Monday, June 30, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 12...

Namco became aware of the popularity of retro-inspired remakes one the past few years. Despite a strong opening in the early '90s they had failed to topple Sega by the end of the decade. The studio came back in the new century looking to expand their market base in new media. Nothing in the past few years had grown as rapidly as social networking games and mobile titles. Young developers had a chance to create a breakout hit like certain Angry Flappy Birds. A great mobile game could make millionaires out of independent developers overnight. A big studio like Namco, and more recently Nintendo, had a lot to gain by remaking arcade classics for mobile devices. Mobile games tended to work best when players only had a few minutes to spare and games could be enjoyed in short bursts. Many arcade games were perfect in this regard. Pole Position Remix was released in 2008 to iOS devices like the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. It had garnered great reviews from editors and players alike. It was an iconic series and audiences had great expectations. Namco did not disappoint. The game was easy to get into and enjoy. Despite being on a smaller mobile device the graphics and sound was far superior to any prior Pole Position and even Final Lap arcade release. Thank goodness for advances in technology! Namco gave audiences more than they expected. The game included all the classic tracks including the renamed Namco track (Fuji), Speedway (oval), Wonder (Suzuka), Seaside (Long Beach) and the new Misaki Point.. There were also all sorts of items that could be unlocked.

Namco allowed players to earn skins to change the look but not control of the racers. If players wanted to see what the racers looked like on an alien planet they could choose a theme that turned the F1 races into alien ships. Even the scenery and rival cars were changed to complete the theme. Namco made sure to give the title the same TLC that their original arcade hits had. The music, control and design were impeccable. The game was a bargain for the price especially considering how much content Namco put into it. To be fair the company certainly got far more than 99 cents out of me when the original Pole Position was in the arcade. Long time fans were happy to see Namco returning to their roots. If the studio kept up the momentum then they could find tremendous success on the various mobile platforms.

When people said that they grew up in the arcade they were often serious about it taking up the majority of their childhood. For my brothers and I it was no different. We knew where all the good games were and were on many as soon as they were released. It seemed that there was not one mall, laundromat, convenience store or restaurant within a 40 mile radius of Long Beach where we did not know what arcade machines they had. A visit to a new mall was often met with great enthusiasm because it also meant that we would get to discover a new arcade in the process. The amount of time and money we spent in the arcades was substantial. The arcade experience certainly did define our childhoods. Of course it also defined an era for millions of kids in the US and abroad. Many went into the game industry themselves because they had such enjoyable memories while growing up. I knew that I was not the only racing fan that was affected by the majesty of the tracks featured in the Sega titles. Two fans Antonis Pelekanos and Tyrone Rodriguez started up a Kickstarter Campaign to help fund his game project. The 90's Arcade Racer was an homage to the great racing games of the '90s. The creators cited the Sega and Namco racers as his biggest inspiration. The track layouts, details and even cars he selected were an amalgamation of Daytona USA, Ridge Racer and SCUD Race.


Every turn featured on the demo race course featured a jaw dropping spectacle to drive past, under or through. The skyscrapers, glass sea wall from SCUD Race were the most obvious but throw in a large animatronic dinosaur head, rocket ship and six story astronaut balloon and the stages became as over-the-top as arcade visitors remember them. Mr. Pelekanos and Mr. Rodriguez had clearly been doing their homework. Copying an old racing game would be one thing but recreating the look and feel that the designers at Sega and Namco had spent the better part of two decades perfecting was brilliant. Based on the development diaries the selection of vehicle types and course details audiences would be having a severe case of deja vu for a game that never really existed. The 90's Arcade Racer would be nothing without impeccable track layouts. Sega wrote the book on level design and every developer big and small has had to study their work over the past two decades. The next blog will look at just a few chapters in their amazing legacy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 11

Race fans enjoyed the sense of speed that a great game provided. They enjoyed the challenge of controlling a several-hundred horsepower car on a tough and winding course. Whether it was against a computer or human opponent there was a genuine sense of tension each time the green flag dropped. That energy was palpable even to non-race fans. The biggest reason why racing games exploded in popularity in the '90s was due to the introduction of 3D engines in the arcade. Casual fans would watch in awe as cars flew by some breathtaking scenery at over 200mph. Leading the pack was Sega. The company was no stranger to success. It had been at the forefront of arcade technology for decades. In fact Sega was an industry leader before the videogame as we know it had been born. In the early days the studio created electromechanical cabinets that featured moving components and no video screen whatsoever. Once the industry went digital Sega was ready to go. They had the talent, the production facilities and a network of arcades ready to distribute the machines.

Daytona USA was the 3D racing series by which all other titles would be measured against. The game was based on the large and powerful Stock Car / NASCAR racers from the US. Early racing games tended to focus on the light and lean Formula-1 cars which were more popular in Europe. In a moment of inspired design or mad genius Yu Suzuki and his team at AM2 decided to put the stock cars on twisting F1-type courses. This guaranteed two things, lots of drifting and plenty of spectacular crashes. Stock cars by their nature were heavier than the F1 cars and tended to slide around turns. Even on extremely banked courses it could be difficult to keep a stock car from sliding around. The original Daytona USA played up the fact that the cars were difficult to control and rewarded players by allowing them to drift (slide) and "slingshot" past opponents so long as they were also drafting (using the lead car to block the wind). This type of racing was unrealistic and unconventional, yet it also made for a great gameplay mechanic.

I had mentioned in an earlier blog that Daytona USA, released in 1994 actually featured less polygons than Virtua Racing from 1992. The addition of textures over the polygons created the illusion of greater details for the cars and environments. Daytona USA was the debut of Sega's proprietary Model-2 hardware, Virtua Racing and Virtua Fighter ran on Model-1 hardware. In 1998 the Model-3 hardware was ready to be unveiled and Sega used Daytona USA 2 as one the new platforms to highlight the new architecture. The hardware introduced a greatly improved rendering engine which featured new lighting, transparency and particle effects. The stages that racers drove through were jaw-dropping. Still photographs could never do justice to how amazing the circuits looked in motion. Even impossible to recreate in real life locations seemed perfectly plausible in the Daytona USA series.

Only Suzuki and his team could have transformed a simple three turn track into a work of art. The Forest Dome was a beginner track featured in Daytona USA 2 Battle on the Edge edition. It was inspired by a real world getaway destination inside the Tropical Islands resort in Europe. Of course the Sega level took the idea one step further and featured a racetrack that was surrounded by a rainforest nature preserve with cascading waterfalls and grandstands all encapsulated by a gigantic crystal dome. Each track that Sega developed from that point forward was a work of art. The locations were so imaginative and wonderful that players often asked themselves why real world places couldn't be as cool. Game site editor Sam Kennedy once remarked that the Sega races all seemed to take place on the most utopian day ever. The skies were perpetually blue, there was no litter on the streets and all seemed right with the world.

Something that most arcade visitors didn't realize was that the first Model-3 racing game was released a few years prior and had tracks which could be considered as good if not better than any track featured in the Daytona USA series. SCUD Race / Super-GT was released in 1996 and featured four real world super cars in an all-out battle for supremacy. SCUD stood for Super Car Ultimate Drive and the purpose of the game was to give arcade fans the sensation of going absurdly fast in million dollar super cars. Suzuki was an adamant Ferrari fan and made sure to include the F-40 in the lineup but to appease the rest of the racing community he included the Porsche 911, Dodge Viper and McLaren F1. These were all production cars that were capable of going over 180 MPH and in the case of the McLaren go over 200 MPH. No ordinary circuit would be good enough for these flashy rides. Sega had to invent tracks that were even flashier. Even the beginners track, like the Forest Dome, was gorgeous. The Dolphin Tunnel was a glass tunnel that connected a seaside city freeway. Racers would drive by miles of coral and pass all sorts of marine life on the way to the checkered flag.

The track actually started above ground where cars would pass by a stadium and marina. Cruise ships and even tall mast sailing ships were waiting in the harbor. The circuit was framed by enormous skyscrapers which were polished to a mirror finish. Every element on the track was eye candy that made the experience of racing all the more enjoyable. Every time I raced on that track I was reminded of San Diego and my hometown of Long Beach. The two port towns were absolutely stunning on clear days. I often wished that one of the cities would build part of the freeway underwater or at least create a transparent seawall near the lowest part of the harbor. Of course feats of engineering like that could really only happen in a world where the national budget was focused on infrastructure rather than war. Despite all of the advances in graphics technology and the evolution of gameplay there were many fans that longed for racing games that were easier to get into and enjoy. A pair of retro-inspired games had been released recently which help appease fans of the golden era of racers. The next blog will look at these titles.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 10...

Sega had released its first 3D racing game years after Namco had put several in arcades. In the market the first game in a particular genre was usually the more successful title but this was not the case for the 3D titles. Time and technology made the later games appear superior by a wide margin. Sega completely overshadowed their competition thanks to Virtua Racing. A couple of years later however Namco responded with a game which would eventually outlive the competition. Ridge Racer debuted in 1993. The game had a few notable things going for it. It was based on modified street legal performance cars rather than Formula-1 cars. The game was set on the streets and highways of the fictional Ridge City rather than an identifiable race course. It featured textured polygons, already making it appear graphically much more advanced than Virtua Racing. Sega would not have Daytona USA in the arcades for another year. Many of these innovations would be copied time and time again by other studios.

