Viper Racing: The Original Soft Body Crash Simulator

Viper Racing Bemidji.png
When first burst onto the simulator scene, it was barely more than a physics demo. The title has come a long way since, adding countless scenarios, vehicles and races, all while staying true to its highly-accurate damage model. It is not the first sim to make use of a softbody damage model, however - older sim racers might remember 1998's Viper Racing.

Grand Prix 2 or Grand Prix Legends tends to be remembered as "ahead of their time" considering its 1996 and 1998 releases, and Viper Racing deserves that label as well. Celebrating its 25th anniversary later this year, the title was developed by MGI Racing (now Monster Games, who have most recently created World of Outlaws: Dirt Racing, SRX: The Game and four iterations of the NASCAR Heat series) and published by Sierra on PC.

Viper Racing was officially licensed by Dodge, and the Viper GTS was the only car available - not counting the mostly for-fun bonus vehicles, which included a plane for some reason. Instead of going the route of a more approachable title promoting the Viper, MGI opted for a detailed simulation, including car setups, telemetry available in replays, and an advanced damage model.

Viper Racing Damage Crash Deformation.png

The effect of crashes in Viper Racing could be seen immediately: Cars would deform according to where they hit something - or were hit.

Squishy Collisions​

The latter meant that every contact with a competitor's car, wall or other object would deform the car's body, which did not have any implications on its handling - it was possible to break its suspension, though, and that did make the Viper unpredictable or even undrivable, depending on the severity of the damage. In some instances, even very light hits could break an axle, meaning bumping into the opposition or walls were no viable racing tactics.

Piling up the damage could result in an unrecognizable car, for example if it rolled down a cliff - which was absolutely a possibility on some of the game's tracks, of which there were eight. The locations took players to oval circuits in stadium environments, countryside road circuits or even street circuits passing by high-rise buildings with all sorts of objects to hit lining the track.

The core of Viper Racing was its career mode, in which players competed on a championship ladder. Win one, and you would get promoted to the next. Different finishing positions earned different amounts of prize money, which could be used to upgrade your Viper - and that was absolutely necessary.

Viper Racing Front Suspension Camera.png

Viper Racing used a realistic approach for its driving physics, which can be seen in the front suspension camera while racing and felt when a little too much throttle caused an unrecoverable slide.

Upgrade Your Car (So You Can Stay On Track)​

As the game used a simulation approach, it makes it absolutely clear that you are driving a V10-powered sports car monster, meaning its handling at speed without any upgrades is extremely tricky - some slides just seemed unrecoverable no matter what, and for most players, it would take quite a while until they could advance to the next championship. Handling upgrades were absolutely essential to get the Viper under control.

The further players progressed, the more tuning options they would unlock, meaning that they eventually could create setups for each track, adjusting suspension, drivetrain, and aero parameters to their liking. Their career Viper would resemble a racing car rather than a street-legal vehicle in the end.

Viper Racing Car Setup Menu.png

For 1998, the car setup options in Viper Racing were rather in-depth, further highlighting the simulation approach of the title.

Customization did not end under the hood, however: The game came with a livery editor that let players choose different templates in colors of their choice. They could draw freely on those templates and add decals and numbers to make their Viper uniquely their own. The editor was seamlessly integrated into the game as well, which was not a given but a welcome addition with its ease of use.

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Choose a template and make it your own: The livery editor in Viper Racing was easy to use and seamlessly integrated into the game.

Two Words: Horn Ball.​

Despite Viper Racing focusing on simulation aspects, it did not forget to be silly - it was the 1990s, after all. This means that there are a few cheats - called "hacks" in the options menu - available that did not necessarily contribute to better racing, but were good fun. The most chaotic one was the horn ball - honking your horn would shoot a solid ball out of the front of your Viper, which could be used to seriously damage the other cars on track. Unfair? Yes, but also terrific fun.

Other "hacks" included "Pave the World", which would change the surface physics of the entire map to those of tarmac, making exploring much easier as the Viper could hardly be controlled on grass, or the "Wheelie" key - which flipped the car wildly into the air. With enough patience, this could eventually result in a Viper being squished into a compact metal heap with wheels sticking out here and there. Good times - and very much worth revisiting for a little bit of sim-based chaos.

Your Thoughts​

What are your memories of Viper Racing? How long did it take you to beat the AI in career mode? And how many opponents have you honked into oblivion using the horn ball? Let us know in the comments below!
About author
Yannik Haustein
Lifelong motorsport enthusiast and sim racing aficionado, walking racing history encyclopedia.

Sim racing editor, streamer and one half of the SimRacing Buddies podcast (warning, German!).

Heel & Toe Gang 4 life :D


I crashed it everywhere i could instead of racing it. The splash sound when you send it into a pond was wierd, like someone made a vocal splash sound.
I liked that game quite a lot. I used to play with the cheatcode that made you able to shoot a wrecking ball when pushing the horn button, it was so funny seeing all those cars anihilated while you had to be so carefull to not being crashed by the bouncing ball that yourself had shooted. And the physics of viper racing were not far from the state of the art of the era. So sad that after 25 years I'm still waiting for a simulator with soft body damage (and no, in my book beamng isn't a racing simulator).
I still have my CD copy. It sits upon the wall in my hall-of-fame of driving games. Does it work on a modern PC?
Spent countless hours on this game when I was a kid, it also had great graphics for the times
Oh man, the number of days spent turning my car into a ball...

Anyone remember the McLaren F1 in it? Or the plane? They were downright impossible. But so much fun to try
I never got the cheat codes! But boy does that horn ball look like fun judging by that video. That feature should be DLC in just about every sim!

Instead of DRS, give me one horn ball per every ten laps. Either I can drop it for the car behind to hit, or take out (or attempt...) the car ahead!
I remember playing it! The base setup was undriveable, but then you could improve it so much... it was lots of fun!
I totally missunderstood and underestimated that game on its time. I was into the serious GP2, indycar racing sims, or into the insane and beautiful Screamer arcade games (and into Doom and MSFS). For me it was a single car racing game in too wide unrealiztic ugly tracks, with boring behaviour. It looked a bit like arcade but without the fun.and flashy aspects, with a simulation driving style. I wasn't aware about the damage model. It looked bad, it wasn't racing on real tracks, at first sight it looked mike a better looking NFS with only one car (and I didn't lkke the first NFS game).

I was wrong aboit the gameplay (it's still ugly), that's too late :D
Interesting information though.
I absolutely love it. So much that i still play it. It's also an AMAZING suspension setup teaching tool.

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Yannik Haustein
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