Road Rash (video game)
|Platform(s)||Sega Genesis, Amiga, Master System, Game Gear, Game Boy, 3DO, Sega CD, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Microsoft Windows|
|Genre(s)||Racing, vehicular combat|
Road Rash is a 1991 racing and vehicular combat video game originally developed and published by Electronic Arts (EA) for the Sega Genesis. It was subsequently ported to a variety of contemporary systems by differing companies. The game is centered around a series of road races throughout California that the player must win to advance to higher-difficulty races, while using a combination of fisticuffs and blunt weaponry to hinder the other racers.
Road Rash was one of the first games conceived by EA following the company's decision to begin developing games internally. The game's programmers Dan Geisler and Carl Mey were hired by EA to create a banked road effect for an NES title named Mario Andretti Racing. When the NES proved incapable of rendering the desired effect, focus shifted to a motorcycle racing game for the more powerful Sega Genesis. The game includes combat elements that were inspired by the violent behavior of Grand Prix motorcyclists during races, and the resulting uncertainty surrounding the game's genre created conflict between EA's development team and management. The 32-bit versions of the game feature 25 minutes of live-action full-motion video footage and a soundtrack primarily consisting of licensed grunge music courtesy of A&M Records. The effort to license the music of Soundgarden for the title led to the inclusion of other alt-rock bands such as Monster Magnet and Swervedriver.
Road Rash was released to critical and commercial success, and was EA's most profitable title to date. The original version for the Sega Genesis was particularly acclaimed for its violent and aggressive gameplay and the convincing sense of speed in its graphics, while the 3DO version was commended for its advanced visuals and grunge-based soundtrack. Reception of other versions ranged from positive to middling, with the later versions being considered dated by the time of their release. The game is the debut installment of the Road Rash series, and was followed by a number of sequels made for various consoles.
Road Rash puts the player in control of a motorcycle racer who must finish in either third or fourth-place (depending on the version) or higher among fourteen other racers in a series of five road races to advance throughout the game's five levels. The game's races take place in a number of Californian locales, including San Francisco, the Sierra Nevada, Napa Valley and the Pacific Coast Highway. During a race, the player can brake, accelerate, and attack neighboring racers. The player character will punch at the nearest racer with a default input, while holding a directional button during the input will result in either a backhand or a kick. Some opponents wield weapons such as clubs and chains, which can be taken and used by the player if the enemy racer is attacked as they are holding the weapon out to strike. The player racer can be ejected from their bike if they crash into an obstacle (such as cows, deer, cars and trees) or if they run out of stamina (shown in the bottom-left corner of the screen) due to fights with other racers. In this event, the racer will automatically run back toward their bike, though the player can alter their course and avoid incoming traffic with the directional buttons, or stand still by holding the brake input button. Opponents will likewise be ejected from their bike if their own stamina is depleted; the stamina of the nearest racer is visible within the bottom-right corner of the screen. In most versions, the color of the opponent's stamina meter changes as it decreases, while in the Sega CD version, it indicates the racer's level of aggressiveness toward the player.
The player character begins the game with $1,000. When the player wins a race, a cash prize is added to the player's balance. Between races, the player can access a bike shop and view several bikes of differing weights, speeds and steering capabilities, and the player can potentially purchase a new bike with the money they have accumulated; the bike shop is available from the main menu in the 32-bit versions. Some bikes in the 32-bit versions are equipped with a series of nitrous oxide charges, which can provide a burst of speed if the player quickly taps the acceleration input button twice. In the 16-bit versions, the player will receive a password at the end of a successful race, which can be entered at a password entry screen in a subsequent session to maintain the player's progress; in the 32-bit versions, progress can be saved at the game's main menu. When the player wins a race on all five of the game's tracks, they will advance to the next level. With each subsequent level, the courses become longer and the opponent racers become more aggressive. The player wins the game if they win a race on each track in all five levels.
