Codex Gamicus

Racing video games
Basic Information

Racing video games refer to video games that usually consist of some kind of vehicle competing against other vehicles on a series of different tracks or levels, where the goal is to reach the end before everyone else. Racing video games do not always have to feature vehicles; some games, such as Sonic R, just feature characters running.

Racing Sub-Genres[]

There are many racing sub-genres that are very different from each other. While they all share the same goal of getting to the end of the track before everyone else, the gameplay and focus are different for each sub-genre.



Racing video games have origins in earlier electro-mechanical racing arcade games. A primitive example was Kasco's 1959 hit Mini Drive, where the player used a steering wheel to control a miniature car across a scrolling conveyor belt inside an arcade cabinet. A breakthrough came in the late 1960s, with Kasco's Indy 500, a rear-projection arcade racing game designed by Kenzou Furukawa. It used rear image projection to display a first-person scrolling track on a screen, along with rival cars the player needs to avoid crashing into, while the controls consisted of a steering wheel and accelerator pedal. It became a hit in Japan, selling 2,000 cabinets there, and inspired several clones in 1969, including SEGA's Grand Prix and Chicago Coin's Speedway, which became an even bigger hit in North America, selling 10,000 cabinets there and winning a prize. Indy 500 laid the foundations for racing video games.[1]


The arcade game Astro Race, released by Taito in 1973, was an early racing game, where players controlled spaceships that race against opposing ships while avoiding comets and meteors. The game allowed simultaneous two-player competitive gameplay, was controlled using an early four-way joystick, and was presented in black & white graphics.[2]

In 1974, Taito released Speed Race, an early black-and-white car racing game designed by Tomohiro Nishikado (of Space Invaders fame),[3] who considers it to be "the first arcade driving game".[4] The game's most important innovations were its introductions of collision detection and scrolling graphics, specifically overhead vertical scrolling,[5] with the course width becoming wider or narrower as the player's car moves up the road, while the player races against other rival cars, more of which appear as the score increases. It also featured an early racing wheel controller interface with an accelerator, gear shift, speedometer and tachometer. It could be played in either single-player or alternating two-player, where each player attempts to beat the other's score.[6] The game was re-branded as Racer by Midway Games for released in the United States and was influential on later racing games.[5]

In 1975, Nintendo released EVR-Race, an early horse racing simulation game with support for up to six players.[7]

Fonz (1976), the first three-dimensional racing video game.

In 1976, Taito released Crashing Race, a simultaneous two-player competitive car racing game where each player must try to crash as many computer-controlled cars as possible to score points, and the player with the most points wins.[8] SEGA's Road Race,[9] released in February 1976,[10] introduced a three-dimensional third-person roadside scene of the race, displaying a constantly changing forward-scrolling S-shaped road with two obstacle race cars moving along the road that the player must avoid crashing while racing against the clock.[11] That same year, SEGA released Moto-Cross,[12] an early black-and-white motorbike racing game, based on the motocross competition, that also featured an early three-dimensional third-person perspective.[13] Also known as Man T.T.[14] (released August 1976),[15] SEGA re-branded the game as Fonz,[16] as a tie-in for the popular sitcom, Happy Days.[17] Both versions of the game displayed a constantly changing forward-scrolling road and the player's bike in a third-person perspective where objects nearer to the player are larger than those nearer to the horizon, and the aim was to steer the vehicle across the road, racing against the clock, while avoiding any on-coming motorcycles or driving off the road.[13][17] The game also introduced the use of haptic feedback, which caused the motorcycle handlebar to vibrate during a collision with another vehicle.[18] That same year also saw the release of two arcade games that extended the car driving sub-genre into three dimensions. SEGA's Road Race, which presents a roadside scene of the race, displaying a constantly changing forward-scrolling S-shaped road with two obstacle race cars moving along the road that the player must avoid crashing while racing against the clock.[19] Atari's Night Driver presented a series of posts by the edge of the road though there was no view of the road or the player's car and the graphics were still low resolution white on black, and gameplay was a race against the clock.

In 1977, SSEGA released Twin Course T.T., an early simultaneous competitive two-player motorbike racing game.[20] That same year, UPL's Comotion was an early four-player car racing game, with an overhead view.[21] Road Champion, released by Taito in 1978, was an overhead-view timed car racing game where players try to race ahead of the opposing cars and cross the finish line first to become the winner.[22] In 1979, SEGA's Head On was a racing game that played like a maze chase game and is thus considered a precursor to the 1980 hit Pac-Man.[23] Monaco GP, released by SEGA in 1979,[24] improved upon previous overhead-view racing games with a vertically scrolling view and color graphics. Another notable video game from the 1970s was The Driver, a racing-action game released by Kasco (Kansai Seiki Seisakusho Co.) that used 16 mm film to project full-motion video on screen, though its gameplay had limited interaction, requiring the player to match their steering wheel, gas pedal and brakes with movements shown on screen, much like the sequences in later laserdisc video games.[25]


Rally-X (1980), the first open-world racing game.

