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Monday, 12 January 2015

Hard Drivin' (Atari Games/Domark, 1989)


Original game design by Rick Moncrief, Max Behensky, Jed Margolin, Stephanie Mott and Eric Durfey, all of whom made various other things at the side. Original graphics by Sam Comstock, Kris Moser and Deborah Short. Additional programming by Gary Stark, Mike Albaugh and Ed Rotberg. Music by Don Diekneite.

Hard Drivin' was conceived, designed, engineered and built in the USA and Ireland by the Hard Drivin' Atari Applied Research Group. You can find the full list of credits for the original arcade version here at MobyGames.

Incredibly, the second game on FRGCB to require a separate list of credits is another game from Atari Games, which started its life in the arcades. Naturally, as with Toobin', the home conversion was again made by Tengen and published by Domark. Although I'm sure most of you readers already know how that turned out, I for one haven't played all the versions yet, so I'm a bit curious about this. So, click on to start with the credits, and then proceed to the actual introduction...

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CREDITS


ATARI ST version:
Coding by Jürgen Friedrich
Graphics by Jürgen Friedrich and Richard Brown
Sounds by Matt Furniss
Published in 1989 by Domark.

AMSTRAD CPC version by Binary Design:

Coding and graphics by Mike Day
Special effects by Fred Williams
Music by Ben Daglish
Management: John Kavanagh
Published in 1989 by Domark.

COMMODORE 64 version:
Graphics by Andrew McCarthy
Music by Dave Lowe
Other details unknown.
Published in 1989 by Domark.

COMMODORE AMIGA version:
Coding and graphics by Jürgen Friedrich
Sounds by Matt Furniss
Published in 1989 by Domark.

PC version:
Coding by Jürgen Friedrich and Marcus Goodey
Graphics by Jürgen Friedrich and Richard Brown
Published in 1989 by Domark.

SINCLAIR ZX SPECTRUM version by Binary Design:
Coding and graphics by Mike Day
Sounds by Matt Furniss
Published in 1989 by Domark.

SEGA GENESIS/MEGADRIVE version by Sterling Silver Software:
Coding and graphics by Dennis Koble and Lee Actor
Sounds by Lisa Ching, Don Diekneite and Alex Rudis
Illustration, graphics and package design: Louis Hsu Saekow
With thanks to Jürgen Friedrich and the Tengen Hard Drivers
Published in 1990 by Tengen.

ATARI LYNX version by John Sanderson for NuFX.
Published in 1991 by Atari Corporation.

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GAME STATUS


Atari's Hard Drivin' is a hard game to talk about, particularly for anyone who wasn't there when it happened, but mostly because I'm one of them. As I have come to read from the internet, the effect it had on the gaming industry at the time was so vast, that it practically changed racing games forever. If that was the case, I'd be in for a real treat, but I have my doubts. Although Hard Drivin' is only the second arcade game to use 3D polygons after Namco's Winning Run, it was the first to feature stunt loops and other road hazards, as well as an "Instant Replay" mode seemingly dedicated to displaying your spectacular crashes.

Because the game ended up being ported to such a wide variety of home computers and consoles, there are bound to be some rather unplayable specimen in the mix, which some of you already know too well about. But before we start scanning through all the versions of Hard Drivin', it's time to see how the game is currently rated around the interweb.


Naturally, we start with the arcade version, the score of which is taken from the International Arcade Museum website's page regarding Hard Drivin', and the strangely named KLOV/IAM 5 Point User Score there is 3.35 from just 1 vote. If you choose not to believe this score, the MobyGames rating of 3.1 has given by three voters. The Atari ST version has been given a 7.5 out of 10 at Atarigames with 12 votes, while the competing 16-bit version on the Amiga has a lowly 4.14 from a total of 49 votes at LemonAmiga. Again, the DOS version's score had to be taken from MobyGames, which is a 2.8 from 9 votes. CPC Game Reviews have given a 5 out of 10, while CPC-Softs has a 5.60 out of 20.00. Surprisingly enough, the Spectrum version has been given a whopping 7.75 at World of Spectrum by 34 voters. By a huge contrast, the Commodore 64 version has a score of 1.7 from 68 votes at Lemon64, and it has been ranked #16 in the Top 100 Worst list featuring games with at least 10 votes. From the two consoles, the Genesis/MegaDrive version has an average score of 62 out of 100 at SegaRetro.org, based on 13 reviews. Finally, the Atari Lynx score at MobyGames is 3.2 from 4 votes.

