Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Racing Games In Decline Pt. 2: Real World Relevance

As I said in my previous post, I'm upset that my call to arms about making a racing game failed at school.  Failed miserably especially since I was misled by many people into believing I did a good job but I really didn't.

Look, one of the things I mentioned in my presentation was that many racing games are just plain "mediocre."  They try to go for realism but end up boring everyone.  Or they try to go for arcade style but in the end are too shallow, ridiculous, or have little to do with actual racing.  So let's try to take the good parts of racing games and make something great.  Something Daytona-like (without harping on that point for long).  I also aimed to make a colorful game that had cool tracks and stuff, just like in Scud Race, Daytona 2, and OutRun 2.  A truly "exciting" game.

Many racing games are completely oblivious to this.  They keep making bomb after bomb after bomb racing games.  Split/Second sucked.  Blur failed miserably.  Fuel was a joke.  Motorstorm made me want to punch a baby.  And now we have Daytona USA, Sega Rally, and OutRun 2 on XBL and they will all wither away very soon.

So why is it that so many racing games, regardless of whether or not the game is actually good, fail?  I wouldn't have posted this if my game pitch succeeded but it didn't so now here goes.  CONSIDER THIS AN OPINION PIECE.  It may be true, it may not, I don't know, you figure it out...:

Racing games are dead.  They're not in a state of inflation but instead deflation.  They were once a great genre years ago but now they are a laughing stock.  There will always be a few people who like racing games (like you, me, and 17 other people in the world) but most won't like 'em and never will.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing (I don't want racers to be whored out like MMO's or FPSes) but when you have so underwhelming support, this is bad.

So why are racing games failing?  Let us go back to the birth of video games.  Back in the Atari days.  Now games back then were incredibly simple.  Most involved moving dots around the screen.  There wasn't much to do with them.  So some wise guy got the idea to make one of those dots a car.  Driving a car was a primitive idea that perfectly fit the "move stuff around" motif.  Some of the first racing games were Space Race (1973), Speed Race (1974), and Gran Trak 10 (also 1974).  So it's like you're driving a car around the screen, cool!!!  See the Wikipedia page on racing games for more details.

And this game was in 1977...imagine how much worse it was a few years earlier than that.

Well, fast forward to the 80's and 90's.  Racing games are still around.  Arcades were able to capitalize on the racing genre by including their own unique hardware in the form of wheels, pedals, and seats.  They were somewhat "iconic" like the DDR or the Time Crisis machine.  Every arcade needed at least one driving game to get by.

But with the technology getting better, that means that more genres are popping up.  Games aren't just limited to 2-D overhead/side-scrollers anymore.  You were getting all sorts of cool 3D games.  It was nice to see racers in 3D but it wasn't really that good for the genre.  It meant that a bevy of new types of games popped up, particularly massive story-based games like we see today.  Games were more popular than ever before hence less emphasis has been placed on pure gameplay/skill and more on cinematics and production.  Anything shiny and cool sells nowadays, so visuals trump gameplay.  Also, arcades died and so the unique peripherals went with it.  Yeah sure, you can run to the store and buy a racing wheel for the 360/PS3 but who's buying them?

Racing games have hardly any legs to stand on anymore.  The only reason they are still around was because of tradition's sake (racing games were a very early genre) and because there's always a few car buffs around.  No way a racing game can stand face to face with the likes of Call of Duty, Zelda, Mass Effect, all those shiny pretty games.

Honestly, whenever I look at whatever few racing games remain, I see total desperation.  Need for Speed: The Run is basically a car game with tons of cutscenes, advertising, and gimmicks.  Split/Second, Burnout, and Motorstorm have completely given up on racing altogether, narrowing in on the crashing aspect to such an asinine level.  And arcade racers like Fast & the Furious are just so dumbed down that any schmuck with a dollar to waste will play it and leave feeling just as empty on the inside as before.  Just a bunch of mush.

The only racing game that is truly successful is Mario Kart and that's because it's a Nintendo title--pure and simple.  If Sega tried to make a game like Mario Kart, it would only be a one-hundredths as successful...yeah, they released Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing which had a few flaws but was really good.  But now it's toast and is not likely we'll get a sequel any time soon.  Then there's Forza and Gran Turismo which is still going strong but is only really popular among car aficiandos, not necessary among the "racing" populace that is.  There's also Grand Theft Auto which has lots of driving in it although it is not technically a "racing" game either.

