Journal: The Growing Nostalgia For Classic Racing Games

The Growing Nostalgia For Classic Racing Games

By Benjamin Shahrabani
May 25, 2015
58 comments

The ’80s was an important decade. It was one that witnessed the birth of MTV, Pac-Man, and the Rubik’s Cube. It was an era of some outlandish fashions and strange hairstyles. And, at the same time, it was also a period of significant economic development and international relations. Yes, it does seem like a long time ago—ancient history to some—but there is another good reason we shouldn’t forget the ’80s: vintage arcade games. This being Petrolicious, vintage driving arcade games in particular.

The first “arcade games” were invented in the 1920s for use in early amusement parks. These early coin-operated machines were the kind, like Zoltar, that sometimes told a player’s fortune (made famous in the movie Big), played music, or allowed you to shoot at targets. While they are a far more primitive from those manufactured today, or even in the late ’70s–’90s—generally acknowledged to be the “golden age” of the arcade—they still performed the same function modern ones do: providing entertainment for a coin or two.

Game controls and gameplay in arcade machines were usually intuitive and easy to understand, and they were addictive because the proverbial “next level” was always just within reach. Many hours of my youth were spent at Arnie’s Place, the arcade in my hometown of Westport, CT. In time, Arnie’s expanded to include a pool hall, an ice cream parlor, Georgie Porgie’s, and even a barbershop for haircuts, but the biggest attraction for me were the arcade games where I spent countless quarters trying to beat that “next level”: gobble as many pills as possible in Pac-Man, knock an Ostrich rider off his perch in Joust, or get to the end of the track without wiping out or crashing in Pole Position.

It was inevitable that the arcade manufacturers, once the technology was available, would turn their attention to making racing or driving games. The first, Atari’s Gran Trak 10, was primitive, but others followed throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Some were memorable, and had great gameplay, others less so, now almost forgotten.

Having played many in my time, here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.

1. In 1986, Sega’s Outrun was considered a breakthrough game. Using the latest computer boards available at the time, units that had made a great leap forward, Outrun was like nothing seen before. Advanced graphics, an available moving driver’s seat and screen (cabinet), user-selectable music, and optional driving routes. On top of that, your “driver” was accompanied by a blond babe in his very own Ferrari Testarossa convertible. Players needed to navigate a coastal landscape within a set time limit in order to advance to other stages of the game. Gamers would choose their next level by forks in the road before each checkpoint…3…2…–ugh, not again!

2. In 1989, Leland’s Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road featured three steering wheels and three accelerator pedals—just get used to literally jostling for position with your friends! This all made for endless fun, well, at least until your quarters ran out. You had to twirl those wheels a couple of times to get around a single corner. With upgrades, you could drive different tracks, and—most importantly—you could hit “Nitro” for a boost of power. It had everything you wanted in a racing game.

3. Atari’s Pole Position from 1982 was one of best-selling video driving games of its era. A studio even made a Saturday morning cartoon based on this 8-bit classic! It was the first realistic racing game to offer the rear view camera angle, inspiring many racing games that followed. The player controls a Formula One car, and has to complete a time trial lap within a certain amount of time to qualify for a race at the Fuji Speedway. Ensuring bragging rights in your home arcade, you could even enter your initials in the high score table if you were one of the top 300 highest-scoring drivers on the machine.

4. Bally Midway’s Spyhunter of 1983 was more than a driving game. The game drew inspiration from the James Bond series of films, and originally was supposed to carry the James Bond license. The object of the game is to drive down roads in your “Interceptor” car, and destroy various enemy vehicles with a variety of onboard weapons like oil slicks, smoke screens, and missiles. This game actually has no end whatsoever, it just gets progressively more difficult.

5. Motorcycle fans weren’t left out of the fun, either, and Sega’s Hang-On from 1985 was one of the best of the two-wheeled bunch. Using a behind-the-motorcycle perspective, the player races down race track within a time limit. There was also an arcade cabinet-style unit available where the player sat on what looked like a real motorcycle. To steer, the player leaned to tilt the bike, which likewise then steered the bike on screen—not advisable after a few drinks.

Arcades like Arnie’s Place always seemed alive with lights from game marquees and screens—and the sounds of bells beckoning for a quarter. Today, arcade games seem far removed from the classic era. They are more complicated and, to me, less fun. With racing games in particular, when the graphics get too real, I feel it almost defeats the purpose of getting out in your own real-life car.