In 1980, Namco's overhead-view driving game Rally-X was the first game to feature background music,[26] as well as the first game to allow scrolling in multiple directions, both vertical and horizontal, and it was possible to pull the screen quickly in either direction.[27] It also featured an early example of a radar, to show the rally car's location on the map.[28] Rally-X was also the first open-world racing game. Alpine Ski, released by Taito in 1981, was an early winter sports game, a vertical-scrolling racing game that involved maneuvering a skier through a downhill ski course, a slalom racing course, and a ski jumping competition.[29] Turbo, released by SEGA in 1981,[30] was the first racing game to feature a third-person perspective, rear view format.[31] It was also the first racing game to use sprite scaling with full-color graphics.[32] Bump 'n' Jump, released by Data East in 1982, was a vertical-scrolling driving game where the player's car jumps or bumps enemy cars for points, while bonuses were awarded for completing levels without hitting any cars.[33]

The game that set the template for racing video games was 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 colour 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. It also featured crashes caused by collisions with other vehicles and roadside signs, and was the first game to feature a qualifying lap, where the player needs to complete a time trial before they can compete in Grand Prix races. The game's publisher Atari publicized the game for its "unbelievable driving realism" in providing a Formula 1 experience behind a racing wheel at the time,[34] for which it is considered the first attempt at a driving simulation.[35] The game's graphics featured full-colour landscapes with scaling sprites, including race cars and other signs, and a perspective view of the track, with its vanishing point swaying side to side as the player approaches corners, accurately simulating forward movement into the distance.[36]

Pole Position II was released in 1983, and featured improvements like giving the player the choice of different race courses as well as more colourful landscapes lined with advertising billboards.[37] TX-1, developed by Tatsumi in 1983,[38] was licensed to Namco,[39] who in turn licensed it to Atari in America,[39] thus the game is considered a successor to Pole Position II.[39] TX-1, however, placed a greater emphasis on realism, with details such as forcing players to brake or downshift the gear during corners to avoid the risk of losing control, and let go of the accelerator when going into a skid in order to regain control of the steering. It was also the first car driving game to use force feedback technology, which caused the steering wheel to vibrate, and the game also featured a unique three-screen arcade display for a more three-dimensional perspective of the track. It also introduced nonlinear gameplay by allowing players to choose which path to drive through after each checkpoint, eventually leading to one of eight possible final destinations.[39] Change Lanes, released by Taito in 1983, was a third-person racer where the player's car had fuel that reduces while driving, thus the driver must pick-up fuel cells to get a refuel at each checkpoint, while crashing into cars or obstacles would slow down the car and further reduce its fuel. If the fuel runs out, the game would end.[40] That same year, Kaneko produced Roller Aces, an early roller skating racer played from a third-person perspective,[41] while Irem released MotoRace USA, an early partially third-person motorbike racer,[42] where the player travels across the US and refuels at various cities along the way, while avoiding crashes that can cause a substantial loss of fuel, causing the game to end if the fuel is depleted.[43] An early attempt at creating a home driving simulator was Tomy's Turnin' Turbo Dashboard, also released in 1983. It was the first home video game to feature a racing wheel controller.[44]

In 1984, several early racing laserdisc video games were released, including Sega's GP World[45] and Taito's Laser Grand Prix[46] which featured live-action footage, Universal's Top Gear featuring 3D animated race car driving,[47] and Taito's Cosmos Circuit, featuring animated futuristic racing.[48] Taito also released Kick Start, a fully third-person motorbike racing game,[49] and Buggy Challenge, an early dirt track racing game featuring a buggy.[50] Other early dirt racing games from that year were dirt bike games: Nintendo's Excitebike[51] and SNK's motocross game Jumping Cross,[52] both played from a side-scrolling view. SNK also released Gladiator 1984, an early horse racing game,[53] and Mad Crasher, an early futuristic racing game, where the player drives a futuristic motorbike along diagonal-scrolling futuristic roads suspended in mid-air, while leaping across gaps, shooting other cars, and getting bonuses and power-ups.[54] Another racing game that involved shooting that year was Nichibutsu's Seicross, where the player rides a motorcycle-like craft, bumps other riders, collects power modules and shoots blue coins.[55] Other notable arcade releases that year include Konami's Road Fighter, a vertical-scrolling racer where the aim is to drive fast, pass cars and avoid accidents for maximum points, while reaching check points before running out of fuel;[56] and Irem's The Battle-Road, an early open-ended vehicle combat racing game that featured branching paths and up to 32 possible routes.[57] Another unique take on the genre that year was Plazma Line, a first-person space racing game that is considered[who?] the first computer game with 3D polygon graphics[citation needed]. The objective of the game is to race through outer space in a first-person view while avoiding obstacles (rendered in 3D polygons) along the way. It also featured an automap radar to keep track of the player's position.[58]

Racing video 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 fan base), produced what is considered the first attempt at a racing simulator on a home system, REVS, released 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 offered a semi-realistic driving experience with more detail than most other racing games at the time.[59]

