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volume 1, issue 23

Today in loonygames:

New!! The Archives have been cleaned up, fead links fixed, and printable versions restored! Also, don't miss the new comments on the front page!

Livin' With The Sims: theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez on Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

Real Life: Check out our newest comic strip, Real Life! Updated daily!

User Friendly: Updated daily!

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Pixel Obscura: Josh Vasquez looks at Ridge Racer Type 4.

T-Shirts: Stylin' loonygames t-shirts from Berda Compugrafix!

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5 Years of Doom!: Last year, on the 5th anniversary of Doom, we took a look back at how the industry has changed in its wake.

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Pad Happy:
Mirror, Signal, Maneuver

 

 

 

 

By Nick Ferguson

Why do we love racing games, what’s changed about them since Pole Position, and was Mario Kart’s battle mode really the first deathmatch??? Nick Ferguson explains all…

he first arcade game I remember getting addicted to was Pole Position 2. I was on vacation in Thailand, and blew all my holiday pocket money in the hotel’s ‘Recreation Lounge’ – most of it on that one machine. One abiding memory of living in the traffic hell that was Bangkok in 1985 is of spending waaay too much time stuck in the back seat of my parents’ car, whining "Are we nearly there yet?". As you might imagine, for an eight year-old backseat driver the thrill of getting to put my own pedal to the metal (literally – this was a sit-in cabinet) couldn’t be beat! Alas, these days I’m not much closer to getting behind the wheel of a real car, but my enthusiasm for a good racer hasn’t diminished. In fact, racing games – one of the crustiest of all genres - have survived every hardware revolution and continue to thrive on both home formats and the arcades. Why?

Well, racing is fun. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running on the sports track in real life or burning rubber in Ridge Racer, the tingling thrill of taking part in competition is there. The best racing games take that element of human experience, then purify and magnify it, so that players visit a micro-world where their performance is the only thing separating them from success or failure. A good racing game is not about realism, or great graphics, or having as many courses or vehicles to choose from as possible (although these certainly help); a good racer is about the competition. This is why the racing games you probably have fond memories of are games you played multi-player, games you stayed up late playing with your friends because, dammit, you were going to prove who was the best (and it was so much fun, even when you were losing). Similarly, anyone who ever played Daytona USA solo in the arcades would agree it can be a lonely experience, but play with another 7 people and you have one of the most over-the-top, entertaining racers ever!

Okay, so competition is fun, but why the obsession with cars? Look at the most obvious requirements for any driving game (fast reactions, keen spatial awareness, plenty of attitude) and you’ll see a certain similarity between that and another common genre, the shoot-em up. I’d argue that a lot of the thrill you get from playing a really satisfying racer is similar to that of a shooter because the game experiences really aren’t too different; decisions have to be made at near-subconscious speeds, hand-eye co-ordination is vital, and both rely on decimating the opposition. Throw in the fact that every red-blooded male has wanted to drive like a maniac (more specifically, drive like Steve McQueen in Bullitt) and you have a genre with mass appeal. Who wouldn’t want to jump in a Ferrari and throw it round the block a few times (with the added bonus of escaping unscathed after slamming into a wall head-first)? In one sense racing games are sheer wish fulfillment, but they are also a prime example of pure unadulterated twitch gameplay (no matter how complex they pretend to be). After all, it doesn’t matter how many sub-menu screens you visit tweaking the performance of your vehicle in Sega Rally – once you eventually get the car on the road, it’s down to you and that joypad.

So, a fundamental simplicity lies at the heart of the racer’s appeal. But from their early beginnings as (essentially) glorified reaction tests, racers have gradually become layered with increasing levels of complexity. Advances in technology and gameplay have slowly trickled down from the hydraulic powerhouses of the local arcade into the home (it is very difficult to avoid talking about arcades in this article, as so many of the greatest console racers are conversions). Methods of control have graduated from a simple left/right digital switch to more precise (and demanding) analogue steering, spawning an array of specialist controllers: NegCon, JogCon, steering wheels, pedals, rumble-feedback, analogue buttons – I have about 5 different types of racing controller for my PlayStation alone! The handling of vehicles has also become quite realistic thanks to more accurate physics models, which I mention later.

Racing games have always been an ideal way to demonstrate the polygon-pushing capability of a new item of hardware; when the great racers of the early to mid-90’s eventually migrated onto home formats, it was clear from comparing the performance of the Saturn’s Daytona USA with PlayStation’s Ridge Racer which machine was the more powerful. Sony’s ability to deliver what was seen as a near-perfect conversion made a powerful statement about their position in the industry. Will Sega Rally 2 for Dreamcast have as monumental an impact on the psyche of gamers?

Over the years, vehicles in racing games have become increasingly authentic to look at as well as drive. The simple sprites of Super Sprint or Spy Hunter were gradually replaced by their more sophisticated scaling brethren, but subsequently true 3D has become the norm. Any serious racer worth its salt will boast stunningly realistic cars (possibly even based on real production models)! One main advantage of this has been the ability to select your view during the race. When you first play a console game you face a dilemma – select the view from behind the windscreen (for a more authentic experience) or perhaps a trailing ‘heli-cam’ effort, allowing some appreciation of the exquisitely-designed tracks? The clever specular highlighting effect used in titles such as Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer Type 4 is just the latest in a long line of effects designed to increase the sense of realism, including the now-ubiquitous real-time weather effects in titles like Formula One ’97 (the less said about F1 ’98, the better).

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Credits: Pad Happy logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1999 Nick Ferguson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it, or you'll get some real force feedback.