The cars in Ridge Racer were not licensed but inspired by popular and affordable real world sport cars. The focus on attainable rides went over very well with audiences. Up until that point many visitors were driving racecars in popular circuits. These were vehicles that many would never even see in real life driving on tracks they might never visit. Many of these racing fans had come of legal driving age at the start of the '90s and were looking to buy or lease their first performance car. They would start with inexpensive consumer sport cars and then little by little tune them into real performance machines. Several of those drivers would be using their neighborhood streets and freeways as makeshift racing circuits as well. Namco was spurred in part to pursue the entire sub culture of street racing thanks to the success of the the Megalopolis Expressway Trial films. The series was inspired by the Midnight Car Club, a notorious group of racers that ruled the Japanese freeway system in the '80s. Magazines used to glamorize their exploits and post their insanely fast times doing laps on the busy expressways. This insight and influence to street racing culture predated the Fast and the Furious movie franchise by more than a decade. It showed how much closer the game industry was to understanding their audience than the movie industry.

Ridge Racer created a spectacle around the tuned racer. Drifting around corners was a major selling point for the gameplay. In other titles losing even a little bit of traction caused a car to spin-out or lose momentum and the race itself. Instead the curving tracks of Ridge Racer lent themselves to drifting, allowing the player to block a pass attempt and add the much overlooked cool factor of overtaking an opponent by sliding around them. Experienced players learned when to brake and throw the steering wheel into the right direction to cause a successful drift, sometimes avoiding narrow walls by mere inches and never straightening out completely for several hundred meters at a time. It could be unnerving in the first person perspective watching a cliff wall directly in front of the car while sliding in the right direction. The entirety of Ridge City seemed to celebrate this race culture. Audiences lined the roads, "race queen" models held up starting cards and a news helicopter followed closely overhead. Even a radio station (labeled 76.5 / Ridge City FM in Ridge Racer V) was dedicated to providing the music and commentary for the racers driving in and around the town. The game was very flattering to the "tuners" that players were becoming in the real world.

Ridge Racer got a sequel in 1994 it was out the same year as Daytona USA and Ace Driver. The graphics, courses and gameplay in Ridge Racer 2 had been turned up by a notch. What the sequel needed however was a major upgrade and it simply didn't have it. At the very least Namco had the street racing scene pretty much locked up but in other genres they had a hard time keeping up. A little known R&D group called AM5 released Sega Rally Championship in 1994. That team was probably best known for creating the Crazy Taxi series in 1999. At one point the collective was also known as Hitmaker and Sega Rosso while developing console releases and adaptations for Sega. What audiences did not realize however were that the founding members of AM5 used to work for Namco. They had created the original Ridge Racer and had jumped ship to make the Sega racing games even better.

AM5 took everything that they had learned in Ridge Racer, especially the drift physics and used that on a World Rally Championship-type game. Rally races feature heavily modified cars that have been strengthened for endurance racing. The races can actually take place on any type of course, both on road and off road, as well as in any type of weather and even at night. The course maps are handed out before the start of each race and each team has to have a driver and navigator. The navigator keeps an eye on the map and calls out the coordinates before each turn so that the driver does not go blindly through twisting roads. The studio actually licensed out a few real rally cars for their game, including the Toyota Celica and Lancia Stratos. The game made great use of different terrain, like gravel, mud, sand, asphalt and snow to challenge the driving ability of players.

Namco countered with Dirt Dash in 1995. It featured some great new gameplay elements and a diversity of road types as well. There were three different types of cars, unlicensed of course. A buggy type for beginners, an off road truck for novices and a sport car for experts. The cars were unique in that they had body panels that could take damage, flap in the wind and even break off depending on the severity of a crash. The Sega Rally cars did not feature those details. Actual rally cars seldom finished a race, let along a stage, without suffering some sort of damage. Sometimes the damage was cosmetic, like a hood or fender getting torn off by a tree or rock. Sometimes the damage was more severe like a wheel breaking off from the force of a hard landing. In either instance the cars were usually very tough and could continue under their own power. In Dirt Dash each car was voiced by a different navigator, they all had a distinct personality as well. They complimented the driver if they raced effectively and reprimanded them if they were sloppy. The game even featured a few shortcuts and alternate paths for repeat players to discover. The game was great in design and execution but it felt too little too late for many gamers. Graphics, level design and gameplay had made the Sega racers untouchable in the eyes of many arcade visitors. Namco had lost the F1 and Rally fans seemingly overnight. When Sega took on the Stock Car and GT fans the entire industry took notice. The next blog will look at how Sega set the standard yet to be beaten.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 9...

Sega released Virtua Racing in 1992, a year before their popular fighting game Virtua Fighter. Both games were developed by Yu Suzuki. He was the Ferrari fan that had created OutRun. For Virtua Racing he wanted to give the world a taste of virtual reality racing. Not necessarily in the sense of giving drivers a helmet which displayed a virtual environment but instead by generating the first Formula-1 style racer that featured 3D environments a 3D racing car and believable physics. The team at AM2 was able to craft a car and several tracks that responded very realistically. While the polygon count was still low by modern standards at the time it was revolutionary. Cars would reflect light or cast a shadow depending on their position relative to the virtual sun. The exhaust on the racers would explode with sharp angled flames when downshifting, they could also bottom out on bumpy roads and send sparks flying from the undercarriage. The cars could even send up plumes of smoke from their tires if they got too loose on a turn. These details may seem insignificant and they were to many arcade visitors. They had seen sprite based racing games recreate many of those same effects. Many of the older Sega games also featured these details. The goal of Suzuki was to convince gamers that the polygon was the best tool in which to create the ultimate racing experience. While crude the flat blocky surfaces still had a sense of weight and depth unheard of in any other racer.

At first I was unconvinced by Virtua Racing. It certainly did look much better than Namco's Winning Run but the cars and locations were still blocky and rough. F1 Super Lap was a year older and still provided some amazing visuals. In many regards it looked better than Virtua Racing. The cars were highly detailed and not blocky at all, the courses realistic and the physics somewhat convincing. I spent a few weekends going back and forth between the games. Little by little I began to notice all of the nuances that an actual 3D engine brought to the experience. Knowing when to shift and when to brake suddenly became much more challenging. Coming up to the apex of a turn at the right angle and then accelerating past a computer rival came with a genuine sensation of speed. In sprite based games it was possible to memorize when the computer AI would go for a pass, or what landmarks to watch for when getting ready to downshift or enter a turn. That changed completely in Virtua Racing because suddenly the computer AI could adapt to the player and put cars in different positions each time they played. It was up to the gamer to become a better driver and learn to change tactics based on the opponents. It was not a sim experience, which was what had hampered Winning Run, instead it was very forgiving and played more like an arcade racer should. The game itself was selling a sense of immersion more than any fancy sit down cabinet ever could. However when the graphics and control were combined there was little reason for a car fan like myself to ever leave the arcade.

Sega did not capture the lighting in a bottle one time. They did it again and again and again. First with Virtua Racing, then with the even more well regarded Daytona USA in 1994. The funny thing was that Daytona USA actually featured less polygons than Virtua Racing, however the polygons that the engine did render were textured, giving the illusion of greater fidelity and improved graphics. It was the same thing that Namco had done to make Tekken appear graphically superior to Virtua Fighter. Sega married a more powerful rendering engine with textures in the 1995 title Indy 500. By then their domination on the racing market had all but been won.

Namco had actually tried to make a better Formula-1 racer after the release of Virtua Racing. The studio had been burned by failing to break new ground with Final Lap and had beaten Sega to the 3D punch with Winning Run but both games did not generate the responses they had hoped for. So the developers went back to the drawing board. They created a new F1-like franchise that played nothing like Pole Position, Final Lap or Winning Run. The new game would be generated in 3D and feature texture mapping and other graphic nuances. The game would even try to have cars and tracks that were set slightly forward in design, with only subtle science fiction elements drawn in as with Cyber Cycles. Sadly the release of Ace Driver in 1994 and its sequel Ace Driver Victory Lap in 1995 had failed to pull many eyes away from the Sega racers. The Ace Driver games were very well done. The control was much improved over previous Namco F1 racers. It played much more like and arcade racer should have and not at all like a simulator. The designs of the cars, selection of race types and tracks were memorable as well. However the Sega game engines were more powerful and the difference in graphics capabilities was starting to become apparent to some arcade visitors.

For the majority of gamers there wasn't much difference between the Sega and Namco racers. Both companies still managed to produce games and graphics far ahead of the competitors. The true rivalry was between the two companies and it seemed to peak in the mid '90s. In the first few years of the decade Namco had actually done well at responding to what Sega had just released. If there had been only two next generation F1 games then Ace Driver would have beaten out Virtua Racing by a wide margin. Unfortunately the multiple arcade R&D teams at Sega were all focused on new racing titles and had released those games in rapid succession. It was everything that Namco could do to keep from falling behind the curve. A cameo from a Tekken character would not be enough to save all of the Namco racers.

Even in other racing genres Namco had a hard time keeping up. The little known R&D group AM5 released Sega Rally Championship in 1994. The team at AM6 was probably best known for creating the Crazy Taxi series in 1999. At one point the collective was known as Hitmaker while developing console releases and adaptations for Sega. Their first real racing hit however was based on a World Rally Championship-type league. For those unfamiliar with rally races, they feature heavily modified cars that have been strengthened for endurance racing. They can actually take place on any type of course, both on road and off road, as well as in any type of weather and even at night. The course maps are handed out before the start of each race and each team has to have a driver and navigator. The navigator keeps an eye on the map and calls out the coordinates before each turn so that the driver does not go blindly through twisting roads. The studio actually licensed out a few real world cars for their game, including the Toyota Celica and Lancia Stratos rally editions. The game made great use of different terrain, like gravel, mud, sand, asphalt and snow to challenge the driving ability of players.

