Virtual Karting 1 logo AGA

Reviewed by Andy Maddock

After a promising preview two or three months ago, Virtual Karting is now ready to fill up the rather blank looking Amiga shelves in games retailer's stores everywhere.
Fabio Bizetti, the author of Virtual Karting, has some very strong views on the Amiga and issues that surround it. I can quite readily agree with a number of the points he makes about the much debated issue of piracy, among other topics.

What he does mention is that as certain people abuse the Amiga industry, such as pirates, he himself would much rather develop and produce games that only he and his friends could enjoy personally.
When you think about it, he's actually making a reasonable and perfectly valid point. Why should developers produce games for pirates to abuse and ruin?

But anyway, OTM, the publishers, have managed to squeeze Virtual Karting into the market for the Christmas crowds, and with Leading Lap just finished it looks like it's going to be a festive fight.

In the preview, as said before, Virtual Karting looked very promising. I've been trying to think back to the early days, attempting to recollect another karting game, but I'm afraid I keep failing miserably. As this is the only one in its particular genre, any karting fans out there will only be too happy to receive this cleverly wrapped present nestled snugly under the Christmas tree.

The idea is to take on a series of other karters all competing for first place. Firstly, you have to race in a qualifier, and when your finishing time comes through you will be given a starting place on the grid, and from there, you have have to advance through the beginners, advanced and expert tracks.

On the first beginner track you can see that you are obviously karting around France, specifically in Paris. The Eiffel Tower is clearly lurking around in the background detail. From this you can see what great lengths the developers have gone to to produce the detail.


One of the Finest touches included in VK is that when you press down on the accelerator you see your foot actually act - it's the same with the braking too

Before you begin each race, you are shown a fly-by view of the entire track. Here you can plan out which corners are the best for overtaking, and check out any chicanes that may prove a problem.
Also, identifying the pits is a must because stopping to rejuvenate your kart is essential if you want to be in with a chance of winning.

One of the finest touches included in VK is that when you press down on the accelerator you see your foot actually act - it's the same with the braking too. Instead of just a still picture of a kart on a moving track, these touches actually make that small difference in realism.

There are two karts to choose from. The 100cc is the less powerful of the two, although because of this the actual handling is far better. The 125cc kart is by far the faster of the two, so use of the brakes in all of the tracks is a necessity.

SPEED AND PLAYABILITY
There are two main angles from which you can view the action. The first is 3D which looks as if you are actually sitting in the kart. The 2D view is from above, much like a bird's eye view, and although it is far easier to handle the karts in 2D, it's difficult to see which corners are coming next.

If you would like to know what kind of technical specifications have been made to accommodate the speed of detail of VK, on an accelerated machine, Virtual Karting runs at 50 frames per second which, to be honest, is quite spectacular. If you're running it on a standard 1200, it is slightly less impressive - running at a steady speed at 25 frames per second.

Fabio Bizetti pointed out that speed and playability was his main concentration during the development and although this seems like a fair point, I can't help feeling that Amiga gamesplayers will be wanting more in terms of graphics.


Go Karting

Karting is becoming more and more popular across the globe. Only recently I ahve noticed the world championships broadcast on satellite television. It looks quite ridiculous because there are all these countries fighting it out just as seriously as in Formula One. Having said that though, karting is becoming even more popular than F1. Most people will never live to race around Silverstone in a William Honda, but you can quite readily race around a karting track somewhere in the world for a nominal fee.

If you've never tried it, I suggest you find the nearest track and get racing. It's one of the most action packed and exhilarating sport ever - in my opinion.

FINAL WORD

Overall, this product moves very swiftly, plays extremely well and certainly doesn't lack presentation. The only gripe is the manner in which it moves. Although technically it sounds far more superior to that of other racing games, the graphics become so annoyingly irritating, a headache is the only inevitable outcome, especially after a good half hour staring into the screen.



Virtual Karting 1 logo AGA

I have not been karting since a holiday to Blackpool as a 9-year old howls Steve Bradley. A chequered career, or a chequered flag for this kart-'em-up?

After battling with these darned karts for a while now, I am still at a loss to understand why the programmer has not included the fire button as an option to use as an accelerator, instead preferring the game to struggle manfully with the forward position on the stick/pad, and why he has not bothered to proffer the keyboard as a control method?

Dropping in these two simple fellows would have improved the shebang considerably. They could still not, however, mask the fact that Virtual Karting is a game that the Amiga does not need.

Conveniently forgetting for the moment that there is a dearth of karting games on the market, I would suggest that any supporter of the racing genre will already have a game in their collection which is considerably better than this. The Lotus games, bless 'em. Good ol' F1GP. We won't mention Micro Machines, or Super Skidmarks. There is many more.