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HISTORY & DESCRIPTION


Let's start by quoting from the game's Wikipedia page, "Hard Drivin' was released in February 1989, when arcade driving games were implemented with scaled 2D graphics and when filled-polygon 3D graphics of any kind were rare in games." And to open up more of its history, I'll continue by rephrasing the Wikipedia page. Development began in 1988, and the game was supposed to be released during the same year. However, due to the dispute from the Atari Vice President claiming that no one would buy an arcade cabinet for $10,000 after The Last Starfighter arcade game was canceled for the same reason a few years prior. But they managed to sell it for the sum after all, and Hard Drivin' was finally released in February 1989.

In a true arcade racer fashion, Hard Drivin' features a racing seat, a force feedback steering wheel, pedals, stick shift and even a starter key. All of this contained in a beautiful racing themed arcade cabinet. This is something a home conversion could never get close to, so in that sense, I might as well end the comparison here, but the interesting bit really is, which one of the home conversions is the least horrible.

As you will see from this video of the arcade game, Hard Drivin' features two tracks to choose from - a speed track and a stunt track with drawbridges, banked turns and a 360-degree vertical loop, among other things. There are also other cars on the tracks getting in your way, so the game title is well earned.


Because I was introduced to 3D polygon racing with Stunts (a.k.a. 4D Sports Driving), Geoff Crammond's Formula One Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500, I haven't really had the chance to play this game too much on real hardware, nor had the inclination to test it out properly on other machines after testing it on MAME some time ago. So, I shall leave the review until later on.

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PLAYABILITY


Since I have never had the chance to actually play the original Hard Drivin' arcade game, my first and most obvious option would have been to play it on MAME. Of course, playing the game on keyboard is not an option, at least where the arcade version is concerned, since you need to have at least two - preferably three pedals, an analogue kind of a controller (preferably a wheel), and at least a few buttons to simulate the gears, and a keyboard doesn't offer much in terms of anything analogue. Even with a mouse, the game was practically unplayable, even after two hours of adjusting the controls in the game's own setup. So I had to whip out my Logitech Racing Wheel Pro, to see if it would help the matter at hand. Unfortunately, either MAME or the racing wheel was so obstinate that they weren't able to co-operate with each other, so my last chance at testing the arcade game at home was to take the easy way, and load up Midway Arcade Treasures 2 on my PlayStation 2, and play the game with a pad. Naturally, this means that most of the screenshots from the arcade version you will see below will be copied from another source.

I have to admit, I don't have a driver's licence, and I have just barely tried driving a real car. From what I remember of driving a real car for less than a mile from about 15 years ago, Hard Drivin' comes surprisingly close to the real deal, at least concerning the basic operations. You need to turn the key while holding down the clutch pedal in order to start the car. Getting from there to actually being on the move has always been a bit of a mystery to me, unless you're driving an automatic. With manual gears, I guess you need to keep the gas pedal and clutch down while changing gears? Well, however the procedure goes in reality, I managed to get around the track with manual gears by a stroke of luck, but it certainly was more difficult than with automatic gears, on which you don't have to use the clutch at all. But I shall not be concentrating on my poor real life driving skills here, because the most important thing is to compare how the car actually drives around the tracks.

To be brutally honest, it's appalling. At least by modern standards. But frankly, had I played this game even only after playing 4D Sports Driving for the first time, Hard Drivin' still would have felt unnecessarily fidgety and uncomfortable to drive. But I've got a strong feeling that I'm judging this game unfairly without experiencing it properly, as it should be experienced - inside an arcade cabinet. Therefore, you will have to forgive me for only judging it by the way we are able to experience it at home, with equipment not exactly tailormade for the game. With plenty of practice (and I do mean plenty!) and accustomising yourself to your chosen set of controls, you might be able to master the two tracks even without the proper arcade experience, but it's a damn shame that it's very likely to be the only choice you and I have.