Namco countered with Dirt Dash in 1995. It featured some great new gameplay elements. There were three different types of cars, unlicensed of course. A buggy type for beginners, an off road truck for novices and a sport car for experts. The cars were unique in that they had body panels that could take damage, flap in the wind and even break off depending on the severity of a crash. Actual rally cars seldom finished a race, let along a stage, without suffering some sort of damage. Sometimes the damage was cosmetic, like a hood or fender getting torn off by a tree or rock. Sometimes the damage was more severe like a wheel breaking off from the force of a hard landing. In either instance the cars were usually very tough and could continue under their own power. In Dirt Dash each car was voiced by a different navigator, they all had a distinct personality as well. They complimented the driver if they raced effectively and reprimanded them if they were sloppy. The game even featured a few shortcuts and alternate paths for repeat players to discover. As wells the game was it felt too little too late for many gamers. Graphics, level design and gameplay had made the Sega racers untouchable in the eyes of many arcade visitors. The next blog will take a look at what Sega did to distinguish themselves from the competition.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 8...

There was no doubt that Namco and Sega had created the first cult of speed for arcade visitors. Pole Position and OutRun would become elevated to icon status by many long-time gamers. If there were a videogame hall of fame those two would undoubtedly be the first racing games inducted. While pursuing 3D technology for the arcade both Sega and Namco had to convince fans that future titles would all be in that format. It would be a tough going considering the visual quality that many sprite based games brought. Surely the studios could continue to push the boundaries of sprite-based engines for another few years based on a title like F1 Super Lap alone. That would not be the case. Once 1990 hit there seemed to be an internal mandate to get Sega to change its arcade development focus. The consoles could continue to rely on sprite-based ports for a little while longer but even those would have to give way to 3D console technology very shortly.

Home computers had come down in price through the '80s and some of the more innovative 3D racing games were available at home instead of the arcade. The arcade publishers knew that they had to change with technology or be left behind. As far as I can remember Namco was the first studio to get a 3D racing game, made out of polygons instead of sprites, in arcades. Winning Run was a rare game from 1988. It predated Atari's Hard Drivin' 3D game by one year and Sega's Virtua Racing by four years. It certainly was ahead of its time. The graphics did look more advanced than what was available on home PCs but not by much. The game looked and played much more like a sim than an arcade racer and that was possibly what kept it from becoming a bigger success.

Arcade racing games were supposed to have some sense of realism but not be completely rooted in reality. Not to burst the bubble of many long-time players but the best arcade racing games were designed by dumbing down the driving experience. Driving a real Formula-1 car could be very difficult. Expecting to be able to fight through a field of other racers while keeping the car on the course could seem impossible for a newbie. Instead studios like Sega and Namco allowed much room for error. They programmed in computer AI that could hold back or charge ahead depending on how well a driver performed. They also limited the amount of oversteer and understeer so that the cars would stay on course, often no matter how fast players were going. Winning Run changed a lot of those rules. It could be somewhat forgiving but was a much more realistic experience than other racing games. It certainly was not a 3D version of Pole Position.

Players worked through five gears on a simple polygonal course. The high walls made it easy for developers to limit the draw distance of the course. As advanced as 3D graphics were becoming they still had a long way to go before they could render scenery and other details with any sort of fidelity. A few buildings and grandstands were all that the player could see over the fence. The car models themselves were very rudimentary. They had rough flat shapes, like a simple paper craft model. Although they did have a few colors on the bodies to signify the team livery none of the cars had sponsor stickers or other identifiable details. The other racing games from that era had big beautiful sprite-based cars. Each sprite model had dozens of colors, sponsor stickers and other details that made them look very realistic. The sprite-based games even had multiple teams and sponsors, each with their own detailed racers. The tracks were often decorated with sponsor logos as well and even hundreds of sprite based fans filling the grandstands.

Aside from the graphics which failed to wow audiences and the control which was too sim for many there were other things that Winning Run had going against it. The game must have been extremely expensive and extremely delicate. In the dozens of arcades that I visited throughout my life there were less than a handful of Winning Run machines that I actually saw. Of those machines very few were working so I only had a chance to play it a few times. Despite my observations the game must have sold enough units for Namco to start a franchise. A year after it debuted the game had its first real track for players to try out. Winning Run Suzuka GP came out in 1989. The graphics and control hadn't been improved but at least the turns and rises and drops in elevation were fairly identical to the famous Japanese speedway. A three-screen build called Driver's Eyes came out in 1990. I think I saw three of those cabinets in my lifetime. They were huge and expensive for the time. However being the racing fan that I was I did enjoy the immersive experience the game provided. The graphics were still very rough but the expanded field of view had given me more of a sense of momentum and acceleration than any other racing game of the era.

Namco had done an amiable job bringing arcade racing out of the dark ages and into 3D. The franchise would make it to see a new decade but go no further. Winning Run '91 was the last game in the series. It had finally had the boost in the graphics and control department that arcade visitors had been expecting but it was too little too late. Other franchises had caught their attention and the home console was becoming a real drain on the arcade market. The PC especially was providing fun 3D racing experience as well. Thankfully Capcom had introduced Street Fighter II at this time and gave the arcade industry a much needed booster shot. The owners of the arcades were still hoping to see a racing experience that would recapture the imagination of the public in the same way that Pole Position and OutRun had done years earlier. They wouldn't have to wait long. Sega had something brewing in the wings. The next blog will look at this title.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 7...

Namco decided to dress up their fighting game character Paul Phoenix in leather motorcycle gear and have him ride around in a big custom bike in the game endings and official game art. These changes were made to make the character appear less generic and less like a clone of Ken from Street Fighter. It was also one of the early jabs that the studio took at Sega. The designers at Namco noticed that if Sega were going to link the Virtua Fighter star Jacky to their racing legacy then they would begin putting Phoenix and the other Tekken fighters in other titles as well. Since Jacky was a poster boy for Sega's auto racing lineage then Namco decided to put Phoenix on a motorcycle. After all bikes were supposed to be much cooler than cars and no motorcycle shouted America louder than a flame painted Harley Davidson. Or at the very least a Harley Davidson knock-off.

Cyber Cycles was a motorcycle racing game that Namco released in 1995. It was out about the same time as Virtual-On and Cyber Commando. Since science fiction design was working very well in the early 3D titles and even contemporary racing titles were given locations and vehicles that were ahead of the curve. There were three classes of motorcycles featured in Cyber Cycles. The easiest to control had the slowest top speed. The fastest in the game was the most difficult to control and of course there was a bike in the middle that was easy to control and had a good top speed. The easy and medium class bikes looked like Japanese or Italian racing motorcycles however the difficult one with the biggest engine looked like a classic American chopper.

To give the appearance of multiple characters in the game each bike had four possible colors. The riders in the title never took off their helmets but the designs on the back of their jackets were different. The rider on the blue chopper had an orca on the back of his, the one with the yellow had a cow skull and the one in red had a pin up girl. The one in black had a skull and swords logo as well as flame designs on his pants. The character and his livery were identical to Paul Phoenix and his Wild Hog custom bike which had debuted just a few months earlier. Without naming the character Namco had put one over on Sega.

Arcade visitors had by and large become addicted to fighting games thanks to the smash hit Street Fighter II in 1991. In just a few short years every major developer, and even dozens of unknown developers had released a fighting game of their own. Sega and Namco had raised the bar by moving the genre into 3D. In 1995 Tekken 2 was arguably the hottest thing in the arcades and the designers at Namco knew how to capitalize on its success. Although there were many different teams working internally, just as there were at Sega, they saw the potential for cross pollination early on. The team working on Cyber Cycles did not need to name Phoenix in game or make an exact replica of the Wild Hog but audiences that might not have normally played a motorcycle game found sudden interest in it. 

Sega actually had a reply waiting for Namco. The studio had Manx TT out in arcades in 1995 as well. The Sega game appeared superior visually to the Namco game and controlled as well if not better. Sega's title was based on the actual Isle of Man superbike race. Which was one of the most thrilling and dangerous courses in the world. However despite the awesome efforts of AM3 many arcade players slept on the title. Of the two big racing games released that year the cameo from Paul Phoenix took Namco over the top. The next motorcycle game from Sega would completely break all conventions. The studio licensed the actual Harley Davidson name and set a 1998 game on an open world map based in Los Angeles. The game Harley Davidson and L.A. Riders had players racing through random checkpoints all over the city. The game handled far more realistically than Cyber Cycles and I would have to say that I saw more arcades with L.A. Riders cabinets than Cyber Cycle ones. Yet that same year they released something that was so wild that audiences had a hard time describing it.

