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Posted: Jul 15, 1993 @ 11:38 am GMT-0600
Updated: Feb 16, 2023 @ 02:38 pm GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Interview, Article Software, Articles, IndyCar Racing, News – Papyrus Racing Games,

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This interview was published in Computer Gaming World number 108. July, 1993. Read more.

The 1989 release of “Indianapolis 500: The Simulation” signaled a turning point in driving simulations. There weren’t a lot of “bells and whistles,” but for the first time on a personal computer, one could experience a little of the true feel of an open-wheeled race car. For thousands of armchair Andrettis, Indy was as close as they could get to strapping on a helmet and planting the right foot to the floor. Arcade style it was not: the view was from the cockpit, there was but a single track (the Indianapolis oval), lap times were accurate, and the on-track competition looked like they would from an ABC in-car camera.

More importantly, the drive was real. Each corner of the Indianapolis oval had to be perfectly carved as the slightest misjudgment would result in the stinging smack of a wall or that helpless slip slidin’ away feeling of the in field grass. Just navigating the car once around the Indy course at full acceleration was an accomplishment in itself.

After a certain degree of driving proficiency had been attained, physical alterations to the vehicle could be made in the pit lane, and setting a car to its ultimate potential became a skill in itself. Indy was, and is, a subtle exercise demanding maximum concentration, and extracting addiction in return.

Twenty-nine year old David Kaemmer is the mastermind behind this celebrated simulation, and a founder of the Papyrus Design Group. Today, despite continued Indy sales four years into its life span and enviable customer satisfaction, Kaemmer is ready to take the stunning simplicity of the original game one step further. We managed to flag down the fast-moving but amiable Kaemmer, and brought him in for a quick CGW pit stop.

On Indy 500 – The simulation

CGW: Indy 500 brought an innovative realism to driving simulations. What were you able to do that the other guys weren’t in terms of programming, game design, etc.?

Kaemmer: The key to Indy’s realism is that it contains a very complex and accurate physics model. I spent a great deal of time researching race car dynamics, and the model includes hundreds of variables that influence the car’s handling, just as in real life. Other games seem to use the joystick deflection to do very high level calculations but the car’s direction and speed are simple functions of the joystick position. In our model, when you move the joystick, it does no more than change the steering angle of the front wheels. Likewise, the throttle and brake inputs are converted to pedal deflections. Any speed or directional changes are then calculated (many times per second) using gobs of Newtonian mechanics. That makes it feel very much like a real car. Tuning the chassis by changing the myriad wing, tire, suspension, and gearbox settings also alters the car’s speed and handling just as the equivalent changes do in real life.

CGW: How long did it take to put all this into a workable package?

Kaemmer: About two years for the Indy PC version plus another eight or nine months for the Amiga version.

CGW: Do you feel you underestimated the number of people interested in the subtleties of driving a “real” race car over other “arcade” style games on the market at the time of Indy’s release?

Kaemmer: To tell you the truth. I didn’t give it much thought at the time I was developing it. I thought it would sell well because I had so much fun playing it! If anything, I probably overestimated how much interest there would be in it. Flight simulators usually do very well, and I have always thought of Indy as being Flight Simulator on a racetrack. I did underestimate the number of crazy lunatics (myself included) who would drive a 500 mile race. I put that capability in figuring that there was no harm in making it possible, but nobody would actually do it. Of course, then I had to try it in order to say that I had done it. In doing so, I discovered that driving the 500 miler was the most fun activity in the game (although you can get a wicked case of “joystick elbow”).

CGW: How much time did you spend on research at “The Brickyard”? Is the track a completely faithful representation of the real thing?

Kaemmer: The only research I did at the “Brickyard” was visiting the museum and riding around the track in a bus. I did pore through a lot of books, maps, and video footage in order to get the dimensions of the track and the location of all the grandstands correct. The track in the game is a faithful representation of the track as it was in 1988. In 1989, the real speedway was resurfaced (eliminating the bumpiness on the pit lane), then in 1990 some VIP boxes were added along the inside of the front straight. So now, the original simulation is a bit dated, I’m afraid.

CGW: Are you aware of the obvious Indy 500 “Game-Within-A-Game” that consists of discovering just how many cars can be destroyed in a single melee?

