Wednesday, 21 March 2012

This week: Motorway Commodore 64 1986

Motorway was a game produced by Turbo Fire Studios in 1986.
The game took 2 years to develop in the bedroom of Kevin and Barry Foam in Birmingham.
The idea of the game was to drive from one destination to the next. Kevin (the elder of the two brothers) convinced his younger brother Barry, that the game should not contain elements of other games, such as count down timers, chasing/being chased by other vehicles. Not even crashes.

Instead the game would be accomplished by driving from point A to B on a map from the first screen. Once the root had been plotted, the view switched to an in car view of a Mini Metro. The controls were the first stumbling point for first time players as they were vast. The "phone book" sized manual informed players that not only would the joystick be used for control of speed and direction. Virtually every key on the keyboard would be used also!

Some of the many keyboards commands were as follows: "Space bar" would work the wind screen wipers when it rained. Simple enough it would seem, but for the wipers to stay on the space bar had to be held down! If a player found this a problem then it was just the tip of the iceberg. For instance the "Z" key controlled the car's choke. The choke had to be set before the car could even be started. Gamers found themselves quite often "flooding" the engine by leaving it open too long. It was often found the young gamers enlisted the help of dad to start the car. Unfortunately this also lead to many fathers informing sons that "if we want to make it to Stoke son, we'll have to let me do the driving!" and sons returning to their fathers complaining "are we there yet?"

Many gamers actually thought the game flawed as some of the commands never worked. In fact this was not the case. Barry Foam stated in an interview some years later: "Kevin was such a control freak, he just ignored many of my ideas, I had to do something. So basically I made it so the car was continually knackered and needed you to limp through the game or break down!" Such things as faulty window wipers, faulty lights, brakes, and worst of all, a radio that when switched on could not be switched off!

Though the game became quite tiresome after hours of play, Barry managed to sneak in some more enjoyable elements. Firstly was the petrol stop. Although Kevin knew of this, and indeed helped Barry develop this part. He did not know how Barry had changed it. For starters Barry had made the fuel gauge highly unreliable. This meant that depending on how fast you were going, the needle was pointed to "full" then suddenly "empty". Gamers became worried sick looking for the turn off for services, to the point many developed back pain and nervous ticks.

When gamers did fuel up, they found the first of Barry's surprises. First was the ability to simply fuel up and drive off! Indeed many found this to be more fun than anything! The second was the toilet stop. Barry had quite mischievously made a point of a player icon that filled up a yellow and brown colour at once! Gamers raced their character to toilets to find "out of order" signs and blocked lavatories. If all was well they could use urinals to fire a jet of urine at a cigarette but, walking the length of the urinal to "sink the battle ship".

When the game finally came out, most gamers were intrigued by the elements Barry had installed. It sold progressively well leading to a sequel: More Motorway. It was at this "junction" the brothers split in gaming became apparent. Kevin was angry with Barry's betrayal of his idea of gaming and this lead to solo development. As Barry's eye for the ridiculous lead him to games like Dick Spring's: Cow Tipper and Archibald Fallon's Magical Markers. His brother faired less well with Bus Que and Gas Meter.

Sadly penniless and jealous of his brother's fame, Kevin went on to work for the highways agency, designing contraflow systems.


  1. Ahh yes, remember this being marginally better than Binman Bob on ZX Spectrum.

    You know, this is the sort of thing I could really imagine being on Commodore. With the in-cockpit views of Gran Turismo 5, we have now come full circle and uh, returned back to the mid-80s. I liked it because it was a more chilled out version of Stunt Car Racer ;)

    Incidentally, I hacked my ROM to make it so you have an Austin Allegro. Which makes the game harder. Plus that 'pee meter' that you have to empty every so often fills up a lot quicker - must be the effect of a lack of suspension on my bowels. And that's just the home version... the arcade machine was an experience, lemme tell you.

    1. I think driving games have dropped the ball of late (that makes no sense). Problem being that it's all about the driving. What driving is really about is the things you find yourself doing whilst driving. Eating pasties, smoking, playing with the radio, Assembling Lego space ships, singing with the radio, attempting to open fizzy drink cans with one hand. Another game that I could have gone for was "Multi Storey Car Park". The elements of this that don't even include parking are mind blowing!

  2. sandwiched inbetween sitting down with a brew after my first day back at work and tomorrows impending funeral i have just read this 'gem' :)) genius mate, defo one of my favourites :))