Ten cool racing game innovations
From realistic simulations to arcade-style driftfests to futuristic hover-racing to weapon-based vehicular combat, the genre is as broad as it is deep. (Courtesy of TMS)
But today's varied racing-game market is the result of a steady, 35-year progression in technology and game design. With the Indy 500 coming up, we've compiled a list of the 10 most important innovations that fueled that progression.
First seen in: "Space Race" (Atari, 1973)
Made popular by: Pretty much every other racing game since.
What good is a race without someone to leave in the dust? Atari understood this from the start, building a multiplayer mode into "Space Race," its second arcade release after the seminal "Pong." While not a traditional car-racing game, this space-based dash through asteroids and floating debris was made much better by the inclusion of a second joystick. In the arcades, multiplayer racing would eventually grow to include eight linked cabinets with Sega's "Daytona USA." At home, two- to four-player local racing was the norm until 1994's "NASCAR Racing," which included modem-based online play. The online trend would eventually become standard for most racing games, and lead to dozens of racers competing at once in games like "TrackMania."
Without it, we'd all...: Just be racing against the clock.
2. The Steering-Wheel Controller
First seen in: "Gran Trak 10" (Atari, 1974)
Made popular by: Every arcade racing game; home console peripheral makers
Taking inspiration from mechanical games like 1971's "Road Runner," Atari included a steering-wheel controller in 1974's "Gran Trak 10," widely considered the first traditional driving videogame. The wheel quickly became the standard control method for arcade racing games, and even showed up on early home systems like the Telstar Arcade and ColecoVision. Home steering-wheel controllers didn't really catch on as an option, though, until analog input became standard on systems like the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation. Today, a high-end steering wheel-and-pedal controller set can run you close to $300, a small price to pay for that authentic racing experience.
Without it, we'd all...: Be stuck fiddling with our joysticks.
First seen in: "Hi-Way" (Atari, 1975)
Made popular by: Pretty much every arcade racing game; expensive home systems
Sure, the steering wheel made arcade racing feel more like driving a real car, but most real cars don't let people drive standing up. Atari fixed this problem with 1975's "Hi-Way," which featured a molded plastic seat attached to the game's cabinet. Other game-makers followed suit with increasingly detailed, lavish, carlike enclosures for their games. Today, it's not surprising to see arcade-ified versions of everything from snowmobiles to jet skis to Ferraris filling an arcade, each with rumbling, tilting seats and surround-sound speaker systems for road noise and music. For those who want the arcade experience at home, Simcraft offers racing-game chair setups ranging from $5,000 to $44,000.
Without it, we'd all...: Have sore feet.
4. Driver's-Eye View/3-D Graphics
First seen in: Night Driver (Atari, 1976)