Motor Raid was a tournament combat racing game set in the far future and across several alien planets. The title could only barely be considered a motorcycle racing game. It did indeed feature two-wheeled vehicles, a circuit and a countdown clock like previous racers. The settings, locations, gravity defying tracks and ability to fight opponents however made it more like a vehicle combat game, a nonstop rolling version of Twisted Metal in the far flung future. Motor Raid was visually stunning. Sega plucked science fiction ideas and designs from a who's-who of anime titles including Akira and Venus Wars. Those films had amazing motorcycle sequences and respective designs from the visionary Katsuhiro Otomo and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko. The motorcycles were dangerous but refined, not unike the weapon designs of Masamune Shirow. They featured a perfect blend of hard features and soft curves. The racers themselves wore armor which mirrored the type of motorcycle they took into battle.

The only real competition that Sega faced in the arcade was from Namco. Both studios were constantly pushing the uses of 3D engines in game development. Every genre that they applied the new architecture to was a major milestone for the industry. The polygon was make or break technology for other studios but between Namco and Sega it would be a jumping off point for every battle. The racing genre would be the subject of the biggest war between the two companies. The next blog will look at where Namco seemingly took the lead.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 6...

Through the early '90s Sega was doing anything but sleeping on the job. They released Virtua Fighter, the first arcade polygon fighting game in 1993 the same year that Cyber Sled came out. It featured a diverse cast of characters and a new game mechanic that allowed players to push opponents out of the ring and disqualify them. Virtua Fighter tried to focus on more realistic combat and fighting styles than the more traditional 2D fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. Many arcade gamers were not initially drawn to the title because it moved much slower than traditional fighting games. Moreover the polygonal characters in Virtua Fighter were extremely blocky because of the limited computing power of early hardware. Namco would not answer the challenge to develop a 3D fighting game for a few more years. When the studio released Tekken in 1995 then arcade visitors began to take notice. Namco had only slightly bumped up the polygon count for their 3D models. What really changed the perception from gamers was the use of textures. Because the polygonal characters in Tekken had textured skin, clothes and hair and the environments did as well they appeared much more detailed than the Sega characters.

The diversity of the Tekken cast was not any different than what players had seen in other games but the moves that each character had were not necessarily grounded in reality. Tekken was one of the first 3D fighting games to employ the absurdly overpowered strikes seen in kung-fu cinema. Characters could kick each other into the sky and then punch them a few more times before they hit the ground. It was a mechanic that looked amazing in 3D. As far as design went the characters seemed to be a mix of those found in Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter. For example the main character Kazuya Mishima was Japanese and wore white, his rival was an American named Paul Phoenix that wore red. The two were similar to Ryu and Ken from Street Fighter but also Akira Yuki and Jacky Bryant respectively from Virtua Fighter. The similarities didn't end there.

Paul Phoenix was typical of US characters in Japanese games. He was brash and flamboyant and enjoyed being the cool guy. The same thing could be said of Jacky Bryant. To many gamers Phoenix seemed to be a parody of the archetype. He was so cool that he was absurd as well. Insiders noted that he was created to take a jab at the Sega, and even Capcom designs. Jacky for example was not only an accomplished fighter but he was also a professional race car driver. It was as if he simply excelled at everything he tried out for. Sega did everything to make him appear cool in the series. The way they dressed him, the cars he drove personally and professionally. He was the ideal that gamers were supposed to look up to. It seemed to be pandering the way Bryant was juxtaposed to cars that brought back the memories of OutRun and Daytona USA, the earlier Sega racing hits. After all if the American characters were good at one form of racing then it would have to be driving a stock car in a circle.

Sega seemed infatuated with the "hey look at this cool guy" school of design. It became fodder for Namco through the rest of the '90s. When they created Paul Phoenix they went out of their way to make him look even cooler, at least by Japanese aesthetics. Phoenix had actually changed greatly between Tekken 1 and 2. In the original game he wore a red gi and had a tall haircut. Long time fighting game fans noted that he looked like a mix of the US characters Ken and Guile from Street Fighter. Guile had a very tall flat top haircut and Ken wore all red. Jacky from Virtual Fighter was an American that also wore red. He had a red tank top and red pants in the first Virtua Fighter but his costumes would become more casual and race inspired. Namco began to change the look of Phoenix considerably over the next versions of the game to make sure that their fans understood how over-the-top the character was supposed to be. The studio would often portray him as a down-on-his-luck fighter while his Japanese rival rose to prominence.

Phoenix was clearly a powerful fighter as he could hold his own against the top characters in canon as well as within the game. Yet the outlandish hair and strong attacks were not enough to get a message across to Sega. A few years later Namco introduced an obese fighter into Tekken named Bob Richards. The freestyle karate fighter had the dashing good looks of a typical American character, along with clearly died blonde hair. He even wore a red top and jeans. The only difference between he and Phoenix was about 250lbs of fat.

Bob had a patch on the sleeve of his shirt, a bright Hornet which would become his icon. In different costume variations the Hornet could be seen on his belt buckle as well. Those that were long time Sega fans knew that the Hornet was the signature car in Daytona USA. One of the first polygon racing hits. Bob was essentially the fat American stereotype and arcade fans either loved it or loathed it. Those that were not in the know simply saw a fat fighter that looked a little odd in the lineup. It would not be the first time that Namo had fired a shot across the bow at Sega. The beef between the studios could be traced back to their racing rivalry. The next blog will look at the period where both companies were going head to head across different racing formats.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 5...

Namco and Sega were locked in perpetual battle for the hearts of gamers. Every title that one company released often had an answer from the rival. Sometimes the answer was better and sometimes it wasn't. Sega never had Namco's Pac-Man level of success with any of their maze games but when it came to racing games they showed that they could catch up to and beat Pole Position. It was not the only genre where the studios would compete. For science fiction shooters Sega raised the bar in 1985 with Space Harrier. It introduced audiences to a world in which they could fly up, down and across the screen and shoot at alien lifeforms and giant robots over a quickly scrolling battlefield. The technology that Sega used was not really all that new, it simply built on sprite scaling engines that they had used in Turbo, Hang-On and OutRun. Those racing games taught developers great concepts and applications that would work in other genres.

Prior to Space Harrier most space shooters were single screen affairs, often from an overhead perspective. The 1979 Atari game Asteroids was among the most influential and earliest examples of a space shooter. The vector based graphics rendered amazingly sharp details and the game engine added some realistic physics on top of that. Unfortunately all of the early vector-based games were in black and white with hollow shapes making up the characters or ships. Namco showed the West how they could improve upon the genre, they released the full color space shooter Galaxian the same year as Asteroids. Then they added a scrolling background in 1983 with the hit Xevious. Sega redefined the space shooter with Space Harrier but Namco was barely getting started, in 1988 they released Burning Force. The game featured similar mechanics and even the graphic techniques used in Space Harrier. Burning Force differed in that as the character progressed they went from flying atop a rocket bike to being encapsulated into a small space ship. The game also allowed players to earn weapon upgrades, which was something that they had been used to seeing in the earlier overhead scrolling shooters from the company and other Japanese studios.

Namco had shown that they could probably top anything that Sega had came up with even as a smaller company. It did not matter how imaginative or outlandish an idea was, they were the ones that could improve upon it while adding a unique twist. Where the the two studios really began to eclipse the competitors was in 3D technology. Plenty of studios did amazing sprite based games but few were willing to put in the investment required to shift operations into 3D. The hardware was new and the software yet to be written. The gambles not only with a production budget but with an entire company were at stake. Both Sega and Namco began the '90s with a dramatic shift from the old ways of development. The gameplay elements that they pioneered would be copied by the industry over the next two decades.

Game fans had gotten a taste for computer generated graphics thanks to the film TRON. Released in 1982 the movie revolved around stolen code from the fictional game titled Space Paranoids. The graphics in Space Paranoids were way ahead of their time but audiences knew that someday the arcades would meet that level of technology. Growing up I had no idea that it would take over a decade to get there. The early polygonal games were not quite at the level that TRON promised, however they showed more than enough potential.

In 1993 Namco released Cyber Sled. The game revolved around futuristic tank combat. The tanks were set in arenas with free standing pylons and walls. They provided cover from the machine gun view and missiles that all of the tanks could fire. All of the stages were timed so the more aggressive and tactical player was usually the victor. It was essentially an updated version of the Atari 2600 classic Combat. Players piloted the tanks via a dial joystick yoke, like an actual tank driver. The polygons were bright and colorful and the animation and music very uptempo. The three-dimensional graphics were seamless. The tank and character designs simply oozed style. They were heavily influenced by science fiction animé and looked unlike anything seen in Western cartoons or films. In typical game fashion they each had their own strengths and weaknesses, from light and fast to heavy and powerful. The machines, like many early polygonal games, cost a bit more than the average arcade unit. Only the larger arcades could afford it and many of the early 3D titles.

Science fiction design went over very well with the early polygon hits. Sega released a robotic combat game in 1995 titled Cyber Troopers Virtual-On in 1995. That same year Namco released Cyber Commando, a spiritual successor to Cyber Sled. In just a few short years of working with 3D technology the quality of their polygonal engines had grown exponentially. Everything moved faster and responded much more fluidly than the early polygon titles. Visually each generation of 3D game was more gorgeous than the prior. Virtual-On and Cyber Troopers featured new lighting techniques and particle effects that were impossible to reproduce in 2D games. The environments and machines of war that each game featured were very convincing. Gamers could get a greater sense of simulation from these sit down cabinets than ever before. The models in each game gave off a strong sense of weight and mass.

