Friday, 6 December 2019

FRGR #11: Slicks 'n' Slide (Digital Footmark, 1993-2017)

Written by Timo and Juha Kauppinen.
Originally released as shareware for MS-DOS compatible PC's in 1993.
Currently available for digital purchase at Digital Footmark's website.

---

INTRODUCTION


For my first Finnish Retro Game Review since taking a break, I decided to bring the series a bit closer to the present day. Not too much, though, because the game I'm about to dwell upon is still available for purchase after 26 years (!!!) of existence, and it also has been recently demade onto retro platforms. You won't be getting an actual comparison, although there is an entire chapter about the demakes. But I digress; the original Slicks 'n' Slide is such a famous Finnish game in the midst of old DOS gamers around the world, that I thought it was the only fitting game for reopening this series. With this, I wish you all a happy Finnish independence day!

---

THE ORIGINAL SLICKS


Of course, for anyone who knows even a bit of arcade gaming history will notice obvious similarities between Slicks 'n' Slide and old 1970's arcade classics such as Gran Trak 10 from Atari, Sprint 1 and 2 from Kee Games, as well as Super Sprint and Badlands from Atari from the 1980's. The specific sub-genre is clearly the single-screen, top/tilt-viewed style racer with up to four players simultaneously.

In order to get us into the proper mood, we need to revisit 1993 and the original version of Slicks 'n' Slide, and see how it developed and expanded within the next few years to become the classic everyone remembers it as. If you wish to experience all the old versions (DOSbox or a proper DOS-based PC required), you can find plenty of different (unregistered but playable) versions of the game for download at Digital Footmark's website, in addition to other fun stuff.

Various title screens through different release versions.
(In order: v1.0, v1.20, v1.272, v1.30d, v1.5.1 - the same order is preserved in subsequent pictures.)

At its most basic, Slicks 'n' Slide can be found as v1.0. This version only has four tracks to choose from, a selectable number of players, and two available sound sources. The gameplay is rather buggy, but we can already see what to expect with further development. The first available evolved version, v1.20, still only had one car to drive, although it was obvious from the placeholder in the options menu, that there would be more to choose from in the future. The only actual gameplay options were collisions, the number of laps, the points given for each finishing position (and best lap time), as well as the number of players. The other options had to do with sounds (chosen sound source) and visuals (skidmarks). You could also choose to race on any given number from a list of 20 tracks. The v1.20 Slicks, as well as the previous version(s) was notably in Finnish only, it had no mouse control in the menu, and it was slower to play than the subsequent versions. But it did have the most classic of all the Slicks 'n' Slide opening screens.

As for the gameplay itself: it never really evolved all that much in essentials from the first version. Like I suggested in the first paragraph, Slicks 'n' Slide is basically a highly evolved Super Sprint variant, in that you race on a single-screen track against three opponents, but in this case, all of the players can be human-controlled. The game's title really indicated what it's mostly about: getting to grips with each vehicle's handling and racing on different road surfaces, such as asphalt, gravel and ice. Although the official tracks would mostly be built on asphalt, the experimentation with road surfaces would prove much more interesting with custom tracks later on. As it happens, different vehicles might and will act differently on different surfaces - for instance, while a Formula 1 car will not tolerate gravel and grass particularly well, you can ride a moped over them without too much penalty to handling and speed. For another example, a UFO can be flown over any surface with the same maneouverability and speed, but it's not nearly the fastest vehicle around.

Main menu screens from different versions.
The next version we can currently find for download is from 1994, v1.261. This version introduced AI-controlled players and two new vehicles, as well as 3 new tracks. The creators had also noted the increasing interest overseas, and at the exit, they mention registering fee as both $10 and 30 FIM. By the time v1.29 came out in 1995, the game had already been translated to various other European languages, there were 10 vehicles to choose from, a huge number of custom tracks available, and everyone - at least in Finland - who had a PC at the time seemed to have Slicks 'n' Slide, whether they had paid for it or not. The game now also featured optional weapons (6 different ones), tuning (engines, tires, etc.), damage, fuel, money and custom colouring of your vehicles. Of course, having damage and fuel also necessitated the inclusion of pit stops. Personally, I was never that much into all that customization and other knick-knacks outside of the basic racing, but all the options available still made v1.29 my personal favourite of all the versions ever released. The fact that it was also the last version that had the classic menu style might have to do with it.