Before we continue, do not go thinking that some of the screen shots that dot around the pages are representative of the game. Our picture grabber had all kinds of trouble with this game. No, Virtual Karting is prettier, much smoother looking and does not have all the dodgy lines across it. Our apologies. Virtual Karting is fully texture mapped and this, it seems, is its USP (that will be Unique Selling Point - and who left that damn marketing bible around).

"Oh my giddy Aunt," you exclaim upon discovering that the game runs between 25 and 50 frames per second, depending on whether your machine accelerates faster than one of these here karts. Virtual Karting seems to set great store by its technological 'innovations'. Sadly, it really is not a wildly impressive visual experience. Hang it, I do not care a jot whether it is texture mapped or novamura-d (that bumpy wallpaper, you know). I want to get in a little buggy - one which I can safely negotiate around bends - and drive very quickly over a variety of courses.

But this game offers no real feeling of seed. You can watch a speedo in the bottom, left-hand corner of the screen and see that old KPH steadily rising, but back in the hotseat you still feel like a pedestrian.

There are two ways you can view the races in: 2D or 3D. The 2D option is a straight overhead perspective, while the 3D view has four slightly different angles. Overhead, the race seems slower, while the lower the 3D angle, the quicker the car seems to move - although when you are the lowest of the low, it is incredibly difficult to anticipate the bends.


You sway this way and that, oversteering and bumping off course on the grass.

So Virtual karting is best played in the highest of the 3D views, where you can get a reasonable sensation of speed while at the same time traverse the bends with as much confidence as the rather difficult to get the hang of control method allows.

In the 2D mode, you can play half screen and the actions are hot pace-wise, though a magnifying glass would be a bonus.

Back to the control method. Holding the joystick/pad forward and controlling the kart to any degree of accuracy is an awful task. You sway this way and that, oversteering and bumping off course on to the (texture mapped) grass which slows you to snails pace.

It is not such a problem on the beginners course, but once you hop to the next two, it is terribly frustrating, particularly on the really tight horseshoe bends. Yes, I know practice makes perfect, but anyone who has played any racing game will know that using the fire button to accelerate is much more satisfying and a darn more concise. So actually the mouse control is probably best.
If I was of London extraction, I would suggest: "OTM, SORT IT OOOOUUUUUT".

It is a shame really. The programmer, Fabio Bizzetti (possibly an Italian fellow) is obviously dedicated to the Amiga, and the work on the graphics and pre-race fly-bys is tremendous, but Virtual Karting is a triumph of design over content. Three courses and two cars (100cc and 125 cc) - with no championships or leagues to compete in.

But hey, the texture mapping, the frames per second. I almost feel apologetic - certainly the technical feats of the game are quite tremendous - if the Amiga had an '030 as standard this could have been developed into a much smarter, faster, more enjoyable game. But when the car is the very devil to control, when the sound effects are tinny and you feel like you are trundling along in a milk float, something has obviously gone wrong.

As an attempt at producing a 'realistic' karting simulation, this may well be visually excellent, but as exciting driving games go, it is certainly left in the lower rankings.



Virtual Karting 1 logo AGA A1200 Speziell

Bei OTM hat man die Zeichen der Zeit erkannt und flugs eine AGA-Flitzerei mit flinken Go-Karts und flotten Ideen an den Start geschoben. Doch dann lief leider alles falsch!

Michael Schumacher gelangte über die hier beteiligten Seifenkisten ja in die automobile Königsklasse, für das OTM-Team dürfte es dagegen kaum zu einem Platz in der Disk-Garage reichen.

Dabei haben sie erstmals am Amiga eine Rennbahn entworfen, die komplett mit allen Straßen, Wiesen etc. aus einer einzigen, turboflott scrollenden 3D-Textur von riesigen Ausmaßen besteht - so was kannte man bis jetzt nur von den Ankündigungen zu UBI Softs "Street Racer" oder auf Konsolen; etwa beim SNES-Hit "Super Mario Kart"!

In der Praxis zerplatzen bei Virtual Karting jedoch alle spielerischen und grafischen Blütenträume schon nach wenigen Sekunden, was nicht zuletzt am technischen Kniff liegt, mit dem die Coder hier Tempo machen wollten: Beim Berechnen der 3D-Optik wird nur jeder zweite Bildpunkt berücksichtigt, die dazwischenliegenden Pixel bleiben einfach schwarz. Das Ergebnis sieht am Monitor sehr grobkörnig aus, an einem Fernseher wirkt das Bild dann gänzlich unscharf und verwaschen.

