Pitstop II

Pitstop II

Pitstop II (1984)
By: Epyx Genre: Driving Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Commodore 64 
Also Available For: PC, Amstrad CPC, Atari 800, Apple II, TRS-80
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Pitstop II

One of my many objectives when starting this humble blog was to finally force myself to try out some titles on the systems that have gone largely ignored by me over the years. The first one to enter my mind was the mighty C64. I may have become somewhat distracted since, but the process began with the pair of ‘Exploring the C64‘ posts for which I requested some game recommendations from seasoned C64 veterans. One of these recommendations was Pitstop, a game that turned out to be so bad I immediately thought I’d been the victim of a practical joke. Subsequent research, however, has revealed its sequel to be substantially better thought of. It’s taken me a good while to work up the courage, but here I shall find out if the ‘Pitstop’ name has been redeemed…
Pitstop II

It’s no surprise to find that it’s an F1-based game once again but it’s immediately apparent that it offers far more than its prequel. Impressively for the day, it’s a one or two-player game but regardless of which you choose, the game employs a split-screen viewpoint anyway – player one occupies the top half of the screen and drives a red car, player two occupies the bottom half and drives a blue car which is controlled by the computer in one-player games. The pre-race options screen offers you the choice of three difficulty levels, you can set the number of laps (3, 6, or 9), and you can select any of six real racing circuits from Europe and the US. As the name hints at, however, it can get a little more complicated than that.
Pitstop II

As well as the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ cars, there are also a seemingly unlimited number of other racers pootling around the circuits, at a much slower pace of course, which means they’re pretty much just there to make your life more difficult. That’s to be expected with a game of this nature but unlike most similar games, or at least ones from this time period, you also have to be careful how you drive as not only can you run out of fuel but you can also wear out your tyres too. Driving too fast around corners too often, for example, will soon see your car squeal off to the side like a burst balloon and stop dead. This, as well as the fuel situation, can be overcome by making one of the titular pit-stops. These can take some time but are unfortunately necessary if you want to make it to the end of a race in anything resembling a decent position.
Pitstop II

Mercifully, the CPU car also makes pit-stops from time to time as well which makes this a surprisingly fair game. It looks a lot nicer than the first game too – it’s far from a stunner but streets ahead of the hideous original. Control of the cars is a bit odd to start with – they feel very skiddy, as if you’re actually playing a bobsleigh racing game or something, but it’s fine after a bit of practise. There’s no in-game music here either, but apart from these minor grumbles Pitstop II is notable improvement over the original which scared me so. You’ll probably tire of the one-player game before too long but this was meant as a two-player game and in that capacity it’s fantastic. It’s still hardly the most complex racing game, even for its time, but Epyx have certainly made this a much more enjoyable game than the first effort.

RKS Score: 7/10

Star Raiders

I remember getting Star Raiders for a present back in 1982. The first thing that comes to memory was how the box was a bit bigger and heavier than most of the 2600 carts we had bought. When I opened the package, along with the game and manual was a giant touch pad. I thought, “How cool is this?” After I started the game and realized I had to have at least 3 hands to work the joystick, red button, and pad, I knew I was in trouble.

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
Star Raiders was originally released a couple of years earlier for the Atari 8-bit computers. An original 1st-person space sim/shooter that took advantage of the keyboard to do many things such as commanding shields, weapons, warp drive, etc… This is the reason for the touch pad, and it was a pain in the ass. Don’t get me wrong, I love peripherals, but if I can’t play an Atari 2600 with 1 joystick/1 button…I don’t want it.

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
The game itself is a bit boring. Just a grid “Galactic Map’ and the 1st-person space view with the target reticule in the center. The “stars” flying past you are a nice touch, and they’ll move as you do, left and right (or in space, there’s no such thing as left or right, I guess).

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
Ships will appear as you reach their grid quadrant, but seem to just randomly appear. Sometimes, the only way you know they are there is when they shoot you. When this happens, there is the typical 2600 sound-effects, but cool red flickering to let you know you have taken damage. You can repair and replenish your constantly-draining energy. Keep your close eye on the energy numbers dwindling at the bottom of the screen, because if it gets to zero…game over.

Star-Raiders-Atari-Gameplay-Screenshot
Depending on the difficulty you choose, you may have to defeat as many as 40 ships to complete your mission. The ships are the basic 2; one that looks like a Klingon Bird-of Prey, the other a Tie Fighter turned on its side. You have phasers and photon torpedoes at your ready, unless you take specific damage to them, then repair (at starbases) will be necessary. This game is a bit repetitive, and the difficulty is ramped high, with special mention in the “Activision Decathlon Hall of Fame of Joystick Snappers” as you wrench on it to try and keep the alien ships in your sights.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_VDM8nC9sM[/youtube]
Overall, I appreciate what Atari tried to do here, and I had fonder memories of the game before I tried to play it again. I respect the game for being a pioneer in the genre, but I think it tried to do too much, taking a lot of fun out of it. I need more action and less Starfleet Academy work. Not a bad game, just not a very good one either.

