Hard Drivin'

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Hard Drivin'
Developer(s)Atari Games Applied Research Group
Sterling Silver
  • NA: Atari Games
  • JP: Namco
Designer(s)Rick Moncrief
Programmer(s)Stephanie Mott
Max Behensky
Artist(s)Sam Comstock
Kris Moser
Deborah Short
Composer(s)Don Diekneite
Platform(s)Arcade, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Lynx, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, Genesis, ZX Spectrum
Amiga, CPC, ST , C64
DOS, Spectrum
  • JP: December 21, 1990
  • NA: 1991
  • EU: 1991
  • WW: 1991
Genre(s)Driving simulation
Mode(s)2 players (alternating)
Arcade systemAtari Hard Drivin'

Hard Drivin' is a driving video game developed by Atari Games in 1989. It invites players to test drive a sports car on courses that emphasizes stunts and speed. The game features one of the first 3D polygon driving environments[5] via a simulator cabinet with a force feedback steering wheel and using a custom rendering architecture.[6] According to the in-game credit screen, Hard Drivin' was designed by two teams working concurrently in the United States and Ireland.

Hard Drivin' was released in arcades in February 1989,[1][5][7] when driving games were largely implemented with scaled 2D sprites and when filled-polygon 3D graphics of any kind were rare in games. It is the second commercially released arcade racing game to use 3D polygons; Namco's Winning Run was released two months earlier.

In total, there are fifteen variations of the arcade unit. The eleven cockpit and four compact machines included various British, German, and Japanese versions.


Arcade version screenshot

The gameplay resembles a driving game, featuring a car similar in appearance to a Ferrari Testarossa, referred to in the game as an expensive "sports car". The screen shows a first person perspective from inside the car, through the windshield. To separate it from other driving titles of that era, stunt loops and other road hazards were added. The game generally consists of 1 or 2 laps around the stunt track. In certain modes, if the player scored in the top 10, the player races against the computer controlled car, Phantom Photon. In this race, it was possible to race the wrong way around the course and beat the Phantom Photon across the start-finish line. The game challenges the players in a daredevil fashion and broke away from traditional racing games like Pole Position. It was also one of the first games to allow for more than three initials on the high-score board, which enterprising drivers could use to their advantage to construct sentences during the course of game-play.

It also features a realistic manual transmission mode (including a clutch pedal and the possibility of stalling the car should one mis-shift) and force feedback steering wheel, in which the driver would have to properly operate the car as they would in real life.

A notable feature of the game is the "instant replay" display that is presented after a crash, which sets Hard Drivin' apart from most driving games of its time, which after a crash would just put the player back on the road, stopped, and let them accelerate again. Before resuming play after a crash, Hard Drivin' would run an approximately ten second animation, captioned "Instant Replay", which showed a wide aerial view of the movements of the player's car and surrounding vehicles leading up to the crash, with the player's car always centered on the screen. During the replay, the player could not change the action on screen, but the replay could be aborted to immediately get back to active gameplay. The replay would continue for about two or three seconds after the crash, showing a polygon-rendered fireball and the movement of the car, including any spinning, flipping, or bouncing off the struck obstacle. The replays add to the appeal of the game and actually add a motivation to crash in spectacular ways in order to see them played out from the aerial view.

Besides collisions, a non-survivable landing after going airborne (even if the car landed right-side up), or even going too far off-road, could cause a crash which would be replayed like any other crash, with the car even exploding into the same orange fireball. The game tracks the player's progress around the track by invisible waypoints (denoted by flags on the course map showing the player's progress when the game ends due to time running out), and after a crash, the car is placed back on the track at the last waypoint passed; this sometimes is a significant distance back from the point of collision. One of the waypoints on each track was the marked checkpoint about halfway around, which when passed granted the player extra time.

Hard Drivin's approach to collisions or unrealistic events—putting the car back on the road at a standstill—was the norm for driving games until later games such as Cruis'n USA and its successors introduced intentionally artificial physics to force a car to always stay near the road and land right-side up pointing forward.

After going off-road, the player has ten seconds to return to the road, or else they will be stopped and returned to the road, at a standstill, at the last waypoint passed (just like when a crash occurs, but without an instant replay).


The 3D computer graphics arcade hardware that was eventually used for Hard Drivin' began development in the mid-1980s, several years before the game was released. At the time, Atari Games was owned by Namco, and the two companies began working on a 3D arcade system. After Atari and Namco went separate ways, each company developed their own arcade system in the late 1980s, based on the same prototype. Atari used an earlier version of the hardware for Hard Drivin', while Namco developed a more advanced version of the hardware called the Namco System 21, which they used for Winning Run (1988).[8]

The development of Hard Drivin' began in 1988. Atari also originally intended to release the game in 1988. However, according to one of Atari's engineers and designers, it was delayed due to the dispute from its Vice President claiming that no one would buy an arcade cabinet for $10,000 after The Last Starfighter arcade game was cancelled for that same reason a few years earlier. After weeks of research, it was decided that $10,000 was an acceptable price point.[9][10][11]

In addition to the main CPU, Hard Drivin' uses two TMS34010 32-bit graphics-oriented processors and a digital signal processor.[6]


The engine, transmission control, suspension, and tire physics were modeled in conjunction with Doug Milliken[12] who was listed as a test driver in the game credits. In the 1950s his father William Milliken of Milliken Research led a team at Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo NY USA (later Calspan) that converted aircraft equations of motion to equations of motion for the automobile, and became one of the world's leading experts in car modeling.[13]


The contemporary home systems Hard Drivin' was ported to had tremendously less computing power than the arcade machine. These include the Amstrad CPC, Mega Drive / Genesis, and Atari Lynx. The Commodore 64 version was only released as part of the Wheels of Fire compilation. A version for the NES was programmed by Mark Morris, but was unreleased; a ROM of the game can be found online.