The player's bike has its own "damage meter" between the player's and opponents' stamina meters, which decreases every time the player suffers a crash. If the meter fully depletes, the bike will be wrecked, the player's participation in the current race will end, and a repair bill must be paid. Motorcycle cops also make sporadic appearances throughout the game's tracks. If the player crashes within the vicinity of a cop, the cop will end their participation in the current race by apprehending them and charging them a fine. Repair bills and fines become more expensive with each subsequent level. If the player lacks the funds to cover either a repair bill or a fine, the game will end prematurely.
Road Rash is primarily single-player, but allows for two players to play intermittently against each other. The 32-bit versions feature two distinct modes of single-player gameplay: the central campaign "Big Game Mode" and a stripped-down "Thrash Mode", in which the player can race on any given track at any difficulty. In the Big Game Mode, the player takes on the identity of one of a selection of characters with differing statistics. Smaller characters accelerate more quickly, while larger characters have stronger attacks. Each of the characters start with a differing amount of money, and some characters come equipped with a weapon. Between races, the player can "schmooze" with other bikers and receive gameplay tips. The Windows version features an online multiplayer mode for up to eight human players connected via a modem or local network.
Development and release
Conception and early development
Road Rash was one of the first titles conceived by EA after they made the decision to begin developing video games in-house; until that point, EA had previously outsourced video game development to external studios, and were primarily focused on PC games due to the effects of the video game crash of 1983. In its tentative steps back into the console market, EA focused on genres that were determined to be strategic, namely sports and racing titles. Preliminary development began on an NES title named Mario Andretti Racing, and programmer Dan Geisler was hired by the company at this time. Technical director Carl Mey, who had just been laid off from Epyx following its bankruptcy, was also hired by EA and was given his first major project of creating a "banked road" effect for the game. Mey soon realized that while the NES was capable of road-scaling effects, banking would be beyond the console's ability. Producer and designer Randy Breen, who was previously involved with Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, was influenced by the difficulty and tedium of that title to create a racing game with more accessibility and entertainment value. Because Andretti was set to follow a similar formula to Indianapolis 500, Geisler, Breen, May and co-designer Walter Stein began a brainstorming session for a different type of racing game that would not necessarily adhere to realism. After Mey and Geisler rejected QuadRunners as potential racing vehicles due to Andretti's dirt track setting, Breen suggested motorcycles. Breen recounted, "I'd been into motorcycles for a long time, and we quickly realized bikes gave us lots of technical advantages. For instance, we could put more bikes than cars onscreen at once, and the bikers were more visible than car drivers, so they could be more expressive." The game's title originated from Breen reminiscing to the group about riding his own bike on Mulholland Drive to meet with friends and thinking to himself "Man, if you wiped out here, you'd get some serious road rash". Geisler suggested the title Road Rash on Mulholland Drive, and Breen used the name to pitch the concept to EA. The title was eventually shortened to Road Rash, and development moved from the NES to the recently introduced Sega Genesis, which was powerful enough to generate the desired road effects.
Before joining EA, Geisler had worked on Spectrum HoloByte's racing game Vette!; Geisler's coding for this title provided the framework for Road Rash, particularly its algorithm for estimating road curvature. Geisler claimed that the Genesis's memory capacity could have allowed him to create 802 miles of unique roads, and that he could have accurately mapped out the entire coast of California. The road effect for Road Rash took Geisler about six months to create, comprising a large portion of the game's early development. 3D-rendering technology for the game was adapted from the Genesis version of Blockout, which was in development at the same time. Lead artist Arthur Koch was brought onto the development team after the project was well underway, and he was tasked with training the other artists on using EA's in-house tools and conforming to the Genesis's 64-color palette, which Koch stated "was hard for a lot of artists to grasp". Several months into development, EA made the decision to promote Road Rash at the 1990 Consumer Electronics Show as a show of support for the Sega Genesis. This initial demonstration proved unsatisfactory; as Breen recalled, "We struggled to maintain a reasonable frame rate and the animations weren't effective." Mey also had concerns with "the very tame, almost Disney-like view of the AMA, and Randy's desire to make it a 'go anywhere'-style game". He remarked that the development team would refer to the game as "Randy's Sunday Ride" behind his back, and that "we all knew Road Rash needed more balls to sell than a simulation of someone following the speed limit." Following the show, the game needed to be re-pitched twice to avoid cancellation, and the team was given an additional six months to improve the game.
