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Classic game appreciation section: OutRun

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.

Get ready!

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.

Mini me

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. 

Big wheels keep on turnin'

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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19 comments

  • AuthorityFigure - October 16, 2011 6:45 p.m.

    There's no such thing as "limited MIDI" - the standard remains the same to thise day. I think the author really means "limited synthesis".
  • bass88 - October 14, 2011 6:07 a.m.

    Nice write-up Mr. Towell. Love this game. One of my all-time favourites. Can't believe it is older than me. I used to play it at arcades but I have it on the Saturn now. I never approached it as a racing game either. It was just one of those games you played to unwind and relax.
  • SouthTippBass - October 13, 2011 7:43 p.m.

    Hey, is that a maverick guitar? They didnt make a lot of those! I have the bass! :-)
  • GR_JustinTowell - October 14, 2011 1:32 a.m.

    Sure is! I actually have two :)
  • EnigmaSpirit - October 13, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    This was a great article, but I have to say that this game doesn't really scream "classic" to me. I am still waiting for the next "Nights" to appear on this article, so to speak. Then again, I do think that the list of criminally under appreciated games on that level is somewhat slim. This game does look like it would be the beast back in the day.
  • iluvpkmnmonday - October 13, 2011 2:10 p.m.

    I recently picked up OutRun for my MasterSystem. Loads of fun trying to beat high scores with a friend. Such great music, even on a limited system.
  • SDHoneymonster - October 13, 2011 10:54 a.m.

    Never did I think I'd see the day when Sedgemoor Splash was mentioned on GamesRadar. If you want some classic west country water slide action, head to the Oasis in Swindon. That bad boy was THE place to be back in the day.
  • lwright86 - October 13, 2011 9:40 a.m.

    Awesome game, you forget just how magical it looks, even now, until you see it in motion. Very few games make me think "I really wish I was there". @lazer59882 Yeah, how dare that 8 year old Justin not take into consideration the sensibilities of the rest of the world when formulating thoughts about a game. Although, while we're not on the topic, I wish American TV shows and films would stop going on about the president and eating twinkles. Here's some news for you: most countries don't have a president and eat twinkies. ...Jesus...
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:58 a.m.

    wtf are you even talking about? i cant even ridicule your comment cause i have no idea what its about. tv shows about the president and eating twinkies? WTF? i havent even seen a twinkie in maybe 15 years, and no, idiot, most countries do have a president.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:18 a.m.

    ugh, i hate it when you people talk about england and sh!t, like we care/have any idea what you're talking about. wtf is somerset?! you thought the girl was driving?! heres some news for you: most countries drive on the right hand side. get used to it. jesus christ its maddening reading this drivel sometimes
  • Mooshon - October 13, 2011 9:35 a.m.

    Now now my colonial friend, don't be upset. Cut the empire some slack. After all, we invented driving, computers, the internet... and americans ;)
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:47 a.m.

    hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha thats the funniest thing i've read all day! i get it! i get your humor! you listed things that were obviously created by americans (which everyone knows--cars computers internet) then said they were made by you english people. you say stuff thats completely untrue! and thats funny! thats a good joke! you should be a standup comedian where you just tell lies, and hope people find them funny. ...cause they're not.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 9:49 a.m.

    also: england hasnt been an empire for like 400 years. so i guess that was part of your joke too?
  • ParanoidAndroid64 - October 13, 2011 2:35 p.m.

    I apologise, but as a history student I can't help but point out it was the British Empire, not the English. Moreover, it only really started to decline after World War II, so you're way off with your guess. Good article, anyway.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 6:24 p.m.

    riiight. thats why america kicked englands ass in the revolution and again in 1812. and why england came begging for americas help in WW2 after it pussied out and basically gave hitler czechoslovakia and poland and let him overrun france. cause england was such a sick empire. ...gimme a break. thats why you are a history STUDENT. you clearly didnt finish learning it yet. come back to me when you do.
  • lazer59882 - October 13, 2011 6:27 p.m.

    i also cant help but point out your spelling of "apologize." you spelled it with an "s", indicating you're english or whatever. which shows why you'd make such an idiotic comment like that. nice try though.
  • Mooshon - October 13, 2011 8:40 a.m.

    Great appreciation article Justin! Similar early arcade experience for me. We had the commodore 64 at our house though. Me and my brother used to get a big comfy chair from the front room to use as a posh driving seat. Also on the c64 tape version, they put the entire soundtrack on side B, boom! That went in the 80's midi hi-fi (graphic equaliser ftw) for an unparalleled 8 bit sensory experience. Bliss.
  • GR_JustinTowell - October 13, 2011 8:45 a.m.

    Sounds great :) I like the idea of the big chair for the driving seat. Pity the car never flipped in the old tape versions. That crappy spin was all you got. But yes, graphic equalisers ftw indeed!

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