Friday, March 12, 2010

Game 10: AutoDuel (1985)

United States
Origin Systems (developer and publisher)
Released 1985 for Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari 8-bit; 1987 for DOS and Atari ST; 1988 for Amiga and Macintosh
Date Started: 12 March 2010      
I was really excited when I saw AutoDuel coming up on the list. I remembered playing it on my Commodore 64 over 20 years ago. I was looking forward to the ultra-tactical combat involving dozens of vehicles, in which you would pull your 24-person bus alongside the outlaw gang's tractor trailer unit, unload a volley of rifles, and then board it. Meanwhile, you'd accelerate your reinforced pickup truck to ramming speed and plow down the enemy's motorcycles. Good times.

Except, I realized soon after loading the game, that wasn't AutoDuel. That was Roadwar 2000. And come to think of it, it wasn't a CRPG anyway, so I don't know why I would have thought it was on the CRPG list. AutoDuel, it turns out, I've never seen.

The main splash screen nearly knocked me out of my chair. Lord British and Chuckles?! It turns out that AutoDuel is an Origin systems game, published sometime between Ultima III and Ultima IV. Based on a board game by Steve Jackson called Car Wars, it exists in a post-apocalyptic American northeast in which roving gangs of bandits prowl the highways in souped-up armed and armored vehicles. You start as an amateur car warrior buying and outfitting your first vehicle, and slowly improving your skills, fame, vehicles, and finances through random combat, arena duels, and courier missions.
The main character window

You begin in New York City. Like any good CRPG, there are a number of places to visit: a truck stop to buy armor and get a bus to another city, an assembly yard to buy and outfit your vehicle, a salvage yard to sell salvaged goods, a garage to repair and store your car, a weapons shop to buy weapon upgrades, a chapter of the American AutoDuel Association where you can get missions, Joe's Bar for drinks and rumors, the Gold Cross for healing and clone-making (more below), the FBI for God know's what, and an arena where you can fight duels.

The Big Apple is a little more compact than I remember

You start with hardly any cash, so generally you go to the arena where, on "amateur night," they will give you a car temporarily. Defeat four enemies and you win about $1500, enough when combined with your starting cash to buy your first vehicle.

Amateur night at the arena

Controls are with the mouse or keyboard. I found the keyboard counter-intuitive and the mouse only slightly less so. The main problem with AutoDuel is that the battles are frelling impossible. It took me four tries to win in the arena. Then I was killed almost immediately upon purchasing my first car.

Combat is based partly on statistics, including your scores for driving and marksmanship, but also partly on arcade-style hand dexterity. Unfortunately, I'm not very quick, apparently. But I don't think it's just me. The game screen isn't very big, and you don't really see enemy vehicles until you're practically on top of them. At that point, it's all too easy to accidentally run into them, destroying your armor and whatever weapon happens to be mounted at the impact point.

What makes the difficulty annoying is that AutoDuel is yet another game with permanent death. You can save your progress, but when it reloads it deletes your saved game. The only way around this is to visit the Gold Cross and purchase a clone who will take over for you if you happen to die. But they're awfully expensive.

When you defeat enemies, you can get out of your car and salvage stuff from theirs.

After dying probably 10 times I decided that the problem was I didn't have enough cash to outfit a good car. Prompted by a hint in the game manual, I took a bus to Atlantic City, where after playing blackjack for a good two hours of real time, I had about $16,000. (I was about to say that this qualifies as the first mini-game in a CRPG, but actually I suppose the Ultima TIE fighter battle takes that prize.) With this, I returned to NYC and outfitted a van with armor and several different weapons.

How much extra for some sudden, uncontrolled acceleration?
I had enough left to buy a clone but forgot to do so. I hit the open road, fought and won a couple of battles and then encountered a hotrod which in about two seconds obliterated my rear armor and killed me.

My six hours is up, and I'm tossing in the towel. I know I'm opening myself up to accusations of half-assing two games in a row, but AutoDuel was about the least fun I've ever had with a CRPG--and to be honest, I'd debate applying that label to this game. In any event, I can't find any evidence that there's a main quest or a way to "win" AutoDuel, so all it's doing is keeping me from The Bard's Tale. [Edit: As commenters have pointed out, there is a way to win. Later, I did.]

If you want another point of view, this YouTube poster has loaded a five minute video along with a couple of paragraphs of gushing commentary. The video shows him winning the first arena duel, buying his first car, and heading out on the open road. I sympathize with one of his commentors, who says, "i like it [but] 2 hours later i cant do anything but die & die again."

At least I got to hone my blackjack skills.


Further reading: Unsatisfied with this brief coverage? I don't blame you. It was early in my blog, and I didn't have much of a work ethic. Six years later, I revisited the game and won. Read my updated coverage.


