Nigel Mansell’s Grand Prix

Martech

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Updates made

  • 14/01/16 – Interesting developments, with news of multiple versions under way and Simon Nicol confirmed as one of the devs!  Complete re-write pretty much done and hopefully a worthy read now.
  • 20/09/14 – Dave Martin helps shed some light on what happened and some big revelations made!  Also, link made to Charles Deenen regarding music.
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A early licence of Nigel Mansell was planned by Martech in 1988, and the game was set to deliver where other racers failed.  The game was actually reviewed in the Swedish Magazine ‘Soft’ Issue#3, May/June 1988.  The game was definitely released for Spectrum & Amstrad, but no C64 version.    The screenshot shown was not of a C64 version sadly.

The game was to be the first racing simulation to reflect some of the enormous advances in car design and technology that had taken place at that time.  Game managed to make it out on the Spectrum, Amstrad, Atari ST and Amiga – but the C64 version was constantly delayed and reported as so in the press at the time.  In the end, Martech folded before any delayed version could make it.  But what happened and why did the C64 version take so long?

The Games Machine had a little snippet about the C64 version, saying that there were problems with the program, and the release had been delayed. Possibly too long delayed before it could sneak out.  It was found that ‘SIR’ (Stephen Robertson), who created many a loading screen, actually did a loading screen for the game and uploaded his unreleased loading screen to his web site many moons ago.  At the time, SIR was working in Hendon at Andromedia – who were the development team working on the game.

However, it wasn’t just Andromedia who were behind the C64 game – but Nigel Mansell GP on the C64 was a very deeply troubled development which is suggested to have had as many as 4 versions in development – all of which failed in one way or another!   Pretty staggering!

With the Andromedia edition – SIR tells GTW that the game was in the playable stages, and they were having problems getting the music into the game, a faithful rendition of the F1 TV theme tune that was written in Rainbird’s Music Studio.    A demo was produced and taken down to Martech for approval and for hopeful sign up it seems.

Dave Martin confirms that they did indeed enter discussions with Andromedia to do the conversion, but he believes that due to pricing reasons – they eventually decided not to go ahead with them.   This may be why SIR didn’t really see any further progress beyond that original demo they took down.

At this point, Martech apparently contracted a new programmer (the name of which sadly escaped Dave) to work in-house with the team in Brighton to get the conversion done (already almost a year behind the others at this point).   Well,  thanks to Ron Shirley – we discovered that this in-house developer was none other than Simon Nicol, who was rumoured for years to have been someone who was rescuing development.

However, Simon wasn’t working with a struggling developer and with their code – he was working with another programmer (who we have no name as of yet), started from scratch and had began what was to be the 4th (and ultimately final) attempt at converting the game to the C64.   It was from Ron’s information that it seems there were even two more attempts before Andromedia and Simon,which were abandoned for unknown reasons – but we have no idea who was behind them at this stage and may never will.

Ron was asked to do a loading screen for the game by Simon, where a video digitizer was used to get a scan of the Amstrad cassette inlay.  This was tidied up over about 4 days using Koala Painter in zoom mode.   Simon and his co-programmer were very happy, and inserted it into the title screen part of the game.

When seeing the demo of the titles and picture in place, Ron was confused to why there was a black horizontal line about one pixel wide (and two thirds down the screen) on the picture.  When he was about to ask, the lower third of the screen fell away like an “Amiga special effect” (in Ron’s words) and up came a 38 looking colour swirling colour effect, with track times overlaid in white text.   After a few seconds, it fell away and was once again replaced by the lower third of the picture.  It was apparently very impressive!

Ron believes that Simon probably did the actual game graphics, though hopefully Simon will recall and confirm.

With the game itself, it was almost actually completed and was in a fully playable state.   It wasn’t based on the Spectrum or Amstrad code at all, and was written from the ground up to make the most of the C64’s capabilities and really push it to the limits.

And limits it indeed pushed – as Ron recalls (and which Simon confirms), the game was around 200k in size and would need to be massively reduced in size at the risk of damaging the game, or turn it into a multi-load title.   To resolve this, there were discussions between Dave Martin and Simon about what to do next.  Around that same time unfortunately, Simon went to the offices one day and found that Martech had gone bankrupt.

Interestingly – it has been confirmed by Ron and Simon that the recent Road Routine recovery is actually very closely related.  As this was the actual road routine used in Simon’s Nigel Mansell game!   Ron recalls seeing Simon starting the routine and gradually adding to it over time.

The theory we have (based on various research and reportings) is that Simon had developed the routine in response to Turbo Outrun and as part of a bet with Mark Kelly that he could better their road routine.   The response (we believe) was the actual road routine itself (minus dashboard).

