Dreadnaut and five years of ZakStunts

I came to these shores for the bits and the bytes first. I landed on the wiki, then on the forum, but a week later I was there, at the bottom of the scoreboard. I just had to race.

In a game far, far away...

Stunts was a fundamental game of my teenage years. I had a 486 PC at the time, and it run like butter. Even better, it kept running just as smoothly through the years, while new games, with fancier graphics and higher requirements would stutter and crawl. And I had friends who would enjoy spending time racing each other, building and swapping tracks, to make the game always exciting and new.

Then life went on and friends went different ways. Computer became faster and games advanced in step, and I left Stunts behind. It wasn't until a decade later, with DosBox well established, that it would pop up on my radar again. At the time Stunts was 20 years old, and I ended up researching a bit on it, and writing a post on a friend's blog —sorry, it's in Italian.

My old floppies still around, I would race a lap now and then, on those rainy Scottish evenings, and peek at file formats with a binary editor: the teenager had gone full-nerd long ago. And searching for information on those files I ended up on a website, then another, and then... ZakStunts. Surprisingly enough, the most active website about Stunts was a gem hidden on the n-th Google page!

Stunts strikes back

I never though I was really good at racing in Stunts. And in fact I was not, as I discovered in my first laps on ZCT135. Those times with the Indy? It made no sense, people could not drive that fast! It was only at the end of October, after downloading the winning replays, that I realised how far people had taken the game.

The next track, ZCT136, felt even more difficult. Dual-way switching, what's that? Helicopter what? And CTG in the shoutbox, writing prophecies like these:

The winner will reach powergear at the beginning of the banked road.

I took me days of hard work to reach powergear on that banked road and get a decent lap on the track. The Acura flying in all directions, the bloody helicopter trick happening in all the wrong places, penalty time out of nowhere. That's when I discovered that this game could mean great frustration, great challenge, and great satisfaction.

In twenty years of my life I had barely scratched the surface of Stunts. In the early 00's I had stopped playing just as the Internet was bringing players together, and I had missed the whole "Golden Age" thing. But when I came around in 2012, ZakStunts was still going strong. And really, really fast.

The forum and the shoutbox buzzed with passion and a friendly attitude. Again I had friends that wanted to play Stunts, but this time from all sorts of different places and backgrounds. And there was work to do with them.

The Yellow Fleas

As I joined ZakStunts, the 2012 season was almost complete, with Duplode leading the scoreboard. But with the new year and season, I suddenly found myself in a team! Joining Friker and Renato Biker as the Yellow Fleas, I discovered yet another piece of Stunts racing: discussing cars and tricks, sharing replays, planning race strategies.

I remember Zak saying "Teams are great", and indeed they are. They add another layer of interesting moving parts to the championship, and for beginners are a magical way to learn basic skills and fancy tricks. But they also connect you with other racers beyond the banter of the shoutbox. I was very, very lucky to join two great racers, and later even more by racing for MeganiuM. But mainly, I got to know great people in faraway countries, with whom I can always exchange emails and a laugh.

I was always a bit behind —so many things to learn— but the Fleas have a few great seasons in the annals. Motivation and involvement fluctuate (others have written a lot about this already) and I might be racing alone this year. But next season, who knows! After all, my main contribution to the team as always been persistence :-)

We shape ZakStunts, then Zakstunts shapes us

I work with code, it's my tools and my playground. And ZakStunts, behind the scenes, is made of a lot of code: it didn't take long before I asked Zak for permission to put my hands on it. I started with the mobile pages, then I slowly tweaked and moved and updated this and that chunk.

And with great feedback from everyone, I helped Zak change how the competition works, and made it hopefully more enjoyable to take part in, and easier to run, month after month.

The most controversial change has probably been the introduction of public replays. It came from my experience when I started racing and I knew nothing about flying out sideways from corkscrews, and I thought it would be a great improvement for newbies. Was it a good idea, or did it drive away racers?

Nowadays real life seems to ask more of Zak's attention than it used to, and my improvements do not generate infinite motivation. The challenge ahead will be to share as many tasks as possible and lighten his load. Cas and Leo are ready as well, and I'm confident we'll see more Zak around, not less!

New and old

Five years after my first replays, I finally won a ZakStunts race: ZCT194. I won because Renato taught me that the Indy is a spinning devil, and Friker pushed me to find cleaner lines and reduce the skidding, and Alan and AbuRaf convinced me to always give another try and start with a new replay.

To be honest, my name looks out of place at the top of the scoreboard. The impostor syndrome kicks in: not only it was a track of my own design, but it was a race without Rotoi, without Renato or Friker, without Akoss Poo or Zak. And yes, without CTG —I would have had no chance otherwise.

Yet I had a great time fighting for half-seconds with FinRok, and fearing a last-moment unbeatable lap from Duplode or Marco. The line-up looks so different that I now feel old-school, and yet the game is still live, still challenging. And if the story of Cas and Leo teach us anything, is that ZakStunts is always there if one wants to race and have a good time with a remarkable community.

To the next five years

I wanted to write this down to put in words what ZakStunts has been for me. Sort of marking a checkpoint, and one day being able to look back at it. And I cannot thank Zak enough for his effort and time, and everyone else who spends time around the competition, for carving this great little piece of Internet.

Enough words now! I have a lap to restart and other races to win. See you on the scoreboard.

— dreadnaut

Submitted by dreadnaut on 2017-10-27.