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Best Games - Death Rally

This post is not really about a game. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Death Rally is great. It’s as much fun now as it was when it launched as an Apogee published shareware title 25 years ago. This post is about first steps.

In 1995 a group of Finnish demo scene kids set out to make a game.

Let’s walk this back a little. The demo scene, if you’re not familiar, might be described as a loose network of extreme hacking clubs. These are the type of people that like to make dazzling animations set to electronic music on Commodore 64 and Amiga Machines. Sometimes long after the usable lifetime of the machine. They like to compact an unreasonable amount of data into a miniscule space just to watch it sing and dance. These are the type of folks that want to see what they can make a computer do. They are most often European. Not sure why. It might have something to do with the Amiga.

This group of demo scene kids had been dabbling with the PC. In 1990, no one would have tried to make a fast action game on a PC. PC’s were primarily business machines. Beige monoliths with green and amber crt screens. Good at crunching numbers, awful at moving pixels. Machines much more suited to spreadsheets than Mario. In five short years PC’s went from ascii art to Commander Keen to Doom. Formidable graphics and sound advancements, along with the concept of shareware, had made the PC the place to play for up and coming developers.

That’s the world that this group of Finnish demo scene kids were working in. They knew how to make a PC sing, and they wanted to try their hand at making a game. They pitched a car combat game to Apogee, the shareware people, and got to work. They needed some writing done, so they got their friend who was studying English literature to do it. They were in the right place at the right time, yes, but they had arrived there with the right skills. 

Death Rally is a PC take on arcade and console driving games like Super Sprint and Badlands. It remains a great game to pick up and play. The controls feel great and the car combat is satisfying, if maybe a bit too difficult. It looks like a SNES or Genesis game that got dislodged from its cartridge and somehow ended up on a PC floppy disk. Suffice to say, the game is great but the real reason I selected Death Rally for a Best Games has less to do with the game and more to do with who made it.

The team at Remedy who made Death Rally went on to create Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Control. Some of those same demo scene kids are still there, still at it, making dazzling images set to phenomenal music. Death Rally was a first step. It’s a very good one. While their games diverged from Death Rally in terms of genre and point of view, one ingredient remains. You can tell that these games are made by people that aren’t aware of what the boundaries are. They don’t know what the ‘right and proper’ way to make a game is. They are still demo scene kids trying to pack as much of everything they love into every single game. As a result the pacing and tone of each of their games is slightly different than what most studios would make. 

So there it is. As a first step, Death Rally is really quite phenomenal. Go give it a try. It’s one of the best games.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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