Guest column by: Dan Rodman
In October of 1995 Electronic Arts and Pioneer Studios, in collaboration with the car magazine “Road and Track,” released The Need for Speed for the 3DO console. Initial reaction was combined delight and confusion; the game was praised, but the seemingly slow-moving, lumbering cars confused gamers. The Need for Speed, in fact, would change the face of racing games forever.
The confusion was quickly cleared up, as EA released a statement testifying to the fact that the feel of the driving was actually a real representation of what it actually seemed like to be in a world-class sports car traveling at 175 miles per hour, a new thing for console games. Besides realistic physics, real cars, each with its own set of unique features, and realistic track environments made The Need for Speed a revolutionary game.
The Need for Speed used realistic physics, accurate representations of acceleration, crashes, and driving to give the game a genuine feel. A car’s acceleration is as it’s motor commanded, not just in a generic way. When a car goes off road onto gravel or snow it will decelerate and could, in the case of snow, go into a skid. When a car hits an embankment or wall at too high a speed, the car would go skyward in a series of awesome and realistic flips determined by the angle and speed with which the car hit the obstruction. The car wouldn’t just careening off-road, going at the same speed and exploding after hitting a boulder, tree, or whatever would be lining the roads and exploding. If a car were to go off a steep drop in the road at too high a speed, it went airborne. Since most of the 911 Carrera’s weight in real life was in the rear, the car had a knack for wiping out while throttling through turns. These were all relatively new traits to the racing game. Each track was realistically sculpted to perfection. There were speed limit and warning signs that fell when hit by a car and beautiful landscapes, moose, a cruise ship, and graffiti.
The Need for Speed’s real revolutionary contribution, however, comes in its treatment of cars. The driver could chose between the Mazda RX-7, Acura NSX, Toyota Supra, Porsche 911 Carrera, Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, Dodge Viper, Ferrari 512TR, and Lamborghini Diablo GT. These were real cars, not the computer-generated substitutes in Virtua Racing or Daytona USA. The each handled like they really would. For instance, the Viper had amazing acceleration, but an extreme understeer; while the RX-7 accelerated less quickly but was much more agile, while the Supra and 911 were both more balanced cars. EA took extreme care that each car was sculpted as realistically as the 3DO would allow. Each car was reproduced on-screen as close as possible, with almost no detail repeated from car to car. Each car used its real-life dash and unique engine sound. EA took so much care that even the gearshift sounds were unique! Nothing like this had ever been done before.
The Need for Speed wasn’t just a racer, it was a simulator. Everything was realistic from the physics to the tracks to the cars themselves. Racing games weren’t nearly as realistic before The Need for Speed. If one compares The Need for Speed to games before, like Mario Andretti Racing, and games after, like Gran Turismo, one sees the affect The