Once the various genres started moving into 3D it was tough to go back. There were no equivalents to Virtual-On or Cyber Sled in 2D. Granted, some genres seemed to have better gameplay in 2D but both Sega and Namco would begin luring players away from those games as well. Audiences on both sides of the Pacific began to notice the quality of each game had was only getting better. They also began to notice that Namco seemed to revel in taking shots at their bigger rival. The next blog will look at the game that created one of the longest running rivalries in the arcade.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 4...

In a previous blog I had highlighted the 1989 Super Monaco GP arcade cabinet. The game itself was considered a successor to the classic 1979 Sega game Monaco GP. It was revolutionary in terms of graphics, sound and control (it was the one that featured paddle shifters). Unlike the stall that Namco had between Pole Position and Final Lap. Super Monaco GP was a game that pushed the genre forward. It was something that fans, and especially newfound fans of Formula-1 could get behind. When the game was ported to the consoles Sega had signed up the super talented and charismatic driver Ayrton Senna to be the poster child. The console version did not have the amazing graphics of the arcade but it added plenty of real world tracks to keep the player going. Sega was dead serious about dethroning Namco as the makers of the best F1 racing titles. In format and presentation Final Lap and Pole Position were very similar. Granted Final Lap looked much more detailed it still had a very similar aesthetic. On the other hand the graphical leap from Monaco GP to Super Monaco GP was like night and day. Sega broke even more ground with the 1991 racer F1 Exhaust Note.

The game used pixel scaling to create roads that had a feature that the Namco games did not. The tracks in Exhaust Note, like Super Monaco GP featured changes in elevation which reflected the actual tracks that the game was set in. The game was also much easier to control than Final Lap while still providing a genuine challenge to veteran gamers. That title featured a car that was massive on the screen and among one of the highest detailed sprites ever created. The tiny cars and flat tracks in Final Lap were outdated by comparison.

A year lated Sega topped themselves again with F1 Super Lap. The 1992 title was actually a licensed game and featured actual logos and livery from Formula-1 teams. Prior to that Sega, like most companies simply mimicked the colors and logos from companies. Those shortcuts were often good enough for most gamers and even racing fans. Apparently the publisher had done so well in arcade and console development that they could afford the pricey licensing costs. The game itself was stunning. They had improved on every element that made Super Monaco GP and Exhaust Note so successful. There was a bump in the graphics department, the winged cars and sprite based tracks had never looked better. The detail that I found most improved over the previous Sega titles was actually the rear view mirror. The studio had used it in previous games to help players block out cars from trying to pass them. The "fish eye" camera effect that the rear view mirror had in Super Lap was amazing. The sprite cars seemed to distort and deform in real time depending on their proximity and position to the player. It was a unique visual trick that I would not guess to fathom how much programming was required to accomplish.

Namco seemed to be outclassed at this point. The Sega F1 gems were released in quick succession following the debut of Final Lap 2 and 3. To clarify the Sega graphic powerhouses actually predated even Final Lap R. Namco did not seem to have an excuse as to why older games from a rival studio looked much better than their own. The house that Pole Position built had been shaken to the core. Yet Namco and Sega both knew that sprite based racing games were nearing the end of their life expectancy. In fact the reliance on pixel art was becoming slow and time consuming for all the major publishers. Time was money and the man hours spent fine tuning hand drawn art to work in a game engine would hurt the bottom line. Sooner or later sprite based games in every genre would be falling out of favor. The industry would have to look for new ways to develop and render visuals that were faster, more cost effective and more aesthetically pleasing. Three-dimensional polygons seemed to be the next step for computer-aided visuals. Both Sega and Namco would begin pushing their teams in that direction. Those studios knew that they had to create hits in the most popular genres using 3D technology. They could not rely on just racing games to do that but had to branch out into different experiences.

Sega and Namco were no strangers to other formats. Both studios had released titles in plenty of genres. Puzzle games, brawlers, sports, sci-fi, action, fantasy, shooters and RPG hits had given both companies a broad portfolio to draw inspiration from. Yet they also knew that they could not simply release a 3D version of an older game and expect a positive response. Early polygonal engines were very crude and blocky. They did not appear to have as nice visuals as many sprite based hits. Aesthetically that was the case but polygon games offered a realistic sense of depth, weight and physics that no sprite based title could ever hope to recreate. Sega and Namco had to refine the tastes of their long time followers. They had to build a case and convince the most die-hard fans that their favorite titles would have to evolve or the company would die. They had to change the culture that they helped build through the '80s and the only way to do that was by showing audiences how amazing the future was. It was not easy at first but little by little both companies won over audiences. The next blog will highlight were Sega and Namco began to pull away from the competition while still managing to trade blows with each other.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 3...

Namco seemed to take the lions share of arcade racing success through the early '80s. That was until Sega countered with OutRun in 1986. Well, to be fair other studios had also released innovative action titles that helped bring non-racing gamers into the arcade. Midway had Spy Hunter out in 1983, the various weapons and high speed action was unlike anything that Sega or Namco had every created. It stole a lot of thunder from the debut of Pole Position II that same year. Taito released their own copycat version of OutRun in 1987 titled Full Throttle. The red sports car and familiar mechanics felt forced to players. I did not see it last very long in arcades. Taito quickly followed up with something that was much more innovative. In Chase HQ players had to chase down criminals in high performance cars on busy roads. Players would have to avoid tanker trucks and oncoming traffic and take down the crooks by ramming them before running out of time and fuel. It was a great balance between racing and action. The control was solid and the mechanics of hitting a turbo button at the right time to smash into an opponent was very influential. Some gamers might assume that the Boost and Takedown mechanic from the game Burnout was original. Chase HQ beat it to the punch by 13 years. Chase HQ revolved around black and white undercover agents in a Porsche clone, they were dressed and presented very much like the officers from the hit show Miami Vice. The Japanese were very good at following the trends and gave audiences what they wanted to see. They did it in every aspect of culture and industry and it helped them rise tremendously through the latter half of the 20th century. Despite a few cultural differences the majority of Japanese arcade hits also became US classics.

Namco was not about to give up on the genre without a fight. Pole Position had been their most successful racing game and by the end of the '80s they decided it was time to revisit the genre. In 1987 they released Final Lap, it was very much a spiritual successor to Pole Position. It had the familiar behind the camera angle and same real-world tracks like Suzuka. The graphics had been improved considerably and the sound and color palette expanded as well. It was difficult but not like the original, it was excessively hard. The largest issue for gamers was the control. Whereas players could turn the steering wheel quickly in Pole Position to correct understeer (drifting to the outside of the lane) or oversteer (having the back of the car slide to the outside) in Final Lap turning the steering wheel a fraction too far resulted in a spinout. It was next-to-impossible to take a turn at high speed without losing control. In most racing games there was a specific learning curve as to how the cars handled, perhaps it would take a player a few quarters to figure it out. Once players learned how sensitive the steering, acceleration and breaking was in a game then the only challenge was to post the fastest lap times. Players could often return to favorite racing games after a few weeks and not even lose their touch. yet those gamers never seemed to get any better in Final Lap. No matter how often they tried each game was like starting from square one. At least Namco made it so that cars could slightly bump each other without exploding.

It was a humbling experience not getting better at the title. I've tried my share of racing games and was pretty good at Pole Position but could never get the hang of Final Lap. It was a shame too because the title looked very nice. Namco had returned the use of billboards from Pole Position advertising classic games and had really ratcheted up the details on the cars. It had all the elements to be an arcade hit but just never found its groove. What was curious to me however were the sequels that the game had. I guess it had found an audience and enough players on both sides of the Pacific to make it worthwhile to Namco.

Final Lap 2 was released in 1990, Final Lap 3 in 1992 and Final Lap R in 1993. Each time a sequel came out I went to the arcade to give it another shot. I spent so much time and energy on each game that it really felt wasted in the end. A good portion of my allowance had been eaten up by those games and I could barely get my name on the leader board. I was learning quickly that while I had all the best intentions some games simply were not worth the effort. There were much more enjoyable racing experiences and I would spend much more time and money on those over the course of my life.

With all of the bad blood that I felt towards Final Lap in the arcade I must admit that the home version was a much better game. Final Lap Twin was released in 1988 for the TurboGraphix-16, the PC Engine in Japan. The game had some really great visuals but not as amazing as the arcade. Where it excelled was in ease of play and diversity. There were various racing classes that players could choose from and even different engine types, from V8 to V12. I didn't own a TurboGraphix but my friend Donald did. We spent the better part of the fall going over all of the various modes and writing down our codes so we could pick up later. The core of the game was the Formula-1 experience that felt more like an expanded Pole Position than Final Lap. That was fine by me. What we didn't expect to find was an RPG side game, the "Twin" experience that featured a kid going from town to town competing against racers with his remote control buggy. Imagine if Pokémon revolved around R/C cars instead of fictional creatures. It was a little bit like that. We went from place to place, searching high and low for hidden items, raced against some mean spirited kids and slowly powered up our buggy until it became a world champ car.

It was one of the rare games that managed to capture the spirit of an arcade hit with the playability of a console adventure. Other racing games would come along on the console that would add additional layers of depth and storytelling. Some were challenging racing titles but then turned into simulation experiences when they required players to invest their team winnings into R&D to design more aerodynamic bodies and more powerful engines. Finding a balance between driver and team manager would become something that arcade titles would never allow gamers to explore. Final Lap Twin was one of those games that showed audiences was the genre was capable of. Because of it I decided to keep giving Namco racers other chances.

