Post by Baker on Oct 13, 2016 18:03:26 GMT
E-Type: A turning point for Atari 8-bit?
This past year saw the release of a game for our Atari XL/XE's with 128K or more ram called 'E-Type.' This game represents a long-awaited turning point (pun intended-all puns in this article are) in the history of racing games on our beloved 8-bits. Though I do wonder if the need for 128K is necessary, and the only reason I see for it is to have all the courses in memory at once. But I digress and I will talk a bit more on that later. It's a shame that this racer isn't available for 48/64K Atari's too.
E-Type is a port from the BBC model B micro, a computer that's probably at least as popular (back in the day) as our venerable Atari's, world wide, though many of us out of the U.K. may not have known it existed 30 years ago. This is a near pixel-perfect graphical port from the Beeb to Atari, except for a slightly improved dash board and a new, colourful Title screen.
E-type has been lauded as "Outrun for the Beeb," and while it does have many similarities, some similarities are just a given for the genre. I personally thinks it's much more like Lotus Turbo Challenge for the Atari ST/Amiga and other systems, and only similar to Outrun due to a convertible car with two people, the animation of them bouncing in their seats when they crash, and the fact that it seems to be every-day traffic on the road ways and not other racers. Beyond those three things, technically, I find it much closer to Lotus or even Crazy Cars III on the ST/Amiga's.
E-Type is a turning point on the Atari 8-bits because we have never had a racing game quite like E-Type (or Outrun!, Lotus Turbo or Crazy Cars) on the A8. The fact is, it's also a turning point in the quality of racing games on the A8. The standard for about 35 years has been Pole Position and until E-Type (speaking as a huge fan of racing games then and now), it still remains the standard, sadly after all these years. But has E-Type dethroned Pole Position?
Among the racing games worth even mentioning based on both famed and infamous on the A8 (speaking strictly of behind-the car view racers, not overhead or side view) we have Pole Position, Pitstop 1&2, The Great American Cross Country Road Race, California Run, Speed Run, Speed King, Speed Ace and Electraglide. Some of these racers are indeed decent-good in speed and playability, while others are infanmous for it, but they all also lack graphically. Pole Position is fast and controllable, but the graphics are extremely dated and plane and empty. Others such as TGACCRR, Pitstop 1 and California run are fast and playable, but still have sparse road and roadside graphics and the cars are all very small and simple, graphically, a view as if from a helicopter way above and behind.
Then you have Speed Run and Electraglide as the only first-person perspective racers on Atari (the others are known as third-person) with no car or bike in front of you, just a dash, much more immersive, well, speed run is really just an in the car third person view, as you still see a driver, a first person perspective for all you back-seat drivers! Electraglide is a joy and succeeds, Speed Run is a wreck with narrow roads, bad control, and instant stops if you hit the side of the road, it could have been a winner, but it sucks.
E-Type address these issues and succeeds. It has a view much more reminiscent of Pole Position, but with far better graphics and similar playability. But it also has the option of a first-person view, like a more modern racing games (start the game with SELECT instead of START), The Need For Speed and Test Drive come to mind as early adopters of this view. This view works well in E-Type, especially if your own car makes it hard for you to see what is coming, but like modern racers, I still use both views depending on my mood.
But first person view does not automatically mean simulation, and truth be told, I don't think there was ever a successful racing simulation for the 8 or 16-bit generations. There were a few attempts at 3D simulations but they usually over reached what was possible on the hardware with realism which made them too slow and choppy. In my opinion it wasn't until the 32-bit era in the 90's that good simulations were possible with the fast 3D polygons.
But a simulation doesn't have to have be all that, I've recently discovered also, as there is a newer game for the Atari 8-bit, which manages to catch the bare "essence" of simulation (Lucasfilm games aside, arguably) but it isn't a racer, it's a chaser: Deathchase XE. It captures the essence of the thrill like a simulation should. But that's another story.
E-Type doesn't give the thrill of narrowly missing a hundred trees in 5 seconds like Deathchase, but you can get going quite fast and the frst person view is fun and works well.
If you crash too many times, I think three is the limit? Then you wreck your car and the game is over. In 1st person view cracks appear across your screen like the windshield (windscreen for you Brits)has shattered. In 3rd person view the tires on your car go flat.
