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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
MS-DOS, Spectrum
  • JP: December 21, 1990
  • NA: 1991
  • EU: 1991
  • WW: 1991
Genre(s)Driving simulation[5]
Mode(s)2 players (alternating)
Arcade systemAtari Hard Drivin'

Hard Drivin' is a sim racing arcade video game developed by Atari Games in 1989.[5] Players test drive a sports car on courses that emphasize stunts and speed. It features one of the first 3D polygon driving environments[6] via a simulator cabinet with a haptic vibrating steering wheel and a custom rendering architecture.[7]


Arcade version screenshot

Players drive a sports car in a first-person perspective, navigating one to two laps around a stunt track for their best time while avoiding hazards such as vehicles and obstacles. If scoring in the top 10 during certain modes, the player races against the computer-controlled Phantom Photon car. A manual transmission mode includes a clutch pedal and the possibility of stalling the car, along with a vibrating haptic vibrating steering wheel.

The player's driving progress is tracked by invisible waypoints, denoted by flags on the course map when the game ends due to time running out. Passing the waypoint half-way through the track grants the player extra time.

After crashing (either into another vehicle or missing an airborne landing), a ten second instant replay shows a wide aerial view of the player's movement and surrounding vehicles leading up to the crash. Following the replay, the player's car is placed back on the track at the last waypoint passed, which may be a significant distance from the point of collision. If the player's car goes off-road, a ten second countdown begins to return to the track, or else they will be stopped and returned, at a standstill, to the previous waypoint.


Development of the 3D computer graphics arcade hardware that was eventually used for Hard Drivin' began 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 separated, each company developed its own arcade system in the late 1980s, based on the same prototype. Atari used an earlier version of the hardware for Hard Drivin', and Namco developed a more advanced version of the hardware called the Namco System 21, used for Winning Run (1988).[8]

The development of Hard Drivin' began in 1988. Atari originally intended a 1988 release, but 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 US$10,000 (equivalent to $26,000 in 2023) after The Last Starfighter arcade game was canceled for that reason a few years earlier. Weeks of research concluded that this price was acceptable.[9][10]

In addition to the main CPU, Hard Drivin' uses two TMS34010 32-bit graphics-oriented processors and a digital signal processor.[7]


The engine, transmission control, suspension, and tire physics were modeled in conjunction with Doug Milliken[11] who is 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, New York (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.[12]


The contemporary home systems Hard Drivin' was ported to have 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.


Atari sold 3,318 Hard Drivin' arcade cabinets.[1] In Japan, Game Machine listed Hard Drivin' in its June 1, 1989, issue as the second most successful upright/cockpit arcade cabinet of the month.[3] It became 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 rose to number 2 in the UK sales charts, behind Gazza's Superstar Soccer.[23]

Nick Kelly of Commodore User reviewed the arcade version and said: "Hard Drivin' is exactly what its name suggests — difficult. You won't master this quickly, and if you aren't used to driving a car it's going to be very tough for you indeed. But Atari can be proud of themselves for producing a coin-op which really does put you in the driving seat, and that is undeniably a major first".[5]

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 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.[15] 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.


Race Drivin' (1990) is an arcade system sequel. Hard Drivin' II - Drive Harder (1991) is for Atari ST, Amiga, and MS-DOS.[30] Hard Drivin's Airborne (1993) and Street Drivin' (1993) were unreleased.[31]


  1. ^ a b "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 May 25, 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. June 1, 1989. p. 21.
  4. ^ a b "The Bondeal Chart". RePlay. Vol. 15, no. 4. January 1990. p. 148.
  5. ^ a b c d Kelly, Nick (March 1989). "Arcades - Hard Drivin'". Commodore User. EMAP. pp. 78–79.
  6. ^ "allgame - Hard Drivin'". Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved June 22, 2008.
  7. ^ a b "system16.com". Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  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 March 28, 2008.
  11. ^ Jed Margolin. "Hard Drivin'/Race Drivin' Schematics". Jmargolin.com. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  12. ^ "Karl Ludvigsen - Mister Supernatural - Bill Milliken". Bentleypublishers.com. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  13. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  14. ^ "Hard Drivin' Domark put the hammer down". ACE Magazine. January 1990. p. 47. Retrieved August 13, 2018 – via archive.org.
  15. ^ a b "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  16. ^ Doctor Dave (January 1991). "Genesis ProView: Hard Drivin" (PDF). GamePro. p. 87.
  17. ^ Robert A. Jung (July 6, 1999). "Hard Drivin' Atari's arcade port reviewed". IGN Entertainment. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  18. ^ "Archive - Magazine viewer". World of Spectrum. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  19. ^ "Hard Drivin'". Ysrnry.co.uk. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  20. ^ MegaTech rating, EMAP, issue 6, page 80, June 1992
  21. ^ Game review, Crash magazine, Newsfield Publications, issue 72, January 1990
  22. ^ ""Tetris" Has Still Earned More Than "Final Fight"" (PDF). Game Machine (in Japanese). No. 396. Amusement Press, Inc. February 1, 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. No. 68. December 1990. p. 86. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
  25. ^ "30 Point Plus - ハードドライビン". Shūkan Famicom Tsūshin. No.362. Pg.32. November 24, 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). December 16, 1989. p. 9.
  28. ^ "High Society". ACE. No. 33. EMAP. June 1990. p. 10.
  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". ign.com. May 5, 2008. Retrieved August 26, 2014.

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