Virtua Racing, also known as V.R. for short, is a Formula 1-themed racing arcade game, developed by SEGA AM2 and released in 1992. Virtua Racing was initially a proof-of-concept application for exercising a new 3D arcade platform under development, the SEGA Model 1. The results were so encouraging, that Virtua Racing was fully developed into a standalone arcade title. Though its use of 3D polygon graphics was predated by arcade rivals Namco (Winning Run in 1988) and Atari (Hard Drivin' in 1989), Virtua Racing had vastly improved visuals in terms of polygon count, frame rate, and overall scene complexity, which all contributed to a greater sense of immersion. Virtua Racing is regarded as one of the most influential video games of all time, for laying the foundations for subsequent 3D racing games and for popularizing 3D polygon graphics among a wider audience, along with Virtua Fighter.
The original arcade game has three levels, designated into difficulties. Beginner is "Big Forest", intermediate is "Bay Bridge" and expert is "Acropolis". Each level has its own special feature, for example the amusement park in "Big Forest", or the "Bay Bridge" itself, or the tight hairpin of "Acropolis". The game introduced the "V.R. View System" by allowing the player to choose one of four views to play the game (behind-the-car, top view, aerial view and cockpit view). This feature was then used in most other SEGA arcade racing games, and is mentioned as a feature in the attract mode of games such as Daytona USA. It was later ported to home consoles, starting with the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1994.
Arcade cabinet versions
V.R. was released in a "twin" cabinet – the standard and most common version, which is effectively 2 complete machines built into a single cabinet. The Twin cabinets for the USA were manufactured by contract at Grand Products, Inc. in Illinois for SEGA and were built using Wells-Gardner 25" monitors, nearly all of which had Zenith picture tubes with a manufacturing defect that caused them to fail after a few years of use. As a result of this, many V.R. machines were parted or thrown out and are an uncommon sight today. The Twin cabinet that was sold in the rest of the world was built by SEGA in Japan and used 29" Nanao monitors.
Also available was an upright (UR), which was a single-player cabinet using the same force-feedback steering as the twin.
There was also a Deluxe version, known as the V.R. DX cabinet type, which is also a single-player machine and has a 16:9 aspect-ratio monitor (the first use of a widescreen aspect ratio monitor in an arcade game), and 6 airbags (3 on each side) built into the seat that will inflate and "nudge" the player when cornering, and one more airbag on the player's back that inflates under braking. The seat is also adjustable via "forward" and "back" buttons using air pressure. V.R. DX's force-feedback steering also uses two pneumatic cylinders to rotate the steering wheel, which differ from the electric motor-and-clutch system that the upright and twin versions use (which have no inbuilt air system), so the steering feel is quite different.
Virtua Formula was released in 1993. It was unveiled at the opening of SEGA's second arcade amusement park Joypolis, where a whole room with 32 machines was dedicated to the game. Virtua Formula was effectively a "super DX" version of V.R. and the player sat in a full-motion hydraulically actuated Formula One car 'replica' in front of a 50-inch screen. Most of these units were converted into SEGA's second-generation Indy car simulator, Indy 500, and are commonly found at larger SEGA Gameworks locations in the USA.
All versions of Virtua Racing are linkable up to 8-players; meaning 4 twin units or 8 DX, UR, or Virtua Formula cabinets can be linked together using fiber-optic cables. In addition this, there was an optional display known as the Live Monitor that would sit on top of the twin cabinets and replay action shots of what was occurring on the live players in a "virtual sportscast" by a virtual commentator, "Virt McPolygon". The multiplayer Virtua Formula version also features an on-air camera, showing players' facial expressions on a monitor above the cabinet. The 4-player Virtua Formula deluxe cabinet cost £250000 for arcade operators (equivalent to £448436 or $688817 in 2021), and £3 per play for players (equivalent to £5.38 or $8.27 in 2021).
Home console versions
Due to the complexity of the Model 1 board, a home console version seemed unlikely, until 1994 when a cartridge design incorporating the SEGA Virtua Processor on an extra chip was created to enable a version on the Genesis/Mega Drive. This chip was extremely expensive to manufacture, leading SEGA to price the Genesis version of Virtua Racing unusually high: US$100 in the United States and £70 in the United Kingdom.
A version of the game was also planned for the SEGA VR, a virtual reality headset accessory for the Mega Drive/Genesis that was planned to release in fall 1993. However, the game, along with the accessory, was later cancelled.
The 32X version, also known as Virtua Racing Deluxe was released in 1994, developed by SEGA AM2, and published by SEGA under the SEGA Sports label. It performs much closer to the original arcade and includes two extra cars ("Stock" and "Prototype") and two new tracks ("Highland" and "Sand Park"). Due to the poor sales of the 32X, the game was not as popular as its Genesis predecessor.