If I'm wrong about the racing genre, then prove me wrong!  I don't see racing games going on this massive upswing any time soon.  That is, as long as people keep copying the failed ideas of Burnout & Split/Second.

Can racing games make a comeback?  Or are they destined to...burnout?  HAHAHAHAHA!!!

Debbie Downer.

TLDR: Racing was one of gaming's oldest genres as well as an integral part of the arcade scene.  However, the expansion of technolog, shift towards cinematics, and death of arcades have left racing behind in favor of high-production action/adventure games.  Modern racing games are reaching for absurd designs in an attempt to legitimize the genre with little success and that is sad.


  1. Sorry to hear that your pitch didn't go through, buddy, though I don't find myself surprised of the bullcrap with the others. And perhaps it's my own pessimism speaking, but it's not uncommon to find people giving you the thumbs up on the outside, but have something else entirely in mind inside. Especially when it comes to competition.

    A presentation I made for a public speaking course a while back focused on how I'm finding so many games bland, unimaginative, full of clichés (big bulky or angry "heroes", the criminal underground, zombies) and even blatantly ripping off others. And in my research I attributed this to a few factors: overdoing the pursuit of realism, the death of the arcade, and publishers/developers afraid to take risks.

    And we've got similar gripes against racing games that while realistic, aren't really that fast and feel pretty dull. Great for car fanatics who are obsessed with making sure every detail works like real life, not great for us who just want to drive at blazing speeds with beautiful scenery while being expected to give it our best. Take the original OutRun - fanatics remember it fondly because it was designed as an escape. Drive in an expensive car with a girl at your side - not realistic but that WAS THE BEAUTY OF IT. Nowadays a lot of games are anything but an escape. They don't put a smile on my face (Crazy Taxi), I don't leave taking something with me (Shenmue), but instead they make me feel more depressed about the world (Usually stuff from Rockstar). But that's the flavor I hear from just about everyone, even colleagues at school. Games, TV, movies: Less realistic = bad. And if my roommates are any indication, they'll only watch things that are dark, risque and gritty because they feel as adults they should watch things for adults, ignoring so much else, which probably leads them to think they're "men" while thinking I'm someone who refuses to let go of their inner child.

    But when you mentioned that seeing a racing game signals desperation, I never thought about it that way but I can't help but agree. Thinking of the racing games at Dave and Busters (that aren't Daytona), I ask myself, what do they deliver to the table that is completely new and has not been done before? Nothing at all. They lack depth, the players aren't being challenged, the courses all look the same, whatever power up and features have been done before, and it's little more than a cheap but forgettable thrill. They see a familiar brand name and jump for it.

    But that also begs another question: Are the developers only to blame, or the audience as well, since neither side is encouraging the other to try something new or different?

    I suppose the way I look at it, I look at what's popular right now, and so much is realistic this or that. TV dramas glamorizing screw-ups I'd never want to associate myself with. Movies emphasizing how much real life sucks. Games that cater to weapon aficionados or car customization aficionados. Realism is what people want and it's being delivered. But isn't that stuff designed for us to escape from reality? Our stressful, busy, crappy lives where nothing goes right and we've had a bad day? Then again, I remember an argument where the teacher said that fantasy stories bothered her (kill the evil bad guy, go from zero to hero, win the girl), with a reason that can be summarized as the stories didn't suck as much as her life did.

    And if we're pursuing a field where we're making games for these kinds of people to play, it's going to be a hard road ahead, but I refuse to believe it's impossible.

  2. Thanks again for your thoughtful post. I may not be able to reply to it all cause it's so long but I'll try...

    First, do you go to Dave & Buster's often? Just curious. I wonder what it's like. I probably wouldn't like it though.

    I think the thumbs-up were because I "cheered" on my way up/down to the stage and I high-fived the instructor on the way there. I think it was "entertaining" for people to watch although they weren't enamored with the source content. In the end, they just couldn't stomach a racing game, even though I tried to make it as clever as possible.