If the game did have something questionable in it I would say it was the box art. Players in the US were used to seeing really bad Western artists redo the box art for Japanese games. This one was different. It was the actual Japanese box art, and it was very well done. It featured a Formula-1 car and an R/C buggy tearing up their respective tracks. What I found funny about it was how much the artist was poaching from the illustrations used on actual R/C car boxes. Most notably the illustrations on classic Tamiya remote control cars and design of the RC10 from Team Associated. I learned along with the rest of my generation that the artists working on the boxes were probably not gamers and would steal from whatever they thought they could get away with. Those artists however would be hard pressed to get one over on someone that loved cars in any format.

Namco did not generate the critical response to Final Lap that they were hoping for. It was exactly the type of opening that Sega needed in order to begin their arcade domination in the racing genre. The next blog will look at the titles that redefined the Formula-1 experience.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 2...

Sega and Namco were unparalleled in the arcade racing field. Sega was the older and larger of the two companies. It had several R&D groups running all of the time testing out new ideas and technology. The first three; AM1, AM2 and AM3 were working on games while AM4 was developing cabinets for the three. The stand up cabinets from Sega were always well done but the sit down deluxe cabinets were in a class all their own. In the previous blog I mentioned that the early sit down racing cabinets enclosed the player to give them more of a simulation experience. Some games had gas, brake and sometimes even a clutch and shifter. Those cabinets featured vinyl graphics that recreated dashboards, complete with a speedometer and tachometer. While these were static images stuck on pressed board to young patrons they were as good as the real thing. With some tape, markers and scissors a child with a vivid imagination could turn a large cardboard box into a rocket ship, submarine or fighter jet. Now think about the reaction that a deluxe cabinet would have given these same kids.

Sega did not have to shape the body of the Super Monaco GP cabinet like a Formula-1 racer. They did not have to paint up the fiberglass body and cover it with sponsor stickers either. They did not have to put a magnifying window behind the cabinet so that patrons could watch the race without interfering with the driver. They did not have to map out and recreate the most accurate (for the time) map of the actual Monaco Circuit. Arcade fans were grateful that they did all of those things. The game was also innovative for its use of paddle shifters rather than the traditional stick shift. Up until that point most games had a stick shift that went from low to high gear, sometimes with a turbo button on the thumb rest. Many racing games from the west actually had 4-gear shifters going all the way back to the late '70s. The paddle shifter, located behind the steering wheel, was cutting-edge technology that was pioneered in Formula-1 at the start of the '90s. The technology would not find its way into production cars for several years but Sega had a working version in their games right away. Young racing fans felt privy to the inside world of an F1 driver whenever they played the game. The extra touches that Sega put into the cabinet, including realistically moulded plastic racing seats, won them many accolades. The game found its way to the consoles and PC but with additional tracks and teams added as well.

Teens and adults would get the most out of a deluxe cabinet like Super Monaco GP but some fans were to small to reach the pedals and too weak to fight the force-feedback steering. For every big title that the publishers released they were always mindful of their youngest fans. Sega and Namco would sometimes create a kiddie-size version of some of their cabinets. Perhaps a very simple driving game on a cabinet that rocked back and forth. In this way little brothers and sisters would not feel left out from the experience. Namco had found considerable success when they released the 3D title Ridge Racer in 1993. I will go much more in depth on that title in future entries to this series. Ridge Racer had gotten sequels and console releases over the years and had become very familiar to young fans.The problem that kids had with Ridge Racer were its challenging controls and steep learning curve. They wanted to participate in the game, especially its over-the-top spectacle where news helicopters would fly right over the cars and fans would cheer from the edge of the track. Namco made a simpler version of the game with Choro-Q style versions of the iconic cars and tracks. It also included songs from the original game. Namco designed a smaller cabinet with a smaller steering wheel, no brake or gear shifter and only a gas pedal that the smallest patrons could use. The game was called Pocket Racer and it was released in 1996.

Pocket Racer was much more forgiving to players that made mistakes such as running into walls or even opponents. The cars would simply bounce and keep going. Namco knew that the best way to build a fan base was by offering as broad a spectrum of experiences as they could to players of every age and ability. They then had to continuously challenge these players at every stage. Toddlers that wanted to drive cars like the big boys no longer felt left out. Of course older kids and teens would become more critical about their own experiences as well. The deluxe sit down cabinets from the early '80s were nice but had become antiquated. The seats and back were rigid and in a fixed position. Players that were too short or too tall found it difficult to enjoy the experience. I remember that in the early 'late '70ss I couldn't reach the pedals on some games but by the end of the '80s I could barely fit into the cabinets. Namco, Sega, Atari and a few other developers began experimenting with adjustable seats. By the '90s sliding seats were an innovation that many would take for granted. Not me of course, I would always be thankful to any developer that realized that one size did not fit all.

Through the '80s and '90s Sega would continue to push the definition of deluxe sit down cabinet and eventually did away with the enclosed cockpit for many of their racing games. Instead AM4 opted for outlandish body molds and non-functional but very stylish accents. These included wheels, fenders, taillights and exhaust pipes in some cases. If arcade games were about grabbing the attention of players then it would stand to reason that a shapely 3D cabinet attracted more people than even the flashiest 2D vinyl sticker. In several deluxe cabinets Sega integrated hydraulics to lift, tilt and shake the player and give them an even more immersive experience. It was a sight to behold when an arcade had four or more Daytona USA cabinets lined up side by side. The cabinets were actually designed to fit flush against each other and even be networked. A row of Daytona machines could easily take up over 20 feet and line an entire wall of an arcade. Watching the displays in perfect unison showing the entire width of a virtual racetrack was mesmerizing.

Not every arcade could afford the spectacle of multiple deluxe cabinets, often times one was more than enough for patrons. The arcades that could afford the biggest and best machines were always in the largest cities and sometimes even had an influx of tourists during peak seasons. Sega and Namco had built relationships with distributors and began opening up their own arcades in Japan. The best ones were usually closest to the corporate headquarters. In the US Sega had even opened up a chain of arcades in shopping malls called which were in turn bought out by a company known as Time-Out. Interestingly enough when the mall bubble burst and arcades fell out of favor to consoles the arcades were sold to Namco. There is a great web page dedicated to the history of the Time-Out arcade by Peter Hirschberg.

The boom and bust of the shopping mall in the US destroyed many stores and arcades. In Japan that was not the case. Arcades could stand apart from malls and cater to their own clientele. If older gamers and adults were the most frequent visitors then some arcades might even feature drink holders and ashtrays mounted on the cabinets. Smoking was banned in most US arcades for fire safety reasons but also because people assumed the majority of gamers were little kids. In Japan the stigma that gaming was only for children was not as prevalent. Like manga and animé there were titles for every age and interest, including adults only. This cultural acceptance of gaming as an entertainment pastime meant that arcades could advertise to every demographic. From a salaryman passing by to kids going on a first date to an entire family, arcades were an inclusive entertainment center. In the biggest locations Namco and Sega would test brand new hardware first and even design deluxe cabinets that wouldn't appear anywhere else. Some of these cabinets were fully functional but also served for spectacle and publicity. Take for example the Ridge Racer Full Scale machine. A regular deluxe cabinet was usually more than adequate for any arcade. Ridge Racer looked as good as most Sega racers for the time, but to stand apart Namco also created a cabinet that fit a full size car, a red Mazda MX-5 Miata / Enunos Roadster and projection screen. The enormous cabinet that Namco used was actually a platform for a light gun game that they were developing. It could be converted to run one of a few other games meant for multiple players. In this way they could collect money from up to six players at a time rather than one rich gamer.

With solid games and innovative cabinets Sega and Namco were slugging it out for arcade supremacy. The next blog will highlight were Namco tried to pull ahead of the competition by going to an old standby.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Sega / Namco Rivalry, part 1...

I read a YouTube comment where a person likened the rivalry between Sega and Namco to a high profile rap battle. It was a perfect analogy. One studio would drop a hit in the arcade and the other would answer with an amazing comeback. Through the '80s and '90s no two studios traded blows better than Sega and Namco, especially when it came to the racing genre. Sega came out swinging with Monaco GP, 1979 the top down racing game that I had mentioned previously on my blog. The mechanics of the game, clever use of a headlights in tunnel sections and addition of color were a major improvement to the Atari games released just a few years prior. The top-down view gameplay would not get better until Midway released Spy Hunter in 1983. Namco entered the ring in 1980 with the racing puzzle game Rally-X, which was the first Namco game to feature a bonus round. Namco had proven that they could be successful in the genre by having released Pac Man earlier that same year. Rally-X did not gain much traction in the US, even as it was licensed out to Midway. Sega on the other hand continued to push the boundaries. In 1981 the studio released Sega Turbo. A 3D affect was achieved as sprites scaled past the race cars. The game was one of the first to use that technology. Turbo was a sort of missing link between the top down racer genre and behind-the-car view. It was essentially the ancestor to OutRun.

