Stretching the Lead
When Papyrus made the jump from open-wheeled cars to closed cockpit, closed-wheel "stock" cars, it did so with a bang that was felt throughout the industry. In 1994, NASCAR Racing simply blew away the competition, eventually selling in excess of 1,000,000 units and proving that perhaps this ultrarealistic racing concept wasn't a niche market after all.
What made NASCAR Racing such a megahit? The subject matter, certainly. With his latest entry in the simulation stakes, Papyrus tapped into an unexpectedly huge and ardent NASCAR fan base. Who knew NASCAR was so popular? Who knew that fans of the sport would also be so much more amenable to playing a computer game than supporters of other brands of auto racing? Who knew there was such interest in what some press pundits perceived to be "boring" oval racing? Maybe Papyrus knew.
Still not taking advantage of primitive graphics acceleration (3D cards were more a rumor than fact), NASCAR Racing nevertheless impressed with its beauty. Though a low-resolution version was certainly available, which, at 320x200, matched the now seemingly chunky and heavily pixeled images of IndyCar Racing, it was the high-resolution 640x480 version that really turned heads. Suddenly, automobiles looked like automobiles rather than rolling boxes. Players could actually discern sponsor logos and lettering from a distance. At the time, this was nothing short of incredible, particularly considering the game keyed on sophisticated physics modeling that so heavily commandeered the power of the CPU.
In practice, NASCAR racing vehicles veritably lumbered in comparison to the nimble, overpowered rockets of IndyCar. Clearly they were capable of some very high speeds, but their acceleration was comparatively sluglike and their cornering was, well...an adventure. But that was precisely the way it was in the real world. And much like real-life NASCAR racing, there was something oh so appealing about driving and watching cars that outwardly looked like the family wagon but battled door-to-door at insane velocities.
Much to its credit, NASCAR Racing also tapped deeply into the art of drafting. In real racing, drivers often attempt to position their cars directly behind the car in front of them, just inches off the rear bumper. Here in this small pocket of dead air, they can actually back off the accelerator a wee bit yet keep pace as the car in front essentially "drags" them along. Accordingly, they're able to conserve fuel and place less stress on mechanical parts. But there's one other great benefit to drafting. If you time it just right, you can accelerate full bore into that dead air pocket, then swing out at the last possible moment for a pass. If everything goes as it should, you'll carry a few extra miles per hour--enough to complete a successful pass. In NASCAR, where both the vehicles and the dead air pockets behind them are so large, drafting plays a very important role indeed. For that very reason, you'll usually see long "trains" of cars pulling each other around the track. If a driver makes the mistake of falling out of that train, there's a very good chance he won't be able to slot back in until he has dropped to the end of it. In NASCAR Racing, Papyrus expertly modeled the element of drafting, and in the process really added something to the sport's virtual representation.
And then there was the sound. Never had a racing game sounded quite like this. IndyCar had introduced the Doppler effect into PC racing, and that trend would continue throughout each successive game. But here in NASCAR, Doppler mixed with the expertly sampled and crafted low-pitched rumble of a NASCAR engine and the haunting reverberation of an arsenal of motors winding their way around the track. It was an awesome and somewhat eerie sonic landscape.
Expert drivers and those willing to take the tremendous time and effort--and it was taxing--to fully indoctrinate themselves into the Papyrus style, drank in the NASCAR Racing challenge. Furthermore, rookies were once again able to take advantage of a now-standard array of driver's aids such as auto-braking and auto-shifting. However, like most Papyrus products, the game did not feature a distinct "easy" mode. It was also rightfully hyped for its challenge and authenticity, and therefore ignored by many new drivers and those who preferred a less stressful "arcade"-type experience.
Still, sales figures for NASCAR Racing were impressive by any standard. With over 1,000,000 units shipped worldwide, the game proved that Kaemmer's philosophy had finally caught on in the mainstream. In fact, it may also have single-handedly spurred the manufacture and sales of driving wheel and pedal systems, which suddenly seemed to be popping out everywhere and often prominently sported the "NASCAR" name or logo in its advertising. Though many of the game's best drivers (and, if truth be told, most members of the Papyrus development team) actually preferred the venerable combination of joystick and keyboard, wheels and pedals looked cool and really added to the sensation of piloting a real car. Whether Papyrus' incredibly complex physics model actually responded better to a purpose-built driving system better than it did to a tight, high-end stick is still a point of contention.