Gran Trak 10 (Arcade) review
"Introduction and History "
Introduction and History
Atari released Gran Trak 10, the first racing game, in 1974. Along with Tank, Gran Trak 10 was supposed to break the monotony of Pong and friends. Unfortunately, sales were poor and feedback was mostly apathetic, and Gran Trak 10 fared poorly.
Gran Trak 10's manual only includes basic troubleshooting tips and schematics, but the schematics are quite detailed as the manual is 63 pages long. Like most of Atari's early manuals, this one has enough information for a third year electrical engineering student to construct the entire game as a weekend project. However, the schematics are for debugging purposes geared toward arcade administrators; as a result, the guide is very well documented and serves as a model for excellent circuit programming and debugging guides.
Like Tank, Gran Trak 10 features ROM chips for storage of graphic data, resulting in a recognizable race car and a detailed race course. The car is quite small, however, and the track is a bunch of individual dots strung together. The overhead view takes the realism out of the game since no one drives a car from an overhead view. Overall, the graphics serve their purpose but don't break any barriers.
Also like Tank, Gran Trak 10 features semi-realistic engine noises, brakes, and crashes. All sounds are generated through square wave modulation and are a good step forward from the simple sounds of Pong.
Controls and Mechanics
Apparently, Atari never went to a real race track or drove a real car. Then again, most of Atari's employees were too busy smoking hemp and licking stamps, anyway, so that's understandable. All the elements are in the right place. Gran Trak 10 features a steering wheel, two pedals, and a gear shift, just like a real car. The wheel turns the car, the pedals accelerate and decelerate, and the gear shift, well, shifts gears. How the elements react is what kills Gran Trak 10.
The car has no momentum; when the steering wheel turns, the car instantly changes direction. You can make a 180 degree turn at full speed and the car will do exactly what the wheel says instantaneously. The wheel spins infinitely; for those with actual driving experience, you know that after turning, the wheel must be centered in order to drive straight.
The gear shift features three forward gears and one reverse. Shifting is mostly realistic and well done. Theoretically, the reverse gear is used to pull the car out after a crash, but the same can be accomplished more quickly by merely spinning the wheel and using a forward gear. The accelerator and brake pedals also react as one would expect.
Atari apparently never saw a real race because I never saw tracks like this; someone at Atari thinks a course features nothing but 90 and 180 degree turns. Experts at Gran Trak 10 appear manic as they rapidly spin the wheel to navigate the track. Realistic racing I'm sure.
The overall premise of the game is to make as many laps as possible in the 90 second time limit. Points are added as the car makes it further around the track. Upon time expiration, the score remains on the screen, and the player can compare his score to the scores on the grading chart printed on the machine.
Racing well is difficult in Gran Trak 10. That's not really a concern as the game isn't fun enough to make one want to race well. To those who can achieve over 40 points, I salute you.
Whoever heard of a one car race? That about sums up the largest problem of Gran Trak 10. Time trials are fun and all, but racing other cars is a lot more enjoyable. Fortunately, Atari soon realized this and released Gran Trak 20, a two player version of Gran Trak 10. Otherwise, the unrealistic controls and terrible track design hamper the game's fun.
Gran Trak 10 was billed as a racing simulator, something very close to the real world sport. How the 10,000 foot helicopter view and bad racing mechanics play into this I will never know. Unfortunately, Atari did not learn their lesson with this game and would repackage it twice under different names: Gran Trak 20, and LeMans. As it stands, however, Gran Trak 10 was a noble attempt at a racer.
Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)
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