Born to Race
It was the mid-1980s and the home-based computer game business was still very much in its infancy. Hard drives had recently arrived on the scene, text-based adventures were commonplace, and PCs had only begun to hit the mainstream. Twenty-four-year-old David Kaemmer and his business partner Omar Khudari were fresh from a stint at an educational software company where together they wrote an instructional graphic adventure game for the Apple II system entitled "The McGraw-Hill Mathematics Solving Courseware," a product Kaemmer maintains was considerably livelier than its rather dry name might indicate. But recently, Kaemmer and Khudari found themselves deeply involved in something infinitely more interesting--something that held their mutual attention far more than a mere mathematics edutainment title.
Born and raised in Indiana, just an hour's drive from the storied Indianapolis racetrack, Kaemmer was drawn to the sport of auto racing at a very young age. His love of fast cars was almost obsessive, equaled in his teens only by an infatuation for the binary world of early arcade video games. Suffice it to say, Kaemmer lost more than his fair share of cash into one of the most notorious quarter-gobblers of the day, Atari's Pole Position. It was only natural then that as home computers began to filter into mainstream America, Kaemmer was an early convert. "I was probably one of the first people in west central Indiana to buy a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I computer. My favorite program for the TRS-80 was 'Flight Simulator' from subLogic. I always wanted to figure out how to make a program that could draw a 3D image like that." When Kaemmer left McGraw-Hill in his early twenties, his two passions had already begun to overlap and integrate.
By 1987, with the McGraw-Hill game already behind them and firmly convinced the rudimentary action-oriented auto racing gaming scene of the time could use a heavy dose of authenticity, Kaemmer and Khudari formed Papyrus Design Group. On a conservative, realistic level, Papyrus operated primarily as a contract programming services company. Candidly, however, Kaemmer wasn't shy about his idealistic goal: to build the first truly authentic PC racing simulation. As Kaemmer now firmly maintains, only half-jokingly, "My partner Omar humored me by letting me write racing sims."
Yet there was little doubt in Kaemmer's mind where this whole thing was heading. He certainly had a plan. "It seemed to me at the time that the fan base for an arcade oval track game would be just about zero. How could Pole Position at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway be any fun? And with my interest in Flight Simulator, I thought it would be neat to make a flight simulator on a race track, with a 3D out-of-the-cockpit view and real physics. I started learning more about real racing and the physics of racecars, and I was hooked. Just as Flight Simulator let you climb into a Cessna and see what it was like to be a private pilot, I wanted to make a program that would show someone, as much as possible, what it was like to drive a racecar."
One of the very first publishers the Kaemmer/Khudari tandem approached was Electronic Arts, a young but promising San Francisco-based company that just happened to be looking for a talented young team to design an Indy 500-based PC game. As Kaemmer says, "The planets were aligned, and we found ourselves with a development contract." We should all be so lucky.
Two years later, the personal computer seminal auto racing simulation was complete. In Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, Papyrus had taken a real departure from the arcade-type action racers that dominated the young marketplace. In direct contrast to prevailing wisdom that a good auto racing game should be as wild and wacky as possible, Indy 500 was one of the very first games based on real-world telemetry. In fairness, Britain's own racing guru Geoff Crammond had developed and released a game for the Commodore 64 system way back in 1986. Revs, as it was named, delivered a semirealistic account of life behind the wheel of an F3 open-wheeled car, and it certainly found a fan base in Crammond's home country, but not so much here in North America. We'll discuss Crammond's other efforts later in this article.
In any case, Indy 500 is generally and justifiably regarded as the PC's first true auto racing simulation. The game offered a single circuit (Indianapolis, of course) and slightly underwhelming graphics, even for the time. Nevertheless, Indy 500 did something that nothing else could: It made you believe you were really driving an open-wheeled racecar.
One of the true keys to a good simulation is its portrayal of the relationship between the four contact patches and the pavement, and Kaemmer's brainchild had it, in spades. When you took an Indy 500 turn at speed, you felt the car trying to break free from the road surface and struggle to maintain its grip. When you entered or exited a corner too quickly, you'd face the same sort of hardships of a real-life driver. In short, the game forced you to adopt a proper racing line and a believable throttle-to-brake interaction from the time you took the green flag until you hit the checkered several hours later.
And if your car didn't feel right for one reason or another, you could head to the game's garage facility to enact modifications. Tires, shocks, wings--they were all adjustable. Indy 500 was an arduous and thoroughly convincing experience that demanded complete concentration and ultimately appealed to fans of hardcore authenticity. Total units sold to date: 200,000. Not bad for a game designed in such comparatively primitive circumstances.
Even more importantly, Indy 500 was to form the nucleus for every Papyrus game to follow. Kaemmer and company had come upon a clever formula in its watershed product that would be substantially revitalized and rebuilt over the next fifteen years to meet the demand of an increasingly sophisticated audience and to satiate Papyrus' desire for perfection. But in all truth, this initial effort was an excellent example of getting it right the first time.
Thanks to www.gamekult.com for Indy 500 screenshots