Indy 500 (Sega, 1995)

The last game in our Indy 500 season is one of Sega’s lesser-known arcade releases from the 1990s. Indy 500 is an open-wheel racing game with an official license from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the look and feel of mid 1990’s Indy car racing. It was released in 1995 and made use of the Model 2 arcade platform.

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This game was released in the year of Jacques Villeneuve’s controversial win. On lap 190, the race leader, Scott Goodyear jumped the restart from a yellow flag period and overtook the pace car. Race officials handed him a stop and go penalty which he ignored on his team’s advice, thinking they could file a protest after the race. Although Villeneuve crossed the line in second, Goodyear’s refusal to stop for his penalty meant that his laps had ceased counting after 195. This put him in 14th place and handed the win to the future F1 world driver’s Champion.

This was the last Indy 500 before the open-wheel split which saw the formation of the Indy Racing League as a rival organisation to CART, the main sanctioning body of Indy car racing since the early 1980’s. This period of inter-organisational conflict spelled the end of the glory days of American open-wheel racing in the eyes of many fans.

There isn’t a clear lineage between this game and Sega’s previous open-wheel themed racer, Virtua Racing, but it’s tempting to draw a comparison between the two. On the surface, they’re similar games but Indy 500 has a few new mechanics that distinguish it from its forerunner. The first is drafting, running closely behind other cars to reduce drag and increase your speed. This is something that Daytona USA also made use of but Indy 500 emphasises it much more heavily. The other extra mechanic that this game has over Virtua Racing is tyre degradation. You will gradually lose grip over the course of a race, making the car more likely to slide while cornering. It could be my imagination, but rough handling appears to speed up this process .

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There are three tracks to choose from. A licensed version of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and two fictional tracks, Highland Raceway and Bayside Street. These appear to be based on 1990’s CART series staples, Leguna Seca and Surfer’s Paradise respectively. The track selection as a whole is reminiscent of Daytona USA which also offers an oval, a road course and a street circuit. The representation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the game is easily recognisable. I suppose it would need to be if wanted to carry an official license.

The graphics are good and definitely comparable in quality to other big-name arcade games of the mid 1990’s. The overall style is as bold and colourful as you would expect from Sega. A nice blue sky, lots of track-side objects and bright primary colours everywhere. I would say that in terms of presentation, most games on the Model 2 platform have aged quite well, particularly the racing games. Although the graphics have held up very well, the music is maybe the weakest point of the game. There’s nothing especially wrong with it but it’s not really memorable and that’s something Sega normally excel at.  I have read that Indy 500 was originally intended as a Model 3 game but hardware delays led to it being released on the older hardware. I’ve not seen any sources on that however so I wouldn’t take it as gospel.

Like most of Sega’s racing games from this period, it’s not too hard to reach the finish line in Indy 500 but winning is much more of a challenge. To produce good lap times you have to drive very smoothly and take advantage of the drafting mechanic as much as you can. On the Indianapolis course in particular, you’re absolutely not going to win unless you can move in and out of the slipstream effectively and take corners without scrubbing off too much speed.

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Indy500 is a fast, challenging and stylish game that perhaps doesn’t sit alongside titles such as Daytona USA as an all-time great but it still deserves a lot more recognition. Sega made a lot of games around this period that seem to have drifted into obscurity. So many games on the Model 2 platform either never made it to home consoles or were just forgotten with the death of the Sega Saturn. Indy 500 is one of those that never made it into the living room. Currently, the only way to play it is in a particular emulator. This is a barrier to entry that not everyone will want to cross but those that do want to seek it out won’t be disappointed.

 

Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat (Leland Corp, 1991)

We continue our selection of Indy 500 related games with Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat.

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This Super Sprint style game was developed by the Leland Corporation, who also made Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off Road. It was released in 1991. This game carries the name of Danny Sullivan, 1985 Indy 500 winner and 1988 Cart PPG Indy Car Champion.

Sullivan’s 1985 win is one of the most famous victories in the race’s history. In what became known as ‘spin and win’ Sullivan lost control while attempting to take the lead from pre-race favourite Mario Andretti on lap 120. What would ordinarily have been a race-ending collision for most drivers was avoided by an instinctive evasive manoeuvre from Andretti and Sullivan managing to keep his car out of the wall and regain control. On lap 139 he attempted the same passing manoeuvre again but made it stick and led until the end of the race.

It would be unfair to Indy Heat to just call it a Super Sprint clone, in my opinion, it’s one of the best Super Sprint clones.

The controls are similar to Super Sprint, though I would say they’re a little bit more skittish. Super Sprint wasn’t the most serious of games but Indy Heat is much more cartoonish and exaggerated, the wild handling and lively car animations are all part of this over-the-top presentation.

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Indy Heat is a very hard game. After a few races it’ll just decide that it’s going to start winning; the car to watch for is the yellow one, that’s Danny Sullivan. This isn’t really a game to try and beat on one credit but I’m sure somebody out there can. It’ll be a tall order for most people though. The game takes you through a 15 round season featuring representations of all the popular indycar tracks of the day, both road and oval and of course you’ve got Indianapolis in there.

The version of Indy in this game isn’t exactly laser scanned for accuracy but it has all the landmarks, right down to a red start/finish line to represent the yard of bricks. All the tracks are quite easy to recognise if you’re familiar with the real circuits, and if you’re not, it usually has the name of the host city on a sign somewhere.