    I see what you mean by not growing up. To tell you the truth, I don't think I've grown up either. I'm just getting sick and tired of all this violence and sexuality. I feel like Tom Hanks in Big playing with all the toys. What happened to plain old fun? Why is it that so many games are centered around misery/violence like God of War, Dragon Age, Shadows of the Colossus, Dead Island, anything?

    To tell you the truth, and I said this before in my blog a few times, I was insane when I was a child. I was socially awkward, schizophrenic, paranoid, depressed, you name it. I was still a "nice kid" who wasn't all emo, sitting in my room not showering or anything, but it wasn't smooth sailing when I was young.

    When I first played Daytona USA 2 in the arcades when I was 13-14, I swear, it was just an absolute release. It was the best feeling I've ever had. I would have to wait to go to the mall arcade every week or so to play the game a few times. It was my first foray into "serious" racing games and it was therapeudic.

    Also, one of the best moments of my life was when I came in 1st place on the Challenge course. I was using the Hornet MT car (ha). I jumped from the seat and collapsed to the floor. No other game has elicited that kind of reaction in me. Well, maybe playing Goldeneye with friends but no, this was better.

    It's a shame that the game was taken away in 2005. I played it for about three years and I literally broke down when I couldn't play it anymore. Cause the game helped me get by.

    I don't know, when I talk to people about Sega racers, I'm hoping that it'll enlighten them even just a little...make them feel better. It's too bad no one's taking. Like right now, all I'm hearing about is this Skyrim game and I'm sure it's good but it's another greyscale violent game to me. Have we sunk so far?

    I think that's why I was so devastated to find out my game didn't make the cut. Other people posted games because they thought they were cool and that a bunch of their friends would upvote it just because they would. I was hoping that a solid racing game would change people's opinions of the genre and enlighten them in some way. So that's why these racing games mean more to mean that just for "fun."

    I'm not so sure why everyone is obsessed with reality nowadays. The main reason why this reality crap strikes home is because it detracts from their own misery. Like if you're poor and depressed, you might feel better watching a show like Maury so you can see people fight over "who's the father." It makes them think, "Well, I don't have it so bad because I'm not that guy," or something like that.

    Like I said, real life is miserable anyway. People get sick and hurt, break up with girlfriends, get in car accidents, deal with the terrible economy, pay the bills, and possibly die. What's so great about that? Why can't we have something uplifting for once?

    I don't know. Dare I say it but there may be some moral underlining in this. Maybe people nowadays are just more tolerant to misery. I don't begrudge profits but to make so many big-name gritty titles to cash in on this is really demoralizing.

    And that's all I have to say about that.

  3. And a thoughtful post gets a thoughtful reply. Nice read. And I think I'm about to type another long reply.

    I had to move up to Denver to attend the school I'm going to, and I've been meaning to head to Dave & Buster's because I haven't been to a decent arcade in ages. The one at the mall where I lived is on its last line, and I have good memories there. I remember the huge crowds when Top Skater arrived. How people put tokens after tokens to beat House of the Dead. The first time seeing Virtua Fighter 3 in action. Complete shock and awe to discover a Daytona USA machine with the number 2 behind it, followed by Sega Rally 2. How I couldn't keep my eyes off House of the Dead 2. But once Sega Rally 2 disappeared everything went downhill, except for the DDR craze that lasted for a while. Actually, the food court at the PX had a nice arcade. Virtual-On, Daytona 1, Scud Race, but now a Taco Johns. I could go on forever, but typing this, as a child I was always, always amazed by arcade games and how they grew. Witnessing the growth of groundbreaking technology with each year, it never ceased to amaze me until the turn of the century.

    I think I was three or four when Mario was the big craze, and I could watch my parents play for hours. I was also insane in my childhood, very prone to irrational behavior without thought and acting violently without reason. But that was my earliest years. My parents would drop us off at school and hurry back for Mario 3. But once Sonic came out, that was everything. But once the Saturn came out, there was no Sonic, and I got my three free games. Virtua Cop was fun, Virtua Fighter 2 was a bit complex for me, but Daytona was really fun. I think it was this time that I was exposed to Sega's arcade games, and while I overlooked them before, I was hooked now. But if there was one game that really changed my interpretation of games, it was Panzer Dragoon Zwei. That music, the art direction, immersed into such an unusual, desolate, lifeless but beautiful world, I came out of it being thankful my life was nothing like that. I've stuck with Sega since, consoles and arcade. Bought a Dreamcast on launch day, bought an XBox for Panzer Dragoon Orta (though JSRF and GunValkyrie were brilliant as well), and an X360 when I heard Virtual-On was coming.

