Cyclemania is a somewhat unique experiment in its utilization of full motion video technology. Over the years, only a handful of games used live action motion-video backdrop as a basis for its interaction. Most prominently we had various rail shooters made by American Laser Games, but if we speak about racing games, for PC I remember only two games that used real video backdrop as background. First being Cyclemania in 1994 and second was Touring Car Champions from 1997.
Cyclemania was made by Compro games, an Isreali-based company that utilized FMV technologies to the certain degree in each of their games. As realistic 3D rendering of an entire scene was not possible at a time of development they decided to use a combination of video for the backdrop and 2D sprites for objects. There were few major blockers that the guys from Compro had to overcome in order to adopt this technology. At the time, CD-Rom seek times were very bad (single speed CD-Roms were able to transfer about 150kb/sec) so video had to be heavily compressed. Keeping in mind variable speeds of the bike the video compression technology also had to support playback at variable speeds. And on top of all that, each frame of the video had to be mapped so the game knew where is the road. In order to achieve that, Compro employed a bunch of high-school kids to manually map thousands of video frames. Over the course of the production, some of these kids also helped with testing of the game. Apart from using the real video footage as the backdrop, the game also contained small FMV video clips (when the player crashed) and photos, all provided by the magazine MOTO.
“Shotting the video for the roads was both challenging and fun. With both myself and the main programmer of the game, both being avid sports bikers, we knew some of the best roads to shoot. The challenge was to find the roads free of cars and to mount the camera properly so that it was steady enough.”
Ronnie Yaron, producer and game creator, about the development of Cyclemania.
The game itself is in today’s view quite an arcadish. It was never meant to be a high simulation and it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Who would, when the drivers you can choose from are named “Rubber Mama” or “Crazy Willy”? After each race, you are rewarded with cash. Cash can be used to buy parts and tune your bike and so on. Each track is filled with ongoing traffic, planes flying over your head or cows standing in your way. Cows were also a significant part of marketing campaign this game had (see magazine ad on the right side). Not to forget there is also interesting MOD music made by Amir Glinik who also worked on game graphics (you can listen to a sample of the soundtrack here). Music was written on Amiga and programmers used the converter to make it available for PC. Amir also worked on bike models by using 3D Studio 3.0 and Autodesk Animator Pro on his Pentium 90. Later he also contributed to Surface Tension, another game Compro produced but left the company soon after that. He does not work in gaming industry anymore but after years, he returned to motorbike modelling. He spent last 10 years on project telling the history of Harley-Davidson through highly detailed CGI models (you can find them at www.3d-files.co.il). He remembers how the team working on the Cyclemania was full of bright, young, albeit maybe at a time bit naive guys. The sense of teamwork and creative spirit at Compro was something he didn’t felt to such degree in his later professional career.
Cyclemania is, unfortunately, bit forgotten as the year 1994 was very strong for racing games. It was the year Need for Speed franchise got born, a great remake of Road Rash was released and we got ultra realistic Nascar Racing. Cyclemania might look unpolished in comparison to these titles, but we must keep in mind these titles were done with much higher budgets with teams three or four times as big as the size of Compro team. Bottom line is, Compro games made great use of FMV technology and later tried to build upon it in Soul Hunt. But that is a story for another time.
I would like to thank Ronnie Yaron and Amir Glinik for providing the answers regarding the production of the game.