  1. Hey WTF is up with these read it/tl;dr buttons? I can't imagine anybody who is interested in this blog *not* reading an entire post!

    FWIW - I wouldn't want these posts to be any shorter than they are.

    Good luck w/ The Bard's Tale.

  2. Thank you! The "reactions" buttons seemed like a good idea when I added them but I've had trouble figuring out anything useful for them to say. Now that Rizla has shown me a better way to figure out my traffic, I'll have to reconfigure them again.

  3. Yeah, keep the depth!

    By the way, those blackjack skills will come in VERY handy soon. 1987's "Legacy of the Ancients" was what taught a young me how to play blackjack (and a major way in which you make money in that CRPG).

  4. Oddly enough you've made me want to give Autoduel a try. I guess this means I need to re-download DOSbox. Well that is if I can tear myself away from Mount & Blade. lol

  5. Let us know if you have more luck with it than I did! There are a lot of passionate defenders of "Autoduel" out there, so I'm sure it was just me.

  6. I really enjoy firing up Autoduel from time to time. The arena duels are *always* the same, so you can use the same strategy over and over.

    For the amateur event, get near the enemy and start backing up. The other guy will be trying to line himself up with you, which is great because you can be blasting him in the process.

    For low level events, use flamethrowers by backing up towards the enemy, then when they get close, hit the gas and cook 'em.

    I don't know about high level events as I'm usually off on ADAA courier missions or storyline stuff by that point.

    Always build a car with some empty space for salvage and cargo missions.

    If you have enough patience for Bard's Tale (I don't) you can handle this game. :)

    Am I the biggest nerd or what?

  7. I admit I probably didn't give Autoduel the time it deserved. I was a little impatient to get to The Bard's Tale and from what I could tell there was no main quest in Autoduel. The problem (for me) with games that you can't win is that I don't know when to stop playing.

  8. I prefered to make a starting car with good armor and cargo space (smallish sized, we always named it the "Pill Box", though we didn't use guns). Also, put points into driving early, since you won't be using weapons and you will take some damage (nothing more frustrating than being unable to steer properly). I then spent time running between towns doing various missions. And running from everything. It wasn't too long before you could save up for a great car. Lasers and the like. I was a big fan of flame throwers even though the manual claimed they could reduce salvage. The game's climax was very tense, as I recall. I was a big fan of this game back in the day.

  9. Come back a minute, Peacedog. There's a "climax"? That suggests the game has a main quest and is winnable. I'm sorry I abandoned it so soon, then.

  10. There sure is a mission, there are 5 missions in the story, the last mission is with the FBI.

  11. Here's how NOT to die early and give up on the game.

    First put all your points into driving and marksmanship. Marksmanship rises a lot faster than driving (I finished the game and my marksmanship is maxxed but my Driving is still around 80). I did 30 driving/20 marksmanship.

    Go to the arena and do amateur night. You will die a LOT but at some point, you will get used to the controls then you will be able to get through two amateur nights.

    The game ends (actually you can keep playing but there is no more storyline) when you put Mr. Big in jail. It takes a high prestige before the quest to bust Mr. Big comes up.

  12. Thanks, 'Nym. I hope future readers will see your comment, but I'm still not going back to Autoduel.

  13. You need to play it with a joystick, which I don't even know is possible with the dos version. I played it on the C64 and had a blast. Only thing I didn't like about it was how long it took to get from one city to another.

  14. From what I can tell, the biggest problem with the original poster is that he played blackjack instead of poker. :) Bet 10% of your cash, keep any pair, otherwise turn in all 5 cards, wait for the random 4 of a kind. Max cash in 30 minutes (minus taxes). Take that and build an uber area car with laser, oil jet and max armor.
    Once in the arena, the trick is to get your opponents hung up on fences, blocks, etc. He can only shoot at 45 degree angles, you can get your car to shoot at 22.5. In other words, he's stationary and you can put yourself in a position where you can hit him, but he can't hit you. Easy as pie. :)

  15. Played this game as a child and adored it. Word of advice, rear flamethrower (while backing up), multiple linked machine guns on front.

  16. You should give this one another shot. There is a main quest to this game...

  17. I probably should have spent more time on it, but there are too many games on my list to go back to games I played well over a year ago.

  18. One of my favorite games when I was 12 was this one on Atari 800XL. Of course, I was watching "The Road Warrior" a bunch back then and trying to prepare for a post-nuclear reality.

    Played it again about a year ago and found it surprising boring. Also never liked the "Clone" Hospital...pretty moronic.

    Interesting fact, the original box included a "mini-toolkit" with a mini crescent wrench, pick, flat head screwdriver, and (I think) a hammer. It said "Origin Systems" on it. I got it around here somewheres...

  19. Solution: We write a modern remake with better graphics & updated controls but the same gameplay & release it. Add to wikilist and make CRPG play it when he hits modern times. ^^.

