Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeGDbT83ie0
Wacky Wheels - A Twisted Tale That’s Not All Fun And Games
In this video I take a look at Beavis Soft / Apogee’s 1994 PC kart racer, Wacky Wheels - and how what should have been a simple Mario Kart knockoff became a tale of intrigue, with stolen source code and a remake abandoned under mysterious circumstances.
Guest Starring DJ Slope of Slopes Game Room - go give him some love: https://www.youtube.com/c/djslopesroom
Hey everyone, Rees here and welcome back to ctrl-alt-rees.
In this latest instalment in my semi-regular mini game review series, I want to talk about one of my favourite DOS games of all time, the twisted and tumultuous story behind its development, and an attempt at a modern remake that doesn’t seem to have gone entirely to plan.
But to tell the story from the beginning, I need to take you back to 1995, to Apogee’s legendary shooter, Rise of the Triad - and trust me, this is relevant, I promise.
You see, back in those days, games were getting bigger, and CDs were starting to take over from floppy disks. But games weren’t hitting the limits of this exciting new storage medium, with your typical full retail release being around 20MB or even less, and early CD media having the potential to store up to 650MB of stuff.
Of course, this left plenty of room for nice things like CD audio tracks, or in the case of games that didn’t have CD audio like Rise Of The Triad, room to cram in some fun stuff, like random photos of the developers…
…game assets like MIDI files of all of the game’s music and bitmaps of all of the game’s textures…
…a level editor and a surprisingly good random level generator, which is definitely something I need to cover in a future video…
…and some static screenshot previews of upcoming games like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior.
But of particular interest to 11-year-old me, in the days before the internet, were the shareware releases of all of Apogee’s games, tucked away in the SHAREWAR folder.
If you know your history, you’ll know that shareware games were basically demos - although pretty comprehensive ones at that - designed to give gamers a taste of a game and encourage them to mail off a cheque for the full version.
And it was in this unassuming collection of files on that Rise Of The Triad CD that I discovered such delights as Blake Stone, Duke Nukem 2, Hocus Pocus, Raptor: Call of the Shadows, Terminal Velocity - which I had hours and hours of fun out of - Wolfenstein 3D, and in that mighty tempting WACKY folder, the game I’m actually talking about today.
1994’s Wacky Wheels.
Developed by UK-based game developer Beavis - no, not that one - Beavis Soft, a 3-man team consisting of developer Andy Edwardson, artist Shaun Gadalla, and game music maestro Mark Klem, this shameless Mario Kart knockoff - by the developer’s own admission as we’ll find out later - aimed to bring the kart racing genre to the PC in style - and it certainly did.
In place of Mario Kart’s cast of classic Nintendo characters, Wacky Wheels offered a stable of zoo animals - 4 in the shareware release - or 8 in the full retail release, although I feel it’s important to point out that there were no differences between the racers other than appearance and sound effects.
Personally, Morris the moose was my favourite, and being honest, I think he still is.
The game offered a selection of 15 tracks in total, split into 3 championships, with just the silver wheels cup being available in the shareware version - still plenty for young Rees to sink his teeth into, especially for free.
The framerate was perhaps a bit lacking, owing to the fact that this game was designed to run on a 386 with 4MB of RAM, but to be honest we just didn’t care too much about that kind of stuff at the time, and being able to enjoy a console style kart racer on the PC more than made up for it.
What the game perhaps lacked in performance it more than made up for in the graphical design department, with its selection of wacky pickups, including hedgehogs used as weapons, and the bright and colourful selection of tracks.
The soundtrack was excellent too, offering 16 high energy SoundBlaster and AdLib tracks put together by composer Mark Klem.
Outside of the usual championship and single race modes there was also a kid mode, where the game took control of acceleration and braking, leaving the player to just handle the steering, time trials, and the rather entertaining duck shoot, which saw players frantically chasing down a gang of rather unpredictable wheeled ducks in one of the game’s 6 mutliplayer zones - well, 2 in the shareware version, and - oh, did I just mention multiplayer?
Because the game’s excellent local splitscreen multiplayer was a joy to behold, and something that the PC has been severely lacking over the years.
