Tech: How racing games have evolved over the decades
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The oldest motor race in the world is the Indy 500, held since 1911. So it’s somewhat fitting that the first home racing game was also the Indy 500.
Released as a launch title with the 1977 Atari 2600, it offered a massive three game modes: racing, running over a dot, and tag – with an overhead view, controlled by paddles resembling large audio knobs. And, it was awesome! At least, for the time.
With a number of track layouts that varied from an oval, to, er, a jagged oval, it did feature the iconic and historical line of bricks across the start-finish line, in the form of a jagged line. OK, maybe we’re stretching the realism.
It was the home revolution following the arcade-only Gran Trak 10, which was the first to introduce a steering wheel to electronic racing games.
Fast forward to 1994, and following the launch of the revolutionary PlayStation, an innocuous but surprisingly solid game called Motor Toon Grand Prix introduced a Japanese game designer called Kazunori Yamauchi. This game was the predecessor and test bed to his new game called Gran Turismo. Launched in Japan in 1997, it quickly created a global phenomenon that continues today.
With 80 million GT games sold, it’s not just the most successful racing game, but the highest selling PlayStation game.
PlayStation and GT helped evolve not just car racing games, but game consoles in general with a gaming revival in the late-90s, such as the Nintendo 64, Microsoft Xbox and the short-lived Sega Dreamcast, which was the first to feature an in-built modem for online play.
As media pondered how the gaming world related to the real world, punctuated by Top Gear racing an NSX around a racetrack in the gaming and then real world, Sony picked up on the idea and in conjunction with Nissan, launched the GT Academy in 2008, an alterative route into real-world motorsport, where a gamer could go from virtual to reality by winning a series of national and then international real-life driving challenges.
Inaugural winner, Spain’s Luca Ordonez, won the opportunity to race with Nissan in the 2009 Dubai 24 Hours, which was so successful, it led to him signing a full season
where he won twice, finished second in the championship, and has since competed in five Le Mans 24 Hour races as high as a class podium.
Just last month, the new FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships takes racing back to the virtual world, with the global tour visiting Sydney in March. Established in 2018, there are two racing series, and winners fly to the official FIA end-of-year ceremony for the awards, alongside the other FIA championships including Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship.
And it all started with a boxy car crossing a dotted line.