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Pole Position (Namco,1982) 62,710 points complete (MAME)

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Published on May 2, 2011

http://retrogamedemos.com/ for more classic gaming
A playthrough of Namco's original Pole Position from 1982, emulated on MAME. This is the highest I've been able to score so far; I was aiming for 64K, but I reckon anything over 60K is respectable. Settings used were: Time 120, Laps 4, Extended Rank C, Practice Rank C. These seem standard for MAME, but note that many players use easier settings that allow a higher score (but spoil the game in my opinion). Control was via mouse and keyboard, which works surprisingly well.

Pole Position was a game I never got to play more than a couple of times in the arcades. Mostly due to lack of opportunity, but also due to the expense. This game is HARD, and a pocket full of 10p's won't last long. I've always hankered after playing it though, and tried a lot of the lookalikes on home micros. But none had anything like the feel of the original, and many were downright unplayable. Discouraged, I delayed revisiting this on MAME until a couple of weeks ago.

I was afraid Pole Position would be a disappointment, but it turned out to be an absolute masterpiece. Nearly thirty years old, yet it's so playable I can literally race all day. Why it's so brilliant when its rivals were so lame cannot be described, only experienced.

Some tips:

Always go flat out in qualifying. Never brake, never lift off the throttle, never downshift, and never drive on the kerbs. When you approach the infamous Turn 4 (the Hairpin, Centipede, or Pepsi turn) aim for the gap between the inner kerb and the car to the right, and pull hard to the left. Straighten out after about a second, earlier than seems wise. You'll crash a lot at first, but with practice it'll become second nature.

In the race, be prepared to lift occasionally, both to avoid running into the back of other cars, and to steady your car in a skid. In dire emergencies brake, but never downshift unless you crash. Puddles and kerbs sap momentum, so make an effort to avoid them, but not so much you risk losing control.

Aim for the inside of turns whenever you can. Turns 1 and 4 (the hairpin) are good places to overtake. Driving a little on the inside kerb to nip past another car reduces your speed just enough to help stabilise you and make the turn. Try cutting the corner entirely on the grass to get a surprising distance ahead, but you will lose momentum on the exit and run the risk of hitting a billboard.

Rival cars will weave and brake to avoid other computer cars at any cost, but will give not the slightest thought to hitting yours and exploding in a ball of flame. So look at the traffic ahead and try to drive defensively when it gets thicker. With experience you'll find similar situations repeating themselves.

Different colour cars drive at different speeds. In particular the white/green/blue cars are the slowest. If you see one ahead in a pack at the hairpin it will probably slow the whole bunch on the way out (feeling lucky? cut across the grass and come out in front of the lot!). See one far ahead on the straight and be ready to weave through a concertina of slowdowns from the faster cars between you.

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