Five years of Stressed

read the code, code yourself, you can create new car shapes modifying any of the .p3s or .pvs files and you can add your own gif animation in any of the opp1 2 3 4 5 6 win lose and pre files. you can also modify the games musics in the .kms files...

but if you can do that you are the stunts messiah.

Alain, May 2005

Five years ago, a Norwegian newbie called dstien posted to a long inactive thread containing speculation on the intricacies of Stunts data files.1 The message presented a pioneering, consistent, interpretation of the structure of the simplest kind of data container in Stunts, the .RES files. While these initial endeavours attracted a few curious looks, jaws would truly drop to the floor a few days later, when dstien published the first version of stunpack, an utility which could uncompress any of the data files in Stunts, paired with a picture of the starting line truck taking a jump at a bridge ramp. From that point, deep modding of Stunts stopped being a mirage to become something tangible.

It was truly a revelation.

Stunts hacking, naturally, long predates that seismic shift, being a craft nearly as old as the game itself. It dates back to the times when every man and his dog would write a terrain editor due to generalized ignorance of the undocumented SHIFT-F1 shortcut in the in-game track editor.2 By the late nineties, there already were crucial tools such as Mark Nailwood's Track Blaster and Car Blaster and the original RPLINFO by Luke Loehrer. All these applications were backed by a sizeable amount of information about the mysteries of Stunts' data formats, or at least about the formats which were relatively transparent such as those of tracks, replays and car performance parameters. The major materialization of the knowledge amassed up to that point era is Robert Riebisch's Stunts FAQ.3

The early noughties were a time of profound changes to the Stunts world. As ZakStunts replaced Kalpen as the focus of online racing, a new generation of racers brought both competition and community life to unthinkable heights. The Golden Generation, however, lacked one thing: programmers. There was no one among the new faces having both skills and motivation to advance the understanding of Stunts' internals. Arguably the most obvious possibility such lack of progress hampered was the creation and modification of cars. While Car Blaster was a well known tool already, racers were throroughly bored with all the cheat cars with spaceship handling, created by an earlier generation of modders, and without the means to make cars look distinctive there was little incentive to go down the other way and create believable, interesting new vehicles. Although there were a few other attempts, Alan Rotoi's Melange remained as a lone, glorious monument to a lost art.

The work of dstien was a game changer for a community holding only faint hopes. Within ten days of stunpack's release the first new colour set for a Stunts car was published; and within a month stressed - short for STunts RESource EDitor - had begun to grow around stunpack. Thanks to stressed, modding of the game graphics became less of an esoteric craft, and thus racers started to try their hands at customization. Car creation, unsurprisingly, was the early focus of activity. New projects were started and older ones, restarted; Zapper came back to resume work on his "Tuned for Real" series started on the early days of ZakStunts, and newcomers joined attracted by the emerging tools. Zak McKracken started a car creation contest to select new vehicles for ZakStunts. Three cars were selected for the 2009 season: cody's Ford Ranger, Mark L. Rivers' Speedgate and my own Nissan Skyline. As of 2013, all three of them were replaced; the premier Stunts competition now features five custom cars picked from an ever growing set of novel creations.4

New cars are not the only feat of Stunts hackers in the current era. Partly building on dstien's work on decompression, llm and clvn started restunts, a project whose far-reaching implications are in inverse proportion to the minute amounts of publicity it has received thus far. The instrumentation elaborated by the project granted a level of knowledge about Stunts' inner workings which was unimaginable only a few years ago, and opens the doors for a reimplementation of the game in a modern computing environment. There is a lot of work to do in that front, but it is not a pipe dream any more.

It has been a joy to see and play with all these innovations over the last five years. As with everything to do with Stunts, motivation for modding and activity of hackers ebbs and flows over time. Indeed, there were times when, after pinning high hopes on the new tools, I feared no one would come and take advantage of them... only for something stunning to come out of nowhere - say, CTG's planes zooming past football fields.5 Eventually, I saw the light and stopped worrying. Consider, for instance, that dstien announced his first discoveries in a thread which was nearly four years old. The restunts project, quietly started in early 2009, has just started to give its first visible fruits. Alan Rotoi's Melange waited ten years for a custom body. And, above all, the fact that we are racing in a game which has just turned-twenty two. These time spans tell of more than just laziness or stubbornness. Time may be a ferocious, perennial enemy on the race tracks; and yet we have somehow figured out how to live in harmony with it. Stunts racers are people of the long now, having carved a quaint little refuge where, safe from the shifting sands of fashion, they can build for those who will come.

Duplode, 2013

Thanks to dstien, clvn and llm for enabling many moments of wide-eyed wonder over the last five years. This article is dedicated to the original Stunts hacker, Kevin Pickell.

  1. The notorious "Dissecting" thread. Here is dstien's very first post in it

  2. An amusing account of those times was given by the great Mark Nailwood when interviewed by Alain's Stunts R' Us

  3. A good panorama of the state of the art by then is provided by a tour of Luke's site. Among several other things, it also hosts the aforementioned FAQ. 

  4. You can find the subset of custom cars which are allowed in ZakStunts in the downloads area of this site. Southern Cross maintains an inventory of all publicly released custom cars from the modern era. 

  5. Treat yourself to this brilliant demo. We are anxiously waiting for the final release, CTG :) 

Submitted by Duplode on 2013-08-07.