Mondays suck, and scrolling through social media doesn’t typically make them better. But today Twitter really came through, 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 crater my productivity for the rest of the day.
Noclip was created by JasperRLZ, and it essentially allows you to freely view environment models from classic games, most of them made by Nintendo. It’s not new — it’s been around for a few years in fact, and our friends at Kotaku interviewed Jasper about the process behind it back in 2019. But Noclip’s catalogue of virtual worlds is extensive and growing, and until today I wasn’t aware it housed the tracks of Beetle Adventure Racing.
Noclip gives us the perfect opportunity to take a moment and appreciate the charming level design of Electronic Arts’ and Paradigm Entertainment’s 1999 N64 arcade racer. Gaming was flooded with shoddy promotional tie-ins around this time, but Beetle Adventure Racing wasn’t one of them. Nor was its Australian counterpart, HSV Adventure Racing — a game exactly the same in every way, except it replaced the New Beetles with VT Commodores and had an announcer with the appropriate accent. I’m not making this up.
Adventure Racing remains an unlikely treasure in either branded form. The physics feel similar to and were likely borrowed from Need For Speed when that series was at its peak; the soundtrack is funky, eclectic and catchy; and the tracks are loaded with curiosities and secret paths I still don’t think I’ve seen all of yet, despite the fact the game is 22 years old.
With Noclip, you can see the care that went into these environments: the verticality of tracks like Mount Mayhem, complexity of Metro Madness and Indiana Jones-inspired set pieces of Sunset Sands. Each circuit felt like a movie set — an association reinforced by the motif of film reels in menus and loading screens — and allowed you to string together your own path through a number of different routes. Of course, nothing in BAR matches the intricate road networks in today’s open-world racers, but these closed courses conveyed an impressive sense of scale in their day.
BAR wasn’t the only racing game that offered shortcuts, of course, but it was far and away the best at the art. They weren’t featureless tunnels, either. Snow-covered half pipes, pyramids, casinos, parking garages, pirate ships, burning buildings and volcanoes presented interactive environmental landmarks that weren’t simply there for show. Couple those wonders with secret crates scattered throughout the maps that players were challenged to find, and the “Adventure” part of the title became immediately clear.
One stroke of genius in BAR’s track design was the use of rallycross-style entry and exit roads for every circuit. The leg of the track on which you start isn’t travelled again after the first lap, nor is the stretch at the end of the race, immediately before the finish line on the final lap. In other words, the player never finishes in the same place they begin — a small detail that cultivates a sense of progress and discovery.
Exploring these environments in Noclip also highlights how stingy level artists had to be in creating these seemingly lush worlds. Consider Metro Madness, the game’s city course inspired by Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The buildings are very tall in this one, but as you’ll notice when traversing the map in Noclip, many of them lack side and roof textures.
The designers modelled only faces of objects that would be visible from the player’s vantage point, and cut out anything that wasn’t, to meet the game’s graphical and performance targets. This was, of course, an unavoidable facet of game development with the extremely limited hardware of 25 years ago, but it’s always interesting to investigate when the facade is peeled back.
There are other racing games in Noclip’s library, like Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing and a few Grand Theft Auto entries, too. Years ago, someone started a similar project for the first two Wipeout games, but it’d be great to see tracks from other popular ’90s racers, like Gran Turismo, Need For Speed and Ridge Racer, be included in these efforts. Even if they didn’t quite bring the fun like BAR did.