Playing The Last V8 (C64)

The end of the world has already happened and what remains of humanity ekes out an existence in fallout shelters, biding their time by monitoring the environment and, in one particular case, tearing apart a car and modifying it for this new, radiation-soaked world. The day finally comes when this supercharged and heavily shielded vehicle rumbles out into the post nuclear wilderness to explore and perhaps track down survivors, only to be surprised by an alarm going off on the dashboard signalling that a delayed nuclear strike is on its way. For any other car the journey back to the Undercity and on to the safety of the Sci-Base would be impossible… but this is The Last V8.

David Darling‘s Mad Max-inspired, post-apocalyptic driving game is divided into two parts, the first is a manic race through twisting countryside back to the relative safety of the underground city before the incoming nuke hits – the car’s shields are good but won’t withstand a full-on nuclear blast – requiring the V8 to be driven as close to the edge as possible despite hairpin bends in the road and fatal to the touch surrounding foliage. Once underground the pace settles down a little as the player manoeuvres through the tight, maze-like passageways to the Sci-Base’s entrance, avoiding collisions and trying not to dwell too long in the invisible but deadly radioactive zones which are a result of that recent detonation.

The Last V8 has always divided opinion in part because the difficulty is deliberately and frustratingly high, presumably to draw things out since a seasoned player can complete the entire thing in under three minutes. Meeting that challenge starts with learning how to properly control the V8, practicing until able to clear the first level consistently or at least knowing where the short cuts are – I’ve included the most common one as a bonus in the video after the main playthrough is done, along with the rarer second option that I tended to use personally – and then working out the path through the Undercity which had the least radioactive zones. Making the levels punishingly hard in this way is a cheap design choice, especially since there would have been more space for maps if the two low quality but reasonably long chunks of sampled speech hadn’t been included.

Despite the unforgiving difficulty I’ve always been fond of The Last V8 personally, absolutely loving the in-game soundtrack whilst playing it extensively on both the C64 and Atari 8-bit back in the day – the Amstrad CPC version is a bit of a car crash, if you’ll excuse the “pun” – and managing to complete the entire game on countless occasions despite claims of it being declared “impossible” online. I think there was actually a time in the late 1990s where the only map of the Undercity was one I made in ASCII and posted to Comp.Sys.CBM on USENet, although I sadly can’t find it now. This game does stir a few other childhood memories of living through the cold war with that imminent threat of nuclear death hanging over all of our heads that the game’s scenario is based around, although I’m not sure those are strictly speaking good memories…

Workprint – May 2018

Yes, I’m a little late with the workprint this month but in my defence there have been things going on; I spent a significant chunk of the weekend in an unexpectedly large van with my stepson Matthew and stepson-in-law Josh, heading to Kent for an overnight stay in order to relocate boxes of old computers and software which have been sat in my dad’s garage for… oh, about sixteen years. Here’s what it looked like after we put everything into the van…

…and no, the large Rupert having a lie down on top of everything wasn’t originally mine but has been adopted anyway. I’ve found myself left with a lot to process – both in the literal sense and emotionally, the latter probably being the harder to deal with – but it’s done and everything is in one place now, although I haven’t had a chance to do any serious ferreting around just yet. I did get a family photo before we left for home by the way, so it wasn’t just pictures of storage boxes!

In programming news there hasn’t been much time of late (or more accurately, the problems I’m having with my shoulder means that sitting in front of a computer for extended periods is at best uncomfortable) but the previously mentioned C64CD project is pretty much done with just little extra polish and some “how it works” style articles required before release – there’s an all-formats retro game development competition I like the look of which might serve as a place to put it out, although I’ll need to check their rules properly beforehand since it’s using some wired graphics – and I’ve been doodling a little here and there when spare moments present themselves.

Playing Wunda Walter (VIC 20)

The planet Plato is in chaos, nasty little energy-based creatures called Fuzz Balls have invaded through a hole in time and need to be stomped on; only one creature can save the day in this manner, the loveable and rotund Wunda Walter needs to take out as many of the little… darlings as possible whilst avoiding the patrolling “manic depressive mutants practising body popping”. This was written in 1984 when video game scenarios were weird at the best of times and prolific Interceptor freelancer Keith “Howlin’ Mad” Harvey wrote the game so probably had a hand in the storyline as well.

Our hero starts each stage running along on a flat patch of ground but will need to take flight almost immediately to avoid death; this is done by holding the fire button down which causes Walter to inflate and float upwards with left and right on the joystick controlling his flight and releasing the button letting him drift downwards,. Since the majority of Plato’s surface will pop an unwary balloon-like creature, only the flat areas or Fuzz Balls should be considered safe to stand on and even then care must be taken since stepping halfway off a ledge will prove fatal.

The graphics are good but the VIC doesn’t have a hardware fine scroll register like later Commodore machines or the Atari 8-bit so the background shifts in character steps – one VIC character is about twice the width of those on the C64 for reference – with the software sprite movement being similarly chunky, but this doesn’t get in the way so Wunda Walter is still a playable if somewhat difficult game. Despite the emphasis in the storyline, splattering the Fuzz Balls is actually optional so merely avoiding the flight path of those body popping mutants and keeping clear of the landscape as it loops past a couple of times is enough to progress to the next level. There are four areas in total, each with their own distinct graphical elements and enemy attack pattern so learning both the lie of the land and how each nasty moves is essential for long-term survival.

I found out whilst writing this piece that Wunda Walter is considered a rare VIC 20 game these days, which is probably down to a combination of it arriving late in the VIC’s life cycle and requiring a 16K RAM expansion, both of which will have limited it ‘s potential audience. I still have my copy from the mid-1980s which I think was originally purchased from Interceptor themselves at a Commodore show in London, it’s currently tucked away in a storage box, sports the lurid green clamshell case and is apparently worth a few quid due to that aforementioned rarity… but don’t tell the wife, okay?