Replay: Interstate ’76–A Shaky Beginning

Interstate ’76 was first released in early 1997. I played the demo around the same time, and somehow managed to get my hands on the full game shortly thereafter. As I mentioned before, I played a whole lot of demos as a teenager, but somehow in this case there wasn’t a significant gap between “played demo” and “acquired full game”.

Something about the game’s 70’s funk aesthetic struck a chord with me. The soundtrack was awesome, the voice acting solid and the plot surprisingly involved for a car combat game built on the MechWarrior 2 engine. I played through it at least twice, once at home and again at a neighbor’s (his family’s computer was much faster than mine and so played the game at a better framerate). I think I played through some or all of it again at a cousin’s, actually.

The game was not particularly complicated, but it had a good hook of blowing cars up, salvaging them for nicer parts between missions, and putting those parts to use before acquiring even nicer stuff. By the end of the game, the humble V6 you started with has given way to a V10, .30 cal machine guns have been replaced by 30mm cannons, and so on. Since you’re acquiring everything from the husks of your former enemies’ cars, they are perpetually more powerful than you, but that’s kind of how vehicular combat games work.

One time, I was playing the game at home after school, and suddenly the game’s protagonist, Groove Champion, reacted to my taking a beating in the car by deadpanning “ohhhh shit.” My Dad heard, and assumed it was me that had swore, and grunted out my name in that disappointed way that only a father is capable of. I insisted it wasn’t me, but he didn’t believe me for a second. I didn’t get in trouble for it, but I was a little annoyed that he thought I’d so casually swear at a stupid video game. I didn’t, and still don’t, swear in front of my parents.

I decided to replay the game because I had fond memories of it and I wanted to see how it held up in terms of the experience. Also, it was the first thing I thought of. Either way, I created a lot of extra work for myself. While the game was easily found on Good Old Games (GOG.com), it was essentially broken out of its virtual box. Some Googling for workarounds led me in the right direction, but after a few hours of effort, the frame rate of the game was still too high, causing the physics to break and resulting in an unplayable mess.

After a couple more hours, I finally found a simple solution that effectively solved the problem: forcing VSync and limiting it to 30Hz, hard-capping the game’s framerate via nVidia Control Panel. The whole experience reminded me of the way things used to be before video standards and Steam, though I do wonder if trying to play today’s games in another 15 years will yield a similar experience. I also did some shortcut modifying to get a Glide wrapper working (and tried some third party solutions with little success), which really changes the look of the game.

I’ll have to see how things shake out, but so far having Glide support is the most interesting thing I’ve done since I started this experiment. The game’s software mode is perfectly passable as far as gaming engines of its vintage go, but with 3d acceleration, the lighting adds a certain amount of subtext to every mission. The second mission in particular is much more striking with its as-intended sunset setting, as opposed to a slightly darker brown terrain with slightly darker blue skybox in the software engine (click for bigger):

i76

Now that the game is working properly, I’ve sped (pun vaguely intended) through the first third of the game, and once again finding myself remembering some of the game’s more memorable lines and scenarios, just like with Half-Life. Hopefully I’ll power through the rest in the next week or so and have another write-up ready when I’m done with it.

Any suggestions on what I should play next? It has to be something I’ve already played before, but I would consider playing the full version of a game I’d previously demoed, which opens up my options significantly.