Mondays suck, and scrolling through social media usually doesn’t make them any better. But today Twitter has really caught on, thanks to a link to a web app that popped up on my timeline. It’s called noclip.website, and if I’m not careful, it will absolutely crack my productivity for the rest of the day.
Noclip was created by JasperRLZ, and it basically lets you freely view classic gaming environment models, most of which are created by Nintendo. This is nothing new – it has been around for a few years in fact, and our friends from Kotaku interviewed Jasper about the process behind him in 2019. But Noclip’s catalog of virtual worlds is vast and growing, and until today, I didn’t know that it housed the traces of Beetle Adventure Racing.
Noclip gives us the Perfect opportunity to take a moment and enjoy the charming level design of the 1999 N64 arcade racing game from Electronic Arts and Paradigm Entertainment. The game was inundated with shoddy promotional links around this time, but Beetle Adventure Racing was not one of them. His Australian counterpart was also not HSV Adventure Race – a game exactly the same in every way, except that it replaced the New Beetles with VT Commodores and it had an announcer with the appropriate accent. I am not making this up.
Adventure race remains an improbable treasure in one or another form of branding. Physics looks like and was probably borroweded of Need of speed when this series was at its peak; the soundtrack is funky, eclectic and catchy; and the tracks are loaded with curiosities and secret paths that I still don’t think I’ve seen yet, despite the game being 22 years old.
With Noclip, you can see the care taken in these environments: the verticality of tracks like Mount Mayhem, the complexity of Metro Madness and Indiana Jones-decors inspired by Sunset Sands. Each tour resembled a movie set – an association reinforced by the pattern of film reels in menus and loading screens – and allowed you to string your own way through a number of different routes. Of course, nothing in BAR matches the intricate road networks of today’s open world runners, but these closed courses conveyed a sense of impressive scale in their time.
BAR wasn’t the only racing game that featured shortcuts, of course, but it was hands down the best of the art. They were not flat tunnels either. Snow-capped halfpipes, pyramids, casinos, car parks, pirate ships, buildings on fire and volcanoes presented interactive environmental cues that weren’t just there for the show. Pair these wonders with secret crates scattered across the maps players were challenged to find, and the “Adventure” part of the title became immediately clear.
A stroke of genius in BAR the track design was the use of rallycross style entry and exit roads for each circuit. The stage of the track on which you start is no longer run after the first lap, nor the end of the race section, just before the finish line of the last lap. In other words, the player never ends up where they started – a little detail that cultivates a sense of progress and discovery.
Exploring these environments in Noclip also highlights just how stingy the level artists had to be to create these seemingly lush worlds. Consider Metro Madness, the urban gambling course inspired by Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The buildings are very tall in this one, but as you will notice as you browse the map in Noclip, many of them lack side and roof textures.
The designers only modeled the faces of objects that would be visible from the player’s point of view and cut out anything that wasn’t, to answer the graphics and performance goals of the game. That was, of course, an inevitable facet of game development with extremely limited hardware 25 years ago, but it’s still worth investigating when the facade is peeled off.
There are other racing games in Noclip’s library, like Mario kart, Diddy Kong Racing and some Grand Theft Auto entrees too. Years ago someone started a similar project for the first two Annihilate Games, but it would be great to see the tracks of other popular racers from the 90s, like Gran Turismo, Need of speed and Peak runner, be included in these efforts. Even if they didn’t quite bring the pleasure like BAR did.