Revamp and 16-bit/8-bit releases
Mey requested to EA producer Richard Hilleman that he be given creative control over the gameplay on the grounds that he "wanted to make the game kick ass", to which Hilleman agreed. Over the following months, Geisler and Stein improved the game's performance, and Connie Braat refined the animation. To increase the player's sense of immersion, the rival racers were given individual names and characters, and would deliver banter in between races. The cops who pursue the player and arrest them if they crash were added to the game to create tension. To obtain reference material, Koch went to a local police department and convinced a motorcycle cop to pose for photographs. The wipe-out animations were brought about by Koch's previous work on John Madden Football and Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs; on the subject, Koch said "I was disappointed with the tackles and the falls and the fouls. I thought they could be a lot more dynamic. So I suggested that we devote more frames of animation to the crashes." Breen cited additional influence from Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner and "other cartoons where the villain gets beat up", adding that "Even though it set you back, it was still fun to watch." The combat element of the game was inspired by the behavior of Grand Prix motorcyclists, who Breen noticed would sometimes shove and kick each other during races. Other influences on this aspect include the biker gang action scenes in Akira and the tire pump scene in Breaking Away.
While working on the game's combat system, Mey and Geisler set a "no projectiles" rule, as such elements were an major issue in game engines that ran based on the frame rate. The introduction of fighting elements served to muddy the game's genre classification among EA's management, as they primarily specialized in simulation games and were uncertain how to market a title that was simultaneously a fighting and a racing game. Geisler named Hang-On as an influence in the game's direction, saying that "Hang-On before us was a game I liked, but I thought it was limited – no hills, no punching, no kicking. I respect Yu Suzuki, but I had it in my mind that this was going to make Hang-On obsolete. And I think we kind of accomplished that." Due to the game's violent content, EA was unable to secure official licenses from existing manufacturers, and so created soundalike brands in their place; "Panda", "Shuriken", "Kamikaze" and "Diablo" are respectively derived from Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Ducati. The game's roads were modeled by a crew led by Domonique Philipine and made use of Bézier curves. Breen claimed that the final road effect made some players vomit from motion sickness, to which he yelled out "Great. I've finally made a game that makes people puke!" Simultaneous multiplayer, which would become a common feature of subsequent Road Rash titles, was not yet possible due to the CPU power consumed by the game's road effect. The game's music was composed by Rob Hubbard. Road Rash was Hubbard's second motorcycle-based game following the 1985 Mastertronic title Action Biker.
The development of Road Rash spanned a total of approximately 21 months. Breen took advantage of EA's policy of not crediting producers on box art by removing Mey's name and inserting his own. This incident led to EA abolishing the practice of box-printed credits altogether. Mey would be presented with EA's in-house "Fireman of the Year" award, an accolade given to employees with the most impact on troubled projects. The Genesis version was publicly announced on March 1991 and released in North America in September 1991. The Amiga version was developed by Peakstar Software, featured music composed by Jason A.S. Whitely, and was released on December 1992. Road Rash was converted for the Game Gear and Master System by Gary Priest of Probe Software, with music adapted by Greg Michael. These versions were released in March 1994. The Game Boy version was published by Ocean Software and released in June 1994.