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Just like Super Sprint, you’ve got an upgrade system, you get prize money for winning races and bonus money for continuing. You’ve got all the usual sorts of upgrades plus a couple of slightly unusual ones, the fuel economy and pit crew. This is because Indy Heat features a re-fuelling mechanic. During each race you’ll normally have to make at least one pit-stop. A nice little extra feature is being able to disrupt other cars’ stops by knocking them out of their pit-box. As a child this is the feature that made the game stand out for me. It made the game seem a little bit edgier than most racers and in the early ’90s that was a important selling point.

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I was lucky enough to be able to play this in the arcades a few times but today you can play Indy Heat in MAME. The controls take a bit of fiddling with but that’s always the way with games like this which were meant for a free-spinning wheel. If arcade emulation isn’t your thing, there were a few home releases too. The best of these are the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga versions, they look pretty close to the original and they control quite well too.

There were ports for other platforms including the NES and Commodore 64. The NES version falls pretty far short of the mark in terms of presentation but it controls well and makes a good effort at replicating the music. There is also an unreleased prototype for the Genesis which is out there on the internet. It looks really good but I don’t think it feels very good to play. There’s something wrong with the controls that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s worth checking out I suppose but your mileage may vary.

Indianapolis 500 (Papyrus, 1989)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Indy 500 Season

The month of May is here and that means the Indianapolis 500 is approaching fast. This year is the 100th running of this monument of racing so to mark the occasion I’ll be spending this month talking about a few games that feature this event and the people who have won it. I won’t be able to cover every game featuring the Indy 500 but I’ve picked a selection of my personal favourites that also happen to tie in to key moments in the race’s history. I’ll also be tweeting about some of the honourable mentions that didn’t get their own post.

We’ll be starting with something quite serious but still a lot of fun, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation. That’s going to be posted immediately after this.

Mini Reviews 22/04/2016

There’s a lot of games that I’d really like to talk about but I can’t always find enough words to give them their own post. Here’s 3 games that fit that description. They’re all good, you can easily play them in an emulator and they’ll all give you a  weekend’s worth of fun.

Eliminator Boat Duel (NES)

I’ve got to admit, I only started playing this because of the box art. It looks like somebody’s vaporwave mix-tape but there’s a decent game hiding behind it.

Eliminator Boat Duel is a one-on-one boat racer by Sculptured Software. It was quite a late release for the NES, it came out in North America in 1991 and Europe in 1993. You race across point to point courses that switch between top-down and chase perspectives against a cadre of larger than life weirdos. It looks quite good for an NES game although it recycles most of its graphics and environments. That’s easy to forgive considering the hardware and even though the tracks are made up of only a handful of art assets, they all have a unique route.

It’s not very boat-like in the way it handles, but it feels good otherwise. It has a nice, gradual difficulty curve and it’s got a lot of personality. I went in with low expectations and came out pleasantly surprised.

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Mario Andretti Racing (Genesis/Megadrive)

This is an EA Sports published game that bears the name of racing legend Mario Andretti. There were a lot of real-world motor sport games on the SNES and Megadrive and most of them were very similar. This one stands out because of the variety of styles of racing it features; you can race either stock, indy or sprint cars. The last of those is interesting because I think sprint car racing is badly under-represented in games. You could probably count all the games featuring that style of racing and still have a couple of fingers left over. You could compare this game to Al Unser Jr’s Road to the Top as that’s also a celebrity endorsed game featuring multiple styles of racing but I think this is much better overall.

It’s not licensed by any real governing bodies but the tracks are all clearly based on real circuits with fake names. Hardware limitations mean that the tracks and environments are quite sparse but they make a good effort to follow the layout and manage to include some small elevation changes.

Mario Andretti Racing is a fairly standard but very well made motor sport game with all the level of polish you would expect from an EA Sports title. I play this game quite often so you’ll most likely hear about it again at some point.

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bit Generations Dotstream (Gameboy Advance)

Let’s finish with something a little bit different.

Dotstream is an abstract racer for the Gameboy Advance. You race a coloured line around minimalist vector-graphic style courses while making use of traditional racing game mechanics such as drafting and pit-stops. It’s part racer, part maze game, part Snake. It has a few game modes including a particularly interesting ‘formation’ mode where you control multiple lines at once. You unlock extra levels in that mode by winning the Grand Prix events.

A combination of simple controls, stylish presentation and a great soundtrack really make it stand out from most of the Gameboy Advance’s sizeable library of racing games. It doesn’t have a very large selection of tracks but it’s quite a challenging game so it’ll still keep you occupied for a while.

There is also a Wiiware version of the game called Artstyle: Light Trax. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet but it looks to be different enough to require a separate write-up.

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New Video Page

I’ve added a new page to the blog, a videos page. It has links to my main Youtube playlists.

The iRacing videos are currently being uploaded weekly, this means they’re being posted more frequently than anything else. I’m not too keen on having them flood the front page so I don’t think I’ll be posting them as separate updates anymore. I’ll be posting them as a batch at the end of each month but you can still stay up to date by subscribing on Youtube and following me on Twitter.

iRacing Diary 2 and 3

Here’s the next two iRacing videos. I won’t be posting them in pairs after this, it’ll go down to one every week or two. Excuse the clumsy audio ducking in episode 3, there were just a few too many breaks in the narration to leave the engine noise uniformly low. If people complain loudly enough I’ll re-upload the video with tweaked audio.