Mark Nailwood. Stunts God. 6.6.2004
Mark Nailwood won the Kalpen competition several times... he was the finest hours of stunts competitions.
During the years and years, no other racer was more powerful and constant than you, during so long a time... Let's try to understand how you achieved that. In how much hours of driving did you commit for the final replay?
M: Most of my races went this way: First, I took a look on the track layout. TrackBlaster proved to be very useful for this, since it provides a display of the whole track at once. I also took a screenshot of this and printed the track with a graphics program. Then I took a first test driving to get some impressions. Now I divided the track into certain sections (usually 10 to 20) and listed them on a sheet of paper. Each section contained one difficult part (e.g. loop, corkscrew, curve, ...). Now I tried a more aggressive racing trying every section two or three times and I noted the driving times on my section list. Some days before the final time to send in a replay I tried to improve these section times as much as possible. Usually I could improve my total time by some seconds. Of course, this was only possible with replay handling (see next question). So I tried to improve the first section until I thought it was near perfect, went on to the second section, tried to improve it, and so on. I invested an average time of one hour for each section, so it always took me about 3 to 4 days with 6 hours of racing each day.
During a chat session JTK told us you had an incredible talent to send good and fast replays. Fdzierva, in an interview told us that he used the replay handling... Did you also use the "replay handling"? This allows to continue a crashed replay to achieve a better time...
M: Yes, I am using it. I think it makes no sense not to allow it in a contest because you cannot verify it. If there is only one cheating racer who is using it, no one will have a chance against him. On the other hand, if you are honest and try for many hours to achieve a perfect replay, maybe no one will believe you that it was done without replay-handling. I have heard about a project to check replay handling using an additional software for keylogging but don't know the current state of this.
When you see the nowadays replays, what do you think of them?
M: I didn't see many replays since my last contest races but I think that the skill level of the "extreme" racers is still getting higher and higher. When watching each others replays everyone learns some tricks and can use them in the next races. Of course, many racers drive only for fun and don't take the contests too seriously, but there are still some hardcore racers who want to get the maximum out of a track. By just seeing the replay I cannot say if I would have a chance against them because I would have to really race like I did during my contest races, with detailed track analysis.
Well, maybe it would be fun to try it again if I'd only find some free time ... Who were your favorite opponents and your worse?
M: "Worse" meaning "with the worst driving skills"? Then my worst opponent was Bernie Rubber. :-) But "worse" meaning "hardest to beat", then they were also my favourite ones, because it was a challenge to race against them. From the Kalpen contests I only remember the names of the best ones. In 1999, I took part in 9 of 12 races and just won the race in March. "RoyForever" was a very talented driver but he quit after the July race. In June another very good driver called "Inavoeg" appeared in the highscores and won several races. He achieved a better average score than myself, but at the end he didn't get enough total points. Another driver, "Death Man", got an even better average score, but he only took part in 5 races. So I certainly wasn't an outstanding driver in the 1999 competition, but I took part in enough races to get a total score high enough for winning the championship. In the championship of 2000 "Inavoeg" like me, took part in every race. He continued his excellent racing performance, and I won the championship by just 8 points. "Fdzierva" had a very good average score of 1.6, but he entered the contest in August and therefore didn't get enough total points. "CAP" missed the first race of 2000, but also proved to be a good and constant driver in the other races. He dominated the championship of 2001.
What was the reason for you to enjoy stunts contests: competition, fun, relations or something else?
M: When driving with friends no one could even come close to me, because they didn't invest so much time in training. So when I took part in the first races I just wanted to compare my driving with some international racers to see how good I really am. After some races I became more and more fascinated by the contests. It was fun finding out the best way of driving a track, and even if I didn't win a race I liked to compare my race with the replay of the other racers to see which parts they drove better and to learn some new tricks. I especially liked the "free" competitions where everything was allowed because it was fun finding out new shortcuts and tricks.
Was it very hard to be the best in the first generation stunts competitions?
M: Well, especially in the early races I sometimes had advantages because of my knowledge of certain driving tricks and shortcuts. But, of course, as time went by and there were more and more good racers in the contests, every hardcore racer learnt to use them - from each other. And I also improved my driving skills by watching the replays of other drivers.
How did you feel after your first Kalpen victory?
M: It's always a good feeling to win an international contest. 1999 was the first one for me. But I especially enjoyed the victory of the 2000 championship, because then I took part in every race like the most skilled opponent, "Inavoeg". It was a very hard competition.
Why did you retire from Stunts?
M: Just lack of time, not lack of interest. When driving contests I was so fascinated by squeezing out the maximum of a track and that really took a lot of time. OK, I could drive just for fun and send in the replays just after some driving, but maybe I would be frustrated knowing that I could achieve much better times. But I didn't retire completely, maybe there will be a comeback - I just don't know when.