So, let's start the comparison with the Atari ST version, which should be the definitive home conversion, as the game is of Atari origin. The performance of the game depends on your Atari's internals, but the controllability is even worse than it is in the arcade game. Although you can, or more precisely have to replace the racing wheel and pedals with a two-button mouse, there is somehow even more room for error, and the buttons don't really respond to your commands nearly as well as pedals. At least you get some sort of pointers for your mouse's movements in the top middle section of your dashboard, but it doesn't help all that much, since you need to keep an eye on them more than the road. The game doesn't automatically return your wheel alignment to center after crashing, unlike most other racing games, which is really irritating. Also, the analogue controls aren't all that analogue when you look at how the car reacts to your commands: you seem to be only able to accelerate the car properly when going straight forwards, otherwise it will slow down a little as you turn, and at a certain point, you will inevitable get the car to slide even in small speeds. So, in essentials, it seems like the home conversions are not nearly as analogue as they should be, but that shouldn't be much of a surprise. Still, it's a pity, since the game feels like it can only be enjoyed with proper arcade analogue controllers.

After fumbling about with the ST version for a while, I had grown accustomed enough to the controls to be able to complete a map on the AMIGA. That said, it's still not much better. If anything, there are more bugs to make your experience both more and less miserable. Less, meaning that it seems like there are some sorts of invisible slowing objects around the roads to make your car not go miles off the road, and it's easier for you to get back on to the track. More, meaning that the car is acting even more unpredictably than before, and you can't really tell whether you should or should not be following the speed signs, because sometimes, driving the correct speed to a jump ramp results in a crash. Otherwise, the game feels and scrolls similarly to the Atari version. Not bad, but not very good either.


As bad as all the game's versions have been so far, things get truly ridiculous on the C64. For example, you get to choose your route first before going for a drive, which is just as well, since you won't be completing a lap in any case. The C64 version's 3D engine is completely horrible and inconsistent, and it offers no altitude variety, and some of the corners have been taken off completely. But the worst of it is really that however little you turn your car, it will ALWAYS start sliding and making a horrible noise, and straightening out your car is easier to do by crashing than by steering. I cannot really do justice in words to the utter badness that this version exhibits, so I can only suggest you try it out yourselves, if you dare. I cannot recommend it for any other reason than to see how wrong can a 3D racing game go. The only relatively good thing I can say about it is the framerate, which is surprisingly tolerable.

The SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, compared to this, are surprisingly faithful to the original, and they both have all the track elements in tact, apart from some little details such as the "cow" beside the barn. This, however, takes a huge toll on the framerate, which is somewhere around 3-5 frames per second (maybe 6-7 at best) compared to the C64's 12-15 fps at best. On a good emulator, you can turn the emulation speed knob up to 200% to make it more playable, but on real hardware, you'll be bored to death before having your first attempt at jumping over the drawbridge. Still, you have to applaud the conversion team's headstrong attempt to create an arcade conversion as faithful to the original as possible - even going so far as to give you the chance to choose your driving side. Only some of the more difficult aspects of the game have been slightly cheated on, for instance, you can't control your car in the vertical loop, it just goes through it every time if you can hit it properly.

Happily, I did eventually find a rather playable version on the SEGA GENESIS (or Megadrive to us Europeans), but in exchange for being playable, the game is no longer hard as nails, nor practically impossible to handle, as the original seemed to be without proper arcade controls. It's now nearly impossible to make your car spin or even slide off, because it steers so solidly. Aside from that, the framerate is somewhere between the arcade and the other 16-bit versions, so there's really not much to complain. You even get all the options you could ever wish for - the side of the road, MPH/KPH, difficulty level (yes, I even tested this one on the Hard level, and it's still very playable), and even the method of changing your manual gears is an option. It might not be much of a simulation any more, but it's definitely the most playable one of the lot.

At this point in the making of this entry, I noticed that I had to hunt down the DOS version, because I had somehow forgotten to prepare my comparison set with it earlier. To my surprise, it was rather playable, even though it has practically the same engine as the other 16-bits. Only this time, the controllability was miraculously fixed compared to the Amiga and Atari ST, and due to more modifiable hardware, with good enough graphics adapter, enough RAM and enough power in the processor, the game scrolls smoothly and without any sort of glitching. In fact, the game runs better in a DOS environment than it does on the arcade machine, but the mouse/keyboard control still is a bit uncomfortable. Therefore, I would still argue that the SEGA version has a better playability, as it doesn't rely on analogue controls, however blasphemous that might sound to you. Having said all this, I decided to take a bit of time for practice at this point, and I played the DOS version long enough to be able to complete both laps without crashes, which is why posting the entry has taken more time than usual. It took me two days to be able to play the game on any of the 16-bits with any sort of hope for completing a lap. Never in my life have I had more problems in learning to play a racing game than here.