Auch die eigentlich schönen Justiermöglichkeiten für die Beobachtkamera werden damit sinnlos, denn aus der Fahrerperspektive ist der Straßenverlauf kaum zu erkennen, während der Pilot beim Blick direkt von oben auf den (dann um den Kart rotierenden) Beton jedes Gefühl für die Geschwindigkeit verliert.

Auf der Verliererstraße ist man meist auch gegen die fünf Computergegner, weil sie schon beim geringsten Rempler und nach dem verzeihlichsten Abstreifer in die Pampa geschlossen in weite Ferne enteilen - und an eine Aufholjagd ist bei einem bestenfalls zweiminütigen Rennverlauf (fünf Runden zu ca. 20 Sekunden) natürlich kaum zu denken.

Da sich zudem nur drei Kurze und optisch sehr ähnliche Strecken auf den zwei Disketten befinden, ist es auch um die Dauernmotivation denkbar schlecht bestellt. Am unterhaltsamsten fanden wir daher noch das Kauderwelsch der Anleitung: Mit Bonmots wie "Dieses Spiel hat auch ruckwerdes zug von wind. Wird Ihren kart aerodynamisch, sie konnen besser vorbei gehen werden da z.B. die Vorteile des Fahrens im Windschatten umschrieben..."

Tja, schade um die Wahlmöglichkeit zwischen 100c- und 125cc-Karts sowie die Unterstützung von Analog-Sticks und Maus; der extrem unglücklich gelöste Pad-Betrieb mit dem Steuerkreuz als Lenkrad und Gashebel/Bremse sei bloß der Vollständigkeit halber erwähnt. Da aber genreübliche Bonbons wie Duo- und WM-Modi oder Pistenkarten fehlen, sind derlei Features ohnehin nur Kosmetik.

Doch soviel Schminke hat keine Avon-Beraterin, daß damit auch noch der nervige Kopierschutz, die unvollständige HD-Installationsroutine und die Abstürze auf getunter AGA-Hardware übertüncht werden könnten! (rl)



Virtual Karting 1 logo AGA

Shows what you can do if you really set your mind to something. Eh?

Just take a look at those pictures. Not because they look like they were taken from a badly tuned television, ignore that bit, it's got something to do with our image grabber failing to get on with the game's subtle screen manipulation. Squint past them and admire the detail, the views, the karts themselves. Stunning, aren't they? Although you might have seen the preview we ran about this game last month, I want you to just have a quick scan over these four pages. Go on, take your time. I'll still be here when you get back.

What great is, the pictures you can see here came from the humble AP office A1200. There's nothing special about it. It's probably more or less exactly the same one you own and play games on. Makes you feel kinda good inside to see our lovely little machine capable of doing something like this, doesn't it?


Not just a graphical showcase

SPEEDY
But the single most pleasing aspect about Virtual Karting is that it's not just a graphical showcase. We've come to expect that most of these aesthetic masterpieces all lack one vital ingredient. Gameplay. Playability. Whatever you call it.

This is different enough. Instead of the vacuous and empty vessels we've come to expect, Virtual Karting is pumped up (to the max) with adrenaline, excitement and loads and loads of keyboard-thumping, expletive-shouting, fist-waving, best-lap-time cheering action. In fact it's so good, I think we should put the word ACTION in capital letters. There, that's better.

It's all done by simply getting the right parts of the game working correctly. Not only do the graphics look great frozen (apart from all the wavy lines and odd colour splashes, etc. Once again, we apologise for our outmoded technology), but when they're moving there's no judderingly sluggish update (except of course if you get shunted from the side or behind, in which case the game justifiably disorientates you by moving you about a bit) and the game even slides nicely round corners, giving you just the right impression of movement.

This is enhanced even more by the responsive controls. Accelerating and braking are fast and the steering is spot on, most noticeable when the back of your car is sliding out around a corner.

The sliding can be brought down to a minimum by playing on the Beginner track (with its nice wide corners), but you've got to learn how to brake into corners before you progress to the Advanced and Expert tracks, otherwise you'll spend more time off the track than on it. With the time it takes you to get going again, you really don't want to do that.


After months of dire stuff, this is a relief

STICKY
So that's the schmaltzy, excited, razzamatazz, cheerleaderly opening taken care of, leaving you in no doubt that I like the game. A bit over the top maybe (especially in light of the forthcoming "problems with the game" section), but after months of playing the dire, wheezing, desperate stuff that's dragged itself into the office, a good game's a real relief.

So, the review proper then. After you've fiddled around with a few opening games and got used to the behaviour of the karts (choose between the 100cc and 125cc models), you then start to get more involved. And although it really pains me to say this - the more you look at it, the more tiny holes you start to find. Bah.