  20. This game is my favorite game of all time. I've been reading through your posts in reverse chron order... was very much looking forward to this. Unfortunately, I'm not surprised at your verdict -- without a joystick, this game is near unplayable nowadays.

    I spent a massive amount of time playing this when it came out; I still have the box in my office, along with the rest of my Origin collection (the only game boxes i kept!).

    As for Autoduel, learning combat is key. There are some neat tricks, like high front armor, ramming an opponent, and destroying them.

    No game I've ever seen since has such an amazing ability to build yourself (in this case, your car) from the ground up. Absolutely loved the thrill of earning enough for another weapon -- I earned all my cash from challenges and salvage, never overused the casino.

    There are times when I'd have 3 busted wheels in the middle of nowhere and have to walk through the wastelands to survive... some tense, tense moments.

    As for perma-death, this game has the coolest (and hardest) form of perma-death I've ever seen... and I've Ascended on Nethack. You know that clone you have? On the final mission, it's destroyed. You need to beat the game, or start over.


    True story: fire down the street. Dad screaming to get in the car. Me, saving my game instead and grabbing the disk.

    But again, without a proper joystick this game is unplayable due to the controls. I wish they'd remake it. I know of some 'in spirits' but none ever hooked me the way this did.

    The only contenders for my favorite game of all time are wasteland, fallout, and bard's tale. Some modern games come close (Demon's Souls, I'm looking at you) but... ah, childhood.

    1. ahhhh... Wasteland... blood sausages anyone?

  21. My father played this game. He tried very hard to get me to enjoy it. I didn't. Couldn't. It's a cool idea, but even back then, I think it failed at execution.

  22. 'Nym, I appreciate your recollections. I wish I'd given the game more of a chance back in 2010, but I just couldn't survive for more than a few minutes. I'm glad to hear that the joystick was such a key issue.

    1. yes.... point to the date dismissively... Next time try before pissing on a classic

  23. can one even get an old school joystick anymore?

  24. Yes though it is hard. I have a couple of C64 joysticks, one of which we got at a garage sale. just try ebay and such.

    For a basic model PC joystick they are harder to find then a few years ago, but they exist. What the addict could also try is plugging his xbox controller into the computer and using that. No idea how well it would work, but he has already said he owns one, so what does he have to lose?

  25. spent hours and hours on autoduel on the apple IIe computer. It was one of the great games.

    For those of you unfamiliar, you might also look up Netrek. It was one of the first online multi-player games...early 80s. Graphics are not phenominal, but it's all about hand-eye coordination and teamwork.

  26. This game kind of reminds me of Motor Massacre (name found after hazy memory and googling).

    After watching video of C64 version, ain't sure if they were fond hazy memories.

    Wasn't able to find much more, but do anyone know if it is somehow connected to Auto Duel more than thematically?

    1. I am sorry that the original poster / reviewer found this game hard to play.

      I own a copy of this game, and have played it. I can assure you that there is a storyline, and an ending. The storyline is dependent upon your reputation score. Nobody is going to talk to a nobody, after all. Once you get your reputation high enough (by competing successfully in the arena, on the road, and by completing courier missions for the AADA) you will start having encounters with the plot and storyline.

      Use of the radar is key in winning combats. You can use it to line yourself up perfectly and actually hit opponents off-screen, though that is not quite in the spirit of the game. Having front and rear weapons is also key so that you can hit foes coming and going... or while you run away.

      Flamethrowers are great as rear weapons, so long as you do not mind getting little for salvage - which takes up cargo space in your vehicle. No space, no salvage, except for the occasional bit of ammo - and not much if you flamed them out.

      As for plot and storyline, I have completed 99% of the game. I will not reveal the details, but I was run down just short of completing the final mission of the game.... ran out of battery, and I couldn't make it on foot.

      Also, the game auto-deletes your character file if you die. i suggest going into the file directory and copying your character file out before you die to get around this.

      hope this helps others reach the endgame.

      --- nijineko

    2. Great game. You can save your driver on a separate disk. Just start a new driver on the main menu, and it will ask you if you want to save the current driver. Do this periodically and you won't have to start over.

    3. I'm sorry the original poster/reviewer didn't actually bother to try to learn to play the game before pissing on it.

  27. Passionate defenders of Autoduel... gee, I don't know why, it was only the most awesome frickin' road war/mad max inspired game ever, and based upon Car Wars to boot! Sheesh. The clones aren't that expensive. I used to play this game for hours--days on end. I'm sure several months of my teenage life were sucked into this game on the C64. Battles difficult... hmmm... Not to my recollection. YOU HAVE TO PLAY WITH A JOYSTICK. Sheesh. Least fun? Wow. Half-assing? Maybe. This was my favorite game for a long time--bested only by Elite and right up there with Gunship, Echelon, the D&D Gold Box games, and perhaps Empire: Wargame of the Century. If you didn't enjoy this game, it's because it hasn't aged well, you didn't play it on the C64, or you're doing it wrong.

  28. You had mentioned playing Questron as a teen...did you forget you could gamble in that game and play mini games as well? :)

  29. Also...I won Autoduel on the most certainly can was also a ton of fun. However, I do agree it hasn't aged well so can't fault you there.

    The final quest involves taking on a trucker of some sort...I remember that much. Still...the best game ending of all time would have to be Questron with the alarm ringing ever faster...

  30. Hiya. Just wanted to say that this review makes a lot of sense, if you're playing the game on a modern PC without a joystick.

    The game was always meant to be played with a joystick with analog response (like how I played it on the Apple IIc, years and years ago), and it's a fluid and not-terribly-difficult game if you have one. I can see it being pretty painfully difficult without it, however.

    That said, it's a really solid game and I feel that your review did not give it justice.

    There is a convoluted series of plots in true CRPG fashion, including a main quest line that takes your character up and down the Eastern Seaboard. If you don't just do Atlantic City, you can have a very fun time doing courier runs and fighting your way up through the Arena, culminating in the ultimate fighting vehicle (which is somewhat like that van you equipped, with a few changes here and there- one of the few major flaws was that that van really was always the optimal choice).

    However, there was a lot about the gameplay that you had to be patient and thoughtful to really appreciate. For example, because they were so limited on screen real-estate, Lord British and Chuckles made it possible to fire weapons well out of visual range. So by carefully watching the radar, you could (and did, if you were any good) engage enemies that you couldn't even see yet, use terrain to your advantage, etc., etc.- things that look laughably ancient by today's standards but were very innovative at the time. Basically, Autoduel's a simplistic simulation game with a CRPG backbone in terms of plot mechanics.

    I agree with the frustrations of perma-death; it is one of the biggest flaws in this title. What I did when I played this game way, way, way back in the day was that since save-games were stored on a disc you could provide, I saved my character to more than one disk by entering / leaving places (which auto-saved) getting around this feature. I totally agree that this is one of the things that keeps this game out of the "ancient greats" category, but it's certainly worth playing :)

    1. Thanks for your perspective. I've done penance on this game throughout the comments, but I'll say it again: it was early in my blogging career, I really didn't have a handle on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, and I should have given the game some more time.

    2. Sooooooo..... does that mean you are going to give it another shot? I really enjoy reading your blog, and you have suffered through some ridiculously terrible games. With so many (correctly) claiming this to be a classic, perhaps you should give it another go?

    3. If I even hint that I'm thinking about such a thing, I'll get a swarm of readers clamoring for me to finish Wizardry IV, and Faery Tale Adventure, and Wizard's Crown, and a host of other games I left undone. My official position will always be not to expect anything but the games I have listed in the upper-right, in the order I have them listed.

    4. Insert classic film quote here:

      "Soooo..... you're telling me there's a chance. Yeah!"

    5. CRPG Addict: Tell you what, If you are ever in the golden horseshoe at the same time as me, I'll see if we can swing by my Dad's and borrow his C64 to try it out with an actual C64 joystick. In exchange for the blog post, I'll BBQ you something.

      Edit: Note that this is super unlikely, as I'm about to move 3000 km from the golden horseshoe.

  31. So, I just finished this game. I almost gave up because I kept dying on the road. Then I realized 3000 cycles was too high in DosBox; I could survive in the arena but not on the road. 1100 cycles was reasonable and I dropped it to 800 after some experimentation. That did the trick... I rarely died again (although the last mission got me once despite my best efforts). Of course, I did have to resort to save cheating - I did not do money "cheats" per se but I did gamble for funds. Anyhow, I really liked the game but I think the original rating was not far off especially from a CRPG perspective.

  32. I remember getting this for my Amiga 500 back in the late 80s or early 90s, several years after its release. I had heard so many good things about it, I was so excited to finally play it. The day it arrived in the mail, my mom even let me stay home from school to play it.

    Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The Amiga port wasn't any better in the graphics and sound department than the PC version. The game had permanent death and only one save slot, which I found archaic even back then. Maybe I'm wrong, but I recall that the Amiga version didn't support joystick control (maybe because the Amiga had no analog joysticks?), and the game was difficult to play with a mouse and keyboard.

  33. I realize this comment is about 5 years too late, but you gave up on an incredible game. What you need to make this work is a joystick, it's pretty much necessary to be able to aim your shots with proper timing. Once you can do that the game is a completely different experience and a ton of fun.

    1. The Addict has stated previously that when he goes through 1985 again to pick up missed and newly qualified games, that he will probably give Autoduel another look.


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