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Video game driving: A brief history

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The History of Video Game Racing

Most of us don’t have the means or the wherewithal to get behind the wheel of a real racecar. Thankfully, video games give us the thrill of weaving fast cars through perilous conditions without the danger. The games we play today are far more sophisticated than early iterations, but many of those first games still hold a soft spot in our hearts. Yes, thousands of racing games have been created over the years, but we chose the most groundbreaking as we navigate our way through the history of video game racing.

Gran Trak 10
Platform: Arcade
Players: 1
Vehicle: Unknown
Features: In this first car-based racing game, the driver races against the clock using 4-speed gear shifting through oil slicks.

Night Driver
Arcade, Atari 2600, Commodore 64, MSX
Players: 1
Vehicle: Unknown
Features: The driver navigates a “car” (actually just a plastic insert placed on the screen) through a track at night, while staying within the boundaries indicated by reflector lights on the side of the road.

Indy 500
Atari 2600
Players: 1 or 2
Vehicle: Pixelated Indy car
Features: Drivers take their pic of 4 variations of standard racing style: crash, score, tag, and ice race.

Players: 1
Vehicle: Blue, unknown
Features: In this maze-based, strategic racing game built upon the Pac-man hardware, this is the first game ever to feature a bonus round.

Arcade, Colecovision, Intellivision
Players: 1
Vehicle: Formula 1
Features: This F1-style racing game features a number of “firsts” in the video game world: a full-color raster display; a third-person, rear-view racer format; scaling sprites of opponent drivers, trees, and skyscrapers; multiple landscapes, times of day, and weather conditions; and hills on the race course.

Pole Position
Players: 1
Vehicle: Formula 1
Features: Drives must complete time trials in a qualifying lap before competing in Grand Prix races in this first video game based on a real racing circuit.

Atari 2600
Players: 1
Vehicle: white, unknown
Features: In this endurance-based game where racers must pass a certain number of cars each day in order to advance, the gameplay changes along with the time of day.

Pit Stop II
Commodore 64, PC Booter, Atari 800, Apple II, TRS-80 Color Computer, Virtual Console
Players: 1 or 2
Vehicle: Formula 1
Features: In the first to feature a head-to-head split screen, this game also includes necessary refueling and tire changes.

Buggy Boy
Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga
Players: 1
Vehicle: Rally Buggy
Features: The cockpit-style arcade version of this obstacle-filled racing game is known for its panoramic 3-screen display.

The Great American Cross Country Road Race
Apple II, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit
Players: 1
Vehicle: Stock Car
Features: In one of the first games to feature police as an obstacle, you race your way across the United States.

Arcade, Master System, Sega Genesis
Players: 1
Vehicle: Ferrari Testarossa
Features: Drivers choose their own routes and “radio stations,” while seated next to a beautiful blonde female passenger.

Super Sprint
Arcade, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, NES, ZX Spectrum
Players: Up to 3 simultaneously
Vehicle: Formula 1
Features: A legendary Gran Trak 10 update, Super Sprint features a 3-player mode in which everyone races against each other and the computer. Picking up wrenches along the track upgrades the vehicles.

Arcade, Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis, Atari Lynx, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, NES
Players: 1
Vehicle: Red sports car with a big gun
Features: In this futuristic, Mad Max-inspired road game, the off-road rally vehicle, outfitted with weapons, battles other cars to reach the end of each course before running out of fuel.

Rad Racer
NES, Play Choice 10 Arcade machine
Players: 1
Type of vehicle: Ferrari 328 or an F1 racing machine
Features: This highly successful, and extremely realistic for its time, racing simulator is one of the few to support Nintendo’s 3D add on.

Test Drive
Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS
Players: 1
Vehicle: Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Lotus Esprit Turbo, Porsche 911 Turbo (930, Chevrolet Corvette (C4)
Features: Traffic and speed traps are among the obstacles the driver faces while attempting to get from one gas station to the next in an exotic car.

