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Racing games are a video game genre in which the player participates in a racing competition. They may be based on anything from real-world racing leagues to fantastical settings. They are distributed along a spectrum between simulations and simplified arcade-style racing games. Go-kart racing games emerged in the 1990s as a popular sub-genre of the latter. Racing games may also fall under the category of sports games.
In 1973, Atari, Inc. released Space Race, an arcade game where players control spaceships that race against opposing ships, while avoiding comets and meteors. It is a competitive two-player game with black and white graphics and controlled with a two-way joystick.
The following year, Atari released the first driving video game in the arcades, Gran Trak 10, which presents an overhead single-screen view of the track in low resolution white-on-black graphics. Later that same year, Taito released Speed Race designed by Tomohiro Nishikado (of Space Invaders fame), in which the player drives down a straight track dodging other cars. The game was re-branded as Wheels by Midway Games for release in the United States and was influential on later racing games.
In 1976, Sega released Moto-Cross, re-branded as Fonz in the US, as a tie-in for the popular sitcom Happy Days. The game featured a three-dimensional perspective view, as well as haptic feedback, which caused the motorcycle handlebars to vibrate during a collision with another vehicle. In October 1976, Atari's Night Driver presented a first-person view. Considered the first "scandalous" arcade game, Exidy's Death Race (1976) was widely criticized in the media for its violent content, which only served to substantially increase its popularity.
In 1977, Atari released Super Bug, a racing game historically significant as "the first game to feature a scrolling playfield" in multiple directions. Sega released Twin Course T.T., a two-player motorbike racing game. Another notable 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 games.
In 1980, Namco's overhead-view driving game Rally-X was the first game to with background music, and allowed scrolling in multiple directions, both vertical and horizontal. It also uses a radar, to show the rally car's location on the map. Alpine Ski, released by Taito in 1981, was a 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. Turbo, released by Sega in 1981, was the first racing game to use sprite scaling with full-color graphics.
One of the most influential racing games was released in 1982: Pole Position, developed by Namco and published by Atari in North America. It was the first game to be based on a real racing circuit, and the first to with a qualifying lap, where the player needs to complete a time trial before they can compete in Grand Prix races. While not the first third-person racing game (it was predated by Sega's Turbo), Pole Position established the conventions of the genre and its success inspired numerous imitators. According to Electronic Games, for the first time in the amusement parlors, a first-person racing game gives a higher reward for passing cars and finishing among the leaders rather than just for keeping all four wheels on the road". According to IGN, it was "the first racing game based on a real-world racing circuit (Fuji Speedway in Japan)" and "introduced checkpoints," and that its success, as "the highest-grossing arcade game in North America in 1983, cemented the genre in place for decades to come and inspired a horde of other racing games".
In 1984, several LaserDisc racing games were released, including Sega's GP World and Taito's Laser Grand Prix with live-action footage, Universal's Top Gear featuring 3D animated race car driving, and Taito's Cosmos Circuit, featuring animated futuristic racing. Taito also released Kick Start, Buggy Challenge, a dirt track racing game featuring a buggy. Irem's The Battle-Road, a vehicle combat racing game with branching paths and up to 32 possible routes.
Racing 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 fanbase), 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.
In 1985, Sega released Hang-On, a Grand Prix style motorbike racer. 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 pseudo-3D sprite-scaling at high frame rates.
In 1986, Durell released Turbo Esprit, which had an official Lotus license, and 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, represented as radio stations. The game has up to five 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.
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. That same year, Namco released Winning Run.
In 1989, Atari released Hard Drivin', another arcade driving game that used 3D polygonal graphics. It uses force feedback, where the wheel fights the player during aggressive turns, and a crash replay camera view. That same year, 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 includes a garage facility to allow players to enact modifications to their vehicle, including adjustments to the tires, shocks and wings. 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. 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 arcade racing game with 3D graphics (it was predated by Winning Run, Hard Drivin' and Stunts), 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, laying the foundations for subsequent 3D racing games.
In the same year, Nintendo released Super Mario Kart, but it was known that it was pseudo-3D racing. Here it has items to affect players from racing and the referee, Lakitu will help you out to know the rules and rescue racers from falling down.
In 1993, Namco released Ridge Racer, and thus began the polygonal war of driving games. Sega later released Daytona USA, one of the first games to feature filtered, texture-mapped polygons. The following year, Electronic Arts produced The Need for Speed, which would later spawn the world's most successful racing game series and one of the most successful game series. 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. Sega Rally 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.
In 1996, Nintendo created a 3D game called Mario Kart 64, a sequel to Super Mario Kart and has an action so that Lakitu need to either reverse, or rev your engines to Rocket Start. Lakitu can also rescue players. Unlike Sega Rally Championship, Mario Kart 64 focus only some racing and the items used.
