Saturday, March 5, 2016

Revisiting: AutoDuel (1985)

The opening screen from the C64 version.
  
I've always had slightly different tastes than other people my age, even as a kid. I listened to Frank Sinatra instead of Michael Jackson, read Raymond Chandler instead of C.S. Lewis, preferred Casablanca to E.T. And I never got into three things that always seem to grip every kid: dinosaurs, giant robots, and cool cars. Even today, their appeal is lost on me. I watched Mad Max: Fury Road and thought it was a fun action movie, but when people start going on about, "Did you see how he'd tricked out that V8 StreetRacer 880 with a mag suspension and mounted HK 550s?!," I start looking around for the nearest cocktail.

I'm not sure why souped-up vehicle fever hit America in the 1980s, but you couldn't flip through three television channels without hitting upon a show--Knight Rider, Viper, The Highwayman, Street Hawk, The Dukes of Hazzard--in which some kind of conveyance was the real "star" of the show, and the writers had to come up with the most tortuous reasoning to keep all the action set on a roadway. If the bad guys ever thought to, you know, walk into a building, the hero had to resolve the issue without his car, and no one wanted to see that. Even as a kid, I thought these shows were just too goofy to exist.
  
New York City in the C64 version (top) versus the DOS version (below). This strikes me as at least one rare case in which the DOS version of a mid-1980s game is manifestly better.
    
My ambivalence with the subject matter, coupled with a steep difficult curve, weird controls, permadeath, and what I thought was a lack of a main quest, conspired to cut short my experience with AutoDuel in a brief 2010 posting. As I just noted in respect to Alternate Reality: The City, my primary goal back then was to have fun, not thoroughly document the history of RPGs. Since then, I've had plenty of occasions to regret those early days. AutoDuel is one of those games that inspires a particularly loyalty among its fans, and I know I disappointed many of them by giving it such little ink.

AutoDuel is a fairly unusual RPG, but it is very much within the tradition of the shows named above, in which the hero is nothing without his car. In this, perhaps this game's closest analogue is Starflight, in which the only equipment that matters is that attached to the ship, and the only characteristics that matter are those that help the crew pilot it. In the case of AutoDuel, those characteristics are driving skill, marksmanship skill, and mechanic skill. Your character does have hit points--between 0 and 3, plus extra protection afforded by body armor--but he isn't really important as a character, since almost all of his methods of combat, quests, development, income, and even personal danger occur solely in the car.
   
After a couple of disastrous starts, I decided to let money save the day. This was my first car after winning a bundle in Atlantic City.
   
All of this makes for a somewhat absurd setting, in which society is depraved and lawless--but only in their cars. Pedestrians are perfectly safe, and apparently nobody owns a handgun. The game begins on January 1, 2030, in a post-apocalyptic northeastern United States. (Washington, DC is the furthest point south; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the furthest point west; Boston, Massachusetts the furthest point east; and Watertown, New York the furthest point North.)
  
The extent of the game. I look forward to visiting the Origin Systems headquarters in Manchester, New Hampshire.
   
The nature of the apocalypse isn't explicitly stated in the AutoDuel materials, but in the Car Wars tabletop game (on which AutoDuel is based), the timeline talks about oil shortages leading to food shortages, civil war, and societal collapse. Civilization is consolidated into a handful of perfectly save "fortress" cities with unpatrolled roads in between, overrun with gangs and sociopaths. "Autodueling" arises in this society as the most popular sport, and the American AutoDuel Association is formed to help keep things regulated.
   
Truck stops in the post-apocalyptic future somehow have less sordid options than truck stops in the modern era. Unless "get batteries charged" is a metaphor.
  
The character starts as a novice in this setting, but through guile and luck makes enough money to start outfitting cars, competing in tournaments, and accepting missions to courier goods between the fortress cities.
   
Competing in the arena.
   
For this re-visit, I started with the Commodore 64 version, but I didn't like it. No matter how much I tried to practice, I couldn't master the joystick or keyboard commands, and I couldn't find a good speed to set the emulator. If I set it at 100%, it gave me enough time to react in combat, but loading screens and just walking around the city took forever. At higher settings, the latter annoyances abated but I didn't have the reflexes to react quickly in combat. Also, I kept getting a bug by which my arena battles started with my car stuck on top of a fence. Hence, I switched back to the DOS version, which has better graphics, no disk-swapping, and a more palatable overall speed. I also found that the mouse control worked better for me than keyboard or joystick.
   