Kaemmer: That’s gruesome. I’m shocked that people would do such a thing. Twenty-nine was my best. How about trying to win a 10 lap race by crashing out all the other cars before someone else wins? On a kinder, gentler note: Best single lap speed – I heard on Compuserve that someone turned a 243.10 mph lap, which is, as far as I know, the all-time simulation record. Another good game for those who have mastered the simulation: What’s the lowest boost at which you can win the 500 miler (or the 150, 60, or 25)? A friend of mine claims to have won the ten lap race with a boost setting of 1, although I’m not sure I believe him…

On Papyrus Design Group

CGW: What is your official title with Papyrus?

Kaemmer: Co-founder and Vice President, Technology.

CGW: Would you like to mention any other people who deserve recognition for their work on this game?

Kaemmer: On the original Indy 500, Richard Garcia did a significant amount of programming, Rob Hubbard at EA did a fantastic job on the Adlib and Roland sound drivers (Indy was one of the first games, if not the first, that used those boards for sound effects), and my wife Althea went beyond the call of duty during its development. (You try putting a one week old baby to sleep with the scream of doppler-shifting Indy engines blaring out of the Roland MT-32 in the next room.)

On the new game, John Wheeler is my primary programming assistant, and is doing a fabulous job with the instant replays and the whole user interface. Adam Levesque is building the tracks and 3D objects, and Doug McCartney is drawing the texture maps and menu art work. They all deserve a lot of credit, doing a great job and maintaining a good humor, all while working with a perfectionist like myself.

CGW: Was there a Papyrus before Indy 500?

Kaemmer: Yes, but not long before. Omar Khudari and I formed Papyrus in August 1987, and I started work on Indy in January, 1988.

CGW: So, was Papyrus formed in order to develop Indy 500?

Kaemmer: We did form Papyrus with the intention of developing games, although Indy wasn’t in our plans at that point. We traveled to San Francisco and pitched a few game ideas to EA in ’87, and we mentioned the possibility of doing an Indy 500 game. Unbeknownst to us, Rich Hilleman at EA was simultaneously looking for someone to do an Indy 500 game, and so the ball started rolling.

CGW: What has Papyrus done between Indy 500 and this new game, and what do you do other than game development?

Kaemmer: We do a lot of contract programming. We’ve done educational software, business productivity software, systems software, you name it. Our focus is on projects which require technologies similar to those in game programming: high speed graphics, sound, any type of program in which a myriad of complex problems need to be solved. We continue to do game development mainly because we enjoy it, but also because it’s a good way to keep our technologies current.

CGW: Were you pleased with the arrangement between yourself and Electronic Arts pertaining to Indy 500? Did EA do a satisfactory job marketing the game?

Kaemmer: At the time it was a very good deal. We were an unknown quantity to EA (and to just about everybody), so they gave us a big break. Financially for us it’s been about a break-even, but the game has helped our visibility, since a lot of people in the industry know it and like it.

Indy 500 never sold as well as we and EA thought it would, but I don’t think EA’s marketing can be faulted. There are probably some things EA would do differently if they had marketed the game again, but they had a tough sell. There is only one track in the game, and an oval at that! It’s difficult to sell the game’s realistic physics when every other Tom, Dick and Harry with a driving game calls theirs “the most realistic driving game ever.” I think game buyers become fairly skeptical about the inflated claims that they see all the time. So naturally just about everyone who picks up the box thinks “Test Drive on an oval… No thanks.” EA drummed up a lot of publicity about the game; it was featured in stories on ESPN and Entertainment Tonight, and was reviewed by the major auto magazines, and they all loved it.

On the new product…

CGW: When will the new product be shipping? What is its official name, and what is the projected price?

Kaemmer: We haven’t yet decided on the name, but it will be shipping in October, 1993. We currently expect the list price to be $69.95.

CGW: Modem and head-to-head play is becoming all the rage. Are you planning to incorporate either of these two features into the new product?

Kaemmer: Yes two-player modem play will be included. We also would like to allow more than two players to compete, and are exploring the feasibility of different approaches to that problem. We’ll have more information within the next few months.

CGW: How many tracks will be included with the new game? What measures are you taking to ensure the faithfulness of the new tracks?

Kaemmer: Three or four tracks will be complete by the time the product ships, with all the others on the IndyCar schedule to be released as add-on tracks as soon as they are done. The tracks that are included cover the variety of circuits the IndyCars run on: A superspeedway, short oval, road course and/or city circuit. We have researched the tracks extensively, using detailed track maps to get the track lengths, widths, corner radii, etc, correct, U.S. Geological Survey data to get the altitude changes correct, and photos and video to get the surrounding details (grandstands, trees, etc.) in the right places. We also scrutinize in-car footage to make sure that the cambers and gradients are correct everywhere – yes, there is banking.