Namco answered back in a big way with Pole Position. It was the first truly iconic racing game. Even non race fans were amazed by the bright graphics and digitized audio, featuring a voice calling out "Prepare to Qualify" along with midi trumpet fanfare. The game was so popular that it was the only arcade racer to also have its own Saturday morning cartoon series.The game was challenging but not cheap. It was hard to keep the cars on the course at high speeds. Players could slide off the track easily and smash into one of the billboards, often advertising another Namco game like Dig Dug. This early bit of gaming promotion was revolutionary. Namco could program different billboards for different regions or sponsors. Domestic arcades might see a billboard with an actual soda brand while international markets might see a tobacco product instead. Beer and tobacco companies were big sponsors in the racing world but not quite welcome in arcades. Even if players managed to stay on the track they were still not safe. Running into other cars resulted in a spectacular explosion where debris shot off in all directions and a tire would go bouncing down the track. It was a far more dramatic effect than the flickering black and white screen Atari had used to demonstrate crashes in their early racing titles. This Namco game and many others were licensed to Atari for US arcades. It would be years before the Japanese arcade publishers would be large enough to set up operations in the US and Europe and distribute their own machines.

Pole Position was based on Formula-1 racing, the most popular racing series from around the world. Yet its roots did not matter in the the US where the Indy / Cart series was more popular. The Formula-1 and Indy cars had very similar shapes and to gamers they were interchangeable. There was only one track in the game and it was based on the Fuji Speedway in Japan. Pole Position debuted in 1982 but did not really get widespread fame until 1983 when it became the highest grossing arcade game of the year. In that year it sold 21,000 machines worth $61 million dollars. Adjusting for inflation that would be over $140 million dollars. It may not sound like a lot but consider the steady source of revenue that arcades were guaranteed. Arcade owners had to get their profit back one quarter at a time and could only afford to get the games that would stay hot for a long while. At almost $3000 per arcade cabinet it seemed impossible that it would be profitable in any reasonable amount of time. Many units made it back within a few months, usually over the summer when students were out of school. Everything after that initial investment was pure profit, some arcades even held onto the machines for years and decades. In most large arcades it was not uncommon to see more than one Pole Position cabinet, proving that it was easily worth the price.

The sequel to Pole Position came out in 1983. The game received a minor improvement in the graphics department but it also added three additional tracks to challenge players. The Suzuka track, which was based on the one in Japan, an oval test track and the Seaside Track which was based on the Shoreline Track from my hometown of Long Beach California. Needless to say the studio had a lifelong fan after doing that. I was not the only kid that became enamored with arcade games thanks to smash hits like Pole Position. The full extent of the influence that Sega and Namco had on an entire generation would not be known for many years to come. The 2012 Disney animated film Wreck-it-Ralph was an homage to videogames, in particular to the classic arcade games that the animators and producers grew up with. The main villain in the game was a bitter race car driver known as Turbo. The character and his game appeared to be an amalgamation of many old hits, but most notably the Rally-X driver and Sega's Turbo. The cult of speed that Sega and Namco had built had undoubtedly become ingrained in both Eastern and Western culture.

Part of the success of those early arcade racing games was due to the innovation that each had brought audiences. Advances in control, graphics and sound were happening at a very rapid pace. A few years prior it was large black and white pixels that were in the most basic shape of a car. That gave way to full color sprites that actually looked like a race car within a few seasons. A title that looked amazing when it debuted could look obsolete by the end of the year. Changes were happening at a breakneck pace and the companies that did not keep investing in R&D would find themselves out of the running very quickly. It was difficult for some companies to keep up with arcade technology. New inputs from paddles, to joysticks and steering wheels were constantly being tested and refined in the field. These controls had to work well with the game but also stand up to daily use and abuse from patrons. These were the challenges that the early developers faced on top of the limitations with sound, video and storage on early circuit boards.

It was a difficult and pricy learning curve for the game industry. Even Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak cut their teeth engineering boards for Atari before they founded Apple Computers. Those that were ahead of the technology curve still found it difficult to get noticed by gamers. It wasn't as if there was a popular magazine or television show to announce the new crop of titles. The internet was still not in every home, let alone every mobile device. New games were being introduced by Japanese and US developers on a monthly basis and the only way that players found out was by going to the arcade. The biggest publishers sometimes offered arcade owners multiple configurations of their cabinets. The stand up kind required little floor space and could be placed side by side with other cabinets. Stand up cabinets were great for convenience stores and laundromats as well as movie theaters. Yet to the arcades that had the room there was no bigger draw than a deluxe sit down cabinet. The games that made the best use of these innovative shapes were racing titles. Arcades might charge and extra quarter just for the experience of sitting in a fancy sit down cabinet. Actually the larger cabinets came at a premium price and the only way for owners to recoup their cost was by charging players a little bit more.

The early sit down cabinets had enormous vinyl stickers on the side featuring wild colors and bold graphics. The designs of the logos were extensions of the stand up marquee art. Some of the graphics on those early cabinets were as imaginative as album covers and concert posters from the psychedelic rock bands of the late '60s and early '70s. The cabinets stood out for another reason as well. By enclosing the player they added an air of privacy to the experience. Players could focus on the game and not be distracted by a machine on either side. These cabinets also were good at blocking out sound, and anyone that remembers a classic arcade could attest to how noisy they could be. Most deluxe racing cabinets featured tinted windows behind the player. This blocked out the lights from the arcade but anyone that wanted to see the action could peer in without distracting the player. The friendly rivalry between the two studios was quickly becoming a feud. The developers would push the limits on graphics, audio and gameplay in their titles. How far each studio was willing to go to create deluxe arcade cabinets set them apart from every other publisher. The next blog will feature some of the more innovative racing cabinets.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The (Videogame) Car Tangent, part 2...

Game designers were often fans of the subjects they made games on. If they worked on a fighting game then chances are they also liked martial arts films, wrestling or boxing as well. If they worked on a space shooter then they probably liked science fiction movies and cartoons. Those that worked on racing games tended to love racing. The better the game was then chances were that the developers were also car fans. The racing game was a standard that all developers tried to master in the early days of the arcade. Those that did well with the genre tended to outlast their rivals. Sega was one of the first in the racing market, even developing electromechanical racing games before video arcade games really took off. They demonstrated that great racing games could take liberties with reality and make caricatures of tracks, scenery and vehicles and still become popular.

The developers at AM1, AM2 and AM3 at Sega each took turns pushing the genre to bold new heights. OutRunners, which was mentioned in the previous blog had demonstrated that even fictional cars could make for memorable main characters. I would take that concept one step further and argue that Sega was demonstrating the positive aspects of diversity in a videogame. The cars in OutRunners ran the gamut of design choices. From tiny to rotund, domestic and exotic, there was a car that represented the spectrum of the driving experience. Best of all was that each car had almost the same chance as winning the race as all the others.All too often in videogames the main character was a physically fit attractive male or female. Average looking or (heaven forbid) fat characters were avoided at all costs. Conventional thinking would have audiences believe that people did not want to play a videogame if the main character was an average looking shlub. In the case of racing games the main cars were often sporty and European. OutRunners broke the mold and gave the massive or under-powered cars a fair chance against the supercars. Sadly diversity was still an element lacking in games where humans were the main characters.

Well designed fictional or real cars could appear to have their own distinct personality. Who hadn't thought that the classic Volkswagen Beetle was not perpetually smiling or that ? When those cars were placed within imaginative games then they could really come into their own. The Choro-Q games by Atlus and other developers showed that cars could replace humans in an action-RPG. Gamers could be made to empathize with the tiny cars as the story progressed. Relationships were built with the other cars as players went on various missions. Players learned that their car was an important member of the community even though they primarily wanted to be a racer. Consider that these games were out way before the Pixar film had even been conceived! The racing element was not forgotten however and was actually quite challenging. Players learned that they had to compete against cars of their own class. There was no way and stock car was ready to race professionally after all. So players raised money by completing menial tasks and winning smaller events. Eventually they would work their way up to the big leagues. Every element of the cars could often be modified, from the paint schemes to the types of tires, body kits and engines that they used. In the Choro-Q universe it was akin to getting a makeover, or in extreme cases like getting a heart transplant.

The Choro-Q games had their own niche which they filled sublimely. They were like action oriented versions of Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon but for gearheads instead. Sadly they were overlooked when gaming editors were nominating the best racing titles of a generation. Sometimes cars were just a mode of transportation in a game and sometimes they shared the spotlight with the main characters. Some of the best cars in game history were never featured in a racing game.

The M12 LRV (Light Reconnaissance Vehicle) was better known to gamers as the Warthog. The first person shooter Halo had introduced all sorts of futuristic weapons to gaming, possibly none as awesome as the Warthog. It was a military vehicle designed for speed, one that could carry a few soldiers and run circles around tanks. Not many Hollywood films had been set with ground forces fighting on alien planets so the design was relatively new. The scope of all the designs featured in Halo was breathtaking in fact. Every piece of armor, every weapon, vehicle and location had tremendous forethought and execution. Those that assumed the best designers were working on films only had clearly not seen the work in most Triple-A blockbusters. The Warthog was akin to the Light Cycles in Tron. It not only looked great but it also looked very functional. It had four wheel drive and four wheel steering which would help it turn quickly despite its size. The large tires and dynamic suspension system could help it clear terrain that would have stopped normal vehicles and many off-road trucks. It had armor plating that followed the contours of the engine, protected the transmission and also provided clearance the rear mounted high caliber machine gun. It was nothing short of a perfect military atv and proof that game designers could make the transition to real-world production vehicles (if the military were interested).

Weaponized gaming vehicles had appeared appeared well before the Warthog. Many were more outlandish and a few became as iconic as any mascot character. The game Twisted Metal had a cast of vehicles as diverse as OutRunners. Actually to be fair the game had even more rides across the spectrum especially when they began inventing vehicle types and added in trucks, motorcycles and armored personnel carriers. Every vehicle was equipped with as much weaponry as the Interceptor from Spy Hunter except instead of taking down terrorists the drivers were trying to kill each other. This was all for the sake of a gruesome contest. The most memorable car in the series was an ice cream truck nicknamed Sweet Tooth. People often mistake the driver, a clown with a flaming head as Sweet Tooth but his name was actually Marcus "Needles" Kane. The psychopathic clown was a mass murderer and would lure victims out to the street with his truck. Normally when people think of ice cream trucks they think of soft colors and a catchy jingle playing on a loudspeaker. Sweet Tooth was armored, covered in rust and blood and could even transform into a robot. It was the stuff of nightmares and yet somehow gamers could never get enough of it. Twisted Metal was not the first vehicle combat game but it probably was the best.

The videogame industry evolved very rapidly from the '70s through the '80s. Graphics, controls, memory, storage and other issues were trial and error in the early days. The majority of titles were becoming more refined with studios splitting time between home consoles and arcade units. By the '90s cars could no longer be pinned to just one genre. Of course the most memorable car titles did involve racing of some sort. Through the arcade era no single studio could claim to have to have owned the racing genre better than Sega. Yet there was one studio that was perpetually challenging their status. The rivalry between Sega and Namco for arcade racing domination would become the stuff of legend. As patrons poured billions of dollars into the videogame industry both Sega and Namco were investing millions back into research and development. Some of the breakthrough technology in gaming came from a racing title. Color graphics, surround sound, analog versus digital steering and 3D modeling were technologies pioneered in many racing cabinets. No two studios did it better than Sega and Namco. The next blog will look at this rivalry and begin an entirely new chapter for this series.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The (Videogame) Car Tangent, part 1...

Some of my earliest memories of going into the arcade were seeing the brightly colored arcade cabinets. Atari seemed to have a new racing game every time I visited. The graphics and gameplay on the early titles were not very realistic. Cars and motorcycles were a few blocky pixels and gamers really had to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. It was the cabinet art that really spurred my imagination. The bold colors and stylish designs of late '70s graphic artists were striking. Many of the illustrations would undoubtedly go over well today as a retro tee shirt design. Whether in the USA, Japan, England or Europe, there were countless racing fans working in the computer industry. Those that became successful with a program, application or platform went on to buy the fastest and flashiest cars that they could. In Silicon Valley the nicest cars either belonged to the venture capitalists that backed companies like Atari, Apple, Oracle or any number of upstarts in the San Francisco Bay Area. The nice cars sometimes belonged to the young engineers that were on the ground floor when the companies started trading publicly. These developers and designers were looking for ways to make computer games and arcade games more realistic. They were also looking to make games about the things they loved. Racing was therefor an early favorite for arcade developers in Japan and the US. One designer in particular had a strong passion for Ferrari super cars like the Testarossa. The man was Yu Suzuki and the company he worked for was Sega. One of his most successful titles was a racing game named OutRun. Released in 1986 the game featured a red convertible that looked strikingly like the Testarosa. It even included a familiar "Dancing Horse" logo on the rear which looked like the Ferrari badge. Sega would not have the rights to the Ferrari name for another decade. Not until Suzuki produced SCUD Race in 1996, which featured the Ferrari F-40 but also included rival super cars the McLaren F1, Porsche 911 and Dodge Viper. As much as Suzuki loved the Ferrari he knew that the rest of the world had also developed amazing supercars as well and they deserved to be in the game. Before SCUD Race the red convertible in the Sega racers was known simply as the "Speed Buster." Throughout his career at Sega Mr. Suzuki constantly pushed his teams to break new ground on each and every title they created. As the leader of AM2, the Sega Amusement Machine Research and Development Team 2, he was tasked with helping develop hardware that was cutting edge and software that took full advantage of it. His work in 2D and 3D titles spans almost 30 years. Hits include Virtua Fighter, Shenmue, Virtua Cop and After Burner. The scope of his influence may never be fully appreciated by the game industry but his titles will certainly live on. Suzuki greatly improved from the development of Hang-On, a motorcycle racing game that was released a year prior to OutRun. The multiple branching paths that the Speed Buster could take, the complexity in the stages and animations had been bumped up considerably from what arcade players had seen just prior. Sega was always one of the most innovative arcade developers in the early days of the industry. They created one, if not the first arcade racer in color, Monaco GP in 1979. Atari by contrast had Sprint 2 (player) in 1976 and Sprint 1 in 1978 and both of which were in black and white and far more limited experiences. Sega was one of the trendsetters in a genre. Rather than trying to make the game player feel like they were controlling a driver in a racing game, they instead made the car the star. The driver and passenger in OutRun did have some memorable animations. Few could argue that the Speed Buster was not the true star of the game. In 1993 the team at Sega AM1 produced OutRunners. It was a spiritual sequel to OutRun, the actual sequel produced by Suzuki would not appear until 2003. They expanded on the mechanics of the game, the graphics, courses and most notably the car selections. Each participating nation had a team of drivers, that varied from the silly to the serious. Again it was the cars that were the true stars of the game. Each car performed differently. No two handled quite the same and each had a distinct advantage and disadvantage, such as the ability to accelerate or recover from a crash faster than the other cars. The Speed Buster finally had a rival sports car in the virtual world, a bright yellow convertible named the Mad Power which resembled a Lamborghini Diablo. It was joined by other cars like the Bad Boy, Smooth Operator and Wild Chaser, which resembled the Shelby Cobra, Porsche 914 and Meyers Manx respectively. What Sega had demonstrated was that Suzuki was not the only car fanatic working at the studio. The developers understood and moreover appreciated the subtleties between the iconic cars from each nation. They were able to make amalgamations of popular vehicles without exactly settling on one brand. They were also demonstrating that some of the developers in the game industry were very good at trend spotting. The styling on several of the cars were not only good contemporary designs but also predicted the shape of sports cars and exotics yet to come. When developers realized that they did not have to lock cars into racing games then they went wild coming up with ideas. The next blog looks at the ways in which these cars began to shape gameplay.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Car Tangent, part 14...

In the previous blog I had mentioned the work of Scott Robertson. The artist had a hand in redesigning one of the oldest gaming icons ever. The G-1655 was the model number of the fictional vehicle called the Interceptor. It was a gadget laden supercar in the game Spy Hunter. The original Interceptor debuted in 1983 and was greatly inspired by the cars featured in the James Bond films, including the Aston Martin DB5 and the Lotus Elise. The arcade game was a smash hit and got ported to just about every console and PC and a few handhelds at the time. It received a sequel in the arcade and then sort of faded away in the '90s. The creators of the game, Midway Entertainment, sat on it for a long time and when arcade remakes were fashionable in the new millennium they decided to reboot of the franchise. At the time it was the Xbox and Playstation 2. The game was very well done and helped recreate all of the arcade action but in 3D unlike the original 2D hit.

The Interceptor had machine guns, missile launchers, a smoke screen and oil slick at its disposal. It needed to use the various gadgets against armored cars, hitmen in limos, helicopters and speedboats. The car itself could even transform into a boat to take the action to groundbreaking new levels. The developers at Midway did an exceptional job at redesigning the Interceptor for the consoles and Mr. Robertson was tasked with keeping their vision moving forward. Mr. Robertson update the look of the Interceptor slightly in Spy Hunter 2 while making it completely believable at the same time. His experience as a designer and educator allowed him to plan out the world that Spy Hunter was set in, which was a slightly futuristic version of our own. This fleshed-out world allowed him to design the types of vehicles that enemies would be using against the armored supercar as well. Enormous enemy vehicles some like rolling skyscrapers played the Goliath to the tiny Interceptor.

The two games in the reboot were a complete success. Universal optioned the game to become a movie. The wrestler / actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was tagged to be the lead in the film. The film was put on indefinite hold but a game featuring his likeness and a variation of the film plot and characters was released. The game Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run was received poorly by fans and critics. The driving portions were not greatly improved over the previous game but what really hurt the experience were the portions where the main character named Alex Decker got out of the car and players controlled him in a third-person perspective.

The talents of Mr. Robertson were at least put to good use as he updated the designs for the Interceptor, including the interior as well as supporting vehicles and enemy types. These concepts were not solely meant for the game but were also going to be incorporated into the film as well. Sadly it, like the racing MMO that Mr. Robertson worked on was not meant to be. The Spy Hunter games worked best when the car was the star of the game, changing the formula hurt the franchise. Players suddenly found themselves going through multiple mediocre third-person shooter stages. The shooting and combat were average at best and players were forced to do countless missions like this instead of driving the amazing Interceptor. After the less than stellar reviews the franchise went dormant again.

In 2012 Spy Hunter was rebooted one more time, this time for portable systems. The Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita featured a new version of the Interceptor that was red (sacrilegious!) but more familiar play mechanics. The new Interceptor was designed by the team at TT Fusion and looked more like a modern muscle car than an exotic supercar. The lesson however remained. A great game did not require a human main character in order for players to find it appealing.

Some of the earliest arcade hits featured cars instead human characters. In many regards monsters, aliens, space ships and race cars were the original mascot characters. Consider that Pac Man and Q*bert weren't human yet for a time were more popular than Mario. The first wave of popular car titles were just as old as those games and in multiple genres as well and not solely racing. When developers were able to merge their love of autos with cartoon design and arcade graphics then an entirely new chapter in car culture would be added. We shall explore these pioneers in the next blog.