Today’s most popular racing games are close facsimiles of real driving experiences due to photo-realistic graphics and real-life physics modeling. Designers now take on the painstaking task of simulating the articulation of each car’s suspension setup, engine power curve, and body roll, even going as far as to accurately simulate the sound of the car’s engine at different points in the acceleration curve. However, this level of realism is afforded to us due to complex computer chips that are now capable of hundreds of millions of operations per second. A look back at the precursors to the modern Gran Turismo and Forza series reveals how developers in the 1980s and 1990s worked around the technical constraints of the day, advancing us past the simple pixel representation of a car with completely fictional driving characteristics.
Hard Drivin’: Hard Drivin’ was one of the first games to utilize a 3D environment, and while its polygonal graphics are rudimentary by today’s standards, these graphics laid the backdrop for what was billed as “the world’s first authentic driving simulation game.” The developers consulted with Doug Milliken to create realistic, for the time, engine, transmission, tire, and suspension modeling. Hard Drivin’ is very crude by today’s standards but the effort showed gamers that, despite the technical limitations of the day, there was more to be had than just moving a sprite-based artifact around a screen in a willy nilly manner.
Test Drive: Accolade built upon the rough framework laid by Hard Drivin’ and advanced the notion of a true racing simulator, making it more accessible for the masses. The first Test Drive game hit computer platforms like the Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and DOS in 1987, bringing with it a selection of some of the best super cars of the day including the Lamborghini Countach, Ferrari Testarossa, Lotus Esprit Turbo, Porsche 911 Turbo (930), and Chevy Corvette (C4). Test Drive’s car selection pales in comparison to modern simulations like Gran Turismo and Forza, but storage capacity was a very expensive commodity in the floppy disc era. Test Drive was noteworthy for offering a first-person driving perspective with dashboards, displays, steering wheels, and shift gates that were rough approximations of each car’s actual cockpit treatments, giving a sense of realism that had previously not been seen in the world of racing video games.
The Duel: Test Drive 2: The sequel to the groundbreaking Accolade racing sim introduced us to some concepts that were far ahead of their time in terms of the way they kept the base game relevant for an extended period of time. The Porsche 959 and Ferrari F-40 were included with the standard computer versions of the game, while the Super NES and Sega Genesis versions added a third car, the venerable Lamborghini Diablo. The computer versions of The Duel: Test Drive 2 were noted for offering the owner the option of buying expansion discs, opening up the ability to drive a variety of “supercars” and “musclecars,” while scenery discs were also offered to increase the game’s tracks to include California and European sceneries. These expansion discs foreshadowed the concept of downloadable content (DLC) that has become a ubiquitous way of breathing new life into modern racing games like Gran Turismo and Forza.
The Need for Speed: The Need for Speed was the first effort at semi-realistic racing for the 32-bit generation of home video game consoles. This cross-platform release (3DO, Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn) included full spec sheets, historical information, audio commentary and real life videos of each of the game’s cars, allowing users to really appreciate what they were “driving.” The level of realism was nowhere near what Gran Turismo would offer only a few short years later, but the gulf between The Need for Speed and Gran Turismo was far narrower than the gulf in realism that existed between The Need for Speed and its contemporary competitors like Ridge Racer.
The contributor spent a good deal of his youth living out his exotic car fantasies behind the wheel of the Porsche 959 in The Duel: Test Drive 2.
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