5/10

The Interview: William D. Volk

William D Volk

To say that William D. Volk has had an interesting career in gaming would be an understatement. From playing video games in high school to having his first gaming related job in college, to creating a number of great games. Volk began working with Avalon Hill starting off in quality assurance. In time he began working on his own titles including Conflict 2500, Voyage 1 and Controller.

Obsolete Gamer was able to get insight into his career working with various companies including Activision where he was VP of Technology has his technical direction over Return to Zork. We were also able to get his opinion on some of the events in his life including the video game crash, the Philips CD-I and mobile gaming.

Avalon Hill logo
Avalon Hill logo

Obsolete Gamer: Would it be fair to say you did not grow up playing games but once you were into your college years you found your love of gaming?

William Volk: I was playing games at the arcade in High School.  Pong showed up in the early ’70’s.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that you were exposed to?

William Volk: Probabily Pong.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the first video game that hooked you?

William Volk: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Wars On a PDP-8 at University of Penn … original Startrek  and the Classic Adventure.

Obsolete Gamer: How does the process for transferring a strategic board game to computer software work and what was it like testing these games?

William Volk: Very few of Avalon Hills Computer Games were based on the board games in 79-82.  I wanted to tackle “Iron Men and Wooden Ships” but by then I had taken a position with Rising Star.  I also proposed an online version of Squad Leader.

Conflict 2500
Conflict 2500

Obsolete Gamer: Any gamers today have never seen much less played a text game, can you give us a little insight into how text base games were at that time?

William Volk: Everyone was hooked on the Infocom games.  You can still play them today.  Lords of Karma was Avalon Hill’s best text adventure IMHO.

Obsolete Gamer: During your work with Avalon Hill you began to create your own titles, can you tell us about the thought process of coming up with a game and then trying to create it?

William Volk: Conflict 2500: I was renting a place in Baltimore during the summer of 1980 and was a huge fan of Star Raiders (Spaceship Yamato).  I had played the Startrek game and wanted a more complex version of that.

Voyager I: Saw a maze program on an Apple II.  At UNH in 1981 I did a class project using a random maze generator that displayed a solid wall 3D maze on some incredibly expensive Textronix terminal.  The game was kinda based on the end of the original Alien film.  The getting off the ship because you set self-destruct part.

Controller: Was working at a video game store in Portsmouth NH and the owner (Frank D Kelley) had been an air-boss in the navy (controller).  He wanted a simple game to land aircraft.  Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers and Avalon Hill picked up the game.  I KICK MYSELF for not porting that to the iPhone on day one, given the success of Flight Control.

Obsolete Gamer: What was the atmosphere at Avalon Hill like?

William Volk: Very congenial.  There were people who had started there in the 1950’s!  The board game people were absolute experts on military history.  I would have conversations with a WWII vet who worked there and had witnessed a ME262 attack on a B17.

PlayScreen logo
PlayScreen logo

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to see the work done at Avalon hill released to the public?

William Volk: Funny, I was in Baltimore for a meeting last week.  Had dinner in the harbor area about 200 ft from the location of a shop (probably not there) where I saw Conflict on a shelf for the first time.

Obsolete Gamer: You were able to avoid what is called the great video game crash when you moved to Epson and was offered a great position, what were those years like moving forward as many other companies and the industry as a whole suffered?

William Volk: I felt compelled to take a ‘real’ job in 1982 because I had been in college and grad school for almost 8 years by that point.  So when I showed some folks at Epson my little 3D rendering system on the Atari 800 they referred me to Rising Star in California.  I was hired at the COMDEX show in Vegas in Nov. 1982.

Rising Star was great but leaving independent game development was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.  It did teach me about technical management and the Val Draw program I wrote was probably my greatest technical achievement.  A full 2D drafting system in 58 kilobytes of FORTH.  Lines, arcs, splines, associative dimensions, virtual memory, zoom, snap, automatic parallel lines … the stroke font was packed into a byte per stroke.  I don’t even know how I pulled it off.  In real dollars I made more $$$ in 1984 than I may have since, but I really should have just continued building games as an independent.  I didn’t realize that I was doing pretty good and I had some nice stuff I wanted to do.

Controller
Controller

Obsolete Gamer: The Pyramid of Peril was a 3D adventure inspired by some of your previous work and Raiders of the Lost Ark, can you tell us about the creative process when developing that game?

