completely passed somebody. There are rear view mirrors but they’ve got a very narrow field of view and you don’t have a spotter feeding you information. Your most useful cue is the noise of the other car’s engine. I play with my own engine noise turned off to make that process a bit easier. Also the DOS version’s engine sound is like a swarm of angry, metallic hornets so the less I hear of it the better.
Indianapolis 500: The Simulation sets out to do one thing, recreate the experience of a single race. It does this very well and with an amazing amount of detail for the year it was made. Like all the best simulators, Indianapolis 500 balances accessibility and realism very well. For the skilled player it provides a detailed and challenging race that will reward dedication and practise. It lacks the driving aids that a modern game would have for newer players but with the base car setups and the shorter race formats anyone can get up and running, turn laps and have fun quite quickly.