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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Le Mans 24, Before It was Cool

"LE MAAANS TWENTY FOUR!"
As promised, for the rest of June a month post-Le Mans, I'm going to post Le Mans-related stuffs. The two previous posts made up an intense story narrative that summed up how hectic this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans was, but I don't think that any of them are better than a Twilight fan fiction anyway because the traffic is way too low for a race recap to be honest. After two posts of dark-themed craziness, it's time to change up the mood and get over all the emotion aside.

Before this year's Le Mans race even started, I always wanted to write something about the games that featured the endurance race in their content. If you've read my last year's recap post infamous for being so TL;DR that it had to be split into two parts, you can recall some game titles I mentioned in the post, which included the one you can spot on the title: Le Mans 24, an arcade-only game developed by SEGA, waaaaay before FIA WEC "officiated" the #LeMans24 hashtag which I suspect the social media team have heard about the arcade game's existence (or they don't...). Or probably they heard the another one which was very long time ago before this game even existed, which made a better coincidence than this game.

The instant FIA WEC announced that the hashtags for the Le Mans race #24LM and #LM24 would be unified to form #LeMans24, which is obviously four characters longer though made up for a more clarity in context, so that people don't need to ensue a Civil War meme involving both hashtags. What's interesting about the new hashtag however is that certain people might have an allusion to SEGA's arcade game of the same name, you would resort screaming the hashtag's name for the sake of it. I am part of that certain group of people.

WHAT IS LE MANS 24?

The six main stars of the game of SEGA's Le Mans 24
Following the success of SEGA's arcade racers such as Virtua Racing, Daytona USA, and Scud Race (alternatively titled SEGA Super GT), Le Mans 24 is a game produced by none other than SEGA itself in 1997, based on SEGA Model 3 Step 1.5 arcade system board. The game revolves around the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans race, featuring four cars from the mentioned race including the Nissan Skyline GT-R LM, Ferrari F40 GTE, McLaren F1, and Porsche 911 GT1, alongside classics such as Mazda 787B, and Sauber Mercedes C9, At this time, the Porsche and Ferrari exclusivity for use in other games weren't there back then.

I remember I played this game when it was in a mall somewhere in Lebak Bulus. It was a good time-waster and I don't regret wasting my money for such an old but gold game like that, but sadly the same place where I played the game for the first time has no longer possess the Le Mans 24 cab. Fast forward to my Bali visit in October 2012, I discovered the game again in a mall nearby, along with a Japanese Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3DX+ and Scud Race, if I remember correctly. Leaving Bali, I was left with no Le Mans 24 cab to waste my money on, but the Supermodel emulator made it possible to play the classic game although the emulation is far from complete.

The game consists of three modes: the main 24 Hours race in the old, 90s layout of Circuit de la Sarthe, the 3-lap sprint in the same circuit, and another 3-lap sprint in a fictitious street circuit. Not really that much, but I'll explain them later, especially the main mode one. Other than that, you can choose between six cars as mentioned above: for beginners, there's the Nissan and the Ferrari, seasoned drivers can take either the McLaren or Porsche, and experts are faced with choices like the Mazda and the Sauber. The Sonic Car and Porsche 917 K are also present as hidden cars accessible via a cheat code, and all six playable cars also have an alternate livery as well accessible with a cheat code: hold "Start" and "View Change" buttons before you select your desired car, and you will race with the alternate livery instead of the standard one.

As for the La Sarthe track, it's actually a shortened version of the full La Sarthe, since you could lap the track in 1:20-ish time or better, and that some of the turns are somehow easier than their real-life counterpart, especially the Mulsanne corner, Indianapolis kink, Porsche Curves, and the final chicane.

THE LE MANS MODE

The Le Mans mode puts you in a 24-hour race which would last up to 16 minutes depending on the game's settings. Take note that in this screenshot I opted to use the mentioned settings which caused you to start on 40th place instead of 20th, and this Harrod's Mach One livery of McLaren F1 GTR is accessible via a cheat code: hold "Start" and "View Change" before selecting your car to use the alternate livery of one of the playable cars.
Probably the Le Mans mode is a revolutionary one for its time. Here, you drive for 24 in-game hours which can take six minutes to sixteen minutes depending on the cabinet's settings, and you start off in pits. Overtaking a car grants you a good chunk of time extension, but getting overtaken will lose your time. There will be a "rival car" that will constantly be in your tail in a rubber band manner and will literally lose your time when overtaken, so blocking would be the only way to prevent it. In addition, your time will also be extended if you either reach an in-game hour interval (6, 12, and 18 if I can recall), or when you complete a lap. You can also rely on your crew chief as he will tell you when to pit in if your tires have worn, which results in loss of grip. Also note the weather effects used in this game: there will be a chance of a rainfall mid-game which will greatly affect how your car handles, and yes, things won't be good if your tires are worn and it's raining on the circuit.

Another good thing about this mode is that even if your time is up, you can still continue the race head-on provided you have the sufficient credit inserted, and, when linked to another cabinet, another player can join in mid-game. I don't think that this feat is seen in other racing games at that time, and this would be a common sight in classic top-down shooter games in the same era, but that's another story.

