A racing video game is a genre of video games, either in the first- or third-person perspective, in which the player partakes in a racing competition with any type of land, air, or sea vehicles. They may be based on anything from real-world racing leagues to entirely fantastical settings. In general, they can be distributed along a spectrum anywhere between hardcore simulations, and simpler arcade racing games.
The arcade game Gran Trak 10, released by Atari in 1974, is generally considered the progenitor of the genre. Gran Trak 10 presents an overhead view of the track in low resolution white on black graphics, on which the player races against the clock to accumulate points. While challenging, it is not competition racing. Night Racer, released by Micronetics in 1977 and Night Driver released by Atari in 1976 extended the genre into three dimensions by presenting a series of posts by the edge of the road. There was no view of the road or the player's car and the graphics are still low resolution white on black. Like Gran Trak 10, gameplay was a race against the clock. Monaco GP (released by Sega in 1979) improved upon Gran Trak 10 with a vertically scrolling view and color graphics. Turbo (1981) by Sega was the first racing game to feature a third-person perspective, rear view format.
True "racing" as it is now generally accepted was started by the Namco game Pole Position in 1982. This time the player has AI cars to race against, and a time limit pushes the player to go faster. Pole Position is also the first game to be based on a real racing circuit. The game introduced color graphics at a much higher resolution than earlier titles and pioneered the now common rear-view racer format used in nearly all racing games since then.
Racing games in general tend to drift toward the arcade side of reality, mainly due to hardware limitations, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. It is, however, untrue to say that there were no games considered simulations in their time. In 1984, Geoff Crammond, who later developed the Grandprix series (Known collectively as GPX to its fanbase), produced what is considered the first attempt at a racing simulator, REVS, for the BBC Microcomputer. The game offered an unofficial, (and hence with no official team or driver names associated with the series) recreation of British Formula 3. The hardware capabilities limited the depth of the simulation and restricted it (Initially) to one track but it was far above any other games at the time in terms of detail.
In 1986, Sega produced Out Run, one of the most graphically impressive games of its time. It used two Motorola 68000 CPUs for its 2D sprite-based driving engine, and it became an instant classic that spawned many sequels. In 1987, Namco produced Final Lap, the first arcade game that allowed multiple machines to be linked, allowing for multiplayer races. In the same year, Atari produced RoadBlasters, a driving game that also involved a bit of shooting. In 1988, Atari introduced Hard Drivin', the first arcade driving game that included force feedback as well as 3D polygonal graphics. This is the first game where the wheel actually fights the player during aggressive turns. It also featured a crash replay camera view.
In 1990, the now defunct Papyrus Design Group produced their first attempt at a racing Simulator, the critically acclaimed Indianapolis 500: The Simulation. Accurately replicating the 1989 Indianapolis 500 grid, it offered advanced 3D graphics for its time, setup options, car failures and handling. The damage modelling, while not accurate by today's standards, was capable of producing some spectacular and entertaining pile-ups. It was later almost forgotten with the success of Crammond's Formula One Grand Prix, though the 1992 game's graphics were, in some ways, superior to Formula One's.
Formula One Grand Prix became the new champion of sim racing. It boasted unparalleled detail and a full recreation of the drivers, cars and circuits of the 1991 Formula One World Championship. However, the U.S. version (known as World Circuit) was not granted an official license by the FIA, so teams and drivers were renamed (though all could be changed back to their real names using the Driver/Team selection menu): Ayrton Senna became "Carlos Sanchez", for example.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sega produced Virtua Racing. While not the first game with 3D graphics (see REVS), it was able to combine the best features of games at the time, along with multiplayer machine linking and clean 3D graphics to produce a game that was above and beyond the arcade market standard of its time. Also, Nintendo broke new ground by introducing the Mario Kart series on the SNES with Super Mario Kart. Using the familiar characters from the Mario franchise, the game not only departed from the realism paradigm by using small karts for the players to drive, but also featured bright, colourful environments and allowed the players to pick up power-ups to improve performance or hamper other racers. This franchise also spawned multiple sequels.
