A delve into the history of racing games, from humble arcade machines through to the bafflingly realistic console gaming of today

There is a noticeable difference in opinion of driving/racing games, in that you either love them or you find them incredibly boring. Disappointingly I was originally party to the first statement, but this gradually changed, ensuring that it quickly moved on to the second and I find myself somewhat disenfranchised with the automotive games on offer today.

When they first came around, racing games were a very basic affair of white on black pixels but these would gradually evolve through to drawn models, to polygonal structures, up to intensely realistic graphics that even resemble real life Just look at these side-by-shots and guess which ones are which…




From Project Gotham Racing 4 – Courtesy of GameTrailers Forums


So, just how did we arrive at this point? Developers didn’t just suddenly create Mario Kart or Gran Turismo 5 without the inspiration gained from earlier games, but exactly where did this come from?

Travel back to 1973 and to an (at the time) obscure company called Taito who changed their business model from providing jukebox lease to creating video games, the first ever of which was ‘Astro Race’. Annoyingly, I haven’t been able to find a great deal of information about this game, save for a few photos of the machine cabinet and some paperwork, but really it doesn’t reveal anything about the game. If you have any photos, footage or descriptions of the game, then please feel free to comment so I can find out more!




Courtesy of Arcade-Museum.com


The next year, Taito would then release their more popular and successful game, Speed Race, which would form a basic foundation of racing to inspire many others. Incorporating collision detection, scrolling graphics and a driving interface (arcade steering wheel, pedal and gearstick), this was widely considered to be the first ‘arcade driving game’.

Atari and Nintendo quickly followed track releasing their variances of the formula with overhead views and a horse racing sim game, respectively. Sega then created Moto-Cross in 1976, which introduced the third-person perspective viewpoint as well as recognisable haptic vibration feedback (so all you fans of Uncharted have this game to thank!). The same year, Atari released Night Driver, a game that remains popular today – a video of the gameplay can be seen below (bear in mind, that nice-looking car graphic is actually just a plastic insert laid under the screen):

http://www.youtube.com/user/river9999uk

Four years later, more improvements arrived in Namco’s Rally-X, with features such as scrolling along both axes, a basic version of radar so that you could determine your position and background music. In 1981, Sega released Turbo, which was the first racing game to feature third-person rear-view perspective as well as full-colour graphics.

But it wan’t until the next year (1982) that things would change in a pivotal improvement, as Namco released Pole Position to Huge success and high popularity. Pole Position perfected the perspective view that is a staple of driving games now and brought in other advancements such as AI-controlled opponents, a time trial qualifying lap and collisions that would make your cars explode. In 1984, Nintendo would release Excitebike, which allowed for excellent customisation of tracks, and even though it was not a driving game in the same vein as the aforementioned examples, it helped properly introduce me to the genre.

Sega then released motorbike racing game, Hang On, which proved to be a huge success, but it was not until 1986 that they produced their greatest (imo) example of the genre – OutRun – a highly-beloved game that gamers and critics alike still appreciate for it’s advanced technology and impressive gamplay.

Speed forward to 1992 (when I can actually remember playing games) and a lot more diversity has appeared on the market – on the realistic side we have Virtua Racing, a 3D game that used vivid and well-rendered graphics that outshone other arcade machines at the time. However this also was the year that the public were introduced to the Mario Kart series, perfecting the competitive cartoonish formula. Following this, a war of polygonal games began – often placing graphics and immersion beyond the actual gameplay.

It was in 1997 that the still-popular series of Gran Turismo began on the Playsation, closely followed by other greats such as Midtown Madness and Colin McRae Rally, all of which featured realised car models of famous brands, such as Mazda. This marked the beginning of a slew of highly visually realised driving games – however there were complaints at the time that these games had little soul. I had spent some time trying to get into these simulation games, but there was really only one driving game that I could still enjoy…

http://www.youtube.com/user/outrun79#p/u/0/vRXrwott9SU

Back in 1996, Reflections had released Destruction Derby 2 for the Playstation and I fell back in love with driving – hours were spent trying to perfect a ramp jump or blow up an opponent whilst listening to Green Day, Weezer and Smashing Pumpkins. But, eventually I got bored with this and I lost all interest in the genre. That was until…

Burnout… I am only talking about Burnout 2, Takedown and Revenge as I have yet to play any others (well, except Paradise but that was just terrible) but it’s a fantastic sensation that smashing into the side of the lead car and watching him veer into a wall and crash in slow motion. For me this was the ultimate driving experience – it was a nice mixture of arcade competition and driving realism. It’s just a shame that I’ve yet to find a game that perfected the formula so well.

So in this world of Forza, Gran Turismo and Need For Speed, we can safely say that in many ways we have travelled a long way, but really, Night Driver, Speed Race and Speed Freak nailed it back in the 1970s. Add some HD textures, busier environments and smoother scrolling and you’re pretty much at the modern games of today.




Night Driver vs Gran Turismo 5
Also, if you want to try out a lush-looking update of these games, have a look at Drivey.com (and for the full retro experience, press 1, F3, and F5)

If you know of any other games I should be trying out or just want to add some info, please feel free to comment my site!

Well I’m off for now, hope that was a good read :)

Ava Brown x

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