Posted by: Ben | May 2, 2010

Man vs Genre: Autoduel

The Facts

Autoduel is a Greek word meaning to battle against oneself. The game of that name is credited to “Lord British and Chuckles” and was released by Origin in 1985 for Atari 8-bit, Apple II, C64 and DOS, with ST and Amiga versions following later. The UK publisher was Microprose, which is as close to a guarantee of quality as we’re going to get. It’s licensed from a Steve Jackson boardgame called Car Wars. I got this copy from my contact in the pub, and the label on the disk is written in biro but I’m sure it’s probably an original and that he isn’t funding terrorism. (The CRPG Addict has already had a look at it, by the way.)

The Cover

A dude (definitely a dude rather than a bloke) driving a car, which in the future will involve wearing a motorcycle helmet and gloves and using a square steering wheel. At least he’s wearing a seatbelt. There are some futuristic cars and explosions and stuff superimposed on there too. I would have thought this almost the coolest thing ever when I was eight, which as it happens I was.

The Lore

“Autoduel takes you to the freeways of the future – where the right of way goes to the biggest guns.”

Your mission is to get a car, soup it up and drive it about. If there’s an overarching plot, they’re not telling. Which, arguably, is how it should be.

Character Building

It’s the far future of 2030, so my character is the confusingly family-treed Psion Teklogix II. I have 2000 dollars, 3 health and 50 points to allocate between Driving Skill, Marksmanship and Mechanic Ability. Rule 7 of the RPG Players Handbook is to specialise, so I’m going to throw 40 into Driving Skill and leave a derisory 5 each for the others, which should be enough Marksmanship to hit a barn door and enough Mechanic Ability to change a flat tyre.

The Game

Minus one out of ten for the date at the top of the screen, Autoduel. It can't possibly be Friday January 1st 2030, now, can it? Because January 1st is a Tuesday that year. I hope such shoddy attention to detail is not repeated elsewhere.

I start on foot, in a single-screen New York with none of the landmarks that one might be familiar with. I can only assume that for the sake of compactness we’re in the lawless car-driver district. There are lots of buildings I can go in, but where do I start? The manual recommends I buy body armour, which doesn’t sound like a bad idea. So where do you go for body armour? Why, the Truck Stop, of course. “You should always wear body armour!”

I seem to have the Apple manual, so there’s going to be a bit of guesswork involved in working out the keyboard controls. Still, it seems that unlike the same developers’ Ultima games, I’m not going to have to press a special button to wear my armour. Now I need a car, and apparently I can’t just buy a second hand car, I need to head for the Assembly Line to get a new one custom-built. Seems pretty wasteful if I only have $2000. The first question they ask me is “What would you like to name your car?” In honour of my character’s distant relative who died very early on in Elite, I can only answer that I want to call it Cobra Mark IV.

Now the car construction screen is tremendously complex and confusing, and it’s going to require some serious manual-jockeying. You didn’t get tutorials in 1985, when the programmers only had 240K to play with. I’m a great driver, so I suppose it would be to my advantage to create a light nippy car which nonetheless can carry powerful weaponry for emergencies. Right right right. “Price is the dollar cost of the body without armor but including headlights, trim, seats, doors, instruments, basic targeting system, heads-up windshield visual display etc.” My Prius actually has all those things except one. I choose something not unlike a Prius, a light, mid-sized vehicle with no weapons and 1 armour everywhere. “The cars of 2030 use a modern multiple fuel-cell system which supplies electrical power to separate motors in each wheel of the vehicle” apparently, so it’s even a hybrid. Total cost $1260, which suggests the US motor industry will do as badly in the apocalypse as everyone else. [Actually so far this seems more like a “gradual increase in commerce and prosperity” future – albiet with a high crime rate, televised death battles and such standbys of Western speculative fiction of the ’70s and 80’s – than the postapocalyptic Mad Max scenario expected, but that may be to do with having got a whole lot closer to 2030 than the authors had the privilege of being.]

I spend the night at the truck stop, then head to Uncle Albert’s Weapon Shop to shop for a weapon.

But I can’t afford anything decent so I decide to rely on my running-away ability instead, which according to the manual is an acceptable strategy. Off to the arena, then, again on the advice of the manual. “Practice by yourself” is the first option, but that’s for blouses. “Today’s event is the amateur night competition – wanna sign up?” I sure do. “You’re no amateur – you can’t compete in this event!” Um, the manual said I should compete at Amateur Night. “Computer says no.”

In that case, I’ve got nothing better to do. I might as well take a courier mission. Let’s head to the American Autoduelling Association and see what they’ve got for me. Get this fine glassware to a shop in Baltimore for $12000. And I’ve got six months to do it in. That’s nine times the value of my car, which sounds perfect. Unfortunately they don’t think so. They want someone with more experience. I’ll have to take a crap job instead. Mineral samples to Buffalo. I’ve been to Buffalo, as it happens. It was not a destination of interest. Never mind, I’ll take that job. You need someone with more experience for that too? How about gas masks to Scranton? Nope, they don’t fancy me for that either. Hmm.

The other possible career track in Autoduel is a vigilante, fighting outlaws and biker gangs. Maybe if I had bought any weapons. Never mind. All that’s left to do in New York is hit the bar and listen to rumours, and if nothing comes up (it doesn’t) I’ll have to head to a more happening place, like Albany. (According to the game’s map, New York is actually in New Jersey, which doesn’t sound at all right.)

Arcade action!

I drive for a long time without seeing anything except fences and cows. Then I meet another car, one with a gun mounted on the front, and it very quicky shoots me dead.

Note that my car is pointing the wrong way in this screenshot. Playing old games means having to unlearn everything you think you know about what controls should be like.

Total play time: 20 minutes


Well it did say on the box that the right of way goes to the biggest guns. Never mind. Next!


  1. You’ve got to love how incomprehensible those old RPG’s were. I love the mentality of the player having the painstakingly assemble a car piece by piece without an instruction manual. Not like these days, they practically feed you the most mundane information on a spoon.

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