The 3DO version of Road Rash was developed in parallel with Road Rash 3. The Sega CD version was also in development at this time and was regarded as a "bridge product" between Road Rash 3 and the 3DO Road Rash. EA was influenced by the arrival and technology of the PlayStation and the CD-i to push for a more cinematic and realistic look, which led to the concept of digitized motorcycle racers. The 32-bit versions of Road Rash feature character sprites that have been digitized from a live-action cast largely consisting of the game's crew members; examples include Randy Breen as the game's motorcycle cops and programmer Dan Hewitt as a boogie boarder, a beach dweller, a hitchhiker and a Caltrans worker. The Sega CD and 32-bit versions feature 25 minutes of live-action full-motion video. The footage was directed by Rod Gross and also features appearances from the game's staff, including Breen and art director Jeff Smith as motorcycle riders, alongside local AFM racers in the area. The yellow Yamaha FZR1000 seen in the videos was Breen's own bike and was previously featured on the cover of Road Rash II. A red Ducati SuperSport 900, rented from a local company, was scratched during filming; since it could not be returned, the motorbike was kept by EA and displayed in their lobby.
Breen sought to make full use the CD format with the full-motion videos as well as a licensed soundtrack. Breen was particularly interested in incorporating the music of Soundgarden, of whom he was a fan. EA marketing director Leslie Mansford had a relationship with A&M Records, and was able to establish contact with attorney Chris Castle for the bid to license Soundgarden's music for the 3DO version of Road Rash. Castle turned down the offer due to his unfamiliarity with the 3DO platform and unwillingness to formulate a new deal structure for licensed music in video games. EA then approached the band directly. The members of the band were avid fans of the earlier versions of Road Rash and saw potential in licensing music to video games, which convinced Castle to change his mind. Seeking to "control the audio landscape", Castle obtained the band's permission to use them as leverage to incorporate other alt-rock bands within the A&M label into the game, including Monster Magnet, Paw, Swervedriver, Therapy? and Hammerbox. Castle agreed to allow each band to keep their share of the royalties on a non-recoupment basis, which would amount to half the revenue received by A&M from EA. The deal would prove lucrative for the bands involved, and A&M received an assortment of "promotional goodies" from EA. The non-licensed gameplay music in the Sega CD and 32-bit versions of the game was composed by Don Veca, while the incidental music in the full-motion video cutscenes was composed by Marc Farley.
The 3DO version was released in July 1994. The Sega CD version was released in North America in March 1995, and in Europe in May 1995. The PlayStation version's development was announced in July 1995, and it was released in February 1996. The Sega Saturn version was released in August 1996. The Windows version was released on October 10, 1996.
In June 1995, Atari Corporation struck a deal with EA in order to bring select titles from their catalog to the Atari Jaguar CD, with Road Rash being among the selected titles to be ported. These titles, along with Road Rash, went unreleased. It was announced in April 1996 that THQ would publish a Super NES version of Road Rash for a Christmas 1996 release that ultimately did not materialize. A version of Road Rash for the Panasonic M2 was announced but never released due to the system's cancellation. The Genesis version of Road Rash, along with its immediate sequels II and 3, was included in the PlayStation Portable compilation title EA Replay in 2006.
16 and 8-bit versions
|Reception (16 and 8-bit versions)|
The Genesis version of Road Rash was met with critical acclaim. KITS disc jockey Big Rick Stuart, writing for GamePro, gave the game a perfect score and called it "an instantly addictive motorcycle 16-bit game with a somewhat sick twist thrown in". MegaTech magazine said "Lots of races, lots of bikes, and plenty of thrills 'n' spills make this the best racer on the Megadrive!" Paul Glancey and Tim Boone of Computer and Video Games respectively described the game as a "beat 'em up on motorbikes" and "Super Hang-On with fists and clubs thrown in"; both reviewers noted that the graphics were convincing in their creation of the illusion of speed in spite of the fairly simple visuals, and Glancey added that the aggressive nature of the gameplay "broadens the enjoyment you get from Road Rash a great deal and makes you wonder why no-one thought of it before." Mark Bruton of Mega Zone said that the game's "vividly realistic" settings were complimented by the "excellently detailed" graphics and multi-level parallax scrolling, and was amused by the biker vocalizations, which were "very funny in a sick way". Richard Leadbetter and Julian Rignall of Mean Machines both praised the convincing three-dimensional effect of the graphics, with Leadbetter additionally commending the "brilliant" sound effects and Hubbard's "great" music. Road Rash was the 9th best-selling Genesis title in the United Kingdom in February 1992. In the United States, Road Rash was the third highest-renting Genesis title at Blockbuster Video in April 1992, and the ninth highest-renting in the following month. At the time of its release, Road Rash became EA's most profitable title. Mega placed the game at #8 on their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time. Game Informer ranked it as the 88th best game ever made in their 100th issue in 2001. The staff praised its more violent take on motorcycle video games.