That said, now for your quarters: share some of your favorite memories about how you got in the driver’s seat with classic driving arcade games.

Image Sources: emparadise.me, technobuffalo.com, wikimedia.org, wikimedia.org, gamesdbase.com, sparklebliss.com, wikipedia.org, staticflickr.com, emparadise.me

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5 years ago

Super Off Road was amazing, but let’s also remember RC Pro Am for being so much fun though it wasn’t exactly a driving sim. Cruising USA was amazing in the arcades too.

Daniel Jansson
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5 years ago

SUPERCARS II [Amiga 500]
* Many hours playing with my brother
* Alfa SZ (sort of) with rockets x) (many years before I became Alfista)
* Epic 80s (early 90s) Amiga music, will have to get some old school Amiga tunes to play in my GTV6 =)
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Andres Gutierrez
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5 years ago

Spy Hunter side art is what started my love affair with the Isdera Imperator, a car Petrolicious really needs to cover *wink*wink*

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6 years ago

Test Drive and Stunts were both great because of the car selection and, in the case of the latter, the ability to build and race your own track.

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7 years ago

Atari’s Hard Drivin’ and its successor Race Drivin’ were miles ahead of anything else in the arcades. A true physics-based driving model, vector graphics, force feedback steering, three pedals and a manual transmission. Ground breaking in so many ways. I played every chance I had.

Oingo .Boingo
Oingo .Boingo
7 years ago

played them all.

Mars Rhodes
Mars Rhodes
7 years ago

I have huge nostalgia for playing the arcade version of Hang On.
The game I feel the most nostalgic for was a little newer. Ridge Racer Revolution for the Playstation.

Owen Stride
Owen Stride
7 years ago

Pole Position and Revs stand out from the 8-bit days. Gran Turismo and Colin McRae Rally are both awesome games.

Alex Wakefield
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7 years ago

LOVED IndyCar II on my PC. Final Lap, Turbo, Pole Position, Suzuka 8 Hours were staples for my buddies and me at the arcade!

Jean Minnaar
Jean Minnaar
8 years ago

Another great classic racing game is Formula 1: Build to Win for SNES. You start out in a little red Mini and race your way to the top while trying to extract as much power out of your car by adding aftermarket turbos, uprated suspension etc. It was 1991 and I had just turned 6 years old. I received this as a birthday gift. Days turned into weeks playing this game. Minis were already classic cars at that point and I was amazed at how this little car was able to decimate faster cars. I felt myself drawn to the little red Mini Cooper. Formula 1: Built to Win was the original Grand Tourismo. It was the catalyst for my addiction.

Michael Nauschultz
Michael Nauschultz
8 years ago

I worked in an arcade (Alladin’s Castle) handing out change from my belt coin changer in the 80’s. Pole Position was always one of our biggest money makers but I spent most of my hard earned tokens on Turbo.

John R. Santos
John R. Santos
8 years ago

In high school, we would go over to the mall’s arcade where they had Pole Position with a left/center/right screen. It was the first game for us that had more than one screen. Was pricy to play too – $0.50!!! (haha!) The game had a left-hand turn that made you look way, way over to the left to see where it was leading you. We spent many days on mastering the turn and getting the extra time.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
8 years ago

I was weaned on Sprint, Sprint 2, etc.

My son was stretching a quarter a looong ways last night on Sega Rally at the local pizza joint. Drifting the turns… it just brings a tear to my eye. After that, we had to go watch some Colin McRae. 😉

Nicolas Moss
Nicolas Moss
8 years ago

First driving arcade game I played was Night Driver in the late ’70s. Totally minimal graphics, but my quarters were sucked in. Also showing up was Indy 800, an eight person game that also consumed many many quarters.

Tom DesRochers
Tom DesRochers
8 years ago

The question was specifically about coin-op games, so I’ll go with Sega’s “Turbo”. It came out before Pole Position.
https://youtu.be/H-miyT1Vz1w

JB21
JB21
8 years ago

Nostalgia is one thing, and I can “almost” feel it, since I, too, played with those games when I was kid. But no, man, there wasn’t really any truly great driving games till we got Gran Turismo.

Pietro Lo Fria
Pietro Lo Fria
5 years ago
Reply to  JB21

I completely agree. But… There’s always a but, Indy By Papayrus II was awesome even thought it was a game for a PC only.