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. It was considered the most realistic racing simulation game in its time, 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. The Gran Turismo series has since become the second-most successful racing game franchise of all time, selling over 80 million units worldwide as of April 2018.
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. In the same year, Sega releases Daytona USA 2 (Battle On The Edge and Power Edition), which is one of the first racing games to feature realistic crashes and graphics.
1999 introduced Crash Team Racing, a kart racing game featuring the characters from Crash Bandicoot. It was praised for its controls and courses. Crash Bandicoor and its racing series has continued, with the most recent game being Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled. (June 2019) 1999 also 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. A similar game also from Sega is Emergency Call Ambulance, 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 2001 Namco released Wangan Midnight to the arcade and later released an upgrade called Wangan Midnight R. Wangan Midnight R was also ported to the PlayStation 2 by Genki as just Wangan Midnight.
In 2003, Rockstar San Diego's Midnight Club II was the first racing game to feature both playable cars and playable motorcycles. Namco released a sort of sequel to Wangan Midnight R called Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune.
There is a wide gamut of driving games ranging from simple action-arcade racers like Mario Kart: Double Dash (for GameCube) and Nicktoon Racers to ultra-realistic simulators like Grand Prix Legends, iRacing, Virtual Grand Prix 3, Live for Speed, NetKar Pro, GT Legends, GTR2, rFactor, X Motor Racing and iPad 3D racer Exhilarace — and everything in between. 
Arcade-style racing games put fun and a fast-paced experience above all else, as cars usually compete in unique ways. A key feature of arcade-style racers that specifically distinguishes them from simulation racers is their far more liberal physics. Whereas in real racing (and subsequently, the simulation equivalents) the driver must reduce their speed significantly to take most turns, arcade-style racing games generally encourage the player to "powerslide" the car to allow the player to keep up their speed by drifting through a turn. Collisions with other racers, track obstacles, or traffic vehicles is usually much more exaggerated than simulation racers as well. For the most part, arcade-style racers simply remove the precision and rigor required from the simulation experience and focus strictly on the racing element itself. They often license real cars and leagues, but are equally open to more exotic settings and vehicles. Races take place on highways, windy roads, or in cities; they can be multiple-lap circuits or point-to-point sprints, with one or multiple paths sometimes with checkpoints, or other types of competition, like demolition derby, jumping, or testing driving skills. Popular arcade-style racers include the Need for Speed series, the Ridge Racer series, the Daytona USA series, the Sega Rally series, the Rush series, the Cruis'n series, the Midnight Club series, the Burnout series, the Out Run and MotorStorm series.
During the mid-late 2000s there was a trend of new street racing; imitating the import scene, one can tune sport compacts and sports cars and race them on the streets. The most widely known ones are the Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition and the Midnight Club series, certain entries in the Need for Speed series, Initial D series, and the Juiced series.
Some arcade-style racing games increase the competition between racers by adding weapons that can be used against opponents to slow them down or otherwise impede their progress so they can be passed. This is a staple feature in kart racing games such as the Mario Kart series, but this kind of game mechanic also appears in standard, car-based racing games as well. Weapons can range from projectile attacks to traps as well as non-combative items like speed boosts. Weapon-based racing games include games such as Full Auto, Rumble Racing, and Blur.
Simulation style racing games strive to convincingly replicate the handling of an automobile. They often license real cars or racing leagues, but will sometimes use fantasy cars built to resemble real ones if unable to acquire an official license for them. Vehicular behavior physics are a key factor in the experience. The rigors of being a professional race driver are usually also included (such as having to deal with a car's tire condition and fuel level). Proper cornering technique and precision racing maneuvers (such as trail braking) are given priority in the simulation racing games.
Although these racing simulators are specifically built for people with a high grade of driving skill, it is not uncommon to find aids that can be enabled from the game menu. The most common aids are traction control (TC), anti-lock brakes (ABS), steering assistance, damage resistance, clutch assistance and automatic gear changes.
Some of these racing simulators are customizable, as game fans have decoded the tracks, cars and executable files. Internet communities have grown around the simulators regarded as the most realistic and many websites host internet championships. Some of these racing simulators consist in Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo, Assetto Corsa, Project Cars and many more.
Kart racing games have simplified driving mechanics while adding obstacles, unusual track designs and various action elements. Kart racers are also known to cast characters known from various platform games or cartoon television series as the drivers of "wacky" vehicles. Kart racing games are a more arcade-like experience than other racing games and usually offer modes in which player characters can shoot projectiles at one another or collect power-ups. Typically, in such games, vehicles move more alike go-karts, lacking anything along the lines of a gear stick and clutch pedal.
Crashing Race (1976) was the first game to include car combat. The game was also slower than other racing games of the time due to hardware limitations, prompting the developers to use a go-kart theme for the game. Since then, over 50 kart racing games have been released, featuring characters from Nicktoons to Mario.
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