For those of you, who remember the relatively ill-fated LYNX handheld console from Atari, this entry should come as a slight cause for celebration, for it is the first game ever on this blog that has a version for it. Not that the conversion itself is much of a celebratory item. The framerate is not much better than those of Spectrum and Amstrad, and the car controls incredibly slowly, particularly as it has no wheel centering mechanism of any kind. At least the car doesn't slide around nearly as much as you might have come to expect from an Atari version. The biggest problem with this conversion is the ridiculous time limit, which can hardly ever get you even near any of the checkpoints, but considering that it's a handheld conversion, it's still more impressive than one would have imagined it to be. Then again, the Lynx is a 16-bit console, so it should be easily more capable than, say, Nintendo's offering at the time. But the results are what they are.

For obvious reasons, I am forced to leave the actual arcade version out of the results. Instead, I will be giving the emulated PS2 version a score in its stead, since it was the more optimized option between PS2 and MAME. The rest of the scores are what they should be in any case, I suppose.

1. SEGA MEGADRIVE
2. DOS
3. PLAYSTATION 2 (ARC)
4. ATARI ST
5. COMMODORE AMIGA
6. ATARI LYNX
7. ZX SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD CPC
8. COMMODORE 64

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GRAPHICS


An arcade game has no need for a loading screen, since it has more than enough of visuals in the exterior of the cabinet. And in the arcades of old, a machine was supposed to be loaded up and ready to play before you entered the room, so most of us should have never seen an arcade game boot up anyway. Some of this greatness will naturally be replaced by the cover art in the home conversion boxes and cover inlays, but often, a loading screen is not much more than something nice to look at while the game is loading, but sometimes also a nice extra to give a conversion a certain amount of credibility. Particularly when that is all the credibility it will ever get.

Loading/intro screens. Top row, left to right: Commodore 64, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari Lynx, DOS, Sega Megadrive.


In cases such as this, the loading screen will become such a pivotal part of the home experience of the game, that it might be ported even for conversions that require no loading screen, as the ATARI LYNX version shows us. Then again, this could go reverse, and the loading screen might be completely left out of the product, like it has been done for the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD conversions. Fortunate or not, it doesn't really matter in the end. For the most curious of you, the SEGA version has a unique startup screen with the focus on credits.

Map overview/Title screens. Top row, left to right: Arcade, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga.
Middle row: DOS, Sega Megadrive, ZX Spectrum (#1). Bottom row: Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum (#2).


The original title screen shows the Hard Drivin' logo zoom in from the sky area, under which you can see the two intertwined tracks. Under the track map, the original will show you a letter-by-letter typed message of great hype regarding the game's brilliancy, while some of the versions will show you a more instructionary message instead. On the LYNX, though, you will not get more than a copyright line. That's not too bad compared to what the situation is on the C64: you get no title screen at all. The SPECTRUM version, however, has a separate credits screen before the actual title/map screen comes up. Out of the 8-bits, surprisingly it's the AMSTRAD conversion that shows the most promise at this point, with a title sequence and animations that feels the most similar to the original.

I would have included a comparison of the options screen here, but as it offers no actual graphics apart from the car's HUD, which will be there throughout the entire game anyway, I decided to skip it and go for the next screen with some actual new graphics. The only point of interest about the options screen would have been really that the C64 version doesn't have one.

Choose transmission. Left column, top to bottom: Arcade, DOS, ZX Spectrum.
Middle column: Commodore 64, Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC. Right column: Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Sega Megadrive.


Because the original arcade game had the steering wheel as your main controller, you were made to use it even for as simple a task such as choosing your type of transmission is. To make it clear for the first-time player, you were clearly shown that you had to use the wheel to make your choice. Because of this, every conversion has the steering wheel on this particular screen. As I mentioned earlier, the C64 version is the only one to feature a second item you must choose with the wheel after choosing the transmission: which track you will be driving on. All the other versions follow the original arcade game in that you can make that particular choice while you're already on the track. My excuses for leaving out the track selection screen are, because apart from the new texts, it looks otherwise exactly the same as the transmission selection, and because including it would have left one screenshot off of the nine.