RC Pro Am
Players: 1
Vehicle: Radio-controlled truck
Features: This overhead racer is one of the first to feature vehicular combat in which missiles and bombs temporarily disable opposing vehicles.

Hard Drivin’
Arcade, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari Lynx, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS- DOS, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, ZX Spectrum
Players: 2 (players take turns)
Vehicle: Red, unknown
Features: Sporting a clutch (that you could actually stall) and real steering wheel with forced feedback, this revolutionary first-person racing simulator is the first 3D polygon driving game.

Indianapolis 500
DOS Amiga
Players: 1
Vehicle: Indy car
Features: This groundbreaking game is hailed as the first “real” racing game to move from arcade play to true race simulation, with fully customizable cars and crashes indicating your race was over.

Players: 1
Vehicle: Plasma-powered Hovercar
Features: This highly advanced futuristic racing game pushes the SNES technology and players to their limits as the vehicle speeds grow faster than ever.

Super Mario Kart
Players: 1 or 2
Vehicle: Go Kart
Features: As the third-best selling SNES title ever, this racing game focuses on fun first. The “rubber band” play also prevents the driver from falling too far behind the opponents.

Ridge Racer
Arcade, PlayStation, PlayStation Portable
Players: 1
Vehicle: Generic race car
Features: Introducing drifting to the video game world, the arcade version features a 10-foot-wide triple screen with the driver seated in a red Mazda Miata. When the driver turns the key to start, fans even blow gusts of wind.

Daytona USA
Arcade, Sega Saturn, Windows, PlayStation Network, Xbox 360
Players: 1-8
Vehicle: Stock car
Features: Known as one of the highest-grossing arcade games ever, this racing simulator is the first fully map-textured video game, making it the most visually detailed of its time.

Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed
3DO, DOS, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Microsoft Windows
Players: 1-2
Vehicles: Lamborghini Diablo, Ferrari 512TR, Dodge Viper RT/10, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, Porsche 911 Carrera, Toyota Supra Turbo, Acura NSX, and a Mazda RX-7
Features: In the first of what would become the most successful racing video game series in the world, the focus is on the vehicles, as EA teams up with Road & Track to simulate realistic engine sounds and controls for each car.

Gran Turismo
Vehicles: 178 different choices
Players: 1+
Features: In Playstation’s best-selling video game, this racing simulator features 140 different cars and 11 tracks (reverse options available).

Grand Theft Auto
PlayStation, MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, Game Boy Color
Players: 1
Vehicles: Whatever you want to steal
Features: While not a true “racing game”, driving is a must in this action-packed, crime riddled thrill ride. Normal laws don’t apply here, as you are free to roam about the open map to complete various criminal missions.

PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox
Players: 1+
Vehicles: Generic compact, sedan, pickup, and muscle cars
Features: Gameplay in this extraordinary game includes over-the-top collisions.

Need For Speed: Underground
Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Microsoft Windows, Game Boy Advance
Players: 1+
Vehicles: Imports
Features: Rebooting the NFS series, this groundbreaking, plot-driven racing game refocuses its attention on tuner culture, which is geared more toward the import and DJ scene rather than exotic vehicles and rock ‘n roll.

Ridge Racer 7
PlayStation 3
Players: 1+
Vehicles: 40 various race cars
Features: It may not be the most realistic racing, game, but it sure took drifting to a whole new level. “Fun” is the name of this well-loved racing game.

ModNation Racers
PlayStation 3, PSP
Players: 1+
Vehicle: Go Kart
Features: This kart-style racing game offers the ability to customize everything from your vehicle, characters, and even the racetracks.

Gran Turismo 5
PlayStation 3
Players: 1+
Vehicles: 1,000+ cars
Features: With more than 26 locations, 71 tracks, and top-notch handling and graphics, this is arguably the most comprehensive and realistic driving game ever created.

Grand Theft Auto V
Players: 1
Vehicles: Whatever you feel like stealing
Features: The newest Grand Theft Auto, set to debut September 2013, is sure to offer action, crime, and all-around mayhem.

Did we miss your favorite racing game? Let us know what it is.


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