The Saturn version, previously known by the working title Virtua Racing Saturn, was released in 1995 and developed and published by Time Warner Interactive. The Saturn release has the game soundtrack as standard Red Book audio, which can be listened to in any CD player. The Saturn version also includes seven new courses and four new cars. Unlike other versions, it features Grand Prix mode, where players drive a series of cars and the tracks to earn points.
A remake was released for the PlayStation 2 under the SEGA Ages 2500 label known as Virtua Racing: FlatOut. It was released in Japan in 2004 and in North America and Europe in 2005 as part of the SEGA Classics Collection. It includes three new courses and four new cars.
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Best Director (Nominee),
Best Graphics (Nominee)
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The game was a commercial success in the arcades. In North America, RePlay's coin-op charts in April 1993 listed Virtua Racing as the highest-earning deluxe video game arcade cabinet. It remained the highest-earning deluxe cabinet in the May 1993 charts.
The arcade game was critically acclaimed. Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it 9 out of 10, stating "SEGA has created a racing masterpiece", praising the "incredibly fluid" graphics as "smooth and mobile", the "air bladder system" for simulating motion, the "selection of views" and transmission types, "link-up capabilities" allowing multiplayer, and "steering wheel" featuring "a tension mechanism for added realism." They concluded, the "lifelike racing sensations are extremely impressive and exciting", and "SEGA succeeds in creating one of the most realistic racing games ever", leaving "all other racing games eating its technological dust!"
Computer and Video Games reviewed the deluxe Virtua Formula cabinet, giving it ratings of 89% for graphics, 91% for sound, and 90% for gameplay, with a 90% score overall. The reviewer Paul Rand described it as "one of the most exciting arcade drives around," praising the "hydraulic control" and movements of the "full-size F1 car" cockpit cabinet which make it "feel as though you're flying along at 300km/h." He compared it favorably with Namco's Ridge Racer, noting that while it doesn't have the latter's "drop-dead stunning graphics," Virtua Racing has "the vital ingredient that makes or breaks games of this genre - a heart-pumping sense of speed."
The Mega Drive/Genesis version was also well-received. GamePro named it the best Genesis game shown at the 1994 Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES), commenting, "While obviously a great deal of graphic clarity, detail, and color was lost, the game play is stunningly faithful to the coin-op. ... this is the best version [of Virtua Racing] you'll see until SEGA's mystery 32-bit home system leaves orbit." In their later review, they complimented the game on its inclusion of all the elements of the arcade version aside from the support for up to eight players, and remarked that though the graphics are not as good as the arcade version, they feature faster-moving polygons that any other cartridge game. While they criticized the audio and low longevity, they praised it for its "fast, frantic fun" and concluded "VR is the best 16-bit racer yet" and "a must-have game." They gave it ratings (out of 5) of 4 for graphics, 4 for sound, 5 for control, and 5 for fun factor.
The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly scored it 8, 8, 8 and 7 out of 10, adding up to 31 out of 40 overall, or 7.75 out of 10 average. Like GamePro, they criticized the audio, but held that the game itself, though not as good as the arcade version, was the best racer yet seen on cartridge-based systems. In September 1994, Famitsu magazine's Reader Cross Review gave the Mega Drive version of an overall score of 32 out of 40, or an average of 8 out of 10. Diehard GameFan stated that "the speed, graphic intensity and addictive gameplay that made the arcade game a major hit are all included in this awe inspiring release." Mega placed the game at number 4 in their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time.
GamePro gave the 32X version a highly positive review, stating that it successfully addressed the Genesis version's longevity problem with its new cars and new tracks. They also praised the improved graphics, details, and controls, and the retention of on-the-fly view switching even in two-player split-screen mode. Out of 5, they gave it ratings of 5 for graphics, 4 for sound, and 5 for control, with an overall fun factor of 5 out of 5.
Time Warner's Saturn version received a mixed reception. SEGA Saturn Magazine gave the Saturn version a 77% score. They praised the additional tracks and cars as giving the game more depth than an arcade racer, but countered that what most gamers wanted was a straight conversion of the coin-op Virtua Racing, not a home-oriented remake. The concluded that the Saturn version is good on its own terms, but completely overshadowed by the Saturn conversion of SEGA Rally Championship, which was to be released just a few weeks after.
In Japan, the arcade game was nominated for several Gamest Awards for the year 1992. It was nominated in the categories of Best Action Game, Best Director, and Best Graphics, which it lost to Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Art of Fighting, and Xexex, respectively.
In 1996, Next Generation magazine included it in their Top 100 Games of All Time list. They ranked the game at number 11 on the list, including the arcade, 32X and Saturn versions. This was above later SEGA racing games Daytona USA and SEGA Rally, with the magazine stating that while it lacks texture mapping, Virtua Racing is "the best racing game on the planet."
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