Watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9ZQHbf6Ovk
Fatal Racing / Whiplash S3 ViRGE OEM Release Finally Found & Preserved
Way back in November 2020 I bought a random cheap Pentium MMX 233 PC on ebay - and discovered to my delight that it contained an S3 ViRGE, an early 3D graphics card introduced in 1995. This set me on a journey to track down, test, document and preserve every single game released that supported this obscure and not very good graphics card.
But one game eluded me until today - Gremlin Interactive’s DOS racer Fatal Racing, or Whiplash, depending on where in the world you’re from. In this video I tell the story of how a very helpful viewer helped me to preserve the game and finally take a look at it myself!
Way back in November 2020 I bought a random cheap Pentium MMX 233 PC on ebay - this one in fact - and discovered to my delight that it contained an S3 ViRGE, an early 3D graphics card introduced in 1995 that pre-dated even the legendary Voodoo cards, and of course, an excellent topic for a DOScember video.
Said video was hastily assembled and… Well. I messed up. I didn’t do my homework, a couple of the games I demoed weren’t set up properly and were running in software rendered mode and people let me know. The whole thing was a bit of a disaster and so I took it down.
I then spent the next 6 months tracking down every single game that supported that graphics card, finding download links and patches, testing on this machine, capturing footage and documenting the whole thing, and collecting all of the information and links on my website. Then I put out a 40 minute epic showing all of the games in action.
Well, all but one. And no matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t get my hands on it. An obscure HP OEM release of a DOS racing game known as Whiplash in North America, or Fatal Racing everywhere else.
Well, guess what? With the help of a very kind viewer called Justin who has his own channel called Ancient Electronics that I feel I owe a very big shoutout to, I finally got my hands on it. So lets take a look, shall we?
Gremlin Interactive’s 1995 MS-DOS release of Whiplash - or indeed Fatal Racing - was an interesting take on the DOS racing formula, with reasonably realistic cars and physics and a focus on - as the name might suggest - taking down your opponents with so called “fatalities”.
And before I dive into the differences between the retail software rendered release and the very limited S3 ViRGE release, I feel it’s only fair to take a look at what this game has to offer and what differences there are between the North America and Worldwide releases besides the name, and for that I’ll be using the software rendered mode, for reasons that will become apparent very soon - although if you’re familiar with the ViRGE, I’m sure you can probably guess.
Anyway, the tracks start off with a fairly traditional tarmac affair known as Le Grande Royale, but quickly escalate to add things like jumps, loops and corkscrews as the game progresses.
There are 8 cars split across the 8 different in-game manufacturers, with each manufacturer having their own tracks - 24 in total - and some stuff that can be unlocked by cheating, like this ridiculously fast and almost impossible to control open wheel thingy and its accompanying circular track that seems to completely break the in-game physics. You can unlock this by entering your name as LOVEBUN in the menus. Tons of fun!
The game offers both redbook CD audio and MIDI for its soundtracks, with most of the CD tracks being souped up versions of their MIDI counterparts, in addition to some original bits of music.
One difference between the two versions is in the difficulty levels - with Fatal Racing’s “girlie” difficulty thankfully being renamed to “rookie” in the later North American release. Yeah. The 90s.
Another interesting difference was in the default names of the computer players - named after famous robots and other AIs. With Gremlin Interactive being famously based in the UK - in Sheffield no less - the original release had references to Red Dwarf like Kryten and Holly which were replaced for the North American Whiplash release along with a few others.
Incidentally, other than the Star Trek, Alien, and 2001 references there are a couple that I couldn’t work out, so as always, let me know down in the comments if you’re smarter than I am.
Similar to other racers of the time, we get Single Race, Championship and Time Trial modes, with the championship offering 3 cups with 8 unique tracks in each. So plenty to get your teeth stuck into and plenty of replay value - and that’s without even getting into the IPX/SPX network, modem, and splitscreen multiplayer modes.
But how does the gameplay hold up? Well, the first thing that’s immediately obvious in game is the ridiculous HUD, which takes up - well, most of the screen. Thankfully it can be reduced to little more than a couple of lines of text, which is like going from one extreme to another but whatever, it works.
The game itself is rendered in a rather unusual 16:10 aspect ratio and as you can see, it does run a bit choppy in 640x480 software mode on my high end MMX system here, which was a big complaint about this game at the time, but it is playable - by 90s standards.
So, this is the part where I introduce the S3 “accelerated” renderer. Brace yourselves.
Of course, the most obvious difference is that the game seems to be running at a lower resolution - although my capture device and monitor still report 640x480, so I can only assume that this is actually being rendered at a lower resolution and being upscaled somehow.
This is a fully upgraded 4MB ViRGE DX card so I guess this is the best we’re gonna get.
In its defence, it does actually seem to run smoother than its software rendered counterpart if you can stomach the graphics, although the ViRGE renderer doesn’t seem to offer anything extra over and above this with a lot of the effects still looking - well - like they do.
As for the game itself? Well, if you’re a fan of 90s racers - with Screamer immediately coming to mind - there’s a lot to like here. Personally I think the track designers could perhaps have toned it down a bit later on as it does get to the point where the tracks are pretty unplayable with all the crazy loops and whatnot, but there’s still a lot of enjoyment to be had here, with the Death Drop track being a particular favourite of mine.
There’s also an attempt at an interesting team mechanic, where your teammates will occasionally communicate various things to you, and you can respond in kind by pressing the function keys. To be honest I found it didn’t really seem to add much and was more of a distraction than anything, but perhaps it makes more sense in multiplayer, which I haven’t tested.
Fatal Racing / Whiplash is also another one of those mid-90s games that had specific versions for various early 3D cards, including 3DFX Glide and Rendition Verité support, and while it’s something I might revisit later on, for now I’ll point you in the direction of a video by Retrocompaqguy showing the different versions running so you can make up your own mind.
But of course, for me personally it’s not about this specific game but about the journey, and finally finishing off my project to track down all of those S3 ViRGE games which - yeah, alright, history may not have remembered fondly - but I think preserving them is important nonetheless.
If you happen to have one of these cards and want to check out all of the games that supported it, there’s a page on my website with download links and instructions, and if you’re looking for recommendations please do check out my previous video which I’ll link in the usual places.
So all that’s left is to thank you very much for watching, big thanks to my supporters whose names you can see on screen, and I’ll hopefully see you again next time.
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