Title: Revs
Developer: Geoff Crammond
Publisher: Acornsoft
Date Published: 1984
Platforms: Acorn BBC Micro model B
Genre: Motor racing

Introduction

Revs was one of the classic games for the BBC Micro Model B 8-bit home computer. Written by expert programmer Geoff Crammond, the game offered a highly realistic simulation of Formula 3 motor racing at Silverstone racetrack in England. The choice of that class of motor racing was related to Acorn's sponsorship of a team (hence the participation of F3 driver David Hunt, James Hunt's brother). However, F3's lack of pit stops had the advantage of making for a simpler game.

Game structure

When you started up, you got the choice of practice or competition modes. Practice mode let you drive around learning the track and figuring out the best lines around the corners. If you selected competition, as in most racing games, you found a combination of qualifying sessions and races. In the easier difficulty levels, crashing your car in the race would see it dropped back onto the track, but at the higher difficulty levels one accident would mean you were out of the race. If you won races you got points, and whoever got the most points won.

Gameplay

The first thing most players noticed about Revs was its difficulty. On your first few attempts you would leave the track on the first corner. This was because Revs had very different gameplay to most racers of the time. In a game like Pole Position or Out Run you were practically driving on rails: your direction and position relative to the track were tightly restricted so you could run up the grass verge parallel to the track but not miss a bend entirely and go flying off in the wrong direction, or still less do a u-turn.

In contrast, Revs had a full 3D model of the track. This meant that if you took the wrong line on a bend, you could go flying off the track and disappear into an ocean of green grass. Getting back required skill to manipulate your gears for traction on the incredibly slippery grass, and then you had to work out what way to go to rejoin the race. Similarly, a collision with another vehicle could put your car into a spin and leave you pointing the wrong way down the track. Studying David Hunt's course guide in the thick manual was essential to learn the best way to stay on the track.

Almost all modern racing games, from Ridge Racer to Colin McRae Rally, use three-dimensional models of the landscape. Revs was one of the first racing games to give you this freedom to drive around, leave the track, or try and drive backwards. The graphics were very basic, with the ground and cars but little else. Despite that, it managed to model uphill and downhill sections in the track. The excitement of rising to the crest of a hill and descending, and seeing the horizon move down and then up in front of you is impossible to describe.

The car had five forward gears and a reverse, and no automatic gearbox. Rather than a speedometer, the centre of the display was taken up by a rev counter. You also had the ability to customise the aerodynamics of your car to a limited extent, trading off roadholding against speed by modifying the downforce at the front and rear of the car.

Sequels and emulation

Since the original game had only one track, it was unsurprising that it was followed by the Revs 4-Tracks expansion pack, which added four more circuits to the game. Later came Revs 5-Tracks. Geoff Crammond went on to write the Grand Prix series of games for the PC, including World Circuit (aka GP1) in 1992, and Grand Prix 2 in 1996.

If you want to play Revs now, the emulator pcBBC supports the game fully. Most other emulators (or at least those which accurately model the BBC's video hardware) should also be able to play it successfully.

Verdict

The BBC may not have been the most popular home computer for gaming, but it had some of the most inventive and perfectionist programmers, and many of the best games. Revs is one of the most fondly remembered, and set new standards for 8-bit gaming. Although it only featured one track, this offered such a great degree of challenge that it did not matter too much - and many other racers before and since have had the same number of circuits.

Other features lag behind modern gameplay: the graphics were minimal (bare green grass, black tarmac, and no scenery), and the AI of the other drivers was poor to non-existent (they followed exactly the same line all the time). Nonetheless the roar of the engine through the BBC's tinny speakers, and the requirements of a game so realistic that you actually had to start your engine before the race, made it immensely pleasurable and immersive.


Mostly this is from memory and playing Revs on pcBBC, but some information came from:

  • "F1 Simulation Timeline". Games Domain. 2000. http://www.gamesdomain.com/gdreview/depart/jul00/f1hist.html
Any memories and additional facts about Revs would be gratefully received.

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