"Auto Age: Standoff" Salutes Classic Car Combat

ABOVE: Our love letter to the original "Car Wars" game box art.

2016 kicks off development year two of "Auto Age: Standoff," the latest original title from Phantom Compass. It's a car combat game brimming with 1980s animation style. As the studio founder and the game's director, I feel like I should warn you: I'm also a car combat fan. 

I Blame Car Wars

I was introduced to the car combat genre by my school friends in 1981, a time when I had recently become an avid Dungeons & Dragons role-player.  "Car Wars" by Steve Jackson Games was the first tabletop wargame I'd ever played, and possibly the first car combat game ever produced. I wasn't particularly interested in cars on their own, nor in military games on their own, but the fusion of sci-fi autos and weaponry really struck a chord.

Car creation was probably a close second to actual game play in terms of Car Wars fun-factor, engaging several key areas of my 12-year-old brain. With a fixed amount of in-game cash, a player needed to choose a vehicle chassis and outfit it from the ground up, weighing the attributes of one component against another. This "building" aspect to Car Wars is common in today's videogames but was all done with paper, pencils and calculators back then. If you were particularly handy with drawing (as I was), you'd go an extra step and sketch a picture of the fully-assembled vhicle--maybe even create a full color, half-inch by one-inch cardboard token representing your car in game play.

The culture around Car Wars was pretty amazing for the time. As major expansions were added over the years, an official quarterly magazine was published by Steve Jackson Games. "Autoduel Quarterly" sat at the intersection of in-game fiction and out-of-game rules, offering new vehicles, weapons, equipment, stories from the Car Wars universe, and news of fan tournaments. In 1985, back when I owned an Amiga desktop computer, I managed to acquire a bootleg copy of "Autoduel," the first Car Wars videogame. Loved it, even though the combat part was pretty weak.

In the later half of the 1980s, my interest in Car Wars was buried under more pressing matters such as surviving high-school and making ends meet during my first and only year at art college. My love for car combat games found other avenues, such as a brief flirtation with "Dark Future" published by Games Workshop, or with any of the videogames produced in the 1990s, including the "Twisted Metal" and "Interstate '76" series.


Fast-forward about 20 years. I founded Phantom Compass and co-created the studio's first major game "Rollers of the Realm" (combining pinball and role-playing games). In 2013, I'd heard that the Interstate '76 franchise might be up for a reboot, and prepared a pitch for an update to the series. I ended up pitching to local (Canadian) funders instead, winning an investment in "Auto Age: Standoff."

Auto Age: Standoff is deeply inspired by Car Wars and takes cues from our favorite car combat videogames. We're aiming for a game that's easy to pick up and play, but has lots of depth in terms of customization, strategy and tactics. We wrap everything in the style of 1980s action cartoons--a salute to the colorful decade that birthed the car combat game genre.

How I Learned to Drive Offensively

  • Car Wars (1980 tabletop game by Steve Jackson Games) & expansions
  • Spy Hunter (1983 arcade game by Bally Midway)
  • Autoduel (1985 computer game by Origin Systems)
  • Roadwar 2000 (1986 computer game by Strategic Simulations / Westwood Studios)
  • RoadBlasters (1987 arcade game by Atari Games)
  • Dark Future (1988 tabletop game by Games Workshop)
  • Twisted Metal (1995 console game published by Sony)
  • Interstate '76 (1997 computer game by Activision)
  • Carmageddon (1997 computer game by Stainless Games / Square Enix Europe)