One of the more common uses of the term racing game is to describe a genre of computer and video games. Racing games are either in the first or third person perspective. They may be based on anything from real-world racing leagues to entirely fantastical settings, and feature any type of land, air, or sea vehicles. In general, they can be distributed along a spectrum anywhere between hardcore simulations, and simpler arcade racing games.
Racing games in general tend to drift toward the arcade side of reality, mainly due to hardware limitations, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. It is however untrue to say that there were no games considered simulations in their time.
In 1984 Geoff Crammond, later to develop the Grandprix series (Known collectively as GPX to its fanbase) produced what is considered the first attempt at a racing simulator, REVS, for the BBC Microcomputer. The game offered an unofficial, (and hence with no official team or driver names associated with the series} recreation of British Formula 3. The hardware capabilities limited the depth of the simulation and restricted it (Initially) to one track but it was far above any other games at the time in terms of detail.
In 1986, Sega produced Out Run, one of the most graphically impressive game of its time. It used two Motorola 68000 CPUs for its 2D sprite-based driving engine, and it became an instant classic that spawned many sequels.
In 1987, Namco produced Final Lap, the first arcade game that allowed multiple machines to be linked, allowing for multiplayer races. In the same year, Atari produced Road Blasters, a driving game that also involved a bit of shooting.
In 1988, Atari introduced Hard Drivin', the first arcade driving game that included force feedback as well as 3D polygonal graphics. This is the first game where the wheel actually fights the player during take aggressive turns. It also featured a crash replay camera view.
In 1990 the now defunct Papyrus Design Group produced their first attempt at a racing Simulator, the critically acclaimed Indianapolis 500: The Simulation. Accurately replicating the 1989 Indianapolis 500 grid it offered advanced (For its time) 3D graphics, setup options, car failures and handling. The damage modelling, while not accurate by today's standards, was capable of producing some spectacular and entertaining pile-ups which the game was also known. It was later almost forgotten with the success of Crammond's F1GP but to this day many argue that it boasted superior graphics to the 1992 title.
In 1992 Sim Racing gained a new champion in the shape of World Circuit, developed by Geoff Crammond's group Simergy. It boasted unparalleled detail and a full recreation of the cars and circuits of the 1991 Formula One World Championship, though as with REVS it was not granted an official license by the series, thus teams and drivers were renamed (Though could all be changed back to their real names using the Driver/Team selection menu) with Ayrton Senna becoming Carlos Sanchez and so forth.
On the other end of the spectrum Sega produced Virtua Racing. While not the first game with 3D graphics (see REVS), it was able to combine the best features of games at the time, along with multiplayer machine linking and clean 3D graphics to produce a game that was above and beyond the arcade market standard of its time. Also Nintendo broke new ground by introducing the Mario Kart series on the SNES with Super Mario Kart. Using the familiar characters from the Mario franchise, the game not only departed from the realism paradigm by using small karts for the players to drive, but also featured bright, colourful environments and allowed the players to pick up power-ups to improve performance or hamper other racers. This franchise also spawned multiple sequels.
In 1993, Namco struck back with Ridge Racer, and thus began the polygonal war of driving games. Sega struck back in 1994 with Daytona USA, while Midway introduced Crusin' USA. Atari didn't join the 3D craze until 1997, when it introduced San Francisco Rush.
By 1997, the typical PC was capable of matching an arcade machine in terms of graphical quality, mainly due to the introduction of first generation 3D accelerators such as 3DFX Voodoo. The faster CPUs were capable of simulating increasingly realistic physics, car control, and graphics. Colin McRae Rally was introduced in 1998 to the PC world, and was a successful semi-simulation of the world of rally driving (previously only available in Sega's less serious Sega Rally Championship). Motorhead, a PC game, was later adapted back to arcade.
In 1998 Gran Turismo was released for the PlayStation, and has since become one of the most popular racing franchises ever, with the series selling more than 44 million copies worldwide. The series combined fairly realistic racing with playability, enabling players of all skill levels to play.