As a side note, before you start wondering, why does the AMIGA screenshot look so "tall" compared to the ATARI ST screenshot... well, it's a long story, but skipping to the end, the reason is simply that I've switched my WinUAE screen settings to 15:9 screenmode, because it looks better than the normal 4:3 PAL screenshot, and I can rescale these shots with less problems. The 4:3 mode caused all sorts of havoc when rescaling screenshots.

Screenshots from the arcade version.
As far as I know, this is how the original ARCADE version looks like, because the screenshots have been taken on MAME. Even though it's one of the earliest racing games to feature full polygon 3D graphics, the quality and number of polygons shown in the game are very much more than any of the home consoles, or more particularly, home computers of the time. In addition to that, the 3D scrolling is incredibly smooth and fast for its time, and the draw distance is something utterly spectacular, both of which must be attributed to the dedicated hardware.

What's notable in the game's graphics is the surprising amount of detail put into the surroundings around the track, and even in the interior of your car. The interior features a rev counter, speed-o-meter, loads of indicators for things you don't need to know apart from the time counter and the gear indicator. Even the lap time indicator only comes important once you have learned the tracks and your car's behaviour thoroughly. The most visually impressive thing about the interior is that it moves along with the screen as the car turns. The most useless thing on the screen is the mirror - what is behind you is not important. Outside in the playing area, you can see all sorts of buildings, road signs, civilian vehicles and all sorts of little details. Naturally, as it's still 1989, the scenery graphics (mountains and woods) are very much two-dimensional and far in the background.

Screenshots from the Commodore Amiga (and Atari ST) version.


On the AMIGA and ST, the number and quality of polygons drop somewhat, but this is as much as you could expect from any of the home conversions. And although the car's HUD doesn't look quite as much part of the vehicle, at least there aren't any useless pieces of interior hanging around. Because the said two versions look exactly alike, apart from a slightly different screen resolution, the above Amiga shots should do for both.

Screenshots from the DOS VGA version.


Too bad the screenshots don't really show the framerate. Although the VGA DOS version looks very similar to the ST and AMIGA versions, apart from the screen resolution, with proper hardware, the framerate is as good, if not better, than in the original arcade game. This even affects the playability in that it's easier to handle your car when it's acting in real time.

Other screen modes from the DOS version: Hercules (left), CGA (middle) and Tandy/EGA (right).


The DOS version has four other graphic modes to choose from: Hercules, Tandy, CGA and EGA. Hercules and Tandy modes can only be played with said graphic adapters, while any VGA (and higher) card can handle CGA and EGA graphics as well. Screenshot from the Tandy version isn't included here, because it looked exactly the same on the DOSbox as the EGA version, at least from what I could tell. The Hercules graphics are always black-and-white, and looks rather squashed, because it uses a 640x200 resolution, and the mode should only be used with a monitor designed for it.


Screenshots from the Sega Megadrive version.


Since we're still going through the big 16-bit home machinery, the graphics look unmistakably 16-bit. The only bits that are barely notably different on the SEGA than on the other home conversions so far are the missing framing for the car's HUD, and some differences in appearances of the background graphics. The framerate, as I have already mentioned, is slightly better and constant than on the Amiga or ST, but it's still clearly inferior to the DOS and arcade versions. There is something that you can't see here, though, which could be considered a graphic difference, but I'm not entirely sure: the actual polygons are more solid and in contact with other polygons - meaning, it's less buggy and hazardous to play than the other 16-bit home conversions. It's something you can't take screenshots of, really, but you can see and feel it when you play it.

Screenshots from the Atari Lynx version.


Before moving on to the main point of interest to some, the ATARI LYNX version represents the last of the 16-bits. Being a handheld, it doesn't have the capabilities that the other 16-bits have, so there's clearly a smaller screen resolution, slightly less colour and less detail. However, considering everything, it is still a surprisingly good looking version, and is clearly the midway point between the 8-bit home computers and proper 16-bit machines.

Screenshots from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum version.


At last we get to the 8-bits, and the first one under inspection is the SPECTRUM conversion. What's impressive about it is.. well, everything, really, considering the hardware. The action screen is monochrome, as you would expect, and the colouring is cyan and black, as you can see above - that's not part of what's impressive, I'm just stating a fact. The framerate isn't very good compared to the 16-bits, but it's surprisingly solid and playable. Turning the speed knob on an emulator makes it a bit more enjoyable. What's more impressive here is the 3D engine itself, which is surprisingly comparable to the 16-bit counterparts, and while it's certainly a bit buggy (mostly regarding the irregular road bits), you have to applaud the attempt. The only thing I'm not very impressed by is the HUD colouring, which looks a bit dull.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version.