Auto-dueling on the road between New York and Boston.
   
Character creation consists of giving a name to the character and assigning 50 points among three attributes: driving, marksmanship, and mechanics. The former two skills increase as you drive and fight; the latter can be increased by purchasing $500 training sessions in each city's garage. The character starts with $2000 cash and no car.
   
   
Starting out is the hardest part of the game, since you're both trying to build the character and get used to the odd controls associated with vehicle combat. A new character has the option to compete in "amateur night" at the arena, where they'll lend him a car. He has to destroy 5 enemies with the ammunition available to win the tournament, at which point he gets $1,500. The problem is, if he loses, death is permanent and the game is over. Once you have enough money, you can buy a clone of your character for $5,000 and keep it updated with a periodic $3,000 "brain scan" that stores your current skills. I do like games that integrate "saving" with game elements and make death have some consequence. But early in the game, these options aren't available and a new player burns through a lot of characters just trying to figure out how to move.
  
Very few games make "saving" and "reloading" part of the game's universe--something the character does instead of just something the player does.
  
I was able to win several amateur nights in a row after a bunch of practice sessions, and then the game told me I was no longer enough of an amateur to compete in "amateur night." This seems to happen when your "prestige" score hits 6. Prestige increases as you win tournaments and complete missions.

The amount of money I earned wasn't quite enough to afford a decent car, so I took a bus from New York to Philadelphia and then another from Philadelphia to Atlantic City. I spent a while playing blackjack with the Martingale system, won about $50,000, returned to New York, and outfitted what I thought was a decent pickup truck with various types of armor and laser canons.
  
Chester circumvents the intended difficulty of the game.
  
At this point, I was where I was in 2010, and the same thing happened: the moment I left the city, I got trashed in a battle on the roadway. I said that I found the mouse easier, but not "easy." Fortunately, this time I had just spent $5,000 of my earned money on a clone. (I also wasn't above backing up my character file, but this time I didn't have to use it.)

I don't know whether the keyboard and joystick controls in AutoDuel suck universally or just for me, but they simply don't do what I expect them to do. I feel like pressing the "forward" key (or pressing forward on the joystick) ought to move you forward whatever direction you're facing, accelerating the more you hold it down. Then, moving right and left ought to turn you, but maintain the same rate of acceleration. Instead, moving forward on the joystick points you north, and the left and right keys immediately point you in those directions and all previous acceleration stops. But hitting the key opposite the way you're currently facing doesn't turn you in that direction--it reverses you in that direction. In short, everything is unintuitive and inconsistent.

After some practice, I found that mouse control offered in the DOS version is a lot more natural (when I previously played the game in DOSBox, I used the keyboard only). You move the mouse around the car to change directions, and the farther you move the cursor away from the car, the greater the acceleration. It's not as good as a key configuration that makes sense, but it's better than nothing.
   
Destroying an enemy with a rear flamethrower after my forward armor and weapons were destroyed.
  
Even as I got more experienced with the controls, all went to hell in the combats. Trying to turn so that you're actually pointing at the enemy can be a difficult maneuver. The temptation is to keep your weapons on continuous fire and hope that the enemy runs into the stream, but this just wastes ammo (one of the reasons that the laser cannons, with unlimited ammo, are a good solution). Meanwhile, enemies all seem to want to crash into me rather than stay at a respectful distance and shoot at me. So almost all my gun battles are fought fender-to-fender with my foe. Such crashing quickly destroys both your forward armor and forward weapons, forcing you to pay for expensive repairs in between missions, usually costing more than you made from the mission. If not for Atlantic City, I'd be broke most of the time.
   
There's no way that traveling all the way to Dover is worth it for a $600 payment.
   
Eventually, I stopped trying to improve my skill and relied on money to save the day: frequent repairs, frequent brain scans, supplemented by visits to Atlantic City whenever I got low. My abilities slowly increased, but so slowly that it was hardly noticeable. I guess "mechanic" ability just influences how much salvage you get from defeated cars. I've been improving it occasionally.
   
Fixing my car's armor after a successful mission.
   
I've solved about half a dozen courier tasks at this point. I realized that you want to look for well-paying missions on easy routes that minimize your travel effort. It's better to take two missions from New York City to Boston than one mission to Boston and one mission to Scranton. When I haven't seen any missions that I like, I've been competing at whatever tournaments are available in the cities. I guess that the "division" you can enter is limited by how much your car is worth.
  
My reputation slowly improves.
  
My understanding is that the overall goal is to get your reputation high enough to attract the attention of the FBI and get some missions that help take down the notorious "Mr. Big," believed to be the leader of the outlaws on the roads. So I'll keep trying to get to that point and get another "win" in my column. But I don't think my final rating is going to please fans any more than my original review. I hope those fans can agree that while the game is technically an RPG, it's not a classic example of one, and you really need to like cars and the action-based combat to enjoy this game.

64 comments:

  1. My friends and I played Car Wars, the tabletop game on which Autoduel is based, in high school. We were totally into the cars, mechwarrior, space marine thing as teens. As an adult I can see clearly how silly the whole genre and setting is, but I still have fond memories of weekend gaming.
    But yes, the value of your car determines what division you compete in. It goes by how many thousands of dollars your car is worth. So $1000-$1999 would be a Division 1 car and a $10,000 to $10,999 would be division 10 and so on. IIRC anything above Division 50 falls under Unlimited, so the values of cars can vary widely and wildly.
    You have to spend 10 points in a skill to raise the bonus by 1 and it costs 10 points just to get a skill. Having Martial Arts skill can actually raise your hit points if it is available in the game.
    The game tabletop game is totally about the cars but it got so complicated we chucked the cars and played the game with squads of mercenaries facing off against each other.

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    1. No sillier than any other nerd genre, really.

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  2. "My primary goal back then was to have fun..." I thought that sounded funnier than it was intended to be.

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    1. It wasn't intended to be funny at all.

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  3. On the surface, this game sounds like a lot of fun: strange dystopian future, bizarre predilection with cars, and a main quest that seems like it could make sense in the context of that universe.

    BUT... a weak combat engine can really drag down any game. Shame, really.

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  4. I played this game as a teen. Seemed like a winner when I bought it. Great box art, RPG elements, made by Origin. I thought the game was pretty fun back in the day but I doubt I would like it if I replayed it today.

    The controls were poor and not responsive. AI is brain dead and rams you with guns blazing every single time. I put all my weapons in the rear and ran away firing as my only tactic the entire game. Shooting from the front means the AI rams you and you take alot of damage each combat. At least from the rear you avoid ramming damage and can dodge some of the AI's fire. The AI on the other hand is running right into your guns/traps.

    Origin should have made this turn-based like SSI did with Roadwar 2000.

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  5. Roadwar 2000 was definitely a better game IMO. I consider it an RPG/strategy game. The vehicles you acquire can be improved along with the crew that man them. It's a game I think you would enjoy if you like the Gold Box series.

    Abandonia considers it a RPG:

    http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/26245/roadwar+2000.html

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    1. As I was catching up on this blog, I was ready to make a spirited defence for Roadwar 2000/Europa being enough of an RPG to cover on here, but it is actually on the master list already, just coming up for the second pass of 1986. As long as Chet plans to give it a shot, I'm not worried about it making it into a post on here.

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    2. Roadwar 2000 is pretty sweet. I don't know if I'd quite call it an RPG though.

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    3. I have fond memories of a few sessions with it, so I'll give it a go even if it isn't much of an RPG.

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    4. Indeed RW 2000 was more of a "load buses with arms masters" and don't forget the bulldozer and go to town.

      I remember winning the game first time by accident by just happening to enter the right town.

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    5. At first, I thought that was what he was talking about. I never played Autoduel, but played Roadwar 2000 on my Amiga, and had a great, great time with it.

      As a mostly-irrelevant but slightly interesting aside: the Amiga version had the executable on the disk twice, once as RoadWar 2000 (however it was named) with an icon, and then a second time, misspelled, with no icon, so you could only see it from the CLI. That second file wasn't needed for anything, IIRC, it was apparently just there to make Amiga owners feel like more was coming on the disk. The empty/full gauge, looking mostly empty on those monster 880K disks, must have embarrassed the devs a little.

      Small or not, it was great fun.

      Addict: I know you (justifiably) hate Amigas, but that version of Roadwar 2000 is probably going to be the best one. I'm pretty sure it wasn't copy protected, and it all fit on one floppy (twice!), so it should emulate really well, with few gotchas or sharp edges. I bet a basic A500 profile with a single floppy image file would be perfect, and dead simple. For that specific game, at least, it should almost be an appliance.

      When it starts to approach, you might have someone check it out, and maybe set something up for you. The newest Amiga Forever has this concept of 'packages' where someone can just give you an "RP9" file, with everything you need embedded, ready to go. (hardware profile, all disk images, even a save disk or disks, all stuffed inside the larger container so you don't have to deal with it.) If the packager does a good job, that should be pretty darn painless, and I bet people would be happy to do it for you.

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  6. I was never into cars, but loved playing this in my old C64. While the controls are unintuitive based on what has evolved over the past 30 years, at the time the controls weren't bad or difficult to manage at all (at least for me). While it has been difficult to step back into those keyboard controls today, I still find it mildly entertaining, even though it is more than just dated.

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  7. I apologize if someone else has posted this already, but one of the best ways to beat Autoduel is to put all your weapons rear-facing, as the AI almost always just chases you, shooting the whole time. The flamethrower is especially good for this, since it automatically puts up a defensive smokescreen whenever used. As far as translations go, the computer game isn't very faithful to the tabletop; the computer-game's flamethrower is far too cheap, far too powerful, and carries something like 400% more ammo.

    Good luck! And thanks for doing what you do.

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    1. No one else posted it, but it's kind of what I discovered on my own.

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  8. One thing to bear in mind is that on the original Apple ][ version, you play with an analog joystick. After spending years trying to play this on our systems and getting hit with the battle controls, I finally got an apple ][ and joystick. Playing this instantly made sense, and became much more playable.

    However, it's still a flawed game. Not really enough to do, and the combat gets samey. Really it needed a couple more months to just tighten it up. Still, it's an rpg type which is pretty unique and could be redone so well.

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    1. Can you elaborate a bit? I'm not sure why the type of joystick would make a difference, but perhaps I'm not getting it.

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    2. The way the analog stick is use is to do the speed. So if you just push up a little (about 25% of the way) then the car goes upwards slowly. If you push all the way, then the car goes at full acceleration. This gives you more control of the car than digital, which is full acceleration or not.

      When just using digital joystick/keyboard, I was getting killed all the time - I just found it impossible to ever feel in control. But with the analog stick, I was able to win the arena battles and the car did what I wanted it to.

      I'm guessing this is how they originally designed it to be played given it's an Apple ][ game, and it looks like they only really had analog sticks.

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    3. Since you're familiar with the Xbox 360 controller, I'll use that as a reference. The cross pad is digital - the directions are either pressed or not pressed and there's no difference between you tapping them or slam on them as hard as you can.
      The two sticks are analog - you move them a little and you get a little result, move them big and you get a big result.

      This is why, in an Xbox game (Fallout, for example) you can move the crosshairs with a certain degree of precision to pick up a gun, or spin rapidly to shoot the raider coming up behind you. If the sticks were digital, you'd move at a fixed rate that it was impossible to change.

      99.99% of joysticks in the 1980s were digital - the best ones were literally four microswitches that were triggered depending on what position the stick was in. They had no real advantage over the keyboard other than being a dedicated input that conflicted with nothing (no small thing), as there is literally no difference between them and a comfortable keyboard arrangement.

      Apple was one of the only exception, and this was by complete accident. The Apple ][ was designed out-of-the-box to play the hit arcade game Breakout, developed by the non-evil Steve, which could only be played with "paddle" controllers that were analog (in one direction only), and thus the computer was capable of handling 2 (for 2-player mode) such paddles. From there, it was trivial to build a joystick that used Paddle 1 as the X-axis and Paddle 2 as the Y-axis. Analog controls didn't become common on consoles until 1996 with the release of the Nintendo 64, and you could argue that (apart from the ubiquitous mouse) they never became common on PCs until the Xbox 360 (the controller of which is fairly easy to connect to a PC, and has become the de facto industry standard as a result), as controllers have always been a niche peripheral for PCs.

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    4. Slightly O/T, but the Coco used analog joysticks as well. Most games, however, treated them as if they were digital so the benefit was not really realised.

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    5. Thanks for the follow-up explanations. It never occurred to me that analog and digital joysticks had that difference.

      That would solve the acceleration issue, but it still fields weird that pushing forward points you north instead of moving you forward in whatever direction you're facing.

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    6. I'm not sure how it was introduced, but the IBM PC's joystick standard was to support 2 joysticks with 2 analog axes and 2 buttons each.

      Unfortunately the IBM PC did not come with a joystick interface, so support was available only via expensive and therefore rare add-on cards until the Sound Blaster came along and provided one as an included feature (which also doubled as a MIDI interface).

      Comically, companies like Gravis released digital gamepads starting around 1990 that were modeled after things like the SNES controller. These gamepads typically simulated digital inputs by "slamming" the analog inputs to their extremes when you push on the D-pad.

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    7. Yhym in the 80's and 90's when joysticks were used on PC every single one of them was analog and required to be calibrated by the game you were using and their control felt universally bad and floppy, digital joysticks were better in that the stick was quite stiff giving you a much better feel on you were doing as surprisingly few analog sticks had a "centering" feature built into them.

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  9. The title screen claims "By Lord British and Chuckles". Do you know if Richard Garriot had anything to do with this game?

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    1. Looks likely, as Chuckles was his college roommate, and they were co-founders of Origin Systems: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Bueche

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    2. This game is one of the reasons why I keep blowing up Chuckles in every Ultima.

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    3. Do we know how much involvement Lord British actually had with this game? Or did he just put his name on it?

      (Not that bad games were beyond him, mind you. Ultima 2 comes to mind...)

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    4. I'll scour sources to try to figure that out for the final post.

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  10. If you use WinVICE for C64 emulation, take note of alt+w toggling warp (=unlimited) emulation speed. So when a game is loading from disk or such, press alt+w, then press it again to get back to normal speed. This will not work if action starts right after the loading though, since it will zip by at 50x normal rate, but should work in turn based games.

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  11. Steve Jackson's Car Wars also lent itself to the other Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy series in the form of 'Freeway Fighter'.

    From what I read online, it seems that quite a few people played via save-scumming their way to arbitrary cash levels at the casino.

    It definitely seems like the idea is more compelling than the execution in this instance. It looks like it wants to Jones in the Fast Lane crossed with Interstate 76, but being 1985 - it isn't.

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    1. You hardly need to save-scum. The odds are very favorable. Anyone who knows what he's doing in poker or blackjack can win plenty of money legitimately. It does take a little patience.

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    2. Unless Freeway Fighter becomes available as a Mad Max-like Action RPG; the book is a beast, making you die for taking an extra sip of water or using 1 less Medkit, so you definitely need to save-scum (by using bloody bookmarks).

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  12. This game reminds of the C64 game "Mafia", released in 1986, and on your playlist. The combat however is round-based in typical RPG fashion. You accept missions, you travel around town. You train your player character and your gang members. It's somehwere between RPG and simulation. But then, you have a couple of those games in your list, X-Com, Syndicate, Burntime...

    https://www.c64-wiki.com/index.php/Mafia

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    1. Obdurate Hater of Rhtyhm GamesMarch 6, 2016 at 3:34 PM

      There was also a fun action game called Mafia about gangsters in the early 1900s. It was stylish and fun, though it kind of fell apart in the last half, and it had a nice bonus world after the end of the game. I heard that the sequel was terrible, but a third game is in development so hopefully that will be a worthy successor.

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    2. Early 1900s? Do you save your game on punch cards?

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    3. Mafia was a pretty popular game back then, esp in Chicago and New York. Pretty punishing if you screwed up though.

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  13. Obdurate Hater of Rhtyhm GamesMarch 6, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    I recommend that anyone who likes car combat and is not obsessed with playing R.P.G.s and nothing else plays Interstate 76. It is a very fun action game with R.P.G-style bits like having to maintain your cars, equip them and losing money due to the repairs required after battle. It has a fun 970s style and great characters. Avoid the GOG version, though: It runs so horribly that you will get stuck in the first mission, where it is nearly impossible to get to the destination fast enough; or in the next mission, where it is impossible to make a jump because your car is too slow.

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    1. 970s style? Do they ride on chariots and poke each other with lances or something?

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    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frE9rXnaHpE

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    3. Another one to check out is Grand Theft Oxen.

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  14. A friend had this game and we tried playing it one evening. The joystick control was very difficult and more battles were lost than won. The opposing cars were obviously driven by people bent on suicide. Never much into the "car" genre myself, but I did enjoy "Anzanti Higlightning" by SPI. That was the best space combat game that I played.

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    1. It's amusing that on my first Autoduel post, where I made most of the same points, I had a slew of commenters angry at me for "pissing on a classic" and whatnot. In this forum, on the other hand, everyone seems to be saying, "Yeah, it's not very good."

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    2. Those people have already left after that post. Those remaining are in concurrence that vehicular combat back then was terrible in implementation. Except Road Rash, which was fun.

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    3. I actually enjoyed the game on my playthrough (but I never got angry at the initial review). I tinkered with the settings and worked on optimizing vehicles. Once my character's skills improved the combat got quite a bit easier, or at least I felt like it did. But whether I enjoyed it or not, it just can't hold up as a great RPG. I can't imagine someone doing well at this game without spending a lot of time in Atlantic City.

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    4. That's kind of the theme of my next post. I'm getting much better at the game, but it costs so much to repair things, that I find it near-impossible to make a profit without resorting to gambling every couple of hours.

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    5. On man, I loved Road Rash 64 as a kid. Rented it a bunch.

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  15. I always liked the sound of Autoduel but thought the arcade combat section looked poorly implemented. Reminds me a bit of some other Origin games where they have some weak arcade sections combined with RPG gameplay or features - Moebius comes to mind.

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  16. I remember that this game could be greatly enhanced through sector editing. Experiments with front-mounted flame throwers and armor far beyond weight capacity were particularly fruitful. The speed could be set to achieve Back to the Future > 88 miles per hour effects as well: after a certain point of acceleration the car could pass through any solid object, outrun rockets, and get from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh in just under 10 seconds. With the Apple ][ joystick, it was a subtle art. I barely remember the main quest, but put lots of hours into the journey rather than the destination. Thanks for returning to this one (and AR - The City) for our nostalgic benefit, Mr. Bolingbroke!

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    1. I agree that these were good revisits. Even though they weren't that enjoyable to play, I think they were both examples of games from 1985 that did something fresh/relevant to the history of RPGs

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  17. I'm not sure the Martingale system helps.

    If the casino has the edge, then there is no strategy for which betting has a positive expected value.

    If you have the edge, the most efficient betting strategy is probably something like 'bet half your current wealth'.

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    1. The casino doesn't have an edge, though. The dealer always hits on 16 or below and I don't even think the dealer gets an automatic win for blackjack. The odds are pretty much 50/50

      I know you were just speaking off the top of your head, but unless you have a SIGNIFICANT advantage, "Half your current wealth" ensures you get absolutely nowhere at best and puts you at a significant loss at worst. Walk through it. You start with $5,000 and bet $2,500. You win and end up with $7,500. The next game you bet $3,750 and lose and end up with $3,750. You bet half that again ($1,875), win, and get to $5,625. Lose the next one, and you're down to $2,812. Win the one after that and you're at $4,218.75--$800 less than where you started, and you've won 3/5 games.

      Obviously, you're not going to get alternating patterns of win/loss in real life, but no matter how they come along in succession, you end up with $4218.75 after 5 games if three of them are wins and 2 are losses. In 10 games, you end up at $1186.52 after half wins, half losses, and $3559.57 if you have 6 wins and 4 losses. Using this strategy, you have to win 7/10 games to make a profit, and if your odds were that good, ANY strategy would probably work.