In 1993, Namco struck back with Ridge Racer, and thus began the polygonal war of driving games. In the same year Electronic Arts produced The Need for Speed, which would later spawn the world's most popular racing game series and the fifth most popular video game series overall. Sega struck back in 1994 with Daytona USA, while Midway introduced Crusin' USA. Atari didn't join the 3D craze until 1997, when it introduced San Francisco Rush. In 1996, Konami introduced GTI Club which allowed free roaming of the environment - something of a revolution that had only been done in 3D before in Hard Drivin'. In 1997, Gran Turismo was released for the PlayStation. It was considered the most realistic racing simulation game in its time, combined with playability, enabling players of all skill levels to play. The Gran Turismo series has since become one of the most popular racing franchises ever, with the series selling over 56 million copies worldwide.
By 1997, the typical PC was capable of matching an arcade machine in terms of graphical quality, mainly due to the introduction of first generation 3D accelerators such as 3DFX Voodoo. The faster CPUs were capable of simulating increasingly realistic physics, car control, and graphics. Colin McRae Rally was introduced in 1998 to the PC world, and was a successful semi-simulation of the world of rally driving (previously only available in Sega's less serious Sega Rally Championship). Motorhead, a PC game, was later adapted back to arcade.
1999 marked a change of games into more "free form" worlds. Midtown Madness for the PC allows the player to explore a simplified version of the city of Chicago using a variety of vehicles and any path that they desire. In the arcade world, Sega introduced Crazy Taxi, where you are a taxi driver that needed to get the client to the destination in the shortest amount of time. A similar game also from Sega is Emergency Ambulance Driver, with almost the same gameplay (pick up patient, drop off at hospital, as fast as possible). Games are becoming more and more realistic visually. Some arcade games are now featuring 3 screens to provide a surround view.
In 2000, Angel Studios (now Rockstar San Diego) introduced the first free-roaming, or the former "free form", racing game on video game consoles and handheld game consoles with Midnight Club: Street Racing which released on the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance. The game allowed the player to drive anywhere around virtual recreations of London and New York. Instead of using enclosed tracks for races, the game uses various checkpoints on the free roam map as the pathway of the race, giving the player the option to take various shortcuts or any other route to the checkpoints of the race.
In 2003, Rockstar San Diego's Midnight Club II was the first racing game to feature both playable cars and playable motorcycles.
There is a wide gamut of driving games ranging from simple action-arcade racers like Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (for Nintendo GameCube) and Nick Toon Racers to ultra-realistic simulators like Grand Prix Legends, iRacing, Virtual Grand Prix 3, Live for Speed, NetKar Pro, rFactor and X Motor Racing -- and everything in between.
Simulation style racing games strive to convincingly replicate the handling of an automobile. They often license real cars or racing leagues, but will use fantasy cars built to resemble real ones if unable to acquire them. Vehicular behavior physics are a key factor in the experience. The rigors of being a professional race driver are usually also included (such as having to deal with a car's tire condition and fuel level). Proper cornering technique and precision racing maneuvers (such as drafting) are given priority in the simulation racing games.
Although these racing simulators are specifically built for people with a high grade of driving skill, it is not uncommon to find aids that can be enabled from the game menu. The most common aids are traction control (TC), anti-lock brakes, steering assistance, damage resistance, clutch assistance and automatic gear changes. Also driving views, other than the interior driver view, are arcade. This softens the learning curve for the difficult handling characteristics of most racing cars.
The Formula One World Championship has a fan base all over the world and is one of the racing series with the most simulation adaptations.
Some of these racing simulators are customizable, as game fans have decoded the tracks, cars and executable files. Large internet communities have grown around the simulators regarded as the most realistic and many websites host internet championships.
Currently the Racing Sim rFactor has the largest driver base because of its capability of modding. X Motor Racing also has the huge capability of modding and tweaking, including vehicle dynamics and tires. NetKar Pro and X Motor Racing are less popular because of their maximum complexity, but offer better physics simulation.