See? Just by changing the main HUD colour to red makes a good amount of difference. Although there aren't as many colours here, the basic look of the HUD requires a bit of colour in more than just the indicators. The AMSTRAD version doesn't really differ from the SPECTRUM version in any other way, at least regarding the in-game graphics. Again, turning a speed knob on the emulator is very recommended.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version.
And here's the moment you've all been probably waiting for. Comparing the C64 conversion of this game to any of the others is like comparing a watered-down, three weeks old cup of diet Coke to a fresh cup of some gourmet coffee. Maybe that's a bit far-fetched. Well, let's start with the HUD, since it's the least of our problems here. The RPM and MPH meters look completely ridiculous and almost random in their dials' movements. Only the score/lap section looks relatively good in this set of mess, although I do sort of like the choices of colours in here. But that's all the positive I can think of to say about this. The action screen is smaller than on either of the other two 8-bits, and it's still very much monochrome. Of course it is, it's early 3D stuff. I'm not too keen on the yellow and blue colouring, but it's not a very great problem, once you see how the game actually scrolls, and how your car moves around. It doesn't feel anything like any of the other conversions - it's like your car has its very own peculiar sort of space around it, and you view the game through the windshield in a strangely skewed way that makes you question your every move. Shortly put, the 3D engine is a disaster. Just trying to go through corners is an impossibility due to how the graphic engine treats the on-coming objects, and renders the gameplay effectively a complete waste of time. Then, trying to pass other cars is a pure matter of luck, since you will never know, which side of the road either you or they are on, and which direction you should be steering. And would it even matter if you did. It's a completely hopeless case, because the horribly bad graphics engine ruins the playability.

The winner for this section is quite obvious, but the rest of the lot shows an interesting change in the overall score dynamics. Naturally, the 8-bits are still at the bottom, but they start to get a clearer, separate score for each machine. Also, the 16-bits have a different pecking order here than in the Playability section, so it's going to be an interesting remainder of this comparison...

1. ARCADE
2. DOS (VGA)
3. SEGA MEGADRIVE
4. COMMODORE AMIGA / ATARI ST
5. ATARI LYNX
6. AMSTRAD CPC
7. ZX SPECTRUM
8. COMMODORE 64

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SOUNDS


Hard Drivin' is not one of the most interesting games in terms of sounds. The original doesn't have an actual theme tune as such, only a tune for instant replays, another tune for writing your name on the high score list, and then there's one other tune that starts playing quitely behind your car's sounds after you have completed one lap. Well, that's all I encountered - I wasn't good enough even on the PS2 to get myself qualified for a challenge run. All of the tunes I found have a suspenseful feel to them, although the replay tune is certainly the more dramatic of the two. The sound effects are pretty much what you would expect from a driving game: the engine droning (which is pretty good, thankfully), some crash noises, thuds when bumping into things, tire screeching, and small bonus  sounds for passing the finish line and other checkpoints. To be fair, a serious racing simulator fan wouldn't take it any other way, since you need to hear your engine's rev count when using manual gears. Having music on top of that only makes the driving even more uncomfortable than it already is.


Let's start from the 8-bits this time. The 48k SPECTRUM version has no sounds at all, which must place it last, but the 128k SPECTRUM version is a completely different deal, as you should expect, really. The game starts off with a nice rocking theme tune. Apart from that, there are no other tunes in this version, but you do get an irritating 3-voiced engine droning, and some very unnotable crash "sounds". Not particularly impressive, although the tune is very nice.

It's a similar deal for the AMSTRAD machines - the 64k version has no sounds and the 128k version has music and the motor droning and not much else. The theme tune has a different sort of an arrangement here, more based on harmonics than rhythm section, so it doesn't sounds quite as much like a rock tune, but it's otherwise quite nice. However, the engine sound is much nicer than its Spectrum counterpart, booming much lower here and basically being much more engine-like. Too bad that's all there is, but I'd say it's still less unenjoyable than the SPECTRUM soundtrack.