The Amiga release of Road Rash was received positively. Neil Jackson of Amiga Format found the violent gameplay to be "just all-out thrash fun" that would "annoy everyone from the road safety crew to the Mary Whitehouse brigade", but added that the game "sounds like a kazoo [and] looks like a moped on an 8-bit". CU Amiga described the game as an "immensely playable" and "nicely violent" alternative to normal racing games, but noted that the Amiga version runs slower than the Genesis version and "doesn't deliver the feeling of charging down a road at 120mph." Road Rash was the fourth-highest selling Amiga title in the United Kingdom in its debut month, and remained among the top-30 best-sellers for five more months.
The Game Gear/Master System version also received positive reviews. Manny LaMancha of GamePro commended the simple controls, clean and clear graphics, ample audio and high challenge. Radion Automatic and Lucy Hickman of Mean Machines Sega praised the fast and easy-to-control gameplay, large sprites, and detailed and smooth graphics, though Hickman noted the absence of a simultaneous two-player mode as a drawback. Road Rash was the sixth highest-selling Game Gear title at Babbage's in its first month, and stayed within the top ten highest-selling Game Gear titles for the next five months.
The Sega CD version was met with a mixed reception. Bacon of GamePro commended the version as "uneven but exciting" and praised the amusing full-motion video cinematics, thrilling gameplay and grunge soundtrack, but was disappointed by the lower-quality graphics and lack of options compared to the 3DO version. Angus Swan and Steve Merrett of Mean Machines Sega commented that the graphics and gameplay were dated compared to Virtua Racing, but appreciated the emulation of the 3DO version's presentation visuals. Skid, Nick Rox and K. Lee of GameFan gave the Sega CD version scores of 70, 73 and 77; Skid and Nick both considered the version's animation and color palette to be a downgrade from the 3DO version, and Skid expressed distaste for the grunge soundtrack, while K. Lee felt that the game was a rehash of earlier series installments. Jeff Lundrigan of Game Players criticized the effect that the downgrade from the 3DO to the Sega CD had on the game's full-motion videos and backgrounds, and suggested that "the designers got too impressed with their own design. Instead of making Road Rash CD an improved version of Road Rash for Genesis, they decided to make it a scaled-down version of Road Rash for 3DO, and the poor little Sega CD isn't up to it." A reviewer for Next Generation also remarked that the Sega CD version is a major step down, and that while most of the downgrades are forgivable due to the Sega CD being a much less powerful system than the 3DO, the sparse scenery and low frame rate do not hold up even to games on the same system. He concluded it to be decent but less than what gamers would expect from the by-then established Road Rash series. Road Rash was awarded second place in the "Best Sega CD Game" category of GamePro's 1995 Editors' Choice Awards (behind Earthworm Jim: Special Edition).