In 1985, SEGA released Hang-On, a popular Grand Prix style rear-view motorbike racer,[60] considered the first full-body-experience video game,[61] and was regarded as the first motorbike simulator for its realism at the time, in both the handling of the player's motorbike and the artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled motorcyclists.[60] It used force feedback technology and was also one of the first arcade games to use 16-bit graphics and SEGA's "Super Scaler" technology that allowed three-dimensional sprite-scaling at high frame rates.[62] That same year, Jaleco released City Connection, a platform-racer where cops chase the player around different cities in the United States, United Kingd, France, Japan and India.[63]

In 1986, Durell released Turbo Esprit, which had an official Lotus license, and featured working car indicator lights. Also 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. It was notable for giving the player the non-linear choice of which route to take through the game and the choice of soundtrack to listen to while driving,[64] represented as radio stations. The game also featured up to five multiple endings depending on the route taken, and each one was an ending sequence rather than a simple "Congratulations" as was common in game endings at the time.[65] That same year, Konami's WEC Le Mans was a race driving simulator that attempted to accurately simulate the 24 Hours of Le Mans competition, with fairly realistic handling, a day-night cycle, and the use of force feedback to simulate road vibration in the form of a vibrating steering wheel that reacts to the driver's acceleration and off-road bumps.[66]

In 1987, Namco produced Final Lap,[67] the unofficial sequel to Pole Position II. Final Lap was the first arcade game that allowed multiple machines to be linked, allowing for multiplayer races.[67] It was also the first racing game to implement "rubber banding" to ensure that less talented players were never too far behind the leader, a concept that would be taken much further by the Mario Kart series.[68] That same year, Square released Rad Racer, one of the first stereoscopic 3D games.[69] In the same year, Atari produced RoadBlasters, a driving game that also involved a bit of shooting.

In 1988, Taito released Chase H.Q., a unique racing game where the player drives a police car that must chase criminals within a time limit.[70] Chase HQ's gameplay, which involved ramming the enemy car while avoiding oncoming traffic, has been cited as a precursor to the gameplay of later titles such as Driver and Burnout.[71] That same year, CBS Sony released Paris-Dakar Rally Special, an imaginative racing game with platformer and action/adventure elements, featuring Dakar Rally cars that could fire bullets, the driver able to exit the car and go exploring to lower a bridge or bypass other obstacles, underwater driving sections, and at times having avoid a fleet of tanks and fighter jets.[72] That same year, Namco released an early 3D racing game in the arcades, Winning Run.[73] The following year, Atari introduced Hard Drivin', the first arcade driving game that included 3D polygonal graphics. It also featured force feedback, where the wheel fights the player during aggressive turns, and 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, designed by David Kaemmer and Omar Khudari. The game is generally regarded as the first true auto racing simulation on a personal computer. Accurately replicating the 1989 Indianapolis 500 grid, it offered advanced 3D graphics for its time, setup options, car failures and handling. Unlike most other racing games at the time, Indianapolis 500 attempted to simulate realistic physics and telemetry, such as its portrayal of the relationship between the four contact patches and the pavement, as well as the loss of grip when making a high-speed turn, forcing the player to adopt a proper racing line and believable throttle-to-brake interaction. It also featured a garage facility to allow players to enact modifications to their vehicle, including adjustments to the tires, shocks and wings.[59] The damage modelling, while not accurate by today's standards, was capable of producing some spectacular and entertaining pile-ups.

Crammond's Formula One Grand Prix in 1992 became the new champion of sim racing, until the release of Papyrus' IndyCar Racing the following year.[74] Formula One Grand Prix boasted detail that was unparalleled for a computer game at the time as well as 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 in 1992. 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 their 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. SEGA struck back that same year with Daytona USA, one of the first video games to feature filtered, texture-mapped polygons, giving it the most detailed graphics yet seen in a video game up until that time.[75] The following 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. In the same year, Midway introduced Crusin' USA. In 1995, Sega Rally Championship introduced rally racing and featured cooperative gameplay alongside the usual competitive multiplayer.[76] SEGA Rallly was also the first to feature driving on different surfaces (including asphalt, gravel, and mud) with different friction properties and the car's handling changing accordingly, making it an important milestone in the genre.[77] 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'. Atari didn't join the 3D craze until 1997, when it introduced San Francisco Rush.

In 1997, Gran Turismo was released for the PlayStation, after being in production for five years since 1992.[78] It was considered the most realistic racing simulation game in its time,[79] combined with playability, enabling players of all skill levels to play. It offered a wealth of meticulous tuning options and introduced an open-ended career mode where players had to undertake driving tests to acquire driving licenses, earn their way into races and choose their own career path.[79] The Gran Turismo series has since become the most popular racing game franchise of all time, selling over 61.41 million units worldwide.[80]

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 the 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, a sandbox racing game where you are a taxi driver that needed to get the client to the destination in the shortest amount of time.[81] 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 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.

See also[]

  • Racing video games by year


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