RED TOP, HOT SHOT, BEEP BEEP BEEP - September1996
|The fantastically innovative Screamer 2 has
shattered the peaceful calm of the videogames world with its invention of the
groundbreaking new "race-'em-up" concept. And yet, it's a concept so
amazingly simple, it's a miracle that no-one thought of it before. (It'll be
interesting to see how this one develops stretched across two pages. - Ed) Especially
the designers of Screamer 1, coincidentally another bunch of Italians, who must really be
kicking themselves. It's so obvious - drive a car down a road thrillingly fast,
racing both other drivers and the clock in a mad pulse-pounding dash the likes of which
your ordinary commuting-to-work road user can only dream of.
Actually, now I come to think of it, there have been a couple of games like that in the past. (Chicken. - Ed). With my encyclopaedic personal knowledge of gaming, a couple of obscure titles from history seem to ring a few bells. I wonder if it would be possible to draw some kind of hereditary line from these tiniest germs of videogame ideas to the full-blown virulent disease that is today's Screamer 2? Oh, what the flip, let's have a try.
The first sighting of the notion of driving a car - but in an arcade - was on Atari's 1975 classic Night Driver. A black screen (Night, you see) faced the player, decorated only with a series of short white posts disappearing into the horizon to produce an eerily convincing sensation of 3D. Speeding through the twilight world at the kind of game velocity imparted by, essentially, having no graphics, you couldn't afford to take your eyes off the screen for a second. Indeed, so gripping was the game, hypnotised players often had to be physically prised off the wheel anything up to five minutes after their actual game had finished.
Steering wheels were next seen in videogame parlours on the Sprint series of games, starting with Sprint in 1978 and zipping very quickly through to Sprint 8 (the same game, but for eight players simultaneously) before spawning a whole genre of clones culminating (so far) in Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart's Super Off Road. But since they're really maze games rather than race games, they don't count.
Things were quiet until 1980, when a young, up-and-coming outfit called Sega/Gremlin (no relation) released the fantastic Monaco GP. Despite the title, this was another road-racer, although the city track (featuring narrow bridges, chasing ambulances, ice-covered sections and roadside houses) was populated entirely by identifiably F1-styled cars. There were no bends, and all you had to worry about was steering left and right to avoid the other cars. It was racing distilled to its purest essence, and as such, is very old.
Thrilled with their success, Sega/Gremlin (and no-one knows what happened to Sega's one-time partners, incidentally. Although a lot of new motorway flyovers were built in Chigaco around that time, "for road-research purposes") rushed out a follow-up, called Turbo. Bringing back the 3D effect that had been lost in Monaco GP, Turbo also introduced gorgeous, realistic scenery graphics as you sped along city streets, lakeside forests and cliff edges.
Next up was Screamer (Nice try. - Ed). Gah. Atari struck back in the racing wars in 1982, with their badging of Namco's Pole Position, the first game to put racing games on an actual race track. Blindingly fast and extremely tense, it was a much better game than the useless recent conversion on Microsoft's Return Of Arcade would suggest.
With the occasional deviation (Exidy's fantastic and thoroughly tasteless Death Race, where you run down little pedestrians who emit a horrendous scream when you hit them, and Atari's later Road Blasters which threw weapons and power-ups into the equation), Pole Position remained the model for driving video games for many years. The awesome Virtua Racing marked the first noticeable evolution (not only graphically but also in the move towards more realistic handling) for about a decade, and although a few games made significant impressions during that time (Out Run, Power Drift), the F1 racetrack still firmly held sway until Ridge Racer (1994) dragged the driving-game focus back to the city streets where it belongs. (You're nearly out of room. Hurry! - Ed) Screamer was, of course, a semi-successful attempt to clone Ridge Racer on the PC, and that brings us neatly to Screamer 2. Phew.
So, from exciting, atmospheric, nerve-jangling high-speed 3D road-rallying action to exciting, atmospheric, nerve-jangling high-speed 3D road-rallying action in just 21 years. Three cheers for the videogames industry. We've certainly come a long way.
EVERY DRIVING GAME ON THE PC - EVER!
But why are we talking about the history of *arcade* driving games, in what is, after all, a PC games magazine? Here are all the major driving games seen on the PC to date. That's why.
Indianapolis 500 (Electronic Arts) - "Realistic" 3D polygon-based track-racing simulation
Formula 1 Grand Prix (MicroProse) - "Realistic" 3D polygon-based track-racing simulation
NASCAR Racing (Virgin) - "Realistic" 3D polygon-based track-racing simulation
Screamer - Fun.
|DO YOU HAVE TOO MUCH MONEY ON YOUR HANDS?
Do you own, or are you considering purchasing, one of those steering wheel/gearstick/footpedal combo peripherals that you attach to your PC for a more "realistic" racing-game experience?
How You Scored: Mostly 'A's - you have *far* too much money on your hands.
Mostly 'B's - what, are you saving for a rainy day or something? You could get hit by a bus tomorrow, you know.