Happily, the C64 version has something else going on for it than just a high disposability factor. The theme tune doesn't feel like the same one on either of the other 8-bits, but this one is made by Dave Lowe, a.k.a. Uncle Art, who is also responsible for such great C64 soundtracks as P47 Thunderbolt, Betrayal, Night Shift and Power Drift. And the theme tune for the C64 conversion of Hard Drivin' sounds more or less like anything else from Uncle Art: rhythmic, catchy and high-octane. Unfortunately, the sound effects aren't very enjoyable, although there certainly are more of them here than on the other two 8-bits. The engine droning isn't all that engine-like, but it's adequate, and while the tire screeching seems like a nice addition at first, it becomes incredibly tiresome within 10 seconds after having started to play. There is also a proper crash noise for crashes, so I suppose I could say the sounds are more varied than on either of the other two 8-bits, although it could certainly be argued if they are any better.

Moving on to the 16-bits, then. The DOS version represents the lowest form of 16-bit audio here with the all too familiar PC speaker. Normally, it's barely better than a Spectrum beeper, but in this case, the in-game sounds are surprisingly very good, and even easily superior to any of the 8-bits. The music isn't all that great, but you wouldn't expect it to be, really. However, it's not just simple beeping - the low rumbling and other strange sounds are not your normal PC speaker noises, and for that already, I applaud this version. It can't be called particularly good with good conscience, but it's better than you would expect. Since it's not the music you would play the game for, I'm happy to give this one more points than I would normally do.

Next in line, the LYNX version, which only seems to have one tune - the one for the title screen. It's not bad, but there are better theme tunes around. Strangely, the in-game sounds feel like they would be more at home on an NES or some other 8-bit console. The engine drone is made of one low beep tone that obviously changes its pitch as you drive; the tire screech (I think?) is one long mid-range beep, and then there are some small bumps and crashes. All in all, it's a rather underwhelming experience, but for a handheld, it's still perhaps better than you would expect.

The SEGA version has a very Segaesque basic midi-sounding soundtrack, which affects the racing sounds as well as the music. It's not the most pleasurable lot to listen to, but since the game is the most playable of the lot (at least for me it is), the tinny and plastic sounds are quite easy to bear. Since this is the only version that I have had the good luck to get myself to respond to a challenge, I can presume that all the versions have the same challenge tune that this one has - and it's the same tune as you get for the high score list entrance screen. Aside from that, there are two other tunes: the shuffle-rock theme tune and the suspenseful instant replay tune.


On the ATARI ST, you get something of a mixture of both SPECTRUM and C64 versions. The engine sounds almost like it's been taken from the SPECTRUM version, and the tire screeching is all too familiar from the C64 version. Of course, there are more sound effects here, as is expected, and overall it's just slightly better than any of the 8-bits. As for the title theme tune, it's closer to the SPECTRUM rendition, but it has an even more digital synth sort of feel here. I encountered no other music, but I suppose there could be something, if the AMIGA version is anything to judge this one by.

It's an otherwise very similar sort of a deal for the AMIGA with the amount of sounds as it is on the ST, but the quality is predictably higher with all the sampled rock instruments for the main title theme, as well as a more realistic sounding engine drone and all the other sound effects. I managed to get myself into a challenge round once, so I found out there was another tune in the game, which is much like the high score tune on any version that has it, but that seemed to be all there is to it. I'd say the Amiga version could have been as good as the arcade original, but the in-game sounds are not quite as good, and there is less music here. Besides, the sampled tunes don't really sound as good here as they could; too much distortion and frankly, wrong sorts of instruments for certain things.

The results for this section might be more controversial than I'd be willing to give credit for, because I stopped giving a damn about this game around the time I was finishing the previous section, and concentrating on comparing the sounds was frankly the worst three hours I ever spent on this blog. Not because the sounds were that boring, but because the music sounded too different in all versions that I had a hard time noticing if any of them were any different, and I couldn't be bothered to check afterwards. The sound effects are what you will be hearing for most of the time when playing the game anyway, so that is where the given scores are focused on. If you have a problem with that, leave your own scientifically compared order of preferment in the comments section.


1. ARCADE
2. COMMODORE AMIGA
3. ATARI ST
4. SEGA MEGADRIVE
5. DOS
6. COMMODORE 64
7. AMSTRAD CPC (128k) / ZX SPECTRUM (128k)
8. ATARI LYNX

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VIDEO


UPDATE, 13th of January, 2015.
I didn't notice until I had posted this entry, that the Gaming History Source YouTube-channel has a comparison video of Hard Drivin', not only including all the versions listed here (although for some reason, instead of showing you the DOS version of Hard Drivin', there's a video of DOS Race Drivin'), but also a prototype version for the NES! Take a look here...