William Volk: Obviously based on Voyager 1.  Pyramid shaped puzzle.  David Barrett helped with the writing.  The Mac was new and exciting.  The entire game from concept to heat shrinking the boxes – 30 days.  Coded on a 128kb Mac.

Obsolete Gamer: Completing a project of the scope of “Pyramid” in 30 days was impressive, how was it done so quickly?

William Volk: I had the maze generating and display algorithms from Voyager and people to help on the artwork.

 

 

Obsolete Gamer: Most people know of the fate of the Philips CD-I, but can you tell us your thoughts on why in the end the company failed?

William Volk: Delayed launch to add MPEG Video.  AIM (American Interactive Media) decided that they didn’t need the video game industry to back the system.  EA and others, who had spent serious money building development systems, abandoned it because of the delays.

Obsolete Gamer: When you became director of technology and began pushing for Activision to publish “The Manhole” how did you know this would be the right move?

William Volk: I could see true greatness in the creativity of Rand and Robyn Miller (Cyan).  The User Interface was just breakthrough.  I was also a bit pissed at the delay of CD-I and wanted to send a message about that.  Activision was recovering from the video game crash and wanted something that was ground breaking.  Finally Stewart Alsop suggested that the Manhole would be an ideal CD-ROM title.  He was right.

Obsolete Gamer: What were the main challenges in moving away from the Midi format to actual recordings?

William Volk: We didn’t want to use CD-Audio tracks on the Mac (first) version, because we wanted to be able to pull data from the CD, we had to … because of Hypercard.  So we had to come up with a way of paging in 8 bit, 22khz audio chunks.  The CD-Emulator said it wouldn’t work, so we burned a test CD ($500 at that time!) and it worked.  Using live musicians was very cool.  I believe $20k of the budget was just for the music.  Russell Lieblich composed most of the music.

When we did the PC CD-ROM title we had our own engine …. MADE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multimedia_Applications_Development_Environment) so we could force a cache of data in a scene and use CD-Audio (redbook) tracks.

Return to Zork
Return to Zork

Obsolete Gamer: What was it like behind the scenes at Activision during its troubled time of the late 80’s?

William Volk: Fall of 1989 was one of Activison’s good years: Mech Warrior I, Death Track, Ghostbusters II, The Manhole, etc… The financial mess started in 1990 with the judgement on the Magnavox patent case.  Funny thing in 1990 is we coped with massive Nerf Gun wars and RC car ‘racing’ (consisting of running RC10’s into each other at 40mph+ … each car … in the parking lot).  In a strange way the coping made the place very fun to be at.  I still have a scar on my head from playing that game from “Sam and Max” where you hit full beer cans with some sort of post-nuclear-apocolyptic club.  Yeah, Fizzball http://samandmax.wikia.com/wiki/Fizzball Other local companies would come and watch us play this at lunchtime.

It wasn’t fun to see everyone go though.  Down to about 13 when we made the move to LA.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your feeling of using full motion video in games?

William Volk: It was clever but got overused eventually.  I do think we were heading in the right direction with RTZ’s emotional response system and intricate conversation interfaces.

Obsolete Gamer: Can you tell us about the interface you created for Return to Zork?

William Volk: The Diamond Reverse Parser was inspired by an article Eddie Dombrower had seen from MIT.  I just used Taxicab Geometry with diamonds because it made the hit-detect faster.  We had used this sort of hit detect trick on “Tongue of the Fatman”.   So the idea you could use any object on any object and have the reverse parser show you what the action was came out of the disappointing reception we got with LGOP2.    We wanted INSANELY DIFFICULT and UNFAIR puzzles.  Yes, there really was a “Chris Lombardi Memorial Puzzle” in the game (internal object name), dedicated to a writer at CGW who had panned LGOP2.  I believe it was the sliding stone – sentences puzzle.

It’s not clear how we came up with it all the character interactions, but we were trying to make the video more than just “Interruptible Media”.  So the idea of being able to ask characters about objects, pictures, and even what other characters had to say … that was the goal.

The Manhole box art
The Manhole box art

Obsolete Gamer: How did it feel to save a company with the release of a great game?

William Volk: Great, but frustrating that we couldn’t get the studio to just let us run with that UI and style.  Everyone wanted to copy Myst.  Ironic, when you consider I helped to get Cyan their first publishing gig.  I am very proud of RTZ.

Obsolete Gamer: What are the differences in your feelings about mobile gaming from then to today?

William Volk: Well, Mobile Gaming from 2001 to 2007 was very much like games of the early 1980’s.  Very small games.  Then the iPhone shows up and we now have one of the most innovative sectors in gaming.  Just playing Match 3D (Sherri Cuono’s design) game is Sci-Fi like with the multitouch interfaces.