O.K., comparisons aside, what does it boil down to in terms of E-Type, all by itself? Let's get our hands dirty. So, the usual aspects of a game we judge. I like to start with graphics being an artist and visually driven, graphics are important to me, at least to the point of not over reaching so much that it makes a game unplayable due to slow-down, etc., the speed and smoothness of the graphics are equally important to me as the look, unless it's just a picture.
E-Types graphics , in combination, with speed and smoothness do surpass the minimal criteria, in my humble opinion. It is well drawn and detailed, with smooth scrolling and scaling with fast game play. In general, a winner.
But could it still have been better? Unequivocally YES! Why? Because aside from some audio, a title screen and a slightly upgraded dash board, E-Type's graphics are near pixel perfect to the BBC micros original graphics.
This was the choice of the programmer to remain loyal, in homage, to the original game. But let's face it, the Beebs colour palette is sorely lacking and garish, and that's exactly what the colour scheme on the Atari version is, lacking of colour and garish. You get used to it and otherwise it is detailed and nice, especially with all the scaling sprites (software sprites no doubt too!), it's not nearly as "empty" as the roads and roadsides of all other Atari racers, but with the Atari's 256 colour palette and custom hardware display interrupts, this version could have looked nearly as good as it's title screen.
A few DLI's on your car for one, to shade it and make it look closer the the colour you chose on the title screen in it's high-colour. The road sides could have been done similarly for shading to add a sense of depth, something that the current road-side "mesh" colour actually helps detract from that sense of depth, and clearly remind you it's a flat screen you are looking at, and would be totally ruined any "3D" depth if not for the colour bands on the road side, that scroll by making the roadside look as if it's being passed by.
off-road landscape colour bands are actually a first for Atari Racers, previously all relied soley on sparse road side sprites or colour bands scrolling just on the edges of the road, ala Pole Position. I still would have at least preferred solid bands like used in the fantastic Space Harrier, if not DLI shaded ones. The entire colour scheme of the game should have been less garish and more naturalistic in colour choice, IMHO. So no, The Atari 8-bit, in my opinion, has still to reach it's pinnacle in racing game graphics, yet still retain speed and playability but E-Type is a long overdue step in the right direction.
E-type is very playable, it scrolls and scales smoothly enough no to be too slow or choppy, it does what seems to me, without direct comparison, to do this as well as the 16-bit racers like Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge or Crazy Cars (mainly 3 the first two weren't good), if not quite up to par graphically. Or even any 8/16-bit port of Outrun!, it certainly works as well as those too.
The control I think could be slightly more responsive to the left and right, but it the game does do the centrifugal force on curves well and you have to slow down or you will go off the road like good racers do. Third and first person views are a bit different since in first person view you can't see your car, you have to figure out your invisible "bounderies" of how close you can get to obstacles and not hit them.
It would have been nice if the to have some way better to indicate better if something is to close to the side of your car or not. Some games have used a a graphic representation beyond the dash board, of a car hood, not much, due to perspective, but something to know if the farthest pixel to left or right is were obstacles will make contact. So it takes time to get a "feel" for how close you are to obstacles.
But this game is, at it's heart, a driving game, not racing, though you are up against just a clock like most 8-bit racers, and as many of them, there are no direct competitors, just other traffic either wizzing by you or you wizzing by them. It's a common theme to most 8-bit "3D" racing games, the exceptions being 2 of the 3 motorcycle games and the Pitstop games, most are watching the clock and/or fuel and/or maybe counting the cars you pass rather than racing with a real competitor. This style of game-play is a bit long in the tooth, in the basic sense, but E-Type does it well with changes in road width and lots of obstacles, like Outrun!, Lotus, etc. so it's not just passing cars alone, like TGACCRR, California Run, Enduro racer, or even Pole Position.
