There's nothing like wild success to spawn a successor.
Activision's Interstate '76 took gamers by surprise. How could a game with polygonally-challenged, armor-and-weapon-laden muscle cars out-duel its MechWarrior II brethren? Something about the game's unique concept and setting, the cars' mobility, the characters' personalities, the clever storyline, and challenging scenarios struck a chord with gamers - and gave rise to a cult following.
So two months ago, work began on Interstate '76 Nitro Pack: The Vigilante Files. It will fill a unique marketing niche: stand alone add-on pack. You won't need to own I76 to play the Nitro Pack, but those with I76 will want to buy the Nitro Pack not only for the new scenarios, but also for its upgrade patches.
Unlike I76, the Nitro Pack will not feature a linear storyline, despite early reports claiming otherwise. Rather, it will be a collection of about 20 individual scenarios featuring the supporting cast from I76 musing on events from their vigilante past. Skeeter will return, as will the very popular Taurus, and even Jade Champion (who died in the intro to I76) will play a part in the game - made possible by the fact that the scenarios will be recollections. Though the role of Groove Champion (the protagonist of I76) in the game is undetermined - he will make only a brief appearance, if any at all. All the voice actors from I76 will reprise their roles and, according to Activision, the scripts will have richer character dialogue and more deeply detailed character histories.
The upgrade patches will address most of the minor complaints lodged about I76, like the lofty recommended machine requirements and the lack of 3-D graphics support.
"We were pretty under-the-gun with I76," says Krager. "So we didn't get to do as much optimization and cleanup with performance as we would have liked." For the Nitro Pack, a team of programmers is working exclusively on tightening the game engine. That won't lower the minimum P-90 platform, but it should make the game run more smoothly with more graphics features turned on. In addition Direct3D will be supported out of the box.
But one more problem needed fixing: the hacked cars dominating online games. In multiplayer games, hackers have been extracting I76's vehicle definition files, then modifying the armor, reinforcing the car chassis, increasing the maximum number of weapons allowed on a car, and hacking the number of turreted guns. "They're coming in with radical looking, indestructible vehicles and ruining the fun for those who don't care to hack," says Krager.
To minimize this problem, the Nitro Pack will have a built-in validation code. The host options will also be improved, to allow/disallow certain weapons and custom-define how games will end. the Nitro Pack will also feature 30 new multiplayer scenarios including several racecourses, elimination games, and capture-the-flag missions. The Nitro Pack's multiplayer setup will continue to feature dynamic joining and host migration, meaning that anyone can join a game in progress - and if the host player quits, the game selects a new host automatically without interrupting play.
The Nitro Pack will also support force feedback joysticks, add pop-up dashboard displays in all external views, and feature several new weapons and muscle cars plus a few novelty items: a limousine, an ambulance, and an ice cream truck. Complaints about the lack of a mid-scenario save game feature will not be addressed directly, but the Nitro Pack will feature, according to Krager, "shorter, more polished, missions" with no more than one objective. All that and it will be available in early '98.
The folks at Activision found wild success with I76; this time they have to contend with wildly high expectations. But if the gods of bell-bottoms and carburetors smile down from on high, Interstate '76 Nitro Pack: The Vigilante Files will be the best in its class.