On top of the more traditional head to head racing, multiplayer saw 2 players face off in one of the aforementioned “shootout zones” using the same wacky selection of weapons featured in the game’s race modes, and thanks to the recent release of Doom with its support for deathmatch over serial link and dial-up modem, the developers decided that they wanted those modes for their game as well.
One of my favourite things as a kid was to use the game’s built in taunts to mock my friends - all delivered by a cheeky red devil, perhaps another nod to one of the developers’ favourite games.
And in another nod to Apogee’s past and the developers’ appreciation for their heroes at id Software, Wacky Wheels also featured the very first Dopefish easter egg - spawning a tradition that would see this iconic Commander Keen enemy show up in various games that still continues to this day.
All you have to do is start a race, hold down the brake, and start spinning around to the left. The burp reportedly was provided by Joe Siegler, Apogee’s sysop and webmaster at the time, and perhaps most famously, the voice of Duke Nukem himself in Duke Nukem II.
Now, you may have been watching this and thinking this all looks rather similar to another game - a game that I admittedly hadn’t even come across until I started researching this video: Skunny Kart.
As it happens, Wacky Wheels developer Andy Edwardson originally worked for a company called Copysoft - a rather apt name as we’ll soon discover - who were best known for a series of charming early DOS platform games starring their original character, Skunny the squirrel.
After getting inspired by Super Mario Kart and developing the proof of concept game engine in his spare time - the engine that later went on to become Wacky Wheels of course - Edwardson showed it to his employer, who liked what they saw and even started sharing screenshots online.
It was those screenshots that caught the attention of Apogee, leading him to jump ship. Unfortunately for him, he’d unwittingly left the source code to his side project behind without really coming to any kind of agreement regarding ownership, and Copysoft continued to work on it without his knowledge, releasing Skunny Kart while Wacky Wheels was in the final stages of development.
It’s a slightly less polished and - dare I say - rather garish take on the concept, but it’s a competent enough kart racer with some unique and fun touches and well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.
So what became of Wacky Wheels? Well, the rights to an HD remake were acquired in 2014 by an outfit called Cascadia Games, a relatively unknown developer who appears to be a one-man-band, with a couple of mobile games under their belt.
Wacky Wheels HD was eventually released in 2016 to a pretty poor reception - with reviewers taking issue with the game’s numerous bugs and poor controls. I’m not sure what transpired behind the scenes, but it seems the game was pulled from Steam shortly afterwards “at the request of the publisher”, with a rather hastily put together itch page appearing offering the following statement:
“This is a dated version of Wacky Wheels HD. It has issues with working on newer Windows and Mac machines. I can no longer update this app due to technical issues. Nor can I make a new game due to IP restrictions. I am now sharing with those who have purchased the game here or on Steam and would like to download it again.”
All rather ominous, and with the official URL apparently being sold to a gambling site, I’m not holding out much hope of this project getting finished. Which is a real shame, as it was very advanced and certainly showing a lot of promise.
But let’s not dwell on that, we’re here to remember the good old days, and with the rather generous shareware offering being available to download or even play online on various abandonware sites, as well as a DOSBox-wrapped retail version being available on Good old Games and even Steam as part of the 3D Realms Anthology, Wacky Wheels is far from dead - and that’s a fantastic thing, in my book.
So thanks for joining me once again for this look at one of my favourite games, if you’d like to see more like this as well as my retro computer repairs and electronics tinkering, please do consider subscribing to the channel - if you’re not already - if you enjoyed the video please don’t forget to give it a thumbs up, and I’d love to hear your memories down in the comments.
Finally, as always, thankyou very much for watching, and we’ll hopefully see each other again next time.
Original Video Links
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GOG Download Link: https://www.gog.com/game/wacky_wheels
Steam Download Link: https://store.steampowered.com/app/358380/Wacky_Wheels/
Play In Browser: https://archive.org/details/WackyWheels
Remake Official Itch Page: https://cascadiagames.itch.io/wacky-wheels-hd
Remake Steam Page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/422590/Wacky_Wheels_HD/
Duke Nukem 3d & Shadow Warrior Preview Screenshots: https://ctrl-alt-rees.com/2021-10-02-duke-nukem-3d-shadow-warrior-preview-images-rott-cd-june-95.html
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