|Reception (32-bit versions)|
The 3DO version of Road Rash was met with positive reviews. Bacon of GamePro gave the 3DO version a perfect score, citing improvements such as the five new tracks, six lane roads, branching routes, digitized backgrounds, humorous full motion video sequences, and new rock soundtrack. He concluded that "This souped-up Road Rash will knock the socks off experienced rashers and new racers alike." His one criticism was the lack of a multiplayer option. Iceman and Video Cowboy of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the 3DO version scores of 83% and 85%, declaring it a vast improvement over the Genesis Road Rash games due to the advanced graphics, high playability, and "the coolest music in gaming". However, Iceman felt that the gameplay eventually becomes repetitive. Chris Gore of VideoGames commended the visuals lent by the 3DO's advanced graphic capabilities and the "cool" music, but pointed out the inability to configure controls as a major flaw. A reviewer for Next Generation praised the game's "silky smooth" animation and the "in-your-face attitude" of the grunge soundtrack, and stated that "Although the game's long-term play value is damaged by repetitive levels, this is still a near classic title that will make a worthy addition to any 3DO library." Road Rash was the highest-selling 3DO title at Babbage's in its debut month, and would stay within the top ten highest-selling 3DO titles for the next three months. Road Rash won several awards from Electronic Gaming Monthly in their 1994 video game awards, including Best Driving Game, Best Music in a CD-Based Game, and Best 3DO Game of 1994. GameFan awarded the 3DO version of Road Rash the title of "Driving/Racing Game of the Year" in their 1994 Golden Megawards. Flux placed the 3DO version of Road Rash at #22 in its "Top 100 Video Games" list. In her review of the Saturn version, Sam Hickman of Sega Saturn Magazine said the 3DO version was "one of the best games of its time on any system ... Still the best version, even one year or so on." In Electronic Gaming Monthly's "Greatest 200 Video Games of Their Time" list, the 3DO version of Road Rash was ranked at #145.
The PlayStation version was less well-received than previous versions. Reviewers for Electronic Gaming Monthly, IGN, Next Generation and Maximum all criticized it for being a port of the 3DO version with only minor enhancements to the graphics and sound, with no changes to gameplay that had become outdated and outclassed by more recent racing games in the four years since Road Rash was first released. Roger Burchill of Game Players, while naming the PlayStation version "the best looking and best sounding incarnation of the game to date", also pointed out the lack of innovation in the gameplay, and derided the full-motion videos as "lame". GamePro's Air Hendrix, however, felt that the gameplay remained exciting, and though he remarked that the controls are stiffer than on previous versions, he gave the PlayStation version a wholehearted recommendation.
Air Hendrix and Sam Hickman both commented that the Saturn version, while good fun on its own terms, offers nothing not already seen in the 3DO and PlayStation versions, and falls short of those versions in some technical aspects, making it rather outdated for the time of its release. Marcus Hearn and Angus Swan of Mean Machines Sega said that while the premise of Road Rash was "novel", the Saturn version was rendered unremarkable by "samey and uneventful" scenarios, small sprites, unsophisticated animation, "inappropriate" music, and "extremely annoying" full-motion videos.
Mark East of GameSpot considered the Windows version to be identical to the 3DO version apart from its online multiplayer mode, which he said "does add a lot to the game". He also felt that its grunge soundtrack was somewhat outdated, and lambasted the in-game score as "the world's cheesiest General MIDI music". Gordon Goble of Computer Gaming World approved of the grunge soundtrack, graphics, and the entertainment value of the combat, but was annoyed by a conflict between the game, his sound cards and the OS's DirectDraw that would consistently return him to the desktop without warning, and deemed the title to be "too much periphery, too little game".
Road Rash was followed by two direct sequels on the Genesis, Road Rash II and Road Rash 3, as well as further spinoffs developed for later platforms such as the PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Advance. The Genesis titles achieved similar critical and commercial success to their predecessor, while the installments made for later consoles were met with mixed receptions and failed to recreate the success of the Genesis versions. EA attempted to capitalize on Road Rash's success by repurposing its game engine and mix of combat and racing for the 1994 inline skating title Skitchin'. Road Rash: Jailbreak, the last official installment of the series, was released in 2000. A spiritual successor to the Road Rash series, Road Redemption, was developed by Ian Fisch and released in 2017.
- In association with Advanced Technology Group for the 3DO, PlayStation and Sega Saturn versions; In association with New Level Software for the Sega CD version; In association with Papyrus Design Group for the Microsoft Windows version
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