Arcade games died out because there's no point going to arcades to play the best games – you can play the best games in your own home. We're completely spoiled in that respect. But that wasn't the case in the 1980s. When Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum ruled the home computing roost, going to the arcade to play games was a genuine, eye-widening treat. Nothing emphasised the quality gap like OutRun - Sega's beautiful journey that is, incredibly, 25 years old this year.
In the early 1980s, the idea of a 3D racing game where you drove through screen after screen of scenery was a pipe dream. But then Yu Suzuki came along and blew everything out of the water with Super Scaler technology. It could throw around huge, screen-filling sprites like they were going out of fashion (in truth, they were, but not for another decade or so yet). First came Hang On, which was decent enough. But then came OutRun - and it was freakin' spectacular - just hit the 720p button on the video and look at it:
Above: Sniff... sniff... WAAAaaaa it's so beautiful...
And the reason for this isn't just the technical accomplishment – there's something magical about the art style that really does make me feel like crying when I think about it. This is where the term 'blue sky gaming' comes from. Because the first stage in OutRun is set along a seafront, under a blue sky filled with fluffy clouds. It's a halcyon day - you know, the perfect day you had by the beach, even if you never actually had it.
One of my earliest gaming memories is playing OutRun at the now sadly-closed Sedgemoor Splash leisure pool in Bridgwater, Somerset. The force feedback on the wheel was bust on one side, meaning there was no resistance while turning left - something which meant when I was straightening up after a crash, I couldn't tell where centre was, promptly crashing me again and losing a precious 20p. I must've been 8 years old, so to remember details like this is just an indication of the profound effect it had on me.
This first taste of OutRun is emblazoned indelibly into my memory. I remember standing and watching the demo sequence, marvelling at the animated title logo with the cute little car and even cuter seagulls flying in some thermal over the coast.
Above: Glistening water, red car, palm trees... If ever a logo captured the essence of a game, it's this one
Everything was so likeable. The way the high scores were drawn onto the screen in the wake of little car sprites that drove on from the right and off to the left. The cute animations of your girlfriend getting annoyed at you when you crashed. I do remember wondering why she was driving, though, forgetting that other countries drive on the right-hand side of the road.
Also likeable was the large, sit-in arcade cabinet that I played while on a school camping trip in 1992. By then, I had the Game Gear version, which was disappointingly basic graphically, but still had that sensational soundtrack (8-bit-ised of course). I remember sitting back in the seat and feeling the tilt of the hydraulic cab, hurtling down the beachfront and humming along with Magical Sound Shower, aware that I was being watched by some wide-eyed kid on the left of my vision, who probably remembers OutRun as clearly as I do.
Above: Anyone who owns one of these - please don't break it. I want to buy it one day
OutRun is synonymous with that feeling that only holidays can give you. But there are more reasons for this than mere association with actual holidays, no matter how many times it crops up in my memories of them.
The reason I liked Formula One cars as a kid? The big tyres. It's what fast cars ought to have. And the tyres on the (unlicensed) Ferrari in the original OutRun are really fat. I love every pixel of that car sprite, even when it's mirrored while turning left to save memory. I'm particularly fond of the huge plumes of pixellised smoke – something that I spent many hours super-imposing over F1 2010 for this video last year:
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