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Monday, July 30, 2012
Return to Starbase: San Francisco Rush 2049 post mortem
Posted: 7:29:00 PM 2 comments
This past Sunday, I visited Starbase Arcade for only the second time in 12 years. My previous visit came in late 2000 when I participated in a Midway Games tournament for their soon-to-be-defunct "Tournament Edition" of Rush 2049. At the time, the machines were hopping, and a lot of players were busy trying to post their best scores. As I recall, I placed in the top 5, a pretty good achievement I thought for never having touched the tournament edition that most of the other players had access to.

This past weekend, I went in mostly on a whim. I'm staying in the San Francisco bay area this month to help my startup get prepared for a product launch, and figured I'd take one day out to head back to Starbase and play some Rush. They had a third machine, a prototype, added to the two they had when I was there. However, all of the machines were in bad shape:

  • Both of the connected machines had their phone pad disabled. This meant every game played on those required me to input my PIN number to start play.
  • The left of the connected machines and the prototype had an issue with the accelerator not working 100% of the time, with the prototype much worse off due to the differing design and unavailability of the parts required to fix a prototype.
  • The right of the connected machines had a rare issue where the manual shift refused to stay in 4th gear, dropping to 3rd. Fortunately, this was not a big issue.

I played most of my games on the right of the connected machines, and it turned out to be pretty good. The steering wheel was in amazingly pristine condition for its age, giving me the kind of control that I remembered having when I played at Dave & Busters in Houston.

I arrived at about quarter after 11 in the morning on Sunday. I half expected the arcade to not open on time (as I remember something about it not usually opening on time on Sundays the last time I was there), and sure enough it didn't officially open until about 11:30. I must've seemed kind of nerdy, wearing a Pac-Man shirt that reads "Original Gamester", standing outside of an arcade waiting for it to open on a Sunday morning, but there you have it.

I got to business quick. My plan of attack originally was to focus on Track 2, by far the easiest track when you take shortcuts into account, to get back into the groove. Within an hour, I had posted a time of 3'15"440 and beat the Free Game car. That was about 5 seconds off of the leaders, which given the fact I haven't played seriously since about the time I last visited Starbase, I wasn't going to complain. I moved on to Track 7, and that's when reality set in to how long it had been since I last played the game.

When I first visited Starbase, I scored a time of under 5 minutes on Track 7, and, as I stated earlier, placed in the top 5. My first several runs of Track 7 were abysmal, with one time over 5'50 (the time limit was just over 6 minutes). After a few tries, I figured I needed to play an easier, yet more challenging track. I moved to Track 3.

I spent a few races remembering exactly what the shortcuts were, and after a while I managed to hit everything required... except for the fall into Twin Peaks. This is the shortcut you use on the final lap, because using it gets you across the start/finish line faster, but you can't get to the shortcut at the beginning of the next lap, and ultimately you end up losing more time than you saved.

The shortcut requires going up a specific part of one of the hills of Twin Peaks and falling into a pit. I know what you have to do to get in there... essentially you need to go up a thin slice of the hill as straight as possible in second gear, and when you get up to the edge you flip the car head over bumper once and land on your tires and you're good to go.

I could not land that to save my life. Either I'd crash trying to get up the hill, couldn't get the right speed going up and fall down, or go in crookedly and either hit the side and crash or not make it in at all. I did land it once and posted a time worthy of a free game, but not a time I'd necessarily be proud of.

After a few more tries I decided to ratchet up the difficulty a bit and moved on to Track 4. Track 4 was almost everything I remembered. I hadn't really played the game in Special Edition, however, and did not expect one of the shortcuts to be faster. This shortcut is the one where you drive into a tunnel, and at the end of the tunnel you drive on the inside of an extremely tiny sphere with green arrows on it. Driving into and through the sphere correctly landed you in a position to drive out of the other side of the tunnel without losing any speed.

It probably took me 10 races to figure out how to land that right. Half the time I'd end up crashed on my hood, or crooked enough that I'd spin out. I only really landed it well enough to be competitive twice, but the ghost car on the machine - that had nowhere near the best time, mind you - always sped ahead of me.

At this point I took a break and decided that Track 7 was the main reason I came to play, and now that I felt practiced up enough to compete, I took a lunch and came back with renewed determination.

After about half a dozen races, I properly recalled exactly what you need to do to ace Track 7... except for the execution. I got my best time on the track early at something around 5'24"... more than 45 seconds off the best time. No matter how many times I tried, I couldn't nail a few key aspects of the track:

  • I never properly mastered the double loop, which caused me to not have enough speed to get into the tube shortcut on lap 2.
  • For whatever reason, the shortcut through the train station ended in a fiery auto crash after collisions with unexpected trains.
  • The big one for me was the downhill that ends in a 45 degree left turn. I had that near mastered at full speed, and I couldn't even figure out what to do this time around. I had to slow down to be competitive.

There were also a myriad of turns, twists, and jumps that I just could not do efficiently. I never bested that time, and after about 30 runs I got frustrated enough to just run Track 2 the rest of the time. At least there I bettered my best to 3'15"407. Shaving, as me and Mr.X would call it.

I did run into Video Bob towards the end of the night and reintroduced myself. He remembered me and Pianodakin, a Rush 2049 to NFS Underground convert, from past visits, and we talked a bit about how Special Edition came to pass. It was good to catch up and see that his business is still very much continuing to do well.

My biggest wish is that I had the time and money to invest into becoming a hardcore Rush 2049 player again, because I feel that is one of the best racing games ever created. If I could, I'd buy up a machine, get it fixed up good, and race a few times a day, relearning all the tricks.

Maybe someday I'll catch that butterfly.

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