Sunday, 1 July 2012

F1 Challenge - Review

Although it has been so long since I started this blog, I have always still wanted to start posting a series of short but regular reviews of some of the games/utilities/software that I used to spend hours using in my youth. Better late than never as they say, I am going to start today with a game that was not a particular big name in it's time (I shall be approaching those in due course), but one that became somewhat of a cult classic. May I present you with my review of "F1 Challenge", specifically using the 1993** version.

Originally created in around 1991, F1 Challenge was the creation of Steven Rennocks and was published by Amivision Software., with music by Leon Poole along with help from David Rennocks and James Carr.

Released in the budget range of pricing at £9.95, F1 Challenge isn't the most graphically beautiful game ever released, but this was never the intention. Following in a long line of management style games for the Amiga platform, F1 Challenge was successful in trying to launch you into the role of team boss at any one of the 15 teams that entered the official F1 Championship that year. It's worth noting that F1 Challenge did feature both real teams and drivers, something that wasn't always the case in sport simulations at that time due to copyright issues, for this reason, the game became much more immersive for it.

Being a Formula One management simulation, it provides a completely different experience to what you normally receive from other F1 games, where you would be involved in the driving side of things. From the initial team startup where you choose your team, you are then given a difficulty option which will determine your budget for the year, in the case of "Easy", you are given £1,000,000, I'm not even sure that would buy you a set of tyres in todays F1! With this money, you are then given the choice to spend your money on three main factors, engine supplier, tyre supplier and then your initial driver. For drivers, the choice is always limited due to the other teams having first choice. You are also required to save a small portion of this initial startup cash in order to "power" your car for the first race and train the pit crew.

With your team now active, and your choices made, you are then presented with the main menu screen which provides the overview that you will see throughout every season. Whether you want to look at the weather forecast for the next race, hire or fire drivers, provide power to your engines or go to the next race, everything is controlled from this screen.

Although many of you will be aware that Formula One is an enormously complex sport, F1 Challenge tries to keep it much simpler but with enough options that can make or break your race weekend. Specifically this is tyre and wing choice, which you have to determine in relation to each different track you race at. Despite not having an enormous amount of options to change, don't be fooled into thinking that it makes the game easy, far from it. With changing weather that then affects tyre and wing choice, the permutations for failure can always catch out even the most confident boss.

Once all options have been covered, we naturally then have to go and race, to see whether the choices we have made are the correct ones. After selecting "The Race", you are sometimes presented with a news screen that will inform you of any issues relating to you or the other teams and is followed by the qualification screen, a scrolling montage of the 26 cars that have managed to qualify for the race along with the times posted. It's at this point as a fledgling team boss that you get your first taste of suspense, waiting for the screen to scroll down to reveal whether your car has made it through qualifying!

Now moving to the race itself, you are presented with a simple but effective interface which portrays the start/finish line of the circuit. After a small wait for the lights to change, the race then gets underway and it is only at this point that we get any real disappointment from F1 Challenge, the race sounds. Although we are talking early 1990's here, and understanding the limitations of audio at the time, the sounds could definitely be much better when compared to other titles at the time. I am not talking Dolby Digital or Surround Sound, but there were many lesser games around at the time that managed to sample sounds so much better, and not have a repeated drone of cars passing the screen every lap that didn't really resemble the sound of F1 cars of that period.

I mentioned cars passing the screen, and that is the basic way the race element of the game works, again simple but effective. Lap by lap, the order will change, reflecting the tyre and wing choices made by all teams, and the cars will pass each lap in the order that they are now in. Although this doesn't sound very exciting, and I don't imagine many would sit for what could be in excess of 75 laps listening to the cars drone past every 20 seconds or so, this can be remedied by a swift click of the mouse which will bring up the current status of your driver(s) along with relevant race and weather information.

You will notice from the screenshot above, this also gives you the handy option to "Skip Race". In itself, this isn't an option that removes you from control and takes you to the end of the race, it merely takes away the lap by lap passing of traffic, instead slowly counting down the laps and removing names from the screen should they retire. Using this option also requires you to stay alert, as any weather changes (they can be quite erratic!) will require you to click your mouse and return to the status screen and prepare to make any changes such as pitting for new tyres. Clicking the mouse, returning to this status screen and then choosing to skip race again will result in the standings being updated on the main screen as well allowing you to see whether you have gained places, or fell dead last.

