Before the turn of the new century, PC sims still had a prominent place on store shelves. For a brief spell in the immediate years up to and around 2000, bikes featured too. Until then, bike fans had traditionally been served poorly in games. Perhaps a combination of the nature of riding and the technology available, very few games held appeal. They typically looked, sounded and played terribly! Before PC processing power helped out with all of that, notable 16-bit exceptions to the ‘bike = bad’ rule were RVF Honda, No Second Prize and – of course! – Super Hang-On.
Luckily for us, the late 1990s brought a change. Powerful computers and early 3D graphics accelerator cards meant that the difficult challenge of replicating real-world bike racing could finally be met. Resolutions, colour fidelity, polygon counts and even sound quality increased so much on the PC in this period that the bikes could be a reasonable representation of the real thing and full fields of AI racers could be included. Superbikes were covered through games such as Castrol Honda Superbike and Milestone’s excellent Superbike World Championship that was published under the EA Sports brand. Grand Prix machines were fortunately simulated through this Microprose-Melbourne House game, GP500.
One of several racers from the 1990s to be picked off the shelves late in 2014, GP500 was a Winter re-discovery at ORD Towers. It served as a reminder of what we’ve been missing as bikers and gamers for many years. We also had an important old lesson when the experience proved to be a flag that ‘new’ doesn’t always denote excellence and a fifteen year-old game can still be good!
Released in 1999 and billed as ‘The Official FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Race Simulator’ (yep, it’s right there on the cover!), GP500 was a great game. Preferably played with a joystick, it was one that had fine controls as well.
With every joystick here being the old gameport type (remember those?!), it was an Xbox 360 controller that performed steering, acceleration and braking duties. How well it did too! The old riding ability might have faded over the years and this huge course was unfamiliar through the game, but the handling and control was wonderful! Nothing got in the way. Quite simply, it was a responsive bike that – as far as it could be in a game – behaved in a convincing manner. Watch how the front rises under heavier acceleration for a perfect example of this! Do we need to say that GP500 will stay installed now?!
Excluding bike audio, this is a short clip from a brief testing run. After getting the game and recording working, we wanted to share this little part of the grand course that has been built by talented and dedicated fans of both the game and the Isle of Man TT.
So, anyone ready for the mountain?!