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Posted: Dec 13, 2022 @ 11:49 pm GMT-0600
Updated: Jul 14, 2023 @ 09:30 am GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Lost Titles, Article Software, Articles, bignews, Trans-Am Racing '68-'72,
This post has been read 1,387 times.

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Software released in 1998 that would define the genre of racing simulations by advancing physics in a way never seen before; It would have a historic setting with period cars, period tracks, and introduce many racing game fans to the drivers and teams from an era of raw and brutal racing that many had never seen before; And it almost wasn’t Grand Prix Legends.

Announced in January, 1998 for release later that year, Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 was a simulation that featured the drivers, cars, and tracks of the SCCA Trans-Am Racing Series during its most exciting and brutally dangerous period. Many of North America’s best drivers, along with Ford, General Motors and AMC were risking life, limb and un-told amounts of money in pursuit of what really was the foundation of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”

The Trans-American Sedan Championship was announced in 1966 at the SCCA Convention in Detroit and on March 25 that year the Series held its first race at Sebring raceway in Florida. The overall victory was captured by Jochen Rindt, but it was Mark Donohue that dominated the first few years driving for Roger Penske. American carmakers entered AMC Javelins, Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Camaros, Dodge Challengers, and Plymouth Barracudas against each other in a full-contact series that would also see Parnelli Jones win a championship before a national fuel crisis led to a major rule change that would effectively end the golden years this simulation covered.

Before the writing of this article the sim racing community had only ever seen a few seconds of the simulation being driven by someone clearly out of their depth at E3 in 1998 (see below), and a preview that was published around the time it was announced. The preview gave a decent amount of information and made the software sound as truly groundbreaking as it would have been. It also left me with the impression that Engineering Animations Incorporated, who had never developed a video game, were well aware what they were getting into.

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Back in 1997-1998 it was groundbreaking for a racing game to have a car leave the track surface for any other reason than a crash. Body roll and suspension of the type that would lift a single wheel were seldom modeled and almost never visualized, leaving your brain to effectively fill in the missing physics and visuals around what most of the time felt like ‘canned’ or ‘faked’ reactions that were most evidently bad during an accident.

SODA Off-Road Racing and Grand Prix Legends are the most-known titles that broke through and offered sim racers real-time advanced physics; Many simulations over the next decade announced they would have “GPL physics” as a way to separate themselves from what had come before. Today, right now, we’re still riding on GPL physics in many of our cockpits because iRacing is an evolution of Grand Prix Legends by Papyrus.

Engineering Animations Incorporated were developing their own real-time physics engine for Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 that simulated every internal element of a racing car that Grand Prix Legends did – and more. With track details that included bumps and a vehicle physics model that reacted to driver inputs from steering, throttle, and braking to create unique, real-time body movements through the suspension, tire, and powertrain models, the vehicle pitched, rolled, and bounced realistically when driven. The suspension model was a sprung-mass model (seven degrees of freedom) with force inputs at each corner, while the tire model was non-linear, incorporated weight transfer, lateral velocity, rolling resistance and non-linear tire properties to create handling consistent with their real-life counterparts.

In an un-seen interview I recovered (embed below) the Producer, Adrian Penn, detailed the 3D cockpit, handling feel and immersion that – along with the real-time crash modeling that would allow cars to deform, bounce, flip and suffer parts failures unique to the location damaged – would surely have made this simulation special.

