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Racing Into The Future...

January 30, 2008

By Andy Barratt - G4 Canada

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Following on from my last column exalting the virtues of Atari's Sprint series, I decided to chronicle some of the best  80s racing games ever.


Racing Into The Future: Out RunOut Run (Sega, Arcade 1986)

Out Run was a highway rather than track racer, placing you (and your girlfriend) in that most ostentatious of 80s super-cars, the Ferarri Testa Rossa, but a number of revolutionary features set Out Run apart from the rest of the field. First of all, from a technical point of view, whilst it wasn't true 3D - using the scaling of 2D objects to simulate a three dimensional experience - it went one better than every other racer that was using the same technique by introducing vertical scrolling to give the impression of rolling highway hills. The opening stage, set not on a traditional race track but on what could've been a Californian beach-side highway, swept up and down and left and right in a way that had never been seen before in any arcade and provided a brand new element of realism.

Before the lights turned from red to green, you could tune the in-car sound system to one of three soundtracks – an extra layer of presentation that as crazy as it seems for an arcade racer in its purest form (ie not realistic at all) brought an element of realism to the proceedings. But the decision making didn't stop there, for at the end of each stage, there was a fork in the road. And regardless of whether you turned left or right, there'd be another fork at the end of the following stage too – providing over a dozen different stages through a variety of locations. These neat little touches almost guaranteed repeated plays through different routes, and sealed Out Run's fate as one of the most popular racing titles ever.


Racing Into The Future: EnduroEnduro Racer (Sega, Arcade 1986)

Taking Out Run's vertical scrolling graphics engine (originally employed in the shooter Space Harrier, and later to amazing effect in fighter plane action hit After Burner) one step further was Sega's Enduro Racer, the only motorbike game to make this list. Like most big arcade hits, Enduro was ported to many home systems but it's perhaps strange considering the whole point of the game was its cabinet – requiring the player to straddle the shell of a motorcross bike and control the action on screen with its handlebars. Where the vertical scrolling really came into effect was when the gameplay required the player to leap over headrows, logs and various other perils by leaning and pulling back on the handlebars to pull a wheelie. It seems fairly primitive now but Enduro Racer definitely set the precedents for all the biking arcade games that followed.


Racing Into The Future: Pit Stop 2Pitstop II (Epyx, Commodore 64 1984)

The C64 was crying out for a decent Pole Position clone, and Epyx's original Pitstop came close, but the real gem was its sequel. Again, revolutionary for the time, Pitstop II provided the first real split screen racer video gaming had ever seen, allowing two people to race one another but giving each player their own unique vantage of the track ahead.  And as the series' name suggests, pitstops were required for replacing damaged tires and replenishing a depleted fuel tank – providing an extra dimension to player vs player racing, again a brand new development in the genre and an evolutionary step away from the straight up action original behind-the-car racer Pole Position.


Racing Into The Future: RevsRevs (Acornsoft, BBC Micro 1984)

First of all, you might be wondering what the hell a BBC Micro is? Well as the name suggests, it was a UK based home computer, designed for a computer literacy project the British Broadcasting Corporation ran in the early 80s. And as it had a heavy bent on education, practically every high school in Britain was chock full of the things. But they weren't just for learning on, a handful of games were actually released for the Beeb - two of the most influential games ever in fact – one of which was Revs.

Revs was the first true racing simulation, set in the cockpit of a Formula 3 race car, and featured full 3D polygon graphics, which meant you could point the nose of your vehicle in any direction you wanted to, and the environment would be rendered exactly as it ought to be. Revs however was no arcade racer, and required the player to really respect the rules of the sport and truly paved the way for it's author Geoff Crammond's later creations such as Formula One Grand Prix.

The other super influential game by the way, was Elite. But I'll save that for another column.

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