It’s believed that Dave Martin saw what Simon had produced.  He was angry at first, as Simon had wasted time on something that wasn’t publishable, but then realized it could be used to Martech’s advantage – with what could be a real savior moment.

With things with Andromedia falling through – Dave Martin likely saw an opportunity to turn Simon’s routine into the Nigel Mansell game he was so craving for the C64.   With progress perhaps initially slow (according to Said Hassan), a co-programmer was brought on board to try and move the project forward – where roadside objects were added with a smooth and special method of movement compared to Turbo Outrun.   From the Car routine write up – if Robert Wilson’s report about an article on the game is true, then there should be a screenshot out there somewhere which shows Simon Nicol’s Nigel Mansell conversion well under way and with other cars in place.  According to Ron, Simon told him about Dave Martin taking the Road Routine to various shows to show off the new car game they had in development.

Sadly it could be difficult finding anything of the game – but Ron has suggested that he may at least have the title screen and copies of the roadside objects, which we hope to preserve and show here soon!  But as for the other 2 conversions and more details on the Andromedia conversion – there is still plenty more to uncover on this amazingly long and drawn out conversion that never was.  Ron also confirms that the dashboard was what was being used in Nigel Mansell – so it is indeed an early preview of Nigel Mansell, and we’ve had it for a few months already without realizing! 🙂

What doesn’t quite add up, and could be a result of very blurred memories – is that Dave Martin suggests that there was a distribution agreement with Electronic Arts to sell the game in the US.   Dave suggested that EA were given a complete game, that in his words was “awful”, and that a very small initial run of the game was manufactured and shipped to EA.  Martech disappeared not long after, so Dave wasn’t sure if it was ever released.

Ron suggested that after Martech went under, the licence moved to another developer – and they did a quick port of the Amstrad version.  It came out very poor indeed, and we never saw this either.  That’s right … potentially a 5th version that never made it!   But was this what Dave recalled was sold to EA?  Who were the new development team this time?

But we’re not done yet …  Now for potentially a final twist as we come back to Simon’s conversion…

So Martech closed its doors, Simon is now left with practically a complete racing game which is almost useless.  However, remove the references to Nigel Mansell, and you have a Formula One game which could be picked up by someone else.

In the past, there have been suggestions that Simon later went to work at Virgin Mastertronic, and was working on a car game.  Suggestions also say that the recently recovered road routine was the early basis of the car game.  Therefore, it is VERY likely that Simon did indeed re-brand the Nigel Mansell game and got it picked up by Virgin, and the game we have written about here is actually the same game!

Charles Deenan of course also composed a F1 tune with digi drums, the demo lists “Virgin” as the copyright and was from the same era.  Maniacs of Noise also worked numerous times with Simon on a few titles.   We believe when Martech closed, there was no music created (the game still had polishing/compression to do) – and Charles was brought on when the project moved to Virgin to produce some tunes.   We don’t know why that version didn’t get released – and is another title to chase and find out about.

So there we have it – many different threads which are starting to come together and paint a complete picture of what happened.  But there is still so much more to find out, and potentially 3 early developments to recover, and a close to complete development too.  Who’d have thought it?

Contributions: Martin/Stadium 64, Brendan Phoenix, Peter Weighill, Frankie Teardrop, Stephen Robertson, Simon Nicol, Ron Shirley

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  • Stephen Robertson (SIR’86) speaks about work on Nigel Mansell…

    “I drew some of the early c64 graphics for Nigel Mansells Grand Prix, including the loading screen. I’m not sure if any of my graphics made it into the game in the end.

    At the time I was working full time for Andromeda in their offices in Hendon. They were pretty good at getting various projects and licences (I also worked on Kevin Tom’s Football Manager), but quite bad at managing the projects, so a lot of them got canned.

    The only version of the game I saw was an early demo, which just had my car on the screen, a track, some music and a static control panel.

    I remember that the programmers had a lot of trouble getting the music into the game. The musician had use the Rainbird Music Studio to do the music, which was a bit short sighted as there was no stand-alone player for it! The producer wanted a theme that was similar to the BBC F1 theme tune, but obviously it couldn’t be the same, but it was pretty good from what I remember.

    After we’d completed the demo (to show it was feasible to do the C64 version), I, the producer and the programmer travelled down to Martech’s offices in Pevensy Bay to talk to the company about the game. They showed us the Amstrad version (Which was very impressive). I’m not sure what happened after that – there seemed to be very little progress made. The C64 version you show on your site seems much more advanced than when I stopped working on it.”

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