1999 marked a change of games into more "free form" worlds. Midtown Madness for the PC allows the player to explore a simplified version of the city of Chicago using a variety of vehicles and any path that they desire. In the arcade world, Sega introduced Crazy Taxi, where you are a taxi driver that needed to get the client to the destination in the shortest amount of time. A similar game also from Sega is Emergency Ambulance Driver, with almost the same game play (pick up patient, drop off at hospital, as fast as possible). Games are becoming more and more realistic visually. Some arcade games are now featuring 3 screens to provide a surround view.
There is a wide gamut of driving games ranging from simple action-arcade racers like Mario Kart Double Dash (for the Nintendo Gamecube) and Nick Toon Racers to ultra-realistic simulators like NASCAR Revolution, rFactor, Live for Speed and Grand Prix Legends to sci-fi racers and everything in between.
Simulation style racing games strive to convincingly replicate the handling of an automobile. They often license real cars or racing leagues, but will use fantasy cars built to resemble real ones if unable to acquire them.
Although these racing simulators are specifically built for people with a high grade of driving skill, it is not uncommon to find aids that can be enabled from the game menu. The most common aids are traction control (TC), anti-lock brakes, steering assistance, damage resistance, clutch assistance, automatic gearbox, etc. This softens the learning curve for the difficult handling characteristics of most racing cars.
The Formula One World Championship has a fan base all over the world and is one of the racing series with the most simulation adaptations.
Some of these racing simulators are customizable, as game fans have decoded the tracks, cars and executable files. Large internet communities have grown around the simulators regarded as the most realistic and many websites host internet championships.
Currently the Racing Sim "rFactor" has the largest driver base because of its heavy capability of modding.
Arcade style racing games put fun and a fast-paced experience above all else, as cars usually compete through odd ways. They often license real cars and leagues, but are equally open to more exotic settings and vehicles. Races take place on highways, windy roads or in cities; they can be multiple-lap circuits or point-to-point, with one or multiple paths (sometimes with checkpoints), or other types of competition, like demolition derby, jumping or testing driving skills. Popular arcade racers are the Daytona USA series, the Rush series, the Cruis'n Series and the classic Out Run.
Over the last three years there has been a trend of new street racing; imitating the import scene, one can tune sport compacts and sports cars and race them on the streets. The most widely known ones are the Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Need for Speed series), Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, Street Racing Syndicate, Burnout and Juiced.
Racing games that are more focused on realism.
These games are neither simulators nor arcade racers; they stand in the middle of the spectrum.
Racing games that are not focused on realism.
Street racing games
Event RacingGames related to Sporting events.
Exaggerated Sports Racing
Truck racing games
Motorcycle racing games
Kart racing games
Kart racers, popularized by (and often credited to) the Mario Kart series, are a style of racing game that introduces the ability to pick up items during the race, and use them to boost one's performance in a race, or to attack other players and hamper their progress. Like arcade racers, kart racers feature simple racing physics and imaginative environments to race in. The terminology itself was taken from Go-Kart racing.
Kart racers include:
Water racing games
Racers that take place on the ocean.
Jetski racing games
Speedboat racing games
Off-road racing games
Off-road racing is a format of racing where various classes of specially modified vehicles (including cars, trucks, motorcycles, and buggies) compete in races through off-road environments.
Futuristic racing gamesSet in the future, these games take an abstract view to racing, they may feature abstract vehicles such as hoverbikes and race in alien environments. Without having to follow physical laws, the races and vehicles can move with tremendous speeds.
Racing role playing games
Arcade racing games timeline
Toy Racing gamesRacing game related to Toys.
Driving games do not have a lap racing focus. These games focus on arcade style driving with goals, tasks and mini games. Other arcade style driving games replace laps with checkpoints.
Driving games focused on goals, tasks and mini games
Arcade style driving/racing games focused on checkpoints
Vehicular combat games
In these games, gameplay is mostly focused on the combat aspect of driving games. Vehicles are equipped with weapons used to attack opponents.