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However, nothing would have made this simulation more special than the content. In the same way that Grand Prix Legends gave me a deep appreciation for cars and tracks I never got to see in-person, Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 featured the perfect era of historic Trans-Am. Sadly, many of these completely texture-mapped vehicles that would feature unique handling characteristics have never been licensed for a racing game before or since:

’68, ’69, ’70 Chevrolet Camaro
’67 Ford Mustang Coupe
’69 Ford Mustang
’64 Pontiac Tempest GTO
’70 ‘Cuda
’70 Firebird
’72 AMC Javelin
’70 Challenger
’70 AMC Javelin
’70 Boss Mustang FB

The tracks were to appear in the same un-sanitized way they had in Grand Prix Legends, with little or no safety considerations for spectator and driver alike. They would have provided a terrific challenge in vehicles that often were driven balanced on the throttle pedal while punishing off-track errors the instant you made them:

Mosport (Canada)
Bridgehampton (USA)
Bryar Motorsports Park (USA)
Donnybrooke Speedway (USA)
Kent Pacific Raceways (USA)
Lime Rock (USA)
Mid-Ohio (USA)
Road America (USA)
Riverside (USA)

Comparing to Grand Prix Legends with 19 cars (plus host), the title had multiplayer for up to 16 cars at a time via LAN, Internet or Direct-connection via modem or serial cable, and allowed drivers to setup the car suspension, gearing, tire selection, brakes and some minor chassis tweaks. You’d see other damaged car bodies deform as panels crumpled, see smoke and steam from under the hood if drivers abused their engines and, yes, it even simulated punctures.

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In preparing to write this article I managed to track down some of the developers including the Producer, Adrian Penn, and acquired access to some of the licensing paperwork, more complete feature lists, marketing schedules, actual system requirements, plans for the software and a VHS tape with footage nobody else in the sim community will have ever seen (embed above) that shows what is obviously still an alpha version from early 1998 that compares favorably with how a respected title like Grand Prix Legends looked at the time. Those written plans I mentioned included an official Trans-Am Racing On-Line series, similar to the official eNASCAR iRacing Pro Series of today, featuring prizes from the SCCA, and more.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, not really. Grand Prix Legends and Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 have a very similar feature set; Papyrus clearly showed it was possible to develop and release a title with this depth, at this time. Papyrus had history developing simulations for the public, while EAI had history in developing simulations for the private sector, including court room simulations of road traffic accidents that were accepted as evidence.

The timeline makes for difficult reading because, according to the documents I saw, no sooner had we heard about this title and seen glimpses of it at E3 than things began to unravel. The official timeline saw a delay until “late 1999” and an eventual cancellation announcement that same year despite the fact it had been advertised in a gaming magazine over four pages and even had an ISBN# registered. The reality is that GT Interactive, the publisher and holder of the Trans-Am license, were in trouble long before the title was even announced; Having overspent acquiring a number of studios, GTI were being sued by developers for allegedly not paying outstanding fees and inaccurately reporting sales. Without proper support and management, the writing was on the wall, GTI were acquired by Infogrames and Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 became Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home, an arcade racing title, in 1999.

Before working in the industry I’d have immediately asked why a product like this would be allowed to die or the engine be used on something less impressive, but we’ve seen it with this product and we even saw it with Empire Interactive using the unreleased World Sports Cars as Total Immersion Racing. I even heard directly from Gjon Camaj, founder of Image Space Incorporated, who told me that when Electronic Arts acquired Westwood Studios the only reason they didn’t cancel Sports Car GT along with everything else was because it was literally finished and Rich Hilleman, notable for his involvement with Indy 500 from Papyrus, said they should go ahead and publish. These things do happen. Maybe the only yardstick we have to guess how far along development was for Trans-Am is the fact a new studio took the engine and managed to put out a different game within a year.

If you look at the list of indexed software studios on this Web site – which does include developers like EAI who never released a sim – you’ll see there really aren’t very many. The fact that we lost EAI and their game engine to GT Interactive’s finances in the same way we likely lost Geoff Crammond and so many other creative minds is something that really has affected sim racing in ways we can’t even imagine. The only other racing game engine that could mirror what Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 was trying to be at that time is now, as iRacing, arguably the most profitable sim in history. Yet, at the time, Grand Prix Legends wasn’t profitable… We can’t really argue that cancelling the project wasn’t the right thing to do.

For further reading check out the Trans-Am Racing ’68-’72 news and articles sections. You may be interested in more articles about unreleased sims.

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