Version 1.30 had a complete overhaul of the menu system, which made navigating in the game a bit cumbersome. Then again, it did introduce new music and graphics into the menus, which were very nice, if a bit unnecessary. From the original 20 tracks, only a few were left into the basic set, and a few new ones were included instead to make a total of only 10 tracks. The play mode settings were now set into a few presets and a total custom one, but nothing particularly new was brought into the game in that regard. However, the biggest upgrade was done for the in-game graphics, which had more detail and colour in them than in any previous version, even though there was some marked differences between the previous two major updates. Outside of the game itself, the most interesting piece of information is that from that point on, Slicks 'n' Slide was orderable from Webfoot Technologies, a rather well-known international shareware game publisher. This was 1997 already, so the game had been around for 4 years at that point, and still going strong. The most current version (v1.51) was modified for DOSbox in 2016, and as such, is available at Digital Footmark.

In-game screenshots from different versions.


Correct me if I'm wrong here, but to my knowledge, from as early as at least v1.29 (1995) onwards, Slicks 'n' Slide has also had a publicly available track editor, which is one of the biggest reasons for the game's longevity. It was easy to use, yet had a relatively large scale of elements available. Another big reason for the game's popularity was, that four players could play the game on the same keyboard, given the right key combinations, which the game even had a tester for to find out if all the simultaneously activated keys would be in conflict with each other. On modern PC's, it would be practically impossible to play like that, but happily, you could also plug in a joystick/joypad or two, if available, to get around the modern keyboard problem.

---

THE 8-BIT SLICKS


It took over 20 years, but when some years ago, when 8-bit computers started getting their own Wi-Fi connecting peripherals into the market, retro game developers gradually started to focus their efforts on getting multiplayable games to be played online on their 8-bit computers. A guy called Anthony "8bit-Dude" Beaucamp had started cross-developing 8bit-Slicks in the early 2017 simultaneously for the Commodore 64/128, Atari XL/XE and Apple //e, and finished the first full builds in December 2018. He has also started working on ports for Oric Atmos and Acorn Electron, and there are plans for various other platforms.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version of 8bit-Slicks.
At any rate, getting a DOS PC original game with such a vast variety of elements in it must have been a daunting task to begin with, so the game had to be demade rather drastically to be fit into 8-bit architecture. Each of the 8-bit Slicks' versions have only 10 in-built tracks, but you can find instructions for building your own tracks at the 8-bit Slicks' website. The game supports local and online multiplayer modes up to 4 players at a time, similarly to the original game. There's also an online ranking list, which is a nice touch, but unfortunately, it also gives an unforgiving view of how much people have been actually interested in playing the game.

Screenshots from the Apple II version of 8bit-Slicks.
If I were to be brutally honest, I'd say that the problem with the 8-bit Slicks is, that it should have been developed for one machine at a time, taking each machine's own quirks into account separately, and not make the game playable cross-platform. Although the idea is interesting, and hugely impressive in its execution, it takes away from the gameplay itself, which is what gave Slicks 'n' Slide its replay value in the first place. At least the unnecessary weapons were taken out of the equation, but regardless of all the missing fineries, the gameplay is clumsy and sluggish, and the car (yes, only one car available, like in the first version of SnS) is uncomfortable to drive, since it doesn't go as fast as it should, doesn't slide as much as it should, and doesn't turn as naturally as it should.

Screenshots from the Atari 8-bit version of 8bit-Slicks.
In the C64 version, the only given chance to adjust the game is the number of laps to drive, but even there, it's a choice between 5, 10, 20 and 50. The APPLE version adds an option for choosing the sound source, and the ATARI version replaces that option with two graphic modes, neither of which appear to their advantage unless you play on an old CRT-television. Regarding gameplay, the only real difference between the three versions is, that instead of a joystick, the APPLE version is played using paddle controllers.

---

LEGACY


Although Slicks 'n' Slide itself is a tribute/extension to Super Sprint and its likes from the old days, it inspired many indie racing games since then, and even a couple of more commercial titles as well.

From the most obvious "descendants", GENERALLY is perhaps the most well-known example of such. I remember, back when the first public beta version was released in 2002, it was widely regarded as the unofficial sequel to Slicks 'n' Slide. Originally written by another duo of Finnish brothers called Hannu and Jukka Räbilä, GeneRally was, and continues to be more strict in its plain racing agenda than what S'n'S eventually became.

Screenshots from GeneRally (PC, H&J Räbilä, 2002-)
The obvious gimmick here is the 3D tilted, almost isometric view, but the less obvious gimmick is, that the tracks can be much bigger than what you would expect, and with bigger tracks, the view would simply be further away from the cars than in smaller tracks. As in S'n'S, GeneRally offers you a track editor, but it also gives you the chance to build your own custom vehicles in addition to the twelve ready-made vehicles featured in the game. Because of this high customizability, GeneRally has even now a fairly strong internet community. A sequel has been in the making for the last 7 years, and had an attempted crowdfunding campaign, which failed, but apparently, work on the game still continues.

