BAPOM - What's the Big Idea?
About the Project

"What is BAPOM, and How Can It Make Me More Attractive To The Opposite Sex?"

BAPOM is John Bradley's obsessive-compulsive art project, revolving around the Grand Prix Legends racing simulator. GPL, as it's known to its fans, is a PC game from the now-defunct Papyrus Racing Games that was released in 1998. It allowed the player to relive the 1967 Formula One season, driving wildly-overpowered cars on beautiful historic racetracks, most notably the legendary 14.2 mile, 174-turn Nürburgring.

The game was ahead of its time, boasting a sophisticated, and notoriously hard-to-drive physics model. As such, it was not exactly a huge commercial success, but it captured the imagination of many. Racing against the heroes of the past, in truly exciting beasts, on tracks that no longer exist as such — it was a dream come true for a certain segment of the sim-racing crowd.

A 'GPL Community' of like-minded folks soon found itself on the Legends Central forum . The code was poked with, secrets were discovered, and in relatively short order some people were able to start making add-on tracks, cars, and all manner of improvements to the original game.

These days, more than ten years after its initial release, the game is still out there being enjoyed. There are over 500 tracks freely available for it, many of which are historic, long-gone tracks that appear in no other simulator. There are multiple seasons-worth of cars to choose from, and all manner of analysis tools, utilities,  and such. While the fanbase could be described as more selective than ever, there is no question that, to those willing to make the effort, GPL and its community of trackmakers, modelers, artists, historians, and even a few drivers provides a depth of experience unrivaled in the driving-sim realm.

"Yadda, yadda, yadda... Sure, GPL's Great and All, But I Was Asking About BAPOM"

The first GPL add-on tracks started appearing in early 2000, largely conversions of tracks from earlier Papyrus games. These new tracks came with placeholder images for the 'pages' that appear in the GPL user interface: art-less 'covers' with nothing but the name of the track on a solid black background, empty 'map pages', and so on.

They didn't match the look-and-feel of the 'real' tracks that came with the game, and that upset me. I'm a big User Interface guy. I've been doing UI work for over 20 years, starting with the Macintosh in 1984, and later moving on to X11, Windows, and Web design. To my mind, good UI design is a treat, to be encouraged... and bad UI cannot be tolerated!

My goal at the time was not to embark on an Ambitious Art Project. I had no training or interest in 'art' at the time. The goal was simply to replace a glaring 'wrongness' with something at least marginally competent.

Around that time, there was this guy named Don Hodgdon, who was a prolific poster over in the old newsgroup. Don had produced new covers for several of the add-on tracks, but hadn't addressed the 'map' issue. I contacted him with a proposal to join forces and put together a comprehensive collection of program sets for all the add-on tracks, one that would have a look-and-feel consistent with the original GPL tracks. I'd do the grunt-work of producing all the map pages, we'd use his covers where possible, and the two of us would take turns whipping up whatever additional covers were needed.

And so BAPOM (the "Big-Ass Pile Of Maps project") was born. You see, the maps were the 'new thing', as well as my baby, and I named the project... But in restrospect, it was a terrible acronym, as the maps quickly ceased to be the focus of the project, and arguably, never were. These days, BAPOM just stands for BAPOM, and that's that. The underlying acronym is deprecated.

"So, How'd That All Work Out For You Guys?"

BAPOM went live on August 13, 2000 with our initial release of 36 program sets.

As I recall, the reception among the GPL Community was lukewarm at best. And for good reason, really. Most of the original add-on tracks required ownership of previous Papyrus games, as well as the purchase of David Noonan's convertors. As such, relatively few people people even had the tracks our progsets were designed for... and thus no use for the progsets themselves.

And of course, looking back, our initial releases were mediocre, at best, and embarassing to look at in these Enlightened Times. Don's covers were just scans of real-life covers with replaced text. My covers were my own designs... they were also terrible. Early bumblings chock full of the tasteless excess of a First-Time Photoshop User. I cringe to think there was ever a time that I thought the "Bevel and Emboss" filter was 'cool'...

But we got better.

And of course, by "we", I really mean "I"... Don retired from the project long ago, way back in 2001, with Road67 (#58) as his final cover. Since then BAPOM has been a one-man operation.

"Fine. Great. Whatever. What the Hell Does BAPOM Actually Do?"

Our goal from day 1 has been to produce a single, comprehensive, consistent set of progsets for GPL. The look of the various map pages had to match the GPL originals. The covers had to be period-correct. If they claim to represent fictitious events in 1967, the covers have to look like something that could have (and would have) actually been done in 1967. No blatent Photoshop effects and obnoxious fully-saturated 'computer' colors. Many covers have been limited to a 2- or 3-color process to reflect the expense (and thus relative rarity) of full color printing in the '60s. With a few glaring exceptions from the early days, I think we largely attained our goal. And some of the covers actually work as standalone art pieces (in my opinion), which is just the cherry on top...

The end-goal itself hasn't changed, but the motivatiing factor has.

BAPOM was originally about filling a personal need, something I had to do for my own sanity. If anyone else liked it, cool. Basically, I couldn't stand looking at the non-conformist progsets, and needed to fix (ie, 'replace') them to make myself happy.

But it sort of snowballed from there. During our 2001-2002 "attention whore" phase, BAPOM was all about getting something acceptably neat out as quickly as possible after each new track release, often within 24 hours. Because my legions of adoring fans demanded as much. Or at least, that's what I told myself.

Later, the rate of new track releases slowed down. During the peak, there were new tracks coming out every 2-3 days, but by 2003 that had settled down to a more managable 1-2 weeks between releases. My standards got higher, and there was more time to work with, so inevitably my interests drifted more towards producing actual art of some sort. I started drawing covers at a higher resolution (843×1293) so that it would be possible to get nice page-sized prints, even though most of the niceness would be lost when the images were downsampled for use in the game. The cover art was now (in my mind) the actual product, the interesting bit... which was taken into GPL as a sort of grudging last step.

These days, the art itself is my only real interest. I rarely drive anymore, and the potential audience is much smaller, so the insatiable need to be Popular On The Internet is diminshed. Well, the desire is still there, but it's considerably harder to realize these days, so I got over it.

At this point, I'm pretty much exclusivly doing full-blown posters (3372×5172), because that's the end product I want to have. I no longer run the mental calculus of "is this track good enough to warrant a Serious Cover, or should I just bang something out moderately quickly." On many of the final progsets, I was doing 30-hour paintings for truly terrible 'alpha' tracks, because that's all that was left to do at that point. On some of them, I have the sneaking suspicion that I spent more time doing the stinking cover than the trackmaker spent building the entire track. Of course, that's not exactly fair - if I only had to produce art that was good enough for the in-game 281×431 resolution, well, I could bang the stuff out a lot quicker. But where's the sport in that?

Of course, GPL is still providing the impetus to the project. After doing 500+ progsets, one for every released track, I can't just quit and give up on the project. Any newly-released track will get 'covered', eventually. But the most important part now is that I get a usable poster out of the deal, something that I'd be willing to show to non-GPL people. And hopefully, use to get some actual paying jobs.

"I Don't Play GPL, Why Should I Care About BAPOM?"

Hard to say, maybe you shouldn't.

If you enjoy Motorsports Art, we have a collection of over 100 freely-available large format posters for your viewing pleasure. Yes, GPL was the motivation behind their creation, but I think you'll find that there's a wide variety of interesting art styles and designs to be found in there, and at least some of them stand on their own merits.

And if motorsports aren't your thing, the posters collection still serves as a showcase for one branch of my design work. Other examples of same can be found at Barking Dog Design Studios.

--John Bradley, 2/4/2009