We, at actual stunts competition, enjoy Stunts as the best racing game ever... Did you ever think of Stunts as more than just a computer game?
M: I don't know how to describe it as "more than a computer game" but I certainly think of it as a very special computer game. Of course all computer games today have graphics and sound effects that are so much more sophisticated than what "Stunts" is capable of, and you can tune so many settings of your car. Also the opponents are more intelligent than the virtual Stunts racers - even more intelligent than Skid Vicious. :-) So the fascination of Stunts must be caused by some other things. And because this game is still played by so many people 15 years after its release, there must be a very special and long-lasting source of fascination. I cannot really explain what it is, maybe it's just the simplicity of the game concept that attracts the people of the Stunts-community. With just some keystrokes you can create new tracks. I also think the extensions to the original game concept ("feature-bugs" like the hyper-gear, unintended ways to pass obstacles or new track effects using tracks created with external editors) add some fascination.
Your super tools for enhancing stunts, from 'The Nailwood Compagny' are real pieces of art, the demonstration of your love for the game... Most of the stunts racers use it now, and are simply unable to do the same thing you did :) How long did it take to program it?
M: After playing the game for several months I got the first idea of modifying the tracks in the summer of 1992. I thought it would be nice to create new terrains for the tracks. At this time I didn't know the hidden feature of activating the terrain editor with Shift-F1, and if I would have known it, the development of TrackBlaster and maybe also the other tools would not have taken place. Well, to be honest, the main motivation was not software hacking curiosity. Some months before I had met a very pretty girl, who was also studying computer science. She was also playing the game at this time and I thought by creating new landscapes for this game I could impress her with my software hacking skills. :-) OK, that didn't work so well, but I learned something about the terrain coding of the track files. Next, I started to write the first versions of TrackBlaster so that I could quickly modify the landscapes. I thought, maybe I could impress her with my programming skills. :-) OK, that also didn't work so well, but I had a graphical editor for landscapes now. As time went by, I improved this editor with a concurrent display of the track elements. Maybe the most time consuming part of the whole TB development were the graphical routines for these elements. I cannot even estimate the total development time for the program, but it must have been far above one hundred hours. The last version was released March 1997. By the way, the name "TrackBlaster" was inspired by the CreativeLabs "SoundBlaster" soundcards, which became popular that time. When I implemented the track editing feature I decided to label the Program as a "Pro" version, corresponding to the "SoundBlaster Pro" card, which was my first soundcard. Also, the "Pro"-label on the TB startup screen has a similar appearance like the label on the SoundBlaster box. The next tool was "ScoreBlaster". It was developed much quicker than TB, since it didn't have complex graphical routines and I could use the already existing TB framework. "ScoreViewer", a quickview-plugin for highscore-files in NortonCommander, was then directly derived from ScoreBlaster and was implemented in just a few days. One day a friend from university asked me "Your TrackBlaster is nice, but have you already tried to tune the cars?", so I began to look into the structure of the res-files. Because they have a binary format I decided to create a graphical editor for displaying and modifying the bytes. This display was also very useful for finding out significant bytes by graphically comparing two cars. The development time for this tool was somewhat higher than for ScoreViewer but significantly lower than for TrackBlaster. The decision to make the programs available to the Stunts community came soon after my first contacts with the internet when I found some homepages of Stunts fans. I love to hear the comments of the users, and of course, I always wanted to have the tools distributed as freeware. It really makes me proud hearing that they are still useful for the Stunts community, especially when TrackBlaster is used for creating special effects in contest tracks.
Which was the language used?
M: Borland Turbo Pascal 5 and the Add-On TurboVision (for menus). I learnt it while studying computer science the same time I got in contact with Stunts, so I also used it for programming the Stunts tools. Now I haven't used it for at least 8 years, so adding new features or even fixing some bugs in my tools would be somewhat difficult. Today I would use something more powerful like Visual C++.
Super fans, the hardcores, need some dashboard and car skin editor... possible?
M: If someone decodes the binary format, sure, but it would be much more complicated than decoding the track format. Also the editor would have to be more sophisticated. Some basic dashboard features (e.g. needle positions, digital speedometer, ...) are controlled by bytes of the car####.res-file, so CarBlaster can help finding out the relevant bytes with its function for comparing two cars.
Can we expect a comeback from you, as a racer or as a competition manager?
M: Not as a competition manager because I think it would be a very time-consuming job if you want to make an interesting competition and there are so many good Stunts-competitions on the net. For me, racing is more fun, but you also have to invest much time if you want to be among the top racers. Currently I don't know, but maybe I'll take part in future competitions that don't last too long. If a competition lasts a year maybe I would have to skip some races when I don't have enough time. Then I would easily get frustrated. :-)
Why didnt you take part to zakstunts competition, or any other yet?
M: Just lack of time. If I had some free hours each month without knowing what to do at home, then I would certainly be racing again.
Mark Nailwood-Alain ...