Combining elements from different genres is arguably the basis for many indie gaming titles, especially ones with a message that consistently accompanies the gameplay.
In the early eighties, there was no strict definition of genre, except for broad strokes like “arcade” or “adventure”. Innovation heavily relied on the game designer’s tastes and knowledge of the market. Pushing the envelope had to be carefully balanced with the risk of picking the wrong elements or using too many things on machines that weren’t very advanced.
Since playtesting was also pretty much nonexistent, a good designer had to know the nuts and bolts of his title to figure out what was gonna work.
Tunnelvision is, at its core, futuristic 1-vs-1 racing, with some very interesting gameplay choices which make for one unique game.
Fill my eyes with that tunnelvision
Developed by Graham Blighe in 1987, who will go on to work exclusively on sports titles, Tunnelvision brings to fruition a Commodore 64 technical feature not to be scoffed at: fluid split screen gameplay.
He was so proud of his accomplishment, that the game always works on two separate screens, which for this kind of frenetic gameplay, makes sense.
The objective, instead of completing the race in first place, is to score the required number of points (from 1 to 5), by grabbing the ball (orb) and crossing the finish line.
The way Tunnelvision plays is a lot closer to Mario Kart, rather than classic futuristic racing titles like Wipeout or Pod. Firing at the opponent is the main way to steal the ball back, which transform the races in frantic battles in trying to turn around and find the quickest way to the goal without running into enemy fire.
Naturally, the craft with the orb runs a bit slower than the other, a classic “symptom” of careful design.
Out Run, Wipeout and Road Rash all crashed into one
Tunnelvision features almost too many brilliant design choices. Yes, really.
The orb slowly moves on its own and has to be collected to be carried to the goal, the craft is equipped with a tractor beam that automatically makes the orb roll closer when in sights. The map tells the player where both crafts are, along with the orb, it also gives a clear indication when it is on target.
The strictly racing part, while it may sound not that interesting, is actually well done with fluid controls and a good sense of speed. It probably comes as no surprise that all tracks are variations on tunnels, so there’s no snowy mountains or sunny beaches a là Out Run. Still, they’re not boring and feature plenty of difficult twists and turns.
Not only there’s a selection of five tunnels, which is an acceptable number by 1987′ standards, but the game also comes with a track editor, along with loading and saving to disk options!
Really, Binghe went all out with the features, the meat of the game comes straight out of a 2005 racing game on PC.
Get ready to hear “Bad luck!” a lot
The interface, along with the map, shows two indicators: Fuel and Shields. The first goes down no matter what you do, shields are reduced by touching the tunnel’s walls, being shot at or running into the opponent. In the tunnels, there are also enemy robots floating around which are going to damage your vehicle if touched. Once the shield is gone, the craft explodes and the game is over.
Indeed, one could also win by damaging the opponent, adding another layer of gameplay which almost makes it feel like a futuristic Road Rash.
Graphically, the game is indeed basic, while split screen racing wasn’t a novel feature (Pit stop II already had it in 1984), it is very fluid and features a pretty convincing 3D effect. I especially like the “interference” effect when your car touches the tunnel’s walls.
One thing missing, which would have been pretty easy to make, it’s a choice of colors for the crafts, they’re always yellow and light blue.
Sound is efficient, the effects during racing are well done, the robotic speeches were also a nice addition. The title music is Bach; yeah, he’s “bach” again, guess the german composer was a perfect match for the SID sound chip.
Apparently, this was a budget title; color me surprised, cause sure doesn’t feel like one.
Tunnelvision is an absolute technical marvel for a budget title from 1987.
Chock full of modern features, fun to play and with a unique concept that would work perfectly as a current mobile game to play against the CPU or friends. Almost hard to believe this bad boy’s 33 years old, because it sure plays like a teenager to me!
The magazine ZZap! reviewed this harshly, saying “super graphics but a definite feeling of pointlessness“, I guess we’ll agree to disagree.
Definitely recommended if you like your racing games to be way more interesting than they need to be.