TRAFFIC

Mash-up of title screens from the C=64 and CPC versions

I like big, epic games. Turricans, Nobby the Aardvark, Dragon Wars – that kind of stuff. But every now and then I just don’t feel like immersing in a game for hours or even days. And then it’s time for some of the great game miniatures that replace size and complexity with perfectly polished mechanisms and sheer playability. Like Traffic.

Immense fun! And immensely addictive.

 

WHAT

Traffic is a logical game from 1984, a time long before the genre’s reputation got ruined by the tsunami of 2nd and 3rd rate half-baked quick-cash junk in the mid 1990s. It was originally released by Argus Press Software (APS)/Quicksilva for the C=64 and ported to CPC a year later by Amsoft/Andromeda Software.

Let the CPC version tell us what the game’s about:

Traffic - Game Description

Well, thank you very much for such a reward!

The graphics are simplistic but cute. All the vehicles are just rectangles of various sizes, but you’ll have no trouble seeing motorbikes, regular cars, vans, and trucks in them. Their blinking indicators, made of a minimum amount of pixels, are lovely.

The sound could probably be called simplistic too (but not cute). On the title screen, there’s the typical Big Ben jingle, followed by a forgettable tune with instruments typical of the early ’80s (“we’re happy that it makes a sound!”). There are also a few in-game sound effects, the most important one being the alarm that sounds anytime a queue length is nearing a terminal value.

Where the game excels is the behavior of the cars. They don’t just decelerate and accelerate. They properly slow down when they need to turn. Trucks are slower. But the winner is the situation when the red light comes on and the drivers know they won’t be able to stop in time: in that case they simply step on the gas to go through the crossroad faster. It’s so lifelike that I have to smile whenever I see it.

HOW

Playing the game is easy. On the screen, you have a top-down view of the area, with only two actions available: you move between the junctions with your joystick and switch the lights from red to green and vice versa with the fire button. Cars come from outside the screen, go through the area (adhering to the lights), and then leave. You get a point for each car that leaves your area. You complete the first level if you dispatch 200 cars, the second level is over after 300 cars, the third level takes 400 cars, and so on.

Level 2. C=64 on the left, CPC on the right. Note that even though the roads are put pixel-exact in the CPC version, the graphics aren’t converted but re-drawn (see placing of the buildings, the perspective, and the number of their floors) from scratch.

As long as incoming cars fit onto the screen, everything’s fine. When a queue starts to form outside the screen, you’re in trouble. If the number of cars in any one street waiting to enter the screen reaches 5 in the first two levels and 9 in the higher levels, you’re game over. In the higher levels, there’s also a limit for the total of all the queues.

WHY

Sounds as sexy as a decaying zombie teeming with maggots? Sure, but it’s immense fun! And immensely addictive. Seeing the cars traverse the screen fluently gives you a feeling of satisfaction, and then there are countless little dramas when you are this close to a queue reaching critical length and get the traffic going again in the last moment possible. Plus the game has the “just one more try” magic. You’re sure next time you’ll do better because you think you know what just went wrong. And then again. And again. And again.

In the beginning you go all operative. Get used to that it’s the UK, i.e., cars on the left. Just turn the green light on wherever cars are waiting. Then you realize there’s a tactical layer to it: you don’t want cars to go through one crossroad only to stop at the next traffic light because if the cars have to accelerate and brake, they spend more time on the screen. So you need to create a flow. And after you fail a level several times, the strategic element comes in. You see that no matter which queue finally gameovered you one particular time, there always seem to be one or two streets that are absolutely jammed at that moment and are probably the bottleneck. Therefore you try to create a flow with special attention paid to those critical places. Well, yeah, you still haven’t negotiated the level – but your high score just went 15 points up. You’re on a good track. Next time (or the one after that) you’ll sure make it!

C=64 VS. CPC

The two versions are almost identical.

The C=64 version boasts an achievement for the time: when you complete a level, a sampled voice says, “Next map.” But the CPC has a unique element as well: it offers a special color scheme for playing on a monochromatic monitor (having white color for red and blue for green if you choose it on a normal device feels kinda surreal).

Traffic - screenshot from the monochrome version

Would you stop or go if you saw a white traffic light? And what about a blue one?

The rest is just details. On the Commodore, the active junction is indicated by a crosshair, on the CPC, its outlines change color. The high score table (which is not saved) has 3-char names on the 64 and 4-char names on the CPC.

So the only important difference is that the CPC version seems to be one tiny little bit easier than the C=64 version. Which might be an important factor because the game’s not only great; it’s also fairly difficult.

But whichever platform you prefer, give traffic a try. It’s totally worth it.

Stop reading, start playing!