Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Ironman" Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road

This morning, I did a half-hour cards practice (attempting 18 packs, got 15 right, the others were silly little memorising mistakes that I'm not too worried about), went to the supermarket and got my hair cut. The problem I have with memory is keeping the mental state going for a whole day, or a whole three-day period like you have to do at the world championships. Because my mind was seriously wandering by the end of the recall period, and I couldn't get into any other practice I tried to do this afternoon.

So instead, I spent my time playing "Ironman" Ivan Stewart's Super Off Road. This was an extremely cool arcade game, back in the good old days when arcade games were fun to play. It was one of those games in a cabinet with a pedal and a steering wheel - three pedals and three steering wheels, in fact, so you could race against two friends. They don't make games like it any more - the whole of the racetrack fills the screen and you drive a tiny little car, viewed from above, around the track. Those were cool. The first cool one was Super Sprint, and Super Off Road was basically just a clone of that, only with cooler tracks with bumps and puddles, and with "Ironman" Ivan Stewart's endorsement.

"Ironman" was apparently a real person, an off-road racing driver, and the title screen lists all the races he'd won. There weren't all that many of them, actually, and they were in the seventies for the most part, so why they thought kids might be attracted to the game by the name Ivan Stewart, I can't imagine. Possibly he was cooler in America, where people might have heard of him. "Ironman" drove the computer-controlled white car in the game, and when the red, yellow and blue cars weren't being controlled by players, they were driven by "Madman" Sam Powell, "Hurricane" Earl Stratton and "Jammin'" John Morgan. I don't know if these were real people too - if they were, I can't imagine they were too happy with the way that Ivan Stewart's car always won the races. Jammin' John generally came second, and a fun alternative way to play the game is not to try to win, but to try to hold up "Ironman"'s car so that someone else wins. I like to think that would teach him a lesson for being so full of himself. Assuming that he was in any way full of himself - I know nothing about the man at all.

Also cool about the game was the way you could enter your country of origin at the start of the game (as long as you were from the USA, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy or Australia) and get your own national anthem played when you won a race. Admittedly the anthem that plays for Britain only bears a slight resemblance to God Save The Queen, but still, it was very, very unusual for an American game of that generation to consider the possibility that non-Americans might play it. Especially an American game based on the appeal of a strictly American minor celebrity.

You can play the NES version of the game on your computer here, at the wonderful Virtual NES site, where you can also play lots and lots of other classic games, one or two of which are some good (the Master System was so much better, apart from the absence of Super Mario Bros). Or if like me the NES version just makes you long for the better graphics of the arcade version, the MAME roms are out there too. Now I just have to get an original cabinet with steering wheels and everything.

When I'm a millionaire, I'm going to own an arcade filled to busting with all the classic games of the good old days, and everyone will be welcome to come along and have fun. And they'll cost 10p a play.


Ian said...

I'll definitely come round! Especially if you get the likes of Space Harrier, Kung Fu, Streetfighter 2, Mortal Kombat and Final Fight! Oh, and Wrestlefest! Ahh, those were the days all right!

Zoomy said...

I looked up the other "racers" - they're game programmers. John Morgan was the lead developer for Super Off Road, Earl Stratton was a programmer. Sam Powell doesn't seem to be credited on the game, or any other game until 1992, but I assume he was involved in some small way (since his car always comes last).

Anonymous said...

Yay for MAME! If I were on the design team for in-flight entertainment systems, I would try to officially license some ROMs and offer MAME as an option so people could play arcade-perfect games in-flight. (Might be a bit trickier for multi-player games, though... hmmm.)

The thing I remember about Super Off Road was the way that you could convert real-life cash to game dollars in order to "buy nitros" and otherwise "pimp your ride". In any case, it seemed to make little difference, because the game difficulty seemed to be tuned to giving you one victorious race and one losing race per credit.

I have a suspicion that Super Off Road also theoretically kept track of players' performances from game to game, and the reason why you had to enter so much biographical information is so that you might be able to store your progress from one series of credits to the next. It's not clear whether your progress was lost if the machine was turned off overnight or not, but I'm guessing so.

Zoomy said...

The one difference between the files I downloaded and the original arcade game is that the arcade version, once you'd put in your name, birthdate and nationality, would say something along the lines of 'no records found for that combination of info'. The MAME version doesn't do that. Perhaps I've got an older incarnation.