Screenshots from Turbo Sliders (PC, JollyGood Games, 2006-)
Note: screenshots taken from MobyGames.
TURBO SLIDERS is another fairly well-known Finnish racing game, which can be considered a distant cousin to S'n'S. Originally released in 2006 for Windows PC's, Turbo Sliders has also been released on Mac OSX and Linux platforms. Unlike S'n'S and GeneRally, Turbo Sliders focuses on netplay, and various different forms of it - not just basic racing, although it is definitely a big part of the game. Also, unlike the former two games, Turbo Sliders has more realistic graphics, which somewhat necessitates omnidirectional screen scrolling. Of course, customization being the obvious fashion in these kinds of games, the official Turbo Sliders website offers custom cars, tracks and tools for your customing enjoyment.

Screenshots from Death Rally (PC, Remedy Entertainment, 1996)
Note: picture taken from FRGCB's "A History of Finnish Games - Part 2" entry.


Remedy Entertainment, probably most famous for their Max Payne series, also developed a top-down racing game during the peak of Finnish indie racing game boom in the mid-90's. Although DEATH RALLY from 1996, which was already mentioned in A History of Finnish Games - Part 2 (come to think of it, so was Slicks 'n' Slide), and its more modern remake from 2012 resemble Gremlin's Super Cars games more than Super Sprint in it being strictly a single-player experience but with weapons, it's not very far-fetched to think that being a Finnish game developer, a racing game was bound to surface at some point, and very likely influenced by the success that was Slicks 'n' Slide.

Screenshots from Race Arcade (PC/XB/PS4/Switch, Iceflake Studios, 2017)


Finally, here's an awfully modern title that I noticed on Steam, which only goes to show how very much alive the genre still is. Iceflake Studios (not very surprisingly, a Finnish game developing company) released their own kind of tribute to the genre, RACE ARCADE, in April 2017, to mixed reviews. To be fair, it's not the most player-friendly game in the same way Slicks 'n' Slide is, and it's more like Turbo Sliders in presentation, but the gameplay itself kind of ruins the experience. It comes with a track editor, though, so there should be plenty to play and enjoy. Race Arcade, like most Iceflake's games, is also available for XBox, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.

If you have any more Slicks 'n' Slide -like, or -inspired games to recommend, please feel free to write a comment below. I'm well aware I have only scratched the surface with these ones, but I didn't want to take too much of the focus away from the original topic.

---

OVERALL & AFTERWORDS


I almost forgot I was supposed to give this game some actual scores, but I suppose it has to be done. Slicks 'n' Slide has always been one of those games for me, personally, that somehow defied being reviewed or scored in any conventional sense, because it never was a particularly conventional game. One of the reasons behind the sentiment, of course, the game being a continually developed shareware title, that evolved for better and for worse for a good number of years before finally becoming something to be considered with nostalgia - but never really forgotten. So, I need to give S'n'S the scores on some different merits in addition to the normal ones, and divide the primary versions.

              v1.20    v1.29    v1.30    v1.51
----------------------------------------------
RACING          7       10       10       10
OPTIONS         3        6        9        8
GUI/MENU        4        8        6        7
GRAPHICS        7        8        9        9
SOUNDS          5        7        9        9
CUSTOMIZING     1        7        9        9
REPLAY VALUE    4        9        9        9
----------------------------------------------
OVERALL        4.5      8.0      8.5      8.5


If any real conclusion is to be drawn from the above scores, it is that my personal nostalgia for v1.29 clearly overrides the merits of the latter versions of the game. Perhaps for good reasons, perhaps not. The fact is, though, that the earliest versions of Slicks 'n' Slide are only good for reference and experiencing, how good the initial idea was, but also how necessary the evolution of the game was to its further success.

Keeping all of the above in mind, I'm hesitant to suggest Slicks 'n' Slide would in any way be in need of an update for modern tastes and ideals. You see, while the basic idea of having a rather limited set of building blocks to create custom tracks with, and a set number of vehicles to race on the tracks with (weapons or no weapons), could be considered good fun in the mid-90's, most of today's modding fanatics have much bigger requirements. Also, I don't really think Slicks 'n' Slide would work all that well with modernized graphics, highly realistic sounds and even more realistic racing physics. The reason why S'n'S works so perfectly is, because it never took itself too seriously. The only thing I would consider an improvement would be a cloud-based netplay functionality, since two people rarely get to play on the same keyboard anymore these days - much less four. I suppose us Finns are great fans of nostalgia, as well as anything racing-related, so today, one of the most perfect nostalgia trips for any long-term (at least Finnish) PC gamer is to pick your favourite version of Slicks 'n' Slide and have a blast.

For the next Finnish Retro Game Review, we'll be getting back to the 80's, but whenever that is going to happen is anybody's guess. That's it for now, though - happy Finnish Independence Day, everybody! Thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment