There is nothing like unleashing your inner speed demon while playing your favorite racing game. Choosing your favorite car and beating out the competition leaves you in a thrill that other games can’t match. To all of you who enjoy the excitement of racing games, do you really know the humble beginning of this great genre?
Racing games have evolved throughout the decades. In 1973, the very first racing game was born: the Atari’s Space Race, where two players took control of spaceships in an attempt to be the first to cross the screen. The same year, the developer Taito released a similar game called Astro Race. Their entry to this market proved to be important the following year. Speed Race, released in 1974, brought the gameplay of space race down to earth. For the first time, it used scrolling graphics, presented an overhead view of a racetrack and a steering wheel was used to control the sprite of the car. This was a giant leap forward from the volume knob controls of previous games. Over the remaining years of the decade, many racing games came out, featuring not only cars but also motorcycles.
In 1980 Namco released Rally-X, the first game to feature background music which became an essential part of games. In 1982, the most influential racing game of all time was released: Pole Position, a single player game featuring Formula 1 racing cars, where a player played against seven other computer-controlled cars on Japan’s Fuji Speedway.
In 1987 Namco released the successor of Pole Position: Final Lap. It was the first game to allow up to eight human players playing together, linking four two-player sit-down cabinets. Players could choose from a selection of F1 cars, like McLaren’s and Lotus’s, and circuits, with the Suzuki Circuit being the main track and reproduced as the original. In single player mode, players’ score was based on how far they drove or until the time ran out or the four laps were completed.
In the early 90s, games continued to spread out on the spectrum of realistic to arcade. Nintendo entered into the market with two iconic titles. First, F-Zero, released in 1990, featuring a science fiction inspired aesthetic and futuristic vehicles.
In 1992’s Super Mario Kart took aspects of racing and combined them with vehicular combat with Mario-style weapons. Above all, the most important part of the nineties for racing games was the birth of long running franchises like Need For Speed, Midway’s Cruis’n series, and Sony’s Gran Turismo.
Racing games have become an important part of our culture. Before the genre was even born, many games started contributing in the development of what it has become. Since the release of Pole Position, the most influential game of all time, more than 800 racing games have been released. Nowadays, when you play racing games the computer is a lot smarter, just mimicking human intelligence to provide really immersive experiences. Both technology and video games have come a long way since the days of Pole Position and Atari and one can only question what exciting improvements are ahead of us. In the meantime, we will keep exploring the following decades of the genre over the next weeks.