Motor City Dragstrip
In today’s world, online multiplayer gaming is an everyday thing. People rutinely go online and can fight, wrestle, and shoot others in real time. But back in MY day (I say as I feel my hair greying), for online multiplayer games we had only a few options. One was a major online service like CompuServe, PlayNET, GEnie, or Q-Link (a direct descendent of the above PlayNET, which later begot America Online). Another were MUDs on the then nascent Internet, which
was only available to government workers or college students and staff. As for my family, however, we chose BBS, or Bulletin Board System, door games.
For those who don’t know (and for those who already do, please bear with me here), a BBS was a computer system, usually owned and operated by a hobbyist, that other computer users during these primitive times could call up and do any number of things: send e-mail (though at this time, not exactly what WE would consider e-mail), download or upload files of various types, and play games. And many of these games allowed for multiplayer play, although most forced a turn-taking scenario. This meant that while YOU were playing a game against a human player, the computer was actually doing the playing using the stats that player had built up while he WAS online. And when you were done, your opponent’s stats would be updated, and this would likely affect how he plays the next time he logs into the system.
There were many different genres of such games: from gambling, to sports, to even multiplayer RPGs. But the one that yours truly, Chris “Sledge” Douglas used to play the most, was Motor City Dragstrip, commonly known as MC Race due to the zip file that the game was packed into.
Motor City Dragstrip was written by John Parlin for Motor City Software in 1990. There may have been a number of versions, but the one I have played the most and still currently use is 2.0, which was released in 1991. The game consists of a one on one racing mode, but your racing is not controlled directly by you. In fact, the only skill required is the ability to press the Enter key when the ANSI light turns green. NOT before, or you will forfeit your victory, and certainly not after.
As BBS users of the day used modems which had extremely low bandwidth compared to what we have today, there are no “graphics” per se. Everything is drawn on screen using ASCII text and shapes and ANSI color codes and animation. Many other such door games are done this way as well and it’s… fine. It’s perfectly functional, but not particularly good, even compared to other ANSI work.
The winner is simulated by the computer based on your stats, which include fuel level, engine type, and condition of your tires. You can also choose your favorite brand of car, but I honestly have no idea if that aspect factors in or not.
In between races, you can do a number of things to better your chances of winning in the Pit Stop Menu. Here, you can fuel up, change your tires, change your engine, or even change your car entirely. Of course, this all costs money, but if you don’t you can have your engine die, fuel run out, or even blow your tires which (apparently, as you can’t actually see it happening) can send you careening out of control destroying your car and potentially kill your crew.
Oh, and speaking of your crew, be sure have enough crew. You start off with one, but if you don’t hire more, he will get fed up and quit.
Of course, with a game like this, there are some major flaws. First, if you buy a Supercharged Hemi right away, really the only opponents who can beat you are those with the same engine. Sure, the next engine below it may have a tiny fraction of a chance to pass you out, but odds are that you will always come out victorious. Add that to the fact that you get $15,000 to start out with and everything is pretty affordable, and this game can become boring real fast.
There are two aspects that do actually help this game out, despite what I just said. Of course, playing against another real BBS user rather than the computer is always fun. Again, this is done in the aforementioned turn-based style, and your opponent will have no idea what happened until he logs back in to that BBS. The other is the gambling system. This definitely helps balance the game out, as when you do keep piling on the wins, you get tempted to wager more and more money on the races. In fact, my most recent playthrough had me absolutely dominating until I made one HUGELY bad bet and lost. Of course, blowing out my tires and killing one of my crew wasn’t a huge help either.
In conclusion, Motor City Dragstrip was a fun little trip back in time for me… but I really can’t recommend it to today’s modern gamers. Even though there really is no skill involved other than some light inventory management, the race wager functionality does certainly add a bit of excitement to the procedings. This game was definitely WAY more of a fun experience on an active BBS with multiple real life opponents.
If you really want to give it a shot, look for a zip file starting with MCRACE. With all the BBS CDs that are available through textfiles.com or even archive.org now, it shouldn’t be hard to find. The registered version, however? That’s a completely different story.
Here’s a video of the gameplay in action… and as you will see, it was not without tragedy…