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Game Design Essentials: 20 Atari Games

May 30, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 16 of 23 Next

S.T.U.N. Runner
Developers include Ed Rotberg, Andrew Burgess, and Sam Comstock, among others

S.T.U.N. Runner saw arcades some time after I, Robot and Hard Drivin', but it still qualifies as an early 3D game from our perspective. Although its frame rate would make it seem unplayable today, people put up with it at the time in exchanged for its then-impressive polygonal graphics.

Basically the first high-speed hovercraft racer, this game is the spiritual forefather of Wipeout and F-Zero. Unlike those games, S.T.U.N. Runner offers a less competitive take on racing. There are no physical opponents in the game; the game leaves the competition to the score lists (every level has a vanity board), and quick finishes are rewarded with points and extra time on the next level, as in Marble Madness.

Notably, the game doesn't contain a speed control or brakes. The game assumes that players will constantly want to go as fast as they can, and is designed with that assumption in mind. There are three basic tasks players must do to keep their speed up.

First, they must avoid the obstacles, usually track walls and enemies. If they can't be avoided then they must be destroyed, with either lasers or with a limited-use "Shockwave" smart bomb-like weapon (which doesn't fail to impress even today). Shockwaves are awarded for flying over many bonus spots in a single race or collected outright off the track's surface.

Second, there are zippers at various spots on the track that provide a great speed boost when traveled over. Hitting consecutive zippers is often difficult, but provides for much better times and good score bonuses.

Finally, and subtly, in the frequent twisting tube sections that make up much of each level there is an optimal path that naturally provides the best speed for the player's vehicle. This path is the line on the tunnel wall that the actions of centrifugal force and gravity would cause the vehicle to drift towards: if the tunnel turns left, then the fastest speed comes from being on the right side of the tunnel, and vice versa.

The tighter the turn, the further up the tube's wall the player wants to be. The game shows the player what the best path is in a tutorial course at the start of the game, and throughout bonuses tend to be located on the path most often. Unlike the many games that reward risky or showy play, in this scheme, players who chase bonuses naturally learn to become better players.

Perhaps the most awesome feature of the game comes at the very end. Every level has a best time score table entry, but the final level's entry is special. The last level cannot be completed; it's an infinite course.

The player's goal is to get as far as he can in the time allotted. As he progresses, the names of the five players who got the farthest float in the air throughout the course, at the spot where they ended up after time ran out. So, to pass another player's skill in the game means literally passing their name in the final level!

Article Start Previous Page 16 of 23 Next

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