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|Developer(s)||Sega AM R&D #2|
|Arcade system||Sega Model 1|
Virtua Racing or V.R. for short, is a Formula One 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-graphics platform under development, the "Model 1". The results were so encouraging, that Virtua Racing was fully developed into a standalone arcade title. Though its use of 3D polygonal 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, and displayed multiple camera angles and 3D human non-player characters, 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 polygonal graphics among a wider audience.
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".
When selecting a car, the player can choose different transmission types. VR introduced the "V.R. View System" by allowing the player to choose one of four views to play the game. 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".
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 (SVP) 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.
The game renders 9,000 polygons per second with the SVP chip, significantly higher than what the standard Genesis/Mega Drive hardware is capable of. The game was incompatible with Majesco's re-released Genesis 3 from 1998, and would not work on any Genesis equipped with a Sega 32X.
The Sega 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 performed much closer to the original arcade, and included two extra cars ("Stock" and "Prototype") and two new tracks ("Highland" and "Sand Park").
The Sega 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, called Virtua Racing: FlatOut, was released for the PlayStation 2 under the Sega Ages 2500 label. 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.
The arcade version was well received upon release. It debuted in North American arcades at the top of RePlay's deluxe cabinet earnings chart in October 1992, and it remained at the top through March, April and May 1993. It was later number-two in August 1993 (behind Stadium Cross), and remained at number-two in October 1993 (behind Suzuka 8 Hours). At Japan's 1992 Gamest Awards, it was nominated for Best Action, Best Direction, and Best Graphics, but lost to Street Fighter II′: Champion Edition, Art of Fighting, and Xexex, respectively.
Upon its arcade release, Electronic Gaming Monthly called it a "racing masterpiece" and said its "lifelike racing sensations are extremely impressive and exciting". They called it "one of the most realistic racing games ever" and concluded that it leaves "all other racing games eating its technological dust". Computer and Video Games reviewed Virtua Formula in early 1994, stating that it is "one of the most exciting" arcade driving games and praising the "hydraulic control" of the cabinet. They concluded that, while its graphics are not as "drop-dead stunning" as the more recent Ridge Racer, Virtua Racing still has a greater "heart-pumping sense of speed."
GamePro named the Genesis/Mega Drive version the best Genesis game shown at the 1994 Consumer Electronics Show, 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 than any other cartridge game. They criticized the audio and low longevity but nonetheless concluded "VR is the best 16-bit racer yet." The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly scored it 31 out of 40 (average 7.75 out of 10). Like GamePro, they criticized the audio but held that the game, though not as good as the arcade version, was the best racer yet seen on cartridge-based systems. Famitsu magazine scored the Mega Drive version of the game 33 out of 40, calling it a "groundbreaking" port; later in September 1994, their Reader Cross Review gave it an 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.
The two sports reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the Saturn version scores of 8 and 7 out of 10, with the first reviewer praising the added content and overall improvement over the previous home ports, and the second reviewer saying that the game is enjoyable but doesn't fully use the graphical capabilities of the Saturn. GamePro similarly remarked "This version not only looks better than both the Genesis and 32X versions, it also has a ton more options." They remarked that the graphics are not as good as Daytona USA, but that the game has better music and is more fun to play. A reviewer for Next Generation felt that Virtua Racing was antiquated by this time, particularly with the imminent release of Sega Rally Championship on the Saturn. However, he acknowledged that the game had enough historical impact to draw its share of loyalists, and said the Saturn version "is not only arcade-perfect, it also contains crucial features not present in the original." Sega Saturn Magazine gave the Saturn version a 77%. 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. They 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. Maximum made the same comments but were more vehement in their criticism of the fact that the Saturn version is not a straight conversion of the arcade game. They gave it 2 out of 5 stars.
In 1994, it appeared at 4th place on Mega's list of Top Mega Drive Games of All Time. In 1996, it appeared at 11th place on Next Generation's list of Top 100 Games of All Time, stating that it is still "the best racing game on the planet." In 2015, it appeared at 3rd place on IGN's list of The Top 10 Most Influential Racing Games Ever, behind Pole Position and Gran Turismo. According to Luke Reilly, while Winning Run was the first racing game with 3D polygons, Virtua Racing's "bleeding-edge 3D models, complex backdrops, and blistering framerate were unlike anything we’d ever seen." He added that it "allowed us to toggle between four different views, including chase cam and first-person view" which is "hard to imagine a modern racing game without" and said it "showed the masses what the future of racing games was going to look like".
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