Arcade style racing games put fun and a fast-paced experience above all else, as cars usually compete through odd ways. A key feature of arcade racers that specifically distinguishes them from simulation racers is their far more liberal physics. Whereas in real racing (and subsequently, the simulation equivalents) the driver must reduce their speed to take most turns, arcade racing games generally encourage the player to try to take turns as fast as possible (most arcade racers include a "powerslide" maneuver to allow the player to keep up their speed by drifting through a turn rather than slowly entering it). Collisions with other racers, track obstacles, or traffic vehicles is usually much more exaggerated than simulation racers as well. For the most part, arcade racers simply remove the precision required from the simulation experience and focus strictly on the racing element itself. They often license real cars and leagues, but are equally open to more exotic settings and vehicles. Races take place on highways, windy roads, or in cities; they can be multiple-lap circuits or point-to-point, with one or multiple paths (sometimes with checkpoints), or other types of competition, like demolition derby, jumping, or testing driving skills. Popular arcade racers are the Daytona USA series, the Rush, the Ridge Racer series, the Cruis'n Series, the Midnight Club series, and the classic Out Run.
During the mid-late 2000s there was a trend of new street racing; imitating the import scene, one can tune sport compacts and sports cars and race them on the streets. The most widely known ones are the Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition and the Midnight Club series, Need for Speed series, and the Juiced series.
Some arcade racing games increase the competition between racers by adding weapons that can be used against opponents to slow them down or otherwise impede their progress so they can be passed. This is a staple feature in "kart racing" games, such as the Mario Kart series, but this kind of gameplay also appears in standard, car-based racing games as well. Weapons can range from projectile attacks to traps as well as non-combative items like speed boosts. Weapon-based racing games include games such as Full Auto, Rumble Racing, and Blur.
List of racing game sub-genres
In a car racing game, the primary gameplay mode is driving the car. However, they sometimes offer a secondary mode for tuning up the car. There are various principles in winning car racing games, some of which apply to real life situations while most are unique to the game itself.
Simulation-style racing games
Racing games that are more focused on realism.
- Evolution GT (Europe car challenge)
- F1 Challenge (Formula One)
- F355 Challenge (Ferrari Challenge)
- Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli (Official Ferrari Challenge)
- F1GP, Grand Prix 2, Grand Prix 3, Grand Prix 4 (Formula One)
- Grand Prix Legends (1967 Formula One)
- GT Legends (60s and 70s GT series)
- GTR and GTR 2 (FIA GT series)
- Human Grand Prix III: F1 Triple Battle (Formula One)
- Human Grand Prix IV: F1 Dream Battle (Formula One)
- iRacing (Oval and road course racing)
- Live for Speed (Mixed car type racing)
- NASCAR Heat (NASCAR series)
- NASCAR Racing (NASCAR series)
- netKar Pro (Open wheel car racing)
- RACE, RACE 07 and RACE Pro (Official WTCC)
- Racer (Mixed car type racing)
- Rally Trophy (Historic rallying)
- rFactor (Mixed car type racing)
- Richard Burns Rally (Rallying)
- Supercar Challenge
- Superstars V8 Racing (Official Superstars Series)
- Virtual Grand Prix 3 (mainly Formula One and open-wheeled cars)
- Virtual RC Racing (radio-controlled car racing)
- X Motor Racing (Mixed car type racing)
Semi-simulation-style racing games
These games are neither simulators nor arcade racers; they stand in the middle of the spectrum.
- Colin McRae Rally series (Rallying)
- Driving Emotion Type S
- Enthusia Professional Racing
- Formula One series
- Forza Motorsport
- Gran Turismo (series)
- Project Gotham Racing (Mixed car type racing)
- Project Torque (Mixed car type racing)
- Test Drive Unlimited (Street racing)
- R:Racing Evolution
- Race Driver: GRID
- Racing Evoluzione
- Sega GT series
- TOCA Touring Car series
- Viper Racing
- Mercedes-Benz World Racing
- World Racing 2
Arcade-style racing games
Racing games that are not focused on realism.
- Automobili Lamborghini
- Auto Modellista
- Beetle Adventure Racing
- Burnout (series)
- Carmageddon series
- Cruis'n series
- Daytona USA series
- Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally (Japan-only)
- FlatOut and FlatOut 2
- Initial D and Initial D Arcade Stage series
- Lotus Turbo Challenge series
- Nitro Stunt Racing
- Out Run series
- Pimp My Ride
- Pole Position series
- Rad Racer
- Rad Racer 2
- Ridge Racer series
- Screamer series
- Sega Rally Championship
- Side by Side and Battle Gear series
- Speed Devils
- Speed Racer series
- Split Second
- Stunt Race FX
- Super Cars series
- TrackMania series
- Up'n Down
- Virtua Racing
- Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune series