Best Games : 1000 Miglia : Great 1000 Miles Rally and World Rally Championship
Design, at it’s best, solves problems. In the early 90s videogames had a lot of problems to solve, most of them technical. Drawing pixel to a screen quickly was tricky enough. Making those pixels look like anything more than digital mud was a rare success. Getting the images on screen to react to input in a satisfying way must have been some form of magic.
So, in the early 90s, when faced with the problem of creating an intense rally racing game based on an italian test of human and automotive endurance that had not been run in decades, what do you do?
The first thing you do is steal.
Drawing a three dimensional track was unattainable on the computer hardware available. The physics routines capable of simulating a convincing car had not been written. Color palettes were limited and animation was limited. Add to that the restrictions of the JAMMA hardware standard that allow game circuit boards to be swapped between similar cabinets, meaning that you might be playing a racing game with buttons and a joystick. Creating a game that evokes the feeling of intense, edge of control racing seems like a tough design problem.
Luckily a year previous, the game World Rally Championship was released by a competing studio. Maybe the makers of 1000 Miglia licensed the technology, or maybe they just plain old lifted every gameplay element of World Rally Championship. Whatever the case, they took an idea and ran with it.
Both games solve the problem of presenting a slightly canted overhead view of a race by doing the opposite of what conventional wisdom would advise. Rather than pulling the view back to show more of the track, giving the player the opportunity to react to upcoming turns and obstacles, both of these games are very tightly focused on the car and the parts of the track immediately surrounding it. By pushing the view in rather than pulling back, the sense of speed and impending danger is intensified. Of course, restricting the players view of the track would be inexcusable in a racing game, if some other solution wasn’t presented. Both World Rally and 1000 Miglia will briefly flash curving arrows on the screen, like a rally co-driver shouting out upcoming turns and chicanes. Added to that, each leg of the race is only 60 seconds long. For one unblinking, white knuckle minute you have to pay precise attention to upcoming turns, and precisely navigate them, usually by sliding all over the place.
What World Rally started 1000 Miglia polishes to a high sheen. Where there were muddy indistinct graphics, they are replaced by sharp, colorful, representations of italian streets and roads where cartoon blurs and speed lines enhance your sense of movement. In place of a generic rally car, 1000 Miglia offers an array of classic supercars from the 1930 to the 1950s. The stock engine noises of World Rally are gone, and instead you will hear the whine and grind of old gearboxes with less than precise tolerances. These cars belch fire and roar from unmuffled exhaust pipes. There is no expectation of traction or modern vehicle handling. Every car in this lineup is a squirrely death box pushed past its limits. This is the sort of fantasy that video games excel at.
Maybe the control and mechanics design problems were solved by World Rally, but it what 1000 Miglia that also solved the presentation and immersion problems. Excellent design, from the bottom to the top.