    Dave & Buster's can be a swing or a miss. Plenty of Sega arcades to go around, but the variety is limited. Almost entirely light gun shooters or racers, and a lot of ticket games to earn prizes. They've got a bar with really good but expensive food to order, and I've talked a couple of buddies to come along for happy hour once, even though I don't drink (I'm drivin!), but they weren't impressed by the games, and understandably so. Some old classics like Centipede, Donkey Kong, a Daytona 8-machine (though people mostly play beginner), they had all four House of the Deads, but recently removed the first, my favorite no less. Need for Speed arcade, Guitar Hero arcade, Raw Thrills stuff, Lost World: Jurassic Park, Sega Strike Fighter an an airplane sim, the recent Star Wars arcades, and F355 Challenge.

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  5. Blast, it is long. Apologies.

    CONT. One thing that did bother me about the Daytona machine was that there was always something wrong with each machine, and although the operators clearly had a soft spot for this particular game, they were too busy to fix it. Also, I hated the fact that if I chose Advanced or Expert, some guys would join in, and I'd find myself racing Beginner instead. But after uploading some of those Daytona M2-emulator vids, I decided to practice and get good at the game until I was able to get first in every course. Whenever I raced unsuspecting college students, I'd get glares when the unknown guy won first place. Though it meant something when an older player approached me and challenged me to a race. Beat me in Advanced, beat him in Expert. And a good clean race, none of that ram into the wall crap. Didn't see him much afterward. Of course, people are racing Need for Speed or Fast & Furious, bike and car, and Nascar. Sometimes Harley Davidson. Ghost Squad is surprisingly popular.

    I don't consider myself an outgoing person, as I usually can't stand people, and for a while this was my escape. The loud familiar noise of the arcade with all of the lights. But since they got rid of HOTD1 and I'm more likely to find players online with Daytona, there's much less incentive to head back there. Not to mention more arcades are disappearing with ticket games replacing them. But there is one thing that truly irks me to no end though. Those ticket games are expensive as hell, and I usually don't have good luck with them. People complain about things being expensive, the economy, and how rich people don't want to help those in need. And yet you see those VERY SAME PEOPLE carrying ridiculous amounts of tickets, covering tables and reaching the floor, as if they were flaunting it.

    And I could understand why you're devastated. Whenever you feel passionate or get emotionally attached to something, it's only natural to become upset (and at times, more than one should) when things don't turn out the way you want them to. And yeah, I found something special about these games that were more than just fun. It made me wonder what would come next, and I was already looking forward to it. The beautiful design, the music, 60 fps, depth, it was like picking a vacation brochure, then driving/shooting/fighting through it. I even picked up an appreciation of nature playing through Daytona and Sega Rally. I'll often listen to said soundtracks and close my eyes to see rocks, bushes, trees and mountains.

    "Growing up" is an awkward saying. Although my roommates think I haven't, it's a fact they haven't, acting like frat boys bragging about themselves, living by "codes" and doing things only so they can tell their friends about it all to compare egos, much of which I determined ages ago is pointless if not pathetic. But there are some things I won't let go of, not if it's what's keeping me going to find a higher purpose in life. Unlike them, I know what my goals and ambitions are, I'm more content with myself and far more mature than they'll ever be in years.

  6. Whew, another long post. Can't really reply to it all. We seem to have similar backgrounds. Yeah, so Sega has made a dent in my life. It's painful but it has made me better IMO.

    Strangely, there's only been one consistent arcade in my hometown and that's this moderately-sized one at the mall. At first, it was known as "Pocket Change," then "Namco Arcade," and now "Coin It Up." Ticket games aren't worth my time--the stuff you get for the tickets isn't worth it. Unless you can somehow hit the jackpot every time on the Cyclone machine but that game cheats, we all know it...

    Good luck with your school. I'll survive at mine. Who knows...things can get better over here despite this pitch setback.