As the old saying goes: "If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, he'll rende a new one in Vista Pro". If you're in the heart of rural England gagging for decent games and no-one is producing them, you've got to do it yourself
And so a young lad with big, steep toecapped boots and an internet account set himself the task of not quite recreating Mario Kart on Amiga. Alex Amsel, Wolves supporter, programmer and game designer, claims: "It's actually not at all like Mario Kart, any resemblances are only superficial". And he's right, you know, there's not a Mario or Yoshi in sight.
Despite very little advance publicity Silltunna's little gem has raised a lot of interest and we were eager for the full title to arrive in, especially after last month's cover demo.
This was one of the most popular disks ever, if the amount of phone calls and letters we've received about it is anything to go by. The boxed game finally arrived the day before our Christmas hols and we had it up and running, serial linked between two Amigas in a flash.
Luckily, after Christmas, Lisa was on extended holidays and the cattle prod she normally uses to extract reviews from us was hung up on the wall, well out of harm's way. So we spent ages playing it, examining every nook and cranny of every track with every car purely for research purposes of course.
A barrel of fish
But there were a couple of thing that really puzzled us about Xtreme Racing before it ever turned up. Who were Silltunna? Where did they get the weird name? Why had we never heard of it before?
First things first, Silltunna consists of two chaps from Staffordshire, Alex Amsel and Richard Whittall, helped by dozens of wonderful graphics and sound wizards, idea people and the general sort of top class lads and lasses that hang around programmers' bedrooms. They also solicited much help and encouragement from Mark Sibly in New Zealand who has lent the Black Magic name to the project in a publishing capacity, as well as advising on certain aspects of the gameplay and design: such is his faith in it.
The name Silltunna is Swedish in origin and means 'barrel of fish', which the lads think is a right laugh. They claim it doesn't really signify anything, it just sounds cool. Development only started in August 1995 after Alex had contacted Richard when some artwork by him was published in CU Amiga Mag's Art Gallery. I'd say that's some achievement: 0-100% finished in under six months!
XTreme Racing is fairly conventional in terms of setup, after all it's a racing game. There are 12 tracks, eight cars, a single race mode, a season mode, a championship mode and a death match. Hold on. Death Match? The latter is available in two or more player mode and involves competitors driving a car around a choice o maze-like circuits trying to bump each other off, and it's top fun.
The reason this mode has been included is that weapons are available in XTreme Racing, though you can disable this in the options menu if you like.
Certain points on each track are littered with question marks. When you run over a question mark it will yield a random icon of some sort. These include jumps and turbos and, more importantly, weapons.
These are divided up into roughly three categories passive, active, and booby traps. Passive weapons include forward and backward firing bombs, quad directional rockets and simple line of sight rockets. Active weapons include homing missiles, sheep (a woolly missile), delayed action mines and direction changers (which effect the steering of opponents).
Booby traps include mines and laughing bananas which are designed to be dropped on the driving line so that other cars will run over them. It's no fun if you hit these yourself.
The object of all these bombastic shenanigans is to enable you (or a computer/human opponent) to gain the advantage in a race. If there's one thing more satisfying than passing another car through sheer driving skill, it's blowing them up first and then passing them. This can also happen to you though, and if you set the race on one of the higher of three difficulty levels it happens with alarming frequency.
The twelve tracks are divided up into six different zones. The most conventional of these are the Road Circuits and the Grasslands tracks. The least conventional are the Floating City and Toxic Refinery ones which are all futuristic and moody. All feature jumps and obstacles, some of whicha re dangerous, some of which will merely slow you down in the Castle tracks there are big gaps in the circuit which have to be jumped.
To do so you need to hit the ramps placed in ront of them at considerable speed and at the right angle. If you miss the ramp or hit it too slowly you'll end up sinking in a green sea, known childishly by Silltunna as "The Sea Of Snot".
Similar scenarios exist on other levels. When you sink into water or snot, or fall over the edge of a road in the Floating City level, you don't lose a life the computer will place your car past the obstacle you missed but you do lose time and probably several positions on the track.
Other obstacles designed to slow you down include trackside spectators whom you can run over, exploding oil barrels and most bizarrely, in the seaside levels, sharks which make your car spin like a top if you hit them.
Just how good XTreme Racing is depends on how fast your Amiga is. Anyone who's seen the demo from last month's magazine will know what I mean. Xtreme has more menu options than a Chinese takeaway. These include routines for just about every possible upgrade of an AGA machine available.
You can, believe it or not, play XTreme on a standard A1200, with 2Mb RAM and no hard drive, but it's a bit like going into a Chinese takeaway and asking for plain boiled rice. The game will automatically opt for blittered screen routines and you'll see something not dissimilar to Virtual Karting, though then times better in the playability stakes. You can then size the playing screen up or down to suit your speed tastes.
If you have a 1220 or 1230 accelerator and extra RAM you're into spring roll, sweet and sour pork, fried rice and banana fritter territory. It suddenly becomes a tasty and good looking game, with plenty of speed and the option of a slowish, but beautiful 1x1 pixel screenmode.
However, if you're really speed hungry, elitist 040 and 060 owners have the equivalent of Mr Wong's £40 Emperor's Dinner menu with all the trimmings. Full speed 1x1 heaven we reckon.
Had I not played the hi-res versions I would have been able to put up with the blittered routines. Unlike VK, they did not make me sick. However, if you do not have a hard drive or at least a spare external disk drive don't even contemplate investing in XTreme Racing. I don't think I've ever sat doing as many disk swops as I did while testing it on an Amiga with none of the above it goes beyond frustrating, believe me.
I've given Xtreme two score boxes because it's really almost two different games. As an accelerated game playing of hard drive it's wonderful; best fun we've had in ages. As a standard A1200 game (A4000 owners need not worry, it is fully compatible and great) you will need a minimum of one, preferably two external drives and it can be a bit tedious.
Yes there are other faults, the biggest of which is dodgy collision detection in too many places, making it difficult to accurately judge sharp corners, dodge gunk and pick up question marks, but I'm more than willing to forgive this because it's so such fun you can't bear any grudges.
The final test of any game is how long it delays real work in the office and XTreme Racing almost got us all fired. It's true to say that this job could be construed as being a bit cushy; I mean, playing games is all part of a day's work. But there comes a time when joysticks must be downed and keyboard put back on desks so that we can do what we're really paid for: writing. That time came and went in a flurry of red, blue and yellow cars and as deadlines drew close the threats got louder and playing the game for a bi more 'research' became unjustifiable.
Finally the fateful "Forbidden Castle Level 2 that broke the camels back" came along and I hard to write or die. Oh well, all good things must come to an and: and there's always next month!