In the long and honourable history of racing games/
Up until now though, no-one has ever accurately represented the 16 Formula One tracks of the championship tournament - no-one, that is, until Geoff Crammond began work on Formula One Grand Prix for Microprose.
Building a reputation on Revs for the BBC Micro some years ago, a game which Acorn users the nation over swear by, he then went on to do Stunt Car Racer, a game that won him the same acclaim from 16-bit owners as he received from Beeb owners before. Since then he's been working on this, the game that puts you into the driving seat of a six gear, normally aspirated 200mph plus racing machine, and frankly it scares the pants off me.
Strictly speaking this is a simulation - that's why it is being published on the Microprose label, and once you get into it and discover the attention to detail you'll understand why.
The game begins in the pits as you prepare to qualify for the race ahead. Don't panic though, no matter how bad you do you will always qualify for the race. This 120 minute qualifying section gives you a chance to get used to the track and mess around with the car's set-up.
Four variables can be, erm, varied on the car - tyres, brake balance, down-
There are six options for tyre choice- A to D are the four dry racing tyres ranging from hard to soft, qualifying tyres that give a good speed but disintegrate and lose grip after only a few laps and are absolutely no good for a race, while Ws are for wet weather driving.
Brake balance affects the distribution of the total braking force between the front and the back axles, altering the way the car behaves on braking. The type of corners on a certain track will determine the way this parameter is changed. The amount of down-force is also crucial - the more down-force, the better the cars holds the road on corners, but the top speed is lessened, so a track with a lot of tight corners - Monaco for example - would need a lot of down-force whereas a track with a long straight, like Hockenheim, would require less down-force to increase the top speed.
Gear ratios have much the same considerations, with winding tracks needing more low-end acceleration to come out of the corners faster, but the trade-off here is a lower top speed - for a higher top speed the low-end acceleration will have to suffer.
The idea of the practice laps is to give you a chance to experiment with these set-ups and see which variation best suits the track. Each lap time is recorded and the best one determines where you are on the grid. Two or three laps with each set-up tell you whether or not it is worth pursuing, and which drivers you are going to have to look out for.
To help the novice there are six driving aids (see box), one of which is lost every time you increase to the next of the five difficulty levels. There are all useful but once you have become used to how the cars function you will find that although you might not want to increase the difficulty level just yet, you won't want all the driving aids on - after all, it takes most of the fun out of it.
The five difficulty levels determine how well the other cars drive, but you can also determine the distribution of performance between them using the switch at the bottom right of your dashboard. A diagonal slope means that is is realistic, i.e. the best drivers will be in the best cars. These figures are based on race times for the 1991 season which has just finished. A flat line means that all cars and drivers are the same, and a wavy line means that it is randomised - good drivers could be in crap cars and vice versa.
Race length will have already been determined by you at the start of the championship as a percentage of real race length and cannot be changed without resetting to the beginning - after all, it would be unfair if you changed the last race of the championship to one lap to make sure your position was unassailable. Naturally because each race can take up three hours if played at the full length of the championship can be saved, and so can the race at any point whatsoever. This may sound unlikely but when you consider that the computer is actually driving every car on the track, not just working out where it is, the computer knows exactly where every car is at any one time. Therefore it can save that information quite easily.
All this driving does lead to certain compromises on the graphics side of things. There are no two ways about it, on a standard 1 meg A500 it is jerky. But 3D vector graphics are the only way the circuits can be captured accurately right down to the last bump and track-side building.
Well, almost - not all the detail is there but what is there is very accurate. Monaco is the clearest example of this with the Casino and that tight-
The accuracy of the tracks has been worked on for a long time using videos taken from the BBC and satellite TV, car data has been gained from Honda technical data and close contact with the Footwork team (formerly Arrows) who gave a lot of assistance with the friction and drag data. One member of the Footwork team drove around a few of the tracks in the game and was apparently stunned by the accuracy.
The jerkiness is acceptable when you take all of this into account and more so because the game still feels as though you are actually racing at 180 miles an hour. It isn't slow like some games, just a bit like blinking a lot while you're driving.
The sound is the biggest let-down, the engine noise being simplistic to say the least, but something had to be sacrificed in a packed memory and that was it. Then again, a droning whine might be all you hear inside a helmet!
This is a minor quibble when you look at the game as a whole. I was worried at first when I heard the term 'simulation' mentioned, because I felt that gameplay would be sacrificed for accuracy, but if anything the accuracy helps - it means that each track requires skill and concentration and a lot of practice before you can get close to emulating the fastest times.
As well as this, because each car is being individually driven, each race becomes engrossing to the extreme. Brilliant.