This brings us to the inevitable pit stop(s) that you will have to make during the race, providing your driver(s) haven't retired already. This element of the game could actually be considered a completely seperate game of skill in it's own right due to the way it has to be done, and the severe effects it can have on your race strategy.

Following your request for a pit stop, and choosing the tyres you require, you are presented with what represents a large wheel and a single nut in the middle. The object of the exercise is to click the middle point as quickly as possible, thus determining the time of your pitstop. As the starting point is always completely random, depending on how far the cursor starts from the centre, the times of your pit stops can vary dramatically.

Retirements and pit stops aside, you can then allow the race to pan out to the end and view the result which will either give joy or adulation on your part, or complete misery due to a random engine failure or crash. The screens will then follow a regular format of showing driver and constructor standings, before returning the the main menu screen where you can go through the whole process again, hopefully this time with a bank balance that is starting to grow depending on your result.

As I said at the start of the review, F1 Challenge is not a particularly big name and probably won't be remembered by the majority of gamers from the time. It's fair to say that it is probably only remembered by the cult following it gained, particularly by Formula One fans of the time. However, this does not detract from the fact that it was extremely enjoyable and provided a then unrivalled experience in what it was designed for. It also had longevity, whether that was from playing season to season and trying to take your team further up the F1 ladder, or starting again and using a completely different difficulty level and engine, tyre and driver choice. I can assure you that many a week has been lost to this game and even doing this review, I couldn't resist following it up by trying to take the "March" team from relative obscurity to World Champions, needless to say, I failed miserably.

Graphics: 16/25
Sound: 11/25
Playability: 22/25
Longevity: 21/25

Total: 70/100

**F1 Challenge was an evolving title, and various updates were released in the following years to reflect driver and team changes in Formula One.

This review was done using F1 Challenge (1993 Version) with WinUAE emulation, using my own Kickstart Rom and using an .adf disc image taken from my original floppy disc.

© RetroAmiga 2012

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Welcome to my newest blog, "Retro Amiga". For those wondering what that exactly means, well, it's exactly what it says, a blog dedicated to the Commodore Amiga, a machine that would now be classified as retro!

In the "old" days, roughly 1995 or so, I originally owned an Amiga A600 which came as standard with 1MB (yes, really) memory. Certainly an improvement over the A500, the main cosmetic difference was a much smaller package which did not include a numeric keypad and the old power pack was done away with, replaced with an internal one within the keyboard. The A500 and A600 can be seen below with credit to both Alexander Jones and Bill Bertram for the pictures.



Believe it or not, the actual base Amiga package did not include a monitor but was connectable to your television via the standard aerial interface. What might be considerably surprising these days is the actual cost, although in the mid-nineties you were receiving quite a lot of kit for your money. I will always remember how much the system cost me at 15 years old, £300 from my catalogue with £75 interest after taking out finance for 100 weeks!

So, what did you actually get for your money? Firstly, for me it was a gaming machine but there was so much more that it was capable of in a similar way to your desktop or laptop is today. Take a look:-

* I used to complete school projects in an era when most people could only access computers at school, primitive ones at that, many schools were still running BBC computers!

* A profitable in school football game in a similar vein to "Play-by-Mail". You might need to look that one up. Play-by-Mail

* Audio sampling and music creation using a Beeline Stereo Sampler. This was in the early "trance/rave" days where you could connect the Amiga to your Hi-fi and playback/record samples for manipulation with specialist software such as Octamed. Several hit UK singles were produced using this method.

* Game programming, initially via a free piece of software called the "Shoot-em-Up Construction Kit". It was very primitive by gaming standards, even in those days but you could learn some serious programming basics then play your game or save it to disk and pass to friends!

Well, after a small introduction to the system it's time to tell you what this blog is for. Although I could waffle on for hours, possibly days about the system itself and what it could do, thats not what I want to concentrate on. Although I could do many things on the Amiga, gaming was always the first love due to the huge variety of titles available. In fact, there are many titles released for the Amiga that are now renowned for starting genres, some of which exist today as best selling titles that you may well play regularly. Over time, I want to show you some of these games, quite possibly from the point of view of a gamer 15-20 years ago but also to show you how you can play these titles even today. In the era of High Definition graphics and crisp gameplay, some older titles still retain huge playability.

Look out for my first review coming soon, problem is there are so many great games to choose from, I am not sure where to start!