“Outrun” – Sega (1986) coin-op version.

As I sat down to write what I love about this game, I first discovered that I’d already written about in earlier in the year. I took a look and then decided to add some more..

I first encountered “OutRun” early in the Spring of 1987. Most of the UK gaming magazines had already printed screenshots of the game, showing a level of graphic detail that was incredible. That was probably because racing games we’d seen so far had never had white clouds in the sky, didn’t have hills, didn’t have choices of route, and didn’t have cars that looked decent from the back.

No picture in a magazine could ever really convey two things. One was the sense of the speed, an that was truly incredible sense of videogame speed that was unrivalled by anything else around at the time. Sega’s ‘super-scaler’ effect was a revelation and everyone I knew really thought these were actual realistic visuals the likes of which we’d never seen before. The second was the music. It was the first game I’d ever seen that allowed you to choose the music that played whilst you drove. Just like playing a favourite song on a car radio. On top of that, the tunes were catchy and seemed to fit perfectly with the beautiful ‘blue sky look’ of the game. All of Sega’s arcade cabinets had excellent loudspeakers and subwoofers. This audio hardware always helped you find the game. You could always hear the welcoming chime when you inserted a coin above almost anything else happening in the arcade.

All arcade games featured what was called ‘the attract mode’ – this was the silent (but not always) visual loop that played when no-one was playing. Sega’s machine showed the iconic ‘orange sunset’ high score tables and the game logo. Playing this game always put a smile on my face. It was supremely fast, highly addictive, looked amazing and sounded incredible. To me, it perfectly encapsulated everything that a great arcade game should be. And I’ll let you into a secret…32 years later and I’m still playing it. And I’ve never genuinely finished it either.

Finding an “OutRun” machine, either sit-down or upright cabinet whilst travellingaround the world always felt like finding a friend somehow. On my 21st birthday, I was quite happily left alone with a bag of twenty five pound coins in the upstairs room of a local pub and an upright “OutRun” machine. My friends somehow didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for the fact that the machine offered four plays for a pound, or that I suspected, and later confirmed, that the DIP switches were set to a generous amount of allotted time. That was always a rarity on this game, and unscrupulous arcade owners almost always had the machine set to HARD. I’ve lost count of the number of players who could NEVER make it to the first checkpoint. And I know there are many of you out there who came so close to passing said first checkpoint to run out of time either just before it, or more maddeningly stopping on the line itself, at zero time on the clock.

Many many years later, whilst working at Electronic Arts, I was lucky enough to chat to some of the development team on “SSX Tricky.” They told me how they always made the AI back off away from the player right as you approached the Finish Line. The thinking behind that was that the player was about to experience ‘something amazing’ i.e. winning the race so why screw them over just because you can right at the very end. This approach was immortalised to me and the others in the room at the time as ‘always favour the player.’ Unless you ever got to play on Easy DIP settings, no OutRun machine ever did this. Instead it taunted you over and over and over again.

In 2005 at the E3 trade show in Los Angeles, I was privileged to meet the designer ofthe game, Sega’s Yu Suzuki. After an odd meeting with representative of both SEGA Europe and SEGA America, I was asked if I’d like to meet ‘someone special.’ So I was whisked into a small space at the back of the E3 exhibition space and introduced to the great man himself. He was very well dressed and I think he was the only man in the convention centre to be smoking a cigarette. Who was going to mess with him? He was Yu-san after all. Unless you can speak the language, meeting Japanese strangers with a translator on hand is always a slightly awkward affair. My friend from SEGA Europe said something along the lines of ‘this is Alekkusu- he’s a crazy gaijin from England! He makes Burn-Outto!” There may have been a flicker of understanding from him at that point, but I doubt it. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough I was then asked if he had anything to say to The Great Man Himself. I wasn’t too impressed with SEGA at that point time. Quite frankly, who was? And I’m sure that included pretty much everybody working there at the time. I said “tell him that I think SEGA has lost its way, and lost it soul. Tell him I don’t understand why SEGA hasn’t got Daytona USA, SCUD Race, OutRun and SEGA Rally all Online on Xbox LIVE?”

As this was hurriedly translated, the Great Man took a pause from smoking his cigarette down in three drags, looked over at me, and then spoke back to the translator. He carried on smoking. “Tell him I AGREE” came the response! I also told him that if he popped out to Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard, then he would see that they had CD’s of the glorious “OutRun” soundtrack on sale front and centre right as you walked in the door. He said he would ‘go and take a look!” and that was that.

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See you next week for Part 15.