Racing simulators have come a long way since the dawn of video games.
In the beginning, there were the top-down games like Atari’s Indy 500 and Grand Prix. These “sims” were pretty common all the way through to the release of Super Sprint, and other games like Spy Hunter (and even Adventures in the Magic Kingdom) kept milking the formula for all it was worth.
Namco’s Pole Position popularized the “3D” and “behind the car” view by enhancing the player’s sense of speed. That type of racing game was popular well into the 16-bit era, with Rad Racer (NES) and Top Gear (Super NES) being two of the more memorable games that used that style.
As big a fan of racing as I am today, I was always awful at those games as a kid – the way lightning-quick reflexes were needed to make corners just didn’t suit my gaming style. It still doesn’t, actually.
With the advent of Mode 7, games like F-Zero and Super Mario Kart showed us what racing games could feel like. I was way better at these, simply because it felt like I had more input with the way the throttle and steering mechanics worked. You could see twists and turns in the distance, and you could actually anticipate and set up for the apex in a series of corners.
Anyway, F-1 Pole Position for Super NES was one of those games that fired on all cylinders. The Mode 7 graphics gave you the sense that tracks were much more than just a bunch of blind corners thrown together. Each locale felt like it had a life of its own.
With the exception of the late, great Ayrton Senna (who had a game of his own with Sega), every F1 driver and team from the 1993 season made an appearance. You could also tinker with every aspect of your car’s performance before each session, maximizing your chances to win the main event.
Like Days of Thunder’s Cole Trickle however, I don’t do setups… I just drive the race car.
My favourite feature was the multiplayer. Crank up the A.I. difficulty, up the race length a bit, and then figure out the best pit strategy to try and out-rank your friends. It was so competitive between us, and definitely one of my greatest memories from playing a multiplayer game.
What’s crazy about this memory is that I remember the exact date. It wasn’t a special occasion, or anything, but August 16, 1997 will forever go down as an important day in “Andre history”…
It was the day Andre felt the effects of alcohol for the very first time.
Camping wasn’t something my folks did often when they were young, so in turn, neither did we. Mike’s family across the street had a fifth-wheel camper in their driveway that we’d hang out in during the summer months, and that was as close as I ever got.
We would run an extension cable from the house, plug in a small TV with “rabbit ears” and hook a Super NES up to it. Even though we were only in the driveway, it really felt like we were camping out. Obviously, there was plenty of playoff hockey being watched and video games games being played whenever we hung out in there.
On that night in August, Mike’s mom was hosting a staff party for her co-workers. Naturally, this was an opportunity to hang out in the camper with kids in the neighborhood, play games, eat snacks, whatever.
At one point during the party, Mike disappeared into his house for a while. His brother Brian and I were playing F-1 Pole Position, and things got pretty heated. I remember getting punched in the shoulder (and repaying the favour) on a few occasions as we battled for track position.
When Mike eventually came back, he emptied his pockets to uncover a couple bottles of beer (Moosehead Premium Dry Ice, to be exact), a pint of Long Island Iced Tea mix, and a half-pint of Fireball Whiskey.
Obviously, the idea was for us to drink it… but I couldn’t drink… could I? I was only 13 at the time, and not at all the type of kid to do anything to get into trouble (I was definitely what you’d call a goody-good). I had tried beer a time or two beforehand, but the idea of drinking a full bottle of it churned my stomach.
At the same time, there was no way I was chickening out. We paused the game for what seemed like an eternity while we all sampled the various products Mike had brought with him.
I started with a small foam cup of the Moosehead Dry Ice. It really tasted quite bitter and awful, but I did my best and drank every last drop of it. As for our friend Abba, he could barely even stomach the beer’s foamy bubbles. We all had a pretty good laugh when he started gagging after a sip or two!
Up next was the Long Island Iced Tea mix, which was obviously not meant to be had by itself. We drank it like that anyway, and of course, nobody liked it. I don’t think anyone was able to finish it.
Up next came the king of all dirty liquors – Fireball!
For those who don’t know, Fireball is a cinnamon-flavoured liqueur that’s reminiscent of those cinnamon hearts you can buy around Valentine’s Day. The liquor taste is pretty potent, and it’s widely known as something you’d do “shots” with. We did just that, and I almost tossed my cookies.
Almost. Not quite.
By that time, I was feeling a little dizzy. My reflexes really weren’t feeling like they normally did. I wasn’t quite drunk, but it was definitely a feeling I had never experienced before.
We kept playing F-1 Pole Position and NHL 97 quite late into the night, and I remember not doing well AT ALL. I was quite frustrated with my sudden complete lack of ability, so I tried to get some shut-eye while the others kept gaming.
In any case, playing F-1 Pole Position reminds me of that crazy night of very light to moderate boozin’ in the camper… and then the morning after, balancing a foam cup full of Cheetos’ on Abba’s head as he slept.
You may be wondering how I remember the exact date that happened… well, it has to do with the my (then) newfound obsession with NASCAR. For some reason, the dates for some races stuck in my mind quite well.
The August 17th, 1997 running of the DeVilbiss 400 at Michigan International Speedway was a very forgettable one, if not for the absolute ugliest paint scheme I’ve ever seen (shown above). Whenever I think of that night of drinking, I think of that butt-ugly Ford Thunderbird that Geoffrey Bodine drove that day.