Innovation in game genres evolves from cross title iteration.
Competition breeds innovation and whilst rapid at first it eventually becomes more and more slight. Racing games likes FPS are decades old. Their birth in the arcade in the early 1970s led them to rise in prominence until they became an accepted genre. SEGA released a Fonz arcade cabinet (1976) complete with haptic feedback in the vibrating handlebars. Fonz was in black and white and based on an endlessly scrolling track. It wasnt until 1982 that ‘Pole Position‘ emerged, and created the blue print for racing games. I clearly recall seeing ‘Pole Position’ in an arcade for the first time. The first attempt at driving simulation was a jaw dropping experience.
The ensuing slew of racing games, gave birth to game after game, on every platform through the 80s and early 1990’s. Fatigue beset the genre quickly and despite an infinite selection key franchises were established during the 90’s, Ridge Racer in 1993 and Need For Speed in 1994 and Gran Turismo in 1997. The genre raced relentlessly toward the goal of photo realism. Each console launch ushered in by shinier and faster racing game. Posterboys for technical development prowess.
SEGA Rally (1995) was a milestone for the racing genre. SEGA Rally introduced the ability to race on different surfaces (asphalt, gravel and mud), with different friction properties, the car’s handling changing accordingly. The games release was a revolutionary moment, that earner it a place Video Game history. A generation of gamers immediately started throwing cars into muddy corners, followed by tearing down asphalt. The visceral feeling of reckless semi-controlled slide into immediate traction was something that was not forgotten, once experienced.
SEGA Rally paved the way for the Colin McRae franchise which started in 1998, a critical and commercial success. It was the pioneer of realistic rally sports racing games, away from the arcade focus of SEGA Rally. Created in conjunction with Colin McRae himself, who provided technical advice during development. They looked and felt amazing amplifying the experience of SEGA Rally exponentially. In hindsight it looks rough and rudimentary. The core gameplay mechanics were, however, nailed on the first attempt.
DiRT3 is the 9th game in the series, and built on the Ego engine, first used in Grid (and subsequently Colin McRae: DiRT2), whereas the previous iterations we guided by the spirit of McRae, Dirt3 is firmly imprinted with the identity of Ken Block, and rather than alienate the EMEA audience, for ‘over Americanism’, the spirit of the game is open, diverse and compelling. Nowhere is this more evident that the Gymkhana events. Gymkhana is a sport typified by YouTube excess and crimes against language and grammar. Hooning may not be a crime, but the word Hooning ought to be. the birth of Gymkhana also, accidentally, created the blueprint for one of the greatest game modes in Video Game history.
At 13 hours in and approaching 150 races, DiRT3 is starting to just stretch its legs with a balance and subtlety that most racing games lack. It represents a high-water mark for the racing genre and has distilled the key components of the past three decades of game development. DiRT3 is definitively one of the best racing games to date, and a startling education for those new to the genre.