Atari sold 3,318 Hard Drivin' arcade cabinets.[1] In Japan, Game Machine listed Hard Drivin' on their June 1, 1989 issue as being the second most successful upright/cockpit arcade cabinet of the month.[3] It went on to become Japan's sixth highest-grossing dedicated arcade game of 1990.[22] On Hong Kong's Bondeal charts, it topped the dedicated arcade cabinet chart in November 1989.[4]

The Spectrum version of the game rose to number 2 in the UK sales charts, behind Gazza's Superstar Soccer.[23]

Zzap!64 magazine regarded the Commodore 64 port as one of the worst C64 games of all time—criticizing the monochrome graphics, painful slowdown, and the lack of instant replays that were present in the other 8-bit conversions. The magazine gave the game 20%.[24] In Japan, the Mega Drive version received a score of 30 out of 40 from a panel of four reviewers.[25]


Your Sinclair listed it as the best arcade game of 1989.[26] Computer and Video Games listed it as the fourth best arcade game of 1989.[27] The home computer ports received the Best Coin-Op Conversion prize at the 1989 Golden Joystick Awards.[28] Crash gave it a Crash Smash award.[16] The Games Machine gave it a Star Player award.[29]


In 2004 Hard Drivin' was released for the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox as part of the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 collection.

The PC games Stunt Driver and Stunts, borrow many elements from Hard Drivin' and both games are similar to each other.


  1. Race Drivin' (1990, arcade)
  2. Hard Drivin' II - Drive Harder (1991, Atari ST, Amiga, DOS)[30]
  3. Hard Drivin's Airborne (1993) (unreleased)
  4. Street Drivin' (1993) (unreleased)[31]


  1. ^ a b c "Atari Production Numbers Memo". Atari Games. January 4, 2010. Archived from the original on January 20, 2013. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
  2. ^ "Hard Drivin' (Registration Number PA0000441184)". United States Copyright Office. Retrieved 25 May 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Game Machine's Best Hit Games 25 - アップライト, コックピット型TVゲーム機 (Upright/Cockpit Videos)". Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 357. Amusement Press, Inc. 1 June 1989. p. 21.
  4. ^ a b "The Bondeal Chart". RePlay. Vol. 15, no. 4. January 1990. p. 148.
  5. ^ a b "allgame - Hard Drivin'". Retrieved June 22, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "system16.com". Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  7. ^ Hard Drivin' at the Killer List of Videogames
  8. ^ Harrison, Phil (August 1989). "Arcades: Namco's Winning Streak". Commodore User. No. 72 (September 1989). pp. 90–1.
  9. ^ "the last starfighter [coin-op] arcade video game, atari, inc. (1984)". Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  10. ^ "The Last StarFighter article". Archived from the original on 2008-03-28.
  11. ^ "last StarFighter arcade game clip". YouTube. March 26, 2007. Archived from the original on 2021-12-14. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  12. ^ Jed Margolin. "Hard Drivin'/Race Drivin' Schematics". Jmargolin.com. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  13. ^ "Karl Ludvigsen - Mister Supernatural - Bill Milliken". Bentleypublishers.com. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  14. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  15. ^ "Hard Drivin' Domark put the hammer down". ACE Magazine. January 1990. p. 47. Retrieved 13 August 2018 – via archive.org.
  16. ^ a b "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  17. ^ Doctor Dave (January 1991). "Genesis ProView: Hard Drivin" (PDF). GamePro. p. 87.
  18. ^ Robert A. Jung (6 July 1999). "Hard Drivin' Atari's arcade port reviewed". IGN Entertainment. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  19. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  20. ^ "Hard Drivin'". Ysrnry.co.uk. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  21. ^ MegaTech rating, EMAP, issue 6, page 80, June 1992
  22. ^ ""Tetris" Has Still Earned More Than "Final Fight"" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 396. Amusement Press, Inc. 1 February 1991. p. 22.
  23. ^ "The YS Rock'n'Roll Years - Issue 51". Ysrnry.co.uk. Archived from the original on June 20, 2014. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  24. ^ "Hard Drivin'". Zzap!64 (68): 86. December 1990. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  25. ^ "30 Point Plus - ハードドライビン". Shūkan Famicom Tsūshin. No.362. Pg.32. 24 November 1995.
  26. ^ "Your Sinclair's Top of the Slots '89". Your Sinclair. March 1990.
  27. ^ "The C+VG Top Arcade Games of 1989". Computer and Video Games. No. 98 (January 1990). 16 December 1989. p. 9.
  28. ^ "High Society". ACE. EMAP (33 (June 1990)): 10. May 1990.
  29. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  30. ^ "Atari ST Hard Drivin' II - Drive Harder". Atari Mania.
  31. ^ "Beta Blues, Vol. 1 - IGN". Ca.ign.com. May 5, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2014.

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