E-Type does play a bit differently than all those other racers though, because beating the courses or the world circuit, isn't about how fast you can go, like all the others, success is actually about going fast enough, just to still have time to finish the course. Instead of check points like Outrun! or Lotus Turbo, you gain time by running down policemen. It's actually sort of an endurance race due to time restrictions, but not just within the game but without, by the programmer. Under extreme deadline pressure, just hours or minutes before the deadline. I quote from Excel issue 2, which quoted from another interview with the programmer Gorden .J Key:
“E-Type was wanted by my publisher in a rush; in fact they advertised the game’s release date before I even started to work on it! It took a little over two weeks to write and at the last minute I realized there was no way to refuel and also no more memory to add the necessary graphics. This was only realized at around 11pm on the night before the program was to be officially released! The only thing to be done was to give some fuel for hitting an object already in the program, so I opted for the policemen as they already appeared on every track. This may not have been the best decision I have ever made but it involved the least work and no redesigning of the tracks.”
Now I haven't payed super close attention to whether hitting the policemen gives you fuel, and not just more time, but I think the programmer may have mis-spoke as all I've noticed is if you run down the coppers, you get more time, and they are off to the sides of the roads, and actually quite a challenge to hit, but they are numerous, just standing there, and you can get more than enough time added if you run down enough of them to be taking a moderate drive where you are passing other cars, but not too fast for yourself to get out of the way of traffic. Once you are in top gear, you can stop pressing the accelerator and maintain your desired "cruise control" speed, until you run into something or off the road.
There are many hazards to add to the complexity of your drive and game-play experience, ranging from warning signs you can plow through with seemingly no ill effect, to boulders that are like hitting a rock wall, and even water hazards when the road narrows, you can sink if you stray to far off the road, as well as the usual road puddles that make you hydroplane if you hit them.
So it's an exciting drive, you can only hit objects a few times and then your car is wrecked, so surviving to the end of the course or world circuit with one car and only a few collisions allowed before it's game over, and running down enough Policemen to have time to reach the end. These courses range between 7 miles long to close to 20! Making it all the way is a real challenge. I have yet to complete any one course myself.
It's relatively responsive, as I said, left and right could be a bit quicker. The accelerator is the button, and you shift up and down with joystick up and down, and down is also the brake if held. But the control is acceptable over all and allows the game to be quite playable. Left/right steering, Acceleration, manual gears, braking, cruise control (release button)
The sound category is pretty good, the title screen music and sound effects are above average, the in-game engine and traffic sounds are fine, nothing digital or to write home about, but again, in-game, the programmer seemed to want to stick pretty closely to the Beeb original it seems, even down to the "quick fix" time/fuel issue. Sorry just nothing that really stands out for sound and music. It may be ported music and sound fx, from the Beeb, or just trying to match them, I've never played the BBC version.
The game is composed of 5 different tracks from around the world, with graphic colour changes for each local and a few different road side graphics for each, and you can choose any course to start with or choose to do them all in series if you choose "World." They include Broads, Arctic (which is also more slippery), Sahara, Africa and Brazil. So the game has some depth if you are good enough, course range from a over half a dozen miles to near 20 miles each.
You get to choose your car colour at the title screen too, but the car looks much better on the title screen than the flat colour of the in-game car. Skill can also be chosen from 1-9 but it seems to me the lower the number the harder it becomes, the default is 5. And you get to choose behind the car view, or in the car views when you start the game
This game is a milestone in Atari 8-bit racing games, and is comparable to some similar 16-bit racers, but it could have still been better graphically, and maybe come up with a more reasonable time/fuel/checkpoint system than the BBC original "quick fix."
I think this game could have a version for 48K/64K Atari's, I see no reason beyond loading all courses at once why not, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe that sprite-shifting requires more ram and it's not just for data storage.
I hope that the programmers, Fandal and Irgendwer, of the Atari version, will consider a sequel or another racer based on this ported game engine and add and fix the issues with the original version in the area of graphic improvements and maybe a better fuel/time objective option.
*graphically I don't feel any other Atari racing game has come close to this, but it is still no 10, based on lack of colour and use of colour "mesh."
In my opinion, E-type is the best driving game now on the Atari 8-bit, with Electraglide second. Among all 8-bit computer and console drivers/riders/racers, with 3D scaling sprites, it compares with the best in playability and graphics. It compares well with 16-bit driving games of the era. I do feel that E-Type has dethroned Pole Position as the best driving game on the Atari. I felt Electradlide was the best driving/riding game before, but, Pole Position still remains the best racing game on the Atari 8-bit. We definitely still have a shortage of good driving/racing games on the A8, but E-type helps that and is a step in the right direction of something wonderful.