We'll start with the most obvious and downright silly idea of having only one control system. Having one system is bad enough, but get this - you have to use UP to accelerate. One more time, that's UP to accelerate. It would have been a better idea to use the Fire button for accelerating. Jonathan and Cam would probably consider the fact that this isn't the case to be a crime against humanity on a par with the recent French nuclear tests, but I'm a bit more lenient. Though not much more.

As well as being blatantly STUPID, having to constantly press UP to accelerate into or out of a corner is a real problem. And coupled with the way you have to brake or accelerate harshly, it can mean that on tight turns, you slow down too much or go in too fast.

And once you've got past the rather easy Beginner track (nothing more than an introduction to the game, really), negotiating tight turns competently, becomes the linchpin of the game. Of course, the most exasperating thing is that it could have been avoided completely if there'd been other control options. Tut, tut. I didn't find it too much of hassle, but others clearly would.


On a par with French nuclear tests

STARK
What I did find a strain was the continual and predictable antics of the other karts, and their effect on you whenever you come into contact with them. Can you guess what it is yet? Yep, in EVERY case (which you can see beautifully from the 'overhead' view), when you smash into someone or they come up behind you or take a corner at a different angle, you AND ONLY YOU get shunted ina different direction.

Sometimes this can pay off, if you hit them at the right point on the apex of a turn for instance, but more often than not, it's a handicap and will see you eating grave! This problem really becomes game-threateningly annoying on the Expert level, but after a few hours play you're probably going to have conquered the Beginner and Advanced tracks anyway because hey, it's all a bit too easy as well.

The Beginner level took only a few hours play before I'd finished it in first place, and after a couple of near misses, I was the champion of the Advanced level as well. I'm still battling with the Expert level, mainly because of the awkward controls and the fact that every time I try and drive aggressively, I come off the worst. Still, I'm up to third place, and after only two days of playing it.


Will see you eating gravel

Now before you all eyeball your way to the end to see what feebly low score I've given this let met tell you the most odd thing about this game. Even with its problems - the controls, the computer controlled karts, even the lack of a two player game - I'm still going back for more and enjoying myself every time. I'm learning to control the kart, and getting better every time, and even when I mess up, I'm more likely to just press Escape that I am to battle on. Which is a good thing.

Which brings me to my main problem which is the conclusion. As you can probably tell, I'm sort of confused as to how to sum it all up. True, the game's got plenty of good points, but also has its fair share of bad points.

There are holes in the game, such as its lack of decent presentation (it would be nice to at least have a congratulations screen when you finish a track) and the fiddly controls, and the fact that there are only three tracks, but I can't get away from the fact that I'm going back time after time. And not just to play it to form an opinion, but because I'm having fun.

There's no doubt that the game could be better, though not substantially better. It needs tweaking, because what's here already is exhilarating stuff. Oh heck, I like it. Even if it is a bit rough around the edges.


JUST LOOK AT THAT!

In fairness to OTM the screenshots you'll see over the next four pages aren't exact representations of the game. For some very technical reason to do with screen frame update rates and things, it's very difficult to get a clear picture. We hope you understand that there's nothing we could do about it, and that the game is indeed a real looker.

YOU CANNOT GET WHAT IT HASN'T GOT

You never know who's watching or reading. So, on behalf on game players everywhere, here is a plea. It's basically what we'd like to have seen in this game. And hopefully, someone will be watching.

  1. Simultaneous two-player mode: Every racing game should have one. It's more than double the fun. And a link mode. And yes we're greedy. So possibly even a link-up four player mode.
  2. Loads of tracks. At least, er... 15.
  3. Different control options: Configure those buttons. And keys. Loads of them. Weird ones if you like.
  4. That's enough to be going on with.

Somebody hear us!

IT'S ALL IN THE CC'S YOU KNOW

Right, so there's these two different karts to choose from. One of them has a 100cc engine, and the other one is powered by a 125cc engine. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is in the speed. The 125cc kart has a top speed of about 103mph compared to something like 80mph on the lower model.

There might also be something to do with the grip and weight of the engine that improve the cars' handling. But then again there may be not. If anyone can shed any light on this, you know the address. Thanks.

QUALIFYING

Most racing games have a qualifying section, and this one is no different. But it goes about it in a strange way. It's you, on your chosen course, with just the clock to race against. You start in the 6th position and then speed off around the track. Now you've got to improve your time, and if you succeed, you gradually move up positions. Once you've done that, you then escape out of the section (by pressing the escape button) before racing proper.

Whatever position you reached in the qualifying bit, it will be transferred over to your starting position. And this will count for every time you start the race, not just the one directly after you qualified. OK?