TRAFFIC

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!

FORMULA 1 3D: F.1 MANAGER II

Formula 1 3D: F.1 Manager II

Let’s start with a very scientific-looking chart that explains the difference between writing about contemporary games and retrogaming journalism. On the vertical axis, we’ll have game quality. On the horizontal axis, we’ll have advertising.

At any given time, there’s more games than any paper magazine in the past or online magazine today could review. So the role of contemporary mags usually is to give the players guidance whether to buy big titles or not. They work as guardians of gamers’ wallets.

With retrogaming it’s different. The wheat was separated from the chaff long ago. We already know how much the licensed Superman and Knight Rider games sucked. But there are still thousands of games that have never made it into the limelight – sometimes because of a bad marketing strategy, sometimes because they were made by great creators who, unfortunately, had no idea about that a good game won’t sell by itself, and sometimes just because of a chain of unfortunate events. Finding such games and giving them some belated justice is one of the major tasks of retrogaming mags. Or of ours at least.

We want to cover great games that didn't get advertised enough to gain fame.

Discovering cool games that never got famous is one of our goals.

So this article introduces Cool Stuff—our tips for games that you might have never heard of because they never got the recognition they deserved.

ONCE UPON A TIME…

… there was an Italian company called Simulmondo. They made games for the Commodore 64, Amiga, and DOS. The games had two good things in common: they always looked good, and they were always at least solid. I don’t remember playing a single one bad Simulmondo game. I liked some of them more, some of them less, but I always liked them. And one of them I simply loved: Formula 1 3D: F.1 Manager II.

It’s a pity that Simulmondo did games only for the C=64 on the 8-bitters, because the game would have definitely been doable on the other platforms.
The graphics look pretty, but the game’s not really color-demanding, so the usual color downgrade for the Spectrum and Atari 8-bit wouldn’t have mattered. I guess a hires Spectrum version would have had a certain charm.

Sounds are limited to the engine noises, which all of the 8-bitters are capable of, and just one, very special, tune. Its specialty consists in that even though I normally hate short repetitive tunes with bad instruments, there’s some strange magic to this one: even though it’s horrible, I’m very fond of it and sometimes just can’t help myself humming it even when I do something totally computer-unrelated.

As the company’s name suggests, they did a lot of (although by far not exclusively) sims. As the game’s name suggests, it’s a Formula 1 simulator/manager game. And it’s symbolic that such a good game of this kind comes from Italy, the home of the company that’s almost synonymous with F1: Ferrari.

FOUND IN TRANSLATION

Formula 1 3D: F.1 Manager II (I’ll call it just F1 3D from here on), published in 1991, is not really a sequel to the original F.1 Manager from 1989. It’s a crossbred between a translation and a remake. The original was in Italian only, while in F1 3D, you can choose between Italian and English. Other than that, just a few pictures got changed, a few details were added on the managerial side, and the difficulty got tweaked a bit. Nothing 3D was actually added: the first game had been in 3D already, but in the early 90s, the 3D madness took over, plus Simulmondo published I Play – 3D Soccer, I Play – 3D Tennis, and even 3D Scacchi Simulator (3D chess, even though 3D views had been common in chess games since the early 80s, therefore there was no rational reason to point that out) around that time as well, so it might have been their naming strategy for sports games.

Sexy language selection screen

That’s what I’d call a pressFkeybait.

BUILDING YOUR TEAM

The game is a typical manager in that you have to work with limited resources. You can play alone or with a friend. You start with a budget of $6 million, and you have to divide it between your pilot, engine, chassis, and staff. Are you going to put a lousy driver into the seat of a great car, or will you make compromises on the car design side, hoping that a good driver will still be able to overtake with it? And where exactly are you going to save? Pilots have three stats: courage, ability, and tactics. Gonna go for an incapable kamikaze or a boring tactician? The engine parameters are cylinders, valves x cyl., max. RPM, HP. The chassis are characterized by aerodynamics, grip, cooling, safety, and resistance. If you neglect the aero, your car will be slow, with low cooling you’ll risk that your car will overheat, and so on. And if you don’t have enough engineers and mechanics, will you be able to extract the maximum from the car?

Building your team

Create your driver, pick your engine and chassis, get some staff, and you’re good to go!

It will take you a while to find a combination that works best for your managerial and driving style. And that’s what’s so great about the game!

GRAY MATTER AND BLACK STICK

On the 8-bitters, most sports simulations are heavily imbalanced. Either they are a tiring, endless series of menus that will put you to sleep after a while, or they are badly covered action games where most of your choices won’t really matter. F1 3D serves a yummy blend for both your brains and hands.

Before every race, you take part in quali. In qualifying, you drive the car yourself. You have three laps, and the best one of them counts. What I especially like about the qualifying is that, like in the so-called real world, you actually have to know the circuit to perform well at it, and you can’t just go through every corner at full throttle. I hadn’t really been successful at the game until I started writing down the layout of the circuits. Right then the game really got me hooked many years ago. Driving the car was fun, and seeing the difference my performance made motivated me to improve. Often I found myself with my whole body tilted in the corners, trying to take the optimum line, murmuring, “Getitrightgetitrightgetitright!”

Set up your car and go for the quali!

Set up your car and go for it. Hitting those apexes really matters!

After the qualifying, you move into the role of the team boss, sitting on the pit wall, watching the race on TV, following the car data via telemetry, and instructing your pilot how to drive according to all of that.

You control the speed of the pilot and the driving style (defensive or aggressive), and you also decide when to make pit stops. You make these decisions based on your position, the state of the car’s front and rear tires and the gearbox, the temperature of the engine, and the remaining fuel. In the meantime, the TV feed serves you the overtaking maneuvers and other highlights, like pilots’ excursions off the track or their technical problems.

Race screenshots

A lot can happen during the race.

And your decisions matter! If your tires are in a bad shape and you want your driver to drive too fast and too aggressively, you usually end up in a wall. You’ll be as nervous and foot-tapping as any real team boss, watching the feed and waiting what’s going to happen next. Will the increased aggression get your pilot ahead, or will he overdo it? Will the tires last till the end, because you want to avoid another pit stop? Is the driver behind, who has been getting closer lap by lap, able to overtake your driver? Should you turn the engine down because it’s getting very hot? These questions will nag at you and your heart will skip a beat anytime you’ll see the name of your driver on the screen.

If you pick your strategy well (and your driver isn’t too shabby), you can make progress through the field. Yet the game is so well balanced that if you qualify plumb last, usually you can’t make it to the points, let alone victory. So you can gain and lose in both the action and the managerial part of the game.

As a pilot you want to win, but as a team boss you have to secure your team’s future in the first place, so in the end everything translates to money. You get prize money for qualifying and your end result in the race, you lose money if you wreck your car and have to fix it, and before every race you can select a sponsor, who will reward your end result. Each sponsor has a different financial strength, so it pays off to select the best ones for the races where you know you usually perform well.

COOL STUFF!

Therefore you have two goals every season: become the world champion and have enough money to run the team for one more year, possibly with a better car and/or pilot.

Victory

Time to celebrate! A race victory in-game and a great game on our side of the monitor.

But, actually, there’s a third goal with which I always start this game: just play it. Because it’s nice, because it’s very playable and addictive (just one more race!), and because it’s fun. It’s Cool Stuff!