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REVIEW & OVERALL SCORES


In case you didn't notice, I'm not a big fan of racing games that are attempting to be as realistic as possible. The attempted realism doesn't necessarily make it as playable as a gamer would like it, nor as realistic as a racing simulation fanatic would require from it. From what I've gathered here, the only way to play Hard Drivin' correctly is to play it on a proper arcade cabinet, and nothing else. None of the conversions do the job well enough to be considered a worthy alternative, although if you're not too bothered about the simulation aspect of the game, I might recommend the Sega version as the least unplayable game, and a good compromise for someone who wants to get oneself introduced to the game. If you truly want some realism for home computer/console racing, I suggest you seek out any of Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix games, Grand Prix Legends, Live For Speed or something of that calibre. If you're looking for stunt-based 3D racing, your only proper options are Stunt Car Racer, 4D Sports Driving (Stunts) and any of the Trackmania games... as far as I'm aware.

Now, the overall scores might not be anything spectacularly unexpected, but I do feel like reminding you that the results are based on my experience on the game's home conversions. And even though I consider myself a retro gamer, bad framerate is bad framerate, and when it comes to games that have certain hardware requirements, the requirements are there for a reason. Had I any experience with the actual arcade game, the results might be slightly different, but here's how they are now:

1. ARCADE (PS2): Playability 6, Graphics 8, Sounds 9 = TOTAL 23
2. SEGA MEGADRIVE: Playability 8, Graphics 5, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 19
3. DOS: Playability 7, Graphics 7, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 18
4. ATARI ST: Playability 5, Graphics 5, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 16
4. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 4, Graphics 5, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 16
5. ATARI LYNX: Playability 3, Graphics 4, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 8
6. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 2, Graphics 3, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 7
7. ZX SPECTRUM: Playability 2, Graphics 2, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 6
8. COMMODORE 64: Playability 1, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 5


Getting to the challenge on Sega Megadrive.
This game was suggested to me originally by a Lemon64 user by the name of Neo-Rio many months ago, with these words clearly to see at the blog-related forum thread: "waiting for the Hard Drivin' comparison where the Spectrum version trounces the C64." Well, there's your trouncing. In the grand scale of things, this is how things just are - the 8-bits are as weak as they are, even if amidst themselves they had some important differences to make some games play better than others. Comparing a game of this sort is practically futile and too much work, so I hope you're happy with the results. The top 3 might be a bit surprising, but that's my view of it, take it or leave it.

That's it for now, so thanks for reading, and I hope you at least learned something, if you didn't particularly enjoy it. I didn't particularly enjoy it, but it sure was an experience of learning. Comments, suggestions and corrections are welcome, but don't expect me to like the game.

4 comments:

  1. Arcade machine was amazing in terms of technology with its 3D graphics at the time.

    Unfortunatelly the conversions, I recall playing the ZX and the PC ones, were far away of it.

    On the Speccy is understandable due to hardware limitations, but the work on PC was not impressive.

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  2. The only conversion I have played was for the Atari ST which I found awful with the mouse as the controller. I don't know how you could have the patience to play Hard Drivin' on the 8-bits.

    I was (un)fortunate enough to have a couple of goes on the original sit down arcade game and from what I remember it was pretty bad too. The graphics were good but the force feedback steering wheel seemed to have a life of its own and bore no relation to what was happening on screen.

    Thankfully driving games have improved a lot since then.

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    Replies
    1. I would say thanks for confirming my suspicions, but looking at that video of SpeedyC362 having no problems driving around the track would suggest that the game can be considered playable. It only seems to require hundreds of hours of practice, or perfect condition of the arcade controllers. Preferably both. But frankly, I was pretty suspicious of the game ever having been properly good, and your comment only confirms that. Better graphics doesn't equal a better game necessarily, although in this case, the good scrolling helps to determine whether the game is any good or not. In this case: not. And I admit, the 8-bits are all horrible, but I never really thought they'd be anything more. I'm only surprised they even bothered to make the conversions.

      I'd still like to hear from people who actually thought this game was good at the time, and perhaps still do. Seems like an incredibly small minority.

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    2. Oops, sorry. I only now noticed that the video is actually of Race Drivin', so the controls could have been improved on that. I'll try to look for another video and fix that bit later today.

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