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Virgin Games Ltd
1990
Arcade: Race 'n' Chase
£9.99
£3.99
English
ZX Spectrum 48K/128K
Multiple schemes (see individual downloads)

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22,23
Garth Sumpter
Chris Bourne

Leap into the cockpit, turn over the engine, hit the gas and squeeze the pedal to the metal. Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off Road has you racing up and down dale in Virgin's conversion of the American coin op of the same name.

And it's actually really rather good. You (and a friend if you have one) race around eight different tracks in a four wheel drive car adding nitro, new suspension and all sorts of add-on gizmo's as you progress through the tracks. The game is simple and straightforward. You must compete against 3 other cars over eight tracks. Seen from above, the two human controlled cars are shown with either a white or black pennant flapping from the aerial and you simply steer them around the track, trying to avoid axle-breaking rough terrain.

You start of each season with no money, and three lives and race for cash prizes in each race. $100,000 for first place, $90,000 for second and so on to fourth position but beware! Each time a computer controlled car comes in ahead, you loose one of your three lives. At the end of which you can spend your winnings at the awards screen to improve tyres, suspension, top speed, acceleration or top up your nitro.

As you race, money bags appear on the track. First car over it collects the cash. Similarly with the tubes of Nitro which you use immediately with a quick jab on the fire button, sending your car blasting forward for a wee bit.

Overall, Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off Road Racer is brilliant. It's highly playable, addictive and has superb gameplay. The game shows what can packed into a Spectrum and is a must for all Spectrum owners as an example of Z80 programing at its best.

Reviewer: Garth Sumpter

The best overhead racing game about and a must for all racing fans.

86%
85%
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Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart, is a californian, off-road racing specialist who began his career in 1971 racing a Class 1 buggy. In 1983 he joined the Toyota Factory Team and has enjoyed the association with them to this day, driving an off-road truck in stadium short courses as well as the long distance events where competitors drive non-stop for 250 miles through the deserts of the South West and Mexico. He received his 'Ironman' nickname when after winning a few of the Baja 500 or 1000 championships (a race held in Mexico) Stewart would receive the Ironman award.

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Steve Turner, was the team leader for Graftgold on the Spectrum version of Ironman. Steve has been programming on the Spectrum from the year dot and is known in the industry for his fanatic knowledge of Z80 machine code which is the of the staple diet of the Spectrum Central Processing Unit (or CPU). His being clued up in Z80 shows in titles that he's worked on; 3D Space Wars, Seiddab Attack, Lunattack, Avalon, Dragontorc, Ouazatron and Ranarama are all fiendishly good Spectrum games.

With such a host of good games behind him, it seems that Ironman could only be a success. After reviewing the game it seems that it will be, but the project wasn't without its problems.

Steve: "Most of the problems on the Spectrum were memory problems and I didn't want to use a multi load system so I had to redesign the packing (or compressing of the graphics) of the track data.

It's a 3D terrain which all has to be defined. The arcade machine use 9K of data par track and with 8 tracks this would take up 72K of memory. There's was no way way we could use all this on the Spectrum.

SU: So what happaned?

Steve: We had to invent a way to get all this data into the Spectrum. We eventually got it down to 4K. The other massive problem was that the arcade machine uses over 400 sprites. That too we managed to reduce to 112.

SU: Wouldn't it have saved a lot of work to make it 128K only?

Steve: It's essential to get the games down to 48K because publishers want a product that everyone can use. There is a 128K version, but the memory is used mainly for music and effects.

SU: Now Ironman is finished, how do you feel?

Steve: I'm very pleased with the overall result. It's far faster than I believed was possible. The collision detection is quite precise - each wheel is calculated for separately, it's position in space, collision or not and then the car body is replaced to give the best effect.

SU: You're now moving onto 16 bit programing. What do you think of the Spectrum?

Steve: It's a very important machine because it allows people to explore different formats. Even the ST nowadays has a very small CPU screen size ratio. How fast your CPU is in relation to the size of your screen memory is important when writing games. The Spectrum is actually very good in this respect and beats all other games computers except the Amiga because of the blitter.

SU: Ah, but isn't that a hardware cheat to speed up the CPU?

Steve: Well yes, but we're now moving towards hardware solutions to the fact that CPU's aren't fast enough to cope with the size of screen memory that they're being asked to push around. Now if I were to fit a blitter to a 128K Spectrum.......

At this point, Steve 'Mr Spectrum' Turner, went glassy eyed and started mumbling away in machine code so we decided to leave him....