Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Car Tangent, part 14...

In the previous blog I had mentioned the work of Scott Robertson. The artist had a hand in redesigning one of the oldest gaming icons ever. The G-1655 was the model number of the fictional vehicle called the Interceptor. It was a gadget laden supercar in the game Spy Hunter. The original Interceptor debuted in 1983 and was greatly inspired by the cars featured in the James Bond films, including the Aston Martin DB5 and the Lotus Elise. The arcade game was a smash hit and got ported to just about every console and PC and a few handhelds at the time. It received a sequel in the arcade and then sort of faded away in the '90s. The creators of the game, Midway Entertainment, sat on it for a long time and when arcade remakes were fashionable in the new millennium they decided to reboot of the franchise. At the time it was the Xbox and Playstation 2. The game was very well done and helped recreate all of the arcade action but in 3D unlike the original 2D hit.

The Interceptor had machine guns, missile launchers, a smoke screen and oil slick at its disposal. It needed to use the various gadgets against armored cars, hitmen in limos, helicopters and speedboats. The car itself could even transform into a boat to take the action to groundbreaking new levels. The developers at Midway did an exceptional job at redesigning the Interceptor for the consoles and Mr. Robertson was tasked with keeping their vision moving forward. Mr. Robertson update the look of the Interceptor slightly in Spy Hunter 2 while making it completely believable at the same time. His experience as a designer and educator allowed him to plan out the world that Spy Hunter was set in, which was a slightly futuristic version of our own. This fleshed-out world allowed him to design the types of vehicles that enemies would be using against the armored supercar as well. Enormous enemy vehicles some like rolling skyscrapers played the Goliath to the tiny Interceptor.

The two games in the reboot were a complete success. Universal optioned the game to become a movie. The wrestler / actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was tagged to be the lead in the film. The film was put on indefinite hold but a game featuring his likeness and a variation of the film plot and characters was released. The game Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run was received poorly by fans and critics. The driving portions were not greatly improved over the previous game but what really hurt the experience were the portions where the main character named Alex Decker got out of the car and players controlled him in a third-person perspective.

The talents of Mr. Robertson were at least put to good use as he updated the designs for the Interceptor, including the interior as well as supporting vehicles and enemy types. These concepts were not solely meant for the game but were also going to be incorporated into the film as well. Sadly it, like the racing MMO that Mr. Robertson worked on was not meant to be. The Spy Hunter games worked best when the car was the star of the game, changing the formula hurt the franchise. Players suddenly found themselves going through multiple mediocre third-person shooter stages. The shooting and combat were average at best and players were forced to do countless missions like this instead of driving the amazing Interceptor. After the less than stellar reviews the franchise went dormant again.

In 2012 Spy Hunter was rebooted one more time, this time for portable systems. The Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita featured a new version of the Interceptor that was red (sacrilegious!) but more familiar play mechanics. The new Interceptor was designed by the team at TT Fusion and looked more like a modern muscle car than an exotic supercar. The lesson however remained. A great game did not require a human main character in order for players to find it appealing.

Some of the earliest arcade hits featured cars instead human characters. In many regards monsters, aliens, space ships and race cars were the original mascot characters. Consider that Pac Man and Q*bert weren't human yet for a time were more popular than Mario. The first wave of popular car titles were just as old as those games and in multiple genres as well and not solely racing. When developers were able to merge their love of autos with cartoon design and arcade graphics then an entirely new chapter in car culture would be added. We shall explore these pioneers in the next blog.


  1. You know that the spy hunter car was real, right?

  2. I've actually have been playing the xbox spyhunter still not much good though.
    actually back in the 70-'80s vehicles in tv shows were stars or at the least supporting characters in tv shows some even being the title of the show Airwolf, the A-Team, Knigh Rider, Riptide, Miami Vice, Blue Thunder, Starsky & Hutch, the Dukes of Hazzard, Street Hawk...now my memory is getting fuzzy and on the flip side of that coin
    SEGA....most their FP driving/racing/flying games had whatever you were driving/piloting be the star of that game after burner II, outrunners, thunderblade, power drift yada yada yada you get the picture.