We haven’t even begun to exploit augmented reality, social interactions and other possibilities.

Obsolete Gamer: Of all your time in the industry do you have a favorite story about that time?

William Volk: Yeah.  Producer (John Skeel) goes to comic show in NYC in 1989 or so.  Likes a new comic book so he negotiates a deal to get the video game rights for $20k.   Activision does a weekend focus group on the concept with kids, soda and pizza.  The result?

TEENAGE BOYS SHOW LITTLE INTEREST IN  ANTHROPOMORPHIC  TURTLES.

Activision logo
Activision logo

Obsolete Gamer: Overall what was your favorite computer or game system?

William Volk: The FM Towns.  Really.   The Amiga a close second.

Obsolete Gamer: What was your favorite classic game?

William Volk: Choplifter.

Obsolete Gamer: Was there a game you had in your head that you wanted to release, but never did/could?

William Volk: I seriously wanted to release a Wing Commander type game … where after hours of play, many missions and incredible skill you would end up crashed on some planet (otherwise you would be killed) … and then end up in an elaborate adventure involving learning how to interact with native people … and have us DENY THAT THE ADVENTURE GAME EXISTED.  Like only 1 in 10,000 players would stumble upon that game within a game.  Yeah, that sounds crazy, but it’s what I wanted to do in the early 1990’s.

Obsolete Gamer: If you could rerelease any game you’ve worked on using today’s technology what would it be?

William Volk: Return to Zork in a “Grand Theft Auto” type engine and fairer puzzles.

Currently William Volk is the co-founder and CEO of PlayScreen and an avid cyclist.

Things an Old School Gamer should remember

To keep it simple we will classify an old school gamer as someone who has been gaming from the time of the Atari 2600 to the release of the Playstation one and all the computer innovations in-between. Personally I believe a true gamer plays both PC and Console so this list will encompass both sides of the gaming coin.

Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable

1: Coaxial Cables

This may be super geek to some, but before the smaller thinner Ethernet cables we use today and long before wireless, people who wanted to network had to use coaxial cables. These were direct PC to PC connections using the cables and only offered 10Mbps of transfer speed, but for the games of the time it was more than enough.

2: The NES Advantage Controller

NES Advantage
NES Advantage

First off it looked and felt like the controllers at the arcade and when the first fighting games made its way onto the NES this controller was perfect for them. The advantage featured adjustable turbo buttons, a slow motion feature (that mostly didn’t work) and you could share it in two player games since it plugged into both ports and you could select Player 1 or Player two on the controller.

3: The Atari 800 Floppy Drive

Atari 810
Atari 810

There was a war of sorts between the Atari computers and the Amiga ones and then you had the snobby Commodore 64 folks. (I kid, I kid) Before I got my Amiga my cousin gave me his Atari 800 computer the floppy drives and a boat load of games, I was in heaven.

The floppy drive used single-sided 5 1/4-inch floppy disks, holding 90K of data on a disk. The data was transferred in serial format at 19200 baud. When this first came out it was priced around six hundred dollars.

4: Sears Tele-Games 2600 (Atari 2600 clone)

Sears Video Arcade machine
Sears Video Arcade machine

Back in the day Sears sold everything under their own name and in 1975 Sears released the Sears Video Arcade. It was identical to the 2600 and you could play Atari 2600 games on it and vice versa. Sears and Atari worked together so it wasn’t anything underhanded. In fact Atari made some games exclusively for the Sears system under the Tele-Games name.

It was often an insult point to attack someone who had the Sears version and not the original Atari 2600, but we were stupid kids. By the way I had the real one so pfffft!

5: Voodoo 2 in SLI

STB Voodoo 2 SLI card
STB Voodoo 2 SLI card

Sure today you can get more than enough gaming power out of a sub one hundred dollar card, but back in the day if you wanted to be a badass you had dual Voodoo 2’s in SLI mode. For those that don’t know the Voodoo 2 was a 3D graphics card from 3dfx interactive. At the time the Voodoo series of cards were the must have for any PC gamer. When the Voodoo 2 came out everyone wanted one and if you had the money you would get two and connect them together in what is called SLI.

It was the Voodoo 2 that introduced Scan-Line Interleave or SLI to the PC gaming universe. When you connected two Voodoo 2 cards together they would each draw half the scan lines for the screen, this meant much more power and better 3D acceleration for your games. However, most of the games at the time it was first released didn’t really take advantage of the SLI mode. There was a difference, but it wasn’t a game changer, but as newer more graphic intensive games came out it showed its worth and power.

Did I miss something?

Oh there is much more to come, this is only a small sample of the things an old school gamer should remember. Stay tuned for the next addition, but in the meantime what do you think should be on this list?