      Martingale is a horrible strategy in real life because there's a small but not-insignificant probability that you'll hit a streak of losses that leaves you bankrupt. It's not such a bad strategy with play money. Betting a fixed amount every single time is equally as good in the long run, but it takes a lot longer to recover from a streak of losses that way.

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    2. You're playing single deck, right? Why not play Hi-Opt 2 or similar outdated counting system? Those work quite well. Even something as simple as Hi-Lo will work. Casinos ban people for card counting for a reason. Heck, just playing basic strategy works, but is perhaps a bit slow. No free drinks while you're sitting at the table, whatta bummer. Free drinks are the best thing about slow play.

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    3. I'm 90% sure that there's no consideration of a "deck" in this game's approach to blackjack. Cards are just drawn at random. Thus, no way to count.

      I've tried to use hi-lo at real casinos, but I don't notice any personal correlation between using the system and what I take away. And ever since that book came out about the MIT students, casinos reshuffle and replace like crazy, making any counting system moot.

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  18. It's a bit unintuitive for sure.

    As you point out, 3 wins and 2 losses puts you behind - the median result of 5 bets using the bet half strategy is a loss.

    But we care about the mean, aka the expected value of the bets, because we aren't bound by a certain number of iterations.

    Due to the comparatively large payouts of going 4 wins and 1 loss, or 5 wins, you'll always come out in front eventually.

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  19. Autoduel was a great game for its time. If only some developer remakes it...

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  20. I'm sure you can thank Mad Max for Car Wars/Autoduel. Probably even Deathrace 2000. The car culture thing started in the 1970s with movies like, well, Mad Max, Deathrace 2000, Vanishing Point, Gumball Rally, Gone in 60 Seconds, etc. and spilled over into the 1980s with Smokey & The Bandit and Cannonball Run (which was based on a real life series of cross country races that started in the 1970s; these were the inspiration, too, for Gumball Rally which is probably slightly more historically accurate).

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    1. I suppose that's true, but at least in those films, it makes sense to keep the actions focused on the vehicle. I mean, if the movie is primarily about a race, then certainly you expect the characters to spend their time in cars. The 1980s TV shows are a little different. I don't care how cool a car you have, if you're a police officer or private detective, you're going to spend 90% of your time doing things that have nothing to do with your vehicle. Always inventing situations to keep the action on the road is one of the absurdities of those shows, and to a lesser extent of this kind of game.

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    2. I tend to agree. I would have liked to see Michael Knight investigate a bank robbery using the drive-through, though.

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    3. I seem to recall a more recent supercar-based detective show named VIPER some time in the mid 90s as well.

      Car looks sleek enough but, man, was the plot contrived and stupid.

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    4. Yeah, that was... a show all right. I like the Dodge Viper, but I don't remember making it through the pilot episode of that one. I'd rather watch "Knightboat -- The Crime Solving Boat"

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    5. Yes, I remember VIPER. I can still remember the first episode in which the VIPER team was trying to find a good driver for the VIPER and made candidates perform in a VR game to test their reactions. I also remember that they described one of the bad guys in terms of his driving skills.

      The whole thing was just dumb. Very little crime involves high-speed getaways in fast cars, and very little detective work involves the ability to scream down a city street and swerve around pedestrians. I don't know how actors could deliver lines like, "He's one of the Syndicate's best drivers!" with a straight face.

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    6. Now I'm going to have to watch the pilot episode on YouTube.

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  21. My Dad had a copy of this for C64. He told me the Gold Cross saving took so long that he would just start a new character. No idea how far he got. It came with a great manual, fold out road maps and toy tool kit- there is an image in that series of blog posts I did.

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  22. As a note, autoduel/Car Wars itself has existed in a number of forms: war game (just got a copy used, have read it all for the fiction at one point or another as a kid), computer game (what your are playing), adventure books (my Dad owned two of them), and tabletop RPG setting (for GURPS). In all but the commuter game people fighting on foot was definitely a thing. There were rules for all sorts of things, like people's standing on buildings shooting at the cars with rocket launchers. Even in the adventure game books there were a bunch of scenes where you have to get out of your car.

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