CGW: Replays are a popular and an important feature of driving simulations. One complaint I had concerning Indy 500 was its inability to save more than one replay… Will the new product include the ability to save multiple replays for later glory, and will replays be any longer than those in the original Indy?

Kaemmer: Multiples, yes. Longer… We may have the length of instant replay depend on the free memory in the machine, although 20 seconds already seems interminable, doesn’t it? Multiple car setups can also be saved.

CGW: How will customized car set-up differ from the original? Will this operation be simpler or more technical/true-to-life?

Kaemmer: There are a few extra options: speedway or road course wings, rain tires, and you can change the engine’s power curve and reliability by playing with the spark advance and fuel/air mixture. Brake bias will be adjustable from the cockpit. None of the complex settings adjustments will need to be made in order to have fun with the game, though. You’ll be able to choose from three default settings which range from an easy to drive setup through a fast and hairy setup. However, tweaking your settings can give you an advantage.

CGW: How large will the program be?

Kaemmer: It’ll be bigger than Indy 500. It runs in 386 protected mode, so it will require a 386 or better (a 486 will increase the graphics realism, by allowing texture mapping in real time). It will require 2 Megs of RAM, and use between 2 and 4 Megs Of hard disk space, plus about 500K for each add-on track.

CGW: How long has it taken to put this whole thing together? When did you decide that there would be a new product at all?

Kaemmer: We’ve been working on the new game for almost 1 1/2 years, with another four months to go. We decided that we were going to do it about a year and a half ago. I’ve been wanting to do it since Indy was finished, but it had to become financially feasible first.

CGW: Have you driven race cars yourself, or has anyone else at Papyrus?

Kaemmer: No to both. However, I do commute into Boston every day, and I believe after seven years of that you become eligible for a USAC license.

On the competition…

CGW: Recently, it has been MicroProse’ World Circuit that has captured the imagination of digital racers. Have you played this game?

Kaemmer: Yes, it’s a nice game. In fact, when I first saw it, I was disappointed, since we were already hard at work on our game, and I was hoping it would be yet another lame driving game. The graphics in it are very good, it looks very much like you are driving a race car. But the physics still leave much to be desired. It doesn’t feel like you are driving a race car. It doesn’t give me the sense that I’m in control of a car – more like it’s in control of me, and it won’t let me go where it’s not safe to go. With the line magnet off, it feels even less like a car. The car set-up changes don’t materially change the handling either. I haven’t had the patience to see if they change your lap times.

CGW: Was there ever any attempt to get your new product to the marketplace before World Circuit?

Kaemmer: No. We could’ve hammered the game out quickly, but I prefer to take the time to get everything right. Our new game will be as far beyond any other driving game as Indy was when it came out. Indy has stood the test of time very well. It’s still selling, and a lot of people are still playing it, even after several years. We have exceeded that level of depth in the new game, so I’m not worried that another driving game will come along and take away from our sales.

CGW: Finally, what will your new game have to offer that is superior to World Circuit?

Kaemmer: It feels like you are driving a real race car. The physics model is actually superior to Indy’s. Engine and skidding sounds are dynamic, giving you feedback about the car’s handling. Car setup is much more extensive than in World Circuit and settings changes really alter the way the car handles. Plus you get to drive on many different types of courses: high speed, full throttle superspeedways, fast-paced short ovals, sweeping road courses and challenging city circuits. The circuits also have varying cambers (banking) as well as altitude changes. You’ll find that a corner at the bottom of a hill will offer substantially more grip than one at the crest of a hill.

The graphics have a tremendous amount of texture-mapping – projecting bitmapped images onto 3D polygons, much like Ultima Underworld – which add greatly to the realism and the sense of speed. The cars are polygon-rendered in real-time, not pre-drawn. Plus they are all texture mapped, so they look like real Indy cars, complete with sponsor’s decals. They also break into pieces if they smash into the barriers. The instant replays are also very extensive, with a lot of TV like camera footage (and the scream of doppler-shifted engines).

If confidence is virtue, Kaemmer is better than most. Only time and the game-buying public will decide if the “new Indy” has what it takes to out-drive the competition. In the meantime, though, it certainly looks like the gloves are off.

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