Video game technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and if there is one genre where developers are constantly finding ways to get their games to look more realistic, it is racing. Our top five choices in this article represent racing games that set a new benchmark in video game graphics when they were originally released.
No. 5: Mario Kart (Super Nintendo)
The game: Nintendo took the characters from its Super Mario Bros. platforming franchise and transposed them into a go-cart setting with Super Mario Kart. One of eight characters from the Super Mario Bros. series can be selected, each one with differing capabilities. Players race against computer controlled characters in various racing cups using offensive and speed boosting power-ups to gain an advantage.
The fame: Released in 1992 when 3D game graphics were in their infancy, Super Mario Kart wowed audiences with its use of Mode 7, a texture mapping technology that enabled a plane to be rotated and scaled freely for a pseudo three-dimensional effect. While an earlier Nintendo racing title, F-Zero, had already implemented Mode 7 to a lesser degree, it was implemented to a larger scale in Super Mario Kart. Despite the obvious limitations of the Super Nintendo hardware, the game did a good job of conveying speed and movement through simple physics in a basic 3D world.
Did you know? Despite becoming the third best selling SNES game of all time, Nintendo would only release a sequel, Mario Kart 64, five years later for the Nintendo 64, though this instalment would feature full 3D graphics.
No. 4: Moto Racer (PC)
The game: After releasing seminal platforming adventures such as Another World and Flashback, French studio Delphine Software International turned its attention to the racing genre. The result was Moto Racer, a motorbike racing title that combined speed and dirt bike racing disciplines into a single package. In addition to the default eight tracks that the game came with, Moto Racer was one of the first few games to use DLC in the form of two additional tracks being offered as a free download from the developer's Web site.
The fame: When the game was released in 1997, it came at the golden age of PC game graphics, where PC gamers were steadily adopting graphic accelerator cards to boost the quality and speed of their visuals. There were numerous and significant technological innovations happening with first person shooters and real-time strategy games on PC, but when Moto Racer came out it showed what motor racing should be like. Not only were the 3D graphics detailed and ahead of anything available at the time, Moto Racer stood out for the fact that it was fast, and impressively so. Despite the arcade style controls and colourful presentation, the physics engine ensured that the game had that slight touch of realism to the handling of the motorcycles at high speeds.
Did you know? The PlayStation port of Moto Racer scaled down the graphics of the PC game, but retained the speed and handling enough for the game to enjoy success on the console.
No. 3: Gran Turismo (PlayStation)
The game: Gran Turismo bills itself as the "real driving simulator" and there is a reason for it. Designed from the ground up as a serious driving experience, Gran Turismo is a racing game that features real world cars that have been accurately modelled within the game for a realistic driving experience. The game features an Arcade Mode for quick and easy racing, while the Simulation Mode is a long and arduous racing mode where players have to take part in driver's licenses to qualify for events, and earn credits to buy new vehicles and tune-ups. In total, Gran Turismo features 180 cars that can be raced over 11 race tracks.
The fame: Gran Turismo spent many years in gestation before it finally reared its head in 1998. When it did, it was a watershed moment in video gaming history. Without nary a mention in the gaming press until its release, Gran Turismo seemingly came out of nowhere and immediately impressed everyone with its depth of racing and graphics quality. In addition to featuring over a hundred real world cars modelled in loving detail, it made use of a physics engine that gave cars a feeling of grip and movement that had not been done before. Beyond the gameplay, the graphics of Gran Turismo made people sit up and pay attention to the possibilities of the PlayStation, as the vehicles featured intricate detail and body reflections that was absent from titles released in the same time frame, most notably Porsche Challenge which Sony released only a year earlier.
Did you know? Before designer Kazunori Yamauchi came up with Gran Turismo, he was responsible for the cartoon-inspired racing title, Motor Toon Grand Prix 2, which only experienced niche popularity on the PlayStation upon its release in 1996.
No. 2: MotorStorm (PlayStation 3)
The game: MotorStorm is a racing free-for-all set in a desert landscape where the aim of the game is to take part in a series of off-road races and to be the overall winner of the tournament. The player has a choice of off-road vehicles, whether they are light bikes and ATVs, medium weight buggies and rally cars, and heavy racing trucks and mudpluggers. As each vehicle has different strengths and weaknesses, the player needs to choose the best vehicle based on the layout of the track. Drivers wanting speed at the expense of handling might prefer bikes, while those wanting robust acceleration and turning might prefer rally cars.
The fame: While the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005 had raised the bar of what was considered state of the art in graphics, Sony took it to a new level with the release of MotorStorm in 2007. The demo of the game had already wowed audiences on its release soon after the launch of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, and the final game made good when it finally came out. With real-time deformation of environments and displacement of obstacles and other elements during the race, MotorStorm introduced a new level of detail not found in racing games until that point. The intricate physics engine, coupled together with the impressive graphics for the time, helped convey the feeling that the player was driving a vehicle on a treacherous landscape, and this was made even more impressive when the first person camera was adopted during a race.
Did you know? An early trailer of MotorStorm shown at E3 in 2005 gained notoriety for depicting realistic crashes between vehicles and a dynamic first person camera. While the eventual game did not look as impressive as the E3 video, it did include a number of graphical features from it, though to a lesser degree.
No. 1: Daytona USA (Arcade)
The game: The player gets in behind the steering wheel of the Sega-themed "Hornet" stock car which they then race over three tracks of increasing difficulty. The game can either be played alone or with other people, and the objective is to complete the race before time runs out and reach the top of the racing podium. The melody played during the game's "attract" mode, "Let's Go Away", is also one of the most catchy and recognisable game tunes in arcade history. Do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-doooooooo! Daytona!
The fame: Realising that the arcade experience had to offer something different to what 16-bit consoles provided at the time, Sega undertook a significant investment into developing its own proprietary Model 2 arcade board. This investment meant that the technology would be years ahead of what would be commercially available not only at home, but in arcades as well. When Daytona USA made its debut in 1994, it immediately caught the eye of arcade visitors with its high resolution graphics, filtered textures, large polygon count, and 60fps refresh rate. The detailed graphics, coupled with a simple yet satisfying driving engine, ensured that Daytona USA would be a popular fixation in arcades for the next decade and beyond, outliving its own sequels and console ports in the process.
Did you know? Due to the storage limitations of the arcade game, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi's catchy songs for Daytona USA were synthesized, including the drums and his vocals.