Great American Cross-Country Road Race
Copyright/Publisher: Activision, Designer and Programmer: Alex DeMeo,
Release Year: 1983, Genre: Racing Sports, Number Of Players: 1

General Description
From sea to shining sea, the race is on! Rally across the nation in high gear in any of four cross-country challenges.

Mind you, it'll take a lot more than just good driving. You'll need to select the race, map out the best route, check road and weather conditions, look out for speed traps, watch your gas level, go easy on the clutch, and, above all, beat the clock.

Because when that clock stops, so do you.

How to Play
How to Start
- Press [F1] to get to the map screen.
- Press [F3] to select a race.
- Press [F5] to adjust the time of day you want to begin the race.
- Press [Y] or [N] to select a field to race against. Note: The ability to load and save fields from disk has been disabled, therefore all fields are identical.
- Press [Y] or [N] to select your route.
- Press the fire button from the map screen to begin game.

The Task Before You
The first screen you'll work with is the "Field/Route Select Screen". You will be asked to select a field of racers to compete against. A "field" refers to a line-up of ten drivers whose already-established times you will attempt to beat. There are eight fields to choose from plus a field of computer scores marked "0" (zero) which appears when the game is first loaded.

You will then be asked to select one of four possible cross-country routes (races):
Los Angeles to New York
Seattle to Miami
San Francisco to Washington
U.S. Tour

Each race is from the West Coast to the East. The U.S. Tour also begins on the West Coast, but requires you to drive through every city on the map.

After selecting a race, the "Map Screen" appears. Here you will set your time of departure, select your next destination city and check road and weather conditions.

Once the race begins, watch out for police speed traps, poor road conditions, night driving, bad weather, collisions and gas levels. Also, don't forget to shift gears, or you'll blow your engine (See On the Road, below)

When you arrive at a destination, a "WELCOME" message is displayed, followed by the Map Screen. Then, it's time to select the next stop on your cross-country route. Previous stops will become red on the Map Screen. Continue in this manner until you reach your final destination, at which time you will receive your final results and field ranking.

Getting Underway
The Field/Route Select Screen
Selecting a Field: The first message you will see asks if you wish to "LOAD OPPOSING FIELD FROM DISK? Y OR N" If you wish to compete against a field other than the one displayed, press Y. Then press a numbered key from 1-8 to select desired field. If you wish to compete against the field already displayed, press N. Note: The ability to load and save fields from disk has been disabled, therefore all fields are identical.

Selecting a Route: The next note asks, "DO YOU WANT TO RACE THIS ROUTE? Y OR N" referring to the race displayed near the top of the screen. Remember, there are four routes to choose from. Press Y if you wish to choose the route displayed. If you wish to take another route, press N until the route you want is shown, then press Y. You will automatically move to the Map Screen after selecting a route.

The Map Screen
Time of Departure. You must set the clock in the lower corner of the screen for the time you wish the race to start. Plan carefully! Try to project your arrival times to avoid rush hours and night driving in hazardous areas. Press F5 to set the clock.

Destination. The flashing circle highlights your current location. The arrow points to a possible next stop along your route. Use the joystick to move the arrow to other destination cities. Check road conditions as you do so (See Road Conditions below). Only cities connected to your current location by a major highway are eligible choices.

Road Conditions. A bulletin moves across the top of the map describing the road conditions on the route you are considering. Poor conditions can slow you down.

Weather Conditions. Check the weather symbols on the map. Snowflakes indicate snow, rainclouds indicate rain.

Press the joystick button when the arrow is pointed at the destination of your choice, and you will see the view from your idling race car, ready to start the race.

The Race Is On!
Now that you've chosen the above settings, you may begin the race. The clock is ticking, but first-timers might want to check the instrument panel before taking off.

The fuel gauge shows your gas level. You begin with a full tank.

The timer at the center displays the amount of time you have to complete that leg of the race. If time runs out before you reach your destination, you'll be disqualified. Reach your destination with time to spare, and that spare time will automatically be added to the time allowed to complete the next leg of the race.

The mileage indicator below the timer displays the distance to your current destination. This counts down as you approach your destination.

The radar detector will flash when a police speed trap lies ahead.

The RPM gauge tells you how hard your engine is working. Watch this carefully or you may blow your engine.

The MPH 'clock' (speedometer) tells you how fast you're going.

You will see "ET" which shows your total elapsed race time so far.

To begin racing, press the joystick button.

On the Road
Controls: To accelerate, press the joystick button. Pull back on the joystick to brake. Move joystick left or right to steer.

Shifting gears: Your car has four gears; it always starts out in first gear. The faster you drive, the faster your engine turns - the speed of these turns is shown on the RPM (revolutions per minute) gauge. As the RPM rises, you'll hear the engine's whine get higher, and it will be necessary to shift gears. Be careful! When that whine gets really high-pitched and the tachometer tops 9500 RPMs, it is time to shift to a higher gear. Otherwise, you may blow the engine, and you'll have to push the car to the next gas station.

You can also shift too soon. If you are not driving fast enough to warrant being in a higher gear, acceleration will be sluggish and slow. Downshift to match gear to speed.

Push your car (when you've run out of gas or blown your engine) by pressing the joystick button repeatedly.

To shift gears:
- Release the joystick button. This pushes in the clutch.
- Tap the joystick forward to shift into a higher gear; tap it back to downshift to a lower gear.
- Press the joystick button to accelerate again.

Gas is available every 100 miles. Upcoming pumps are announced onscreen. To refuel, pull up and stop next to the pump. You'll hear the gas pumping as your gauge moves to the right. Note: A gas pump will appear sooner than the 100 mile interval whenever a blown engine or empty gas tank forces you to push your car.

Radar: The radar detector flashes to warn of an approaching speed trap. You'll soon see a police car. Pass politely, unless you think you can leave him in the dust. Can you?

Collisions throw you into a skid and put you back into first gear. When the skid ends, accelerate, start shifting, and get back into the race!

Reaching a Destination
"WELCOME!" will flash over the skyline as you enter each city en route to your ultimate goal. Then, the Map Screen will appear.

It will display your current ET (elapsed time) and average miles per hour.

The flashing circle shows your current location. Your previous stops will show on the map as red dots. The flashing arrow points to a city suggested as your next destination. You can change this destination by moving the arrow with the joystick. Your current ranking among your chosen field of drivers will be shown above the map.

Resuming the Race: Once you've set your next destination on the map, press the joystick button to begin that leg of the race.

The End of the Race
The race can end in one of three ways:

1. Disqualification. This occurs as soon as you run out of time at any point in the race.

2. Finish, but not in top ten. You may finish the race but not rank high enough to be placed with the top ten contenders in your field. In that case, you will still be congratulated on screen, and your rank will be displayed above the top ten. You can see how close (or far) you were from a place on the board.

3. Finish in the top ten. You've earned a place in the rankings determined by the computer. Look for the flashing square and type your name and the date in the space provided. To save your outstanding performance, select Save Game from the File menu.

Miscellaneous Control Keys
To begin a new race at any time, press [F3] for the Field/Route Select Screen or [F1] for the Map Screen.

When on the Map Screen, press [F5] to set your time of departure.

To freeze the action, simultaneously press the joystick button and the Space Bar.

When left unattended, the screen will eventually black out. To resume the action, press the joystick button.

Whenever you return to the Field/Route Select Screen during a race, that race will be discarded.

Function Key - Description
[F1] - Restart at Map Screen
[F3] - Restart at Field/Route Select Screen.
[F5] - Set Departure Time on Map Screen.
Joystick button Pause. Press the joystick button to resume. & Space Bar

Steer the car by moving left and right. Accelerate by holding down the joystick button. To shift gears, release button and push joystick forwards or backwards to shift up or down, respectively. To brake, pull back on the joystick.

Scoring is based on how quickly you are able to complete the race. Compete with other players and see who can finish with the fastest time.

If you hit a patch of snow on the road, always steer towards the center of the road.

Alex DeMeo, Designer and Programmer: "I remember this one great trick I used to do. I programmed the game so that if you ran out of gas, it would feed you gas stations about every ten miles. The trick is to get up to really high speed, run out of gas, and glide. If you were good at it, and didn't hit anything, you could glide all the way to the next gas station, so, effectively, you'd never have to stop to refuel! Of course, if you missed the gas station, there was no reverse, so you'd have to push the car a full ten miles to the next one!"

Game History
Alex DeMeo, Designer and Programmer:
"I felt that in most of the driving games that were around back then, you were basically driving in circles. So I thought, 'What if we did a road race like the movie "Gumball Rally"?' In fact, if I remember correctly, the working title for the game was 'Gumball'. That was what we called it while it was in development. It was sort of a 'Cannonball Run' type thing."

Fans of the Atari 2600 will certainly notice a similarity between The Great American Cross-Country Road Race and a game called Enduro for the Atari. (Look for it on the Activision Atari 2600 Action Pack, Volume II.) Alex explains the similarity: "The Enduro game was a very popular 2600 game. Enduro was based on passing a certain number of cars in a certain time. The code and drivers [parts of the program for the game] from Enduro that displayed the road and fed cars to pass were used as the engine for Great American Road Race.

But when you moved to more powerful systems like the Atari 400 or 800, or the Commodore 64, more was expected of the game, so the whole design, graphics, sound, and so on, were all redone for the new platforms. We added elements too, like the dashboard and the police. The program itself was rewritten from Enduro, due to the extreme differences between the platforms. The Atari was a very simple machine - you needed to do ALL the graphics yourself, 'by hand', almost, in the game. The Commodore was more powerful and had better graphics capabilities, like sprites." (A sprite is [from the Commodore User's Guide, p. 68] "a high-resolution programmable object that can be made into just about any shape". Sprites eased the programmer's job of redrawing the screen as the game proceeded.)

"The Great American Road Race was originally programmed and designed on an Atari 800. I did the sound, the music, the programming, the design, and some of the pixelated graphics work. The C64 graphics were done outside, though."

"For a while, Road Race had the distinguished honor of having the longest title of any game, up until 'The Complete Computer Fireworks Celebration Kit', another Activision title."

"When I was researching the distances between cities, to make sure I scaled it right, I just used a regular old road atlas, and tried to choose the cities so that no segments were too short or long. Of course, due to the geography, some things were unavoidable, like the drive from Boston to New York, which is really too short for this game." Obviously, one can't drive from Boston to New York inside four minutes, even at 100-200 mph (the game's speeds). "The measurements were all an even multiple of the real thing - I think it was 128 times faster than real time. So if you took 10 minutes to drive a segment, theoretically if you drove that same drive in real life at the same speed you did in the game, it would take exactly 1,280 minutes."

"It's really easy to miss a gas station, and I had this list of things I wanted to fix or improve in the game, but we just had to ship it. One of the things on that list was reverse gear, but the game had to go out."

"We wanted a really interesting title screen, where the car would speed by and blow up a lot of dust in its wake. At the time, Peter Kaminski and Russ Lieblich were working on a game for the C64 called 'Master of the Lamps'. There's this one scene in Master of the Lamps where the screen fills with smoke. I lifted the algorithm from Peter, and made minor modifications so it would look like dust. It's not smoke, though - if it was smoke, that would mean the car was a dog. So if you look closely, there's actually a graphic under the back wheel where the rocks are flying up from the road."

Alex is currently working for a computer game company called Absolute Entertainment which he co-founded with other Activision alumni John H.E.R.O. VanRyzin, and brothers Dan and Garry Kitchen. Also working at Absolute is David Pitfall Crane.

How to Start
- Press [F1] to get to the map screen.
- Press [F3] to select a race.
- Press [F5] to adjust the time of day you want to leave.
- Press [Y] or [N] to select a field to race against.
- Press [Y] or [N] to select your route.
- Press the fire button from the map screen to begin game.