Welcome STUN Runner
S.T.U.N Runner represents my ultimate goal in arcade collecting. I have been trying to buy one of these for several years now. I was 12 when I first played this game at Chuck E. Cheese a few months after its 1989 release. The dedicated cabinet that all S.T.U.N Runners came in is a big red futuristic motorcycle that you sit down on. I would grab the steering yoke and be blasted off into a world of 3-D racing.
This game built on technology that Atari games had already used in their Hard Drivin’ series of games. But this time Atari got it right. S.T.U.N Runner had liquid smooth polygonal graphics, voice samples, and many challenging levels (all powered by a plethora of processors including one each of TMS34010, ADSP2100, 68010, 6502, and YM-2151 chips).
I sat down and plunked in my tokens. I was greeted with a female voice welcoming me to the game. My hovercar sat at the center of the Sub-Terrranean Underground Network track. When the game began, I quickly realized that these cars accelerated all by themselves. The controls felt just like I was really driving a car through these three dimensional tunnels. The clock ticked down, and I barely made it across the finish line. Then the second level began. Mechanical arms added armor and a gun to my hovercar. Now I could shoot all of those little square cars that I had to avoid before. (Except of course for the black ones, "Armored drones cannot be destroyed" the game told me when I first encountered one).
Ever since I got into arcade collecting I have wanted my own S.T.U.N Runner machine. But this is far from an easy task. First of all, there simply were not that many of these games produced. They were big, requiring special placement in most arcades, but not so large that they fit in easily with the bigger cockpit style driving games. Secondly, many of these games have been cut into two pieces for easy movement and storage (TRON Environmental units often suffered the same fate). I wouldn't even want one that had been cut up. Finally, the sound boards in these games would often fail. Some arcade owners would strip these games for usable parts, and simply trash the cabinet when that happened. Instead of paying the high price for a non-standard part from Atari to fix an aging game. The closest I have come to owning one of these, is losing a $350 bid for one with a bad monitor (I had a spare in my garage anyway).
The Ultimate Challenge
Soon the boost pads came into the gaming equation. Yellow patches of the track that would send your hovercar off at incredible speeds. The best level in the game was composed almost entirely of these boost pads. It simply wasn't possible to play that level without having a good time. Hitting enough of these pads would give you the special weapon. A shock wave that would go down the track killing everything in its path. Not that it was very useful, this game was all about speed, shooting enemies was only a diversion towards your true goal of finishing the final race!
Sadly MAME does not properly emulate this game. Well it does in a way. But to run full speed it requires more computing horsepower than you can buy off the shelf. Even if I had the dual P-3 1 GHZ it requires, I would still be missing something. The controls. The joystick and trackball combination that I have on my MAME cabinet simply do not compare to the feeling of sitting down on one of these beasts and taking the steering yoke in both hands. There were official ports to several of Atari's systems (the Atari Lynx, ST, Etc), but they were not the same. But I still have a spot reserved in my game room, for the S.T.U.N Runner that I will one day own.
Update June 15, 2002
Thank goodness for Moore's Law. S.T.U.N. Runner will run at full speed on an Athlon 1200 now with some tweaking. But sadly the controls are still lacking.
Update July 20, 2004
There is now a complete and fully working S.T.U.N. Runner gracing my living room.