Unfortunately, you won't reach the first place as the race ends. I'm not sure if this game isn't programmed for players to win the Le Mans race overall or there are a couple of chunks missing on the game's side*. Fortunately though, if you finish the Le Mans race regardless of position, you get to race in a bonus stage: a one-lap race against Porsche 917K. It doesn't affect anything apart from how the ending credits music would play, but nonetheless it is a fun bonus stage. My only tip for the stage is to focus till the end, especially the final set of chicanes, and don't ever hit its rear there. Talk about missing chunks on the game's side, playing via emulator apparently is the only way as real Le Mans 24 cabs are bloody scarce, the Supermodel emulator is the only emulator made to do this task. Classic arcade titles may be hard to find, but this game is another story.


The three-lap sprint races meanwhile are self-explanatory: You race against 14 other cars which consist of playable cars, playable cars with alternate liveries, and the leading Porsche 917K. Granted, there is no rival car that will obstruct your progression, but in exchange once your time is over, it's game over. I would highlight the City course one (like in the vid above) because it is a challenging course to play and you would require a good skill in order to reach the first place. In addition, I just love the City course's scenery very much. The La Sarthe track presented in this game is other-wordly festive, but I just feel like the City course won my heart more.

* = if you have played the real Le Mans 24 cab, please do comment whether it is possible to place first in the Le Mans mode. Thank you very much!

MY THOUGHTS

A Gulf Porsche 917K lurks upon the completion of the Le Mans mode race. Regardless where you're finished at, you will face this car in the one-lap "Bonus Stage" in the same Sarthe Circuit.
While the game really offered several gameplay innovations for its time, like the day/night cycle, weather effects, and mid-game buy-ins, the physics may not sit well for others, myself included, The physics stray off from the traditional arcade physics displayed in SEGA's previous entries such as Daytona USA series and Scud Race, and when your tires are worn, things would get messy, especially when it rains, as I pointed out earlier, especially when playing using keyboard. Using a steering wheel would minimize this problem out due to the more precise controls.

I would dismiss the fact that the game is either intentionally or unintentionally unwinnable in the main mode, but one thing caught me in the ears: some of the BGMs are somehow off-sync. Again, I couldn't recall if this occured in the original arcade cabinet, but replaying the Le Mans Sprint on emulator and a "visit" to the game's service menu made for some discoveries of the mentioned problem. I might say that it's either the emulation is still work in progress or it's intentionally like that.

On the more positive note, though, the game is actually an enjoyable game although it might not be your cup of tea. The game somehow captured the Le Mans vibe, with all the mentioned features, This Le Mans vibe would be later found in future Le Mans titles such as Test Drive Le Mans. I mean, all Test Drive Le Mans in existence, with longer races understandably being console games. Even if the game has probably more negatives than positives, I find this game rather enjoyable.


Out of topic, remember the Classic GTs GeneRally WIP I made almost three years ago? The one with the Skyline LM, F40 GTE, and lots of stuff that weren't on Le Mans 24? Yup, this very game was the inspiration for making this car pack (alongside Test Drive Le Mans and Scud Race: the yellow and red Porsche between the rightmost Ferrari and Nissan should be familiar), and it was my own idea as well to go far with the "alternate liveries", like the F40 GTE for instance, where not only the two Le Mans 24 liveries were made but the additional Pilot Pen Racing livery was made as well. At that time, I was also trying to make the McLaren F1 GTR but it didn't turn out to be as good as I expected, and I would continue to make Porsche 911 GT1 after the former is finished. I had no intentions to make the Group Cs and the 917K at that time unfortunately as I was focusing on the Classic GTs.

So that concludes my post about Le Mans 24. an arcade game by SEGA. You can consider playing the real cab near your area or alternatively search for the ROM and play it on the Supermodel Emulator. Well, I'm pretty sure 90% would be into the latter, but whatever, Enjoy the arcade goodness with working day/night cycle and changing weather conditions, and with a mid-game buy-in too! Longest setting for the Le Mans mode is recommended if you were to play on the emulator, so you can enjoy 12 laps of racing around the 90s Le Mans goodness!

~[R]

5 comments:

  1. I read your post and there seems to be something wrong with the emulation in Supermodel because I noticed that all of the cars except the Porsche 911 have acceleration/speed problems when you compare against arcade videos. They struggle to gain speed and you can't reach anywhere near their max no matter how you drive.

    When I noticed the Porsche was different and seemingly unaffected by this bug, I set about trying to complete the game with it and got 1st on all of the races tonight. The most difficult one was the city track.

    This was all on the stock settings, too. Give it a go and I'm sure you'll have faster lap times.

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    1. Ah, I didn't seem to notice that. Haven't got into driving a Porsche in the game yet, and I do notice that the Supermodel emulation is far from perfect (though I believe there's a new footage which fixed most, if not all, of the problems on the emulation side, specifically the graphics).

      Also, I noticed that the music in the emulation are slower than in the original soundtrack. Having listened the original soundtrack online, I could already spot the reason why some of the game's musics somehow don't sync.

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    2. Yes, apparently the sound code hasn't been looked at for ages (possibly since 2012). Bart said he'd try and take the sound code from MAME later on but it'll be on the back-burner unless someone with talent appears to have a go.

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  3. I came back to say I was wrong! Here's what it actually is. (I had an option in the test menu enabled)

    There's an option in the settings for Special Car. I don't know why they did this, it doesn't make any sense and kinda cons you out of money. In every game where there's an advertised top speed on the car select screen, you can more or less reach it if you're racing well. In Le Mans 24, you can only do that with one standard car at a time, the one car you define as the special car in the test menu.

    I noticed it when watching arcade players. You know the lineup of cars? If a special car is defined, this one will be highlighted first when you press start. If you pick anything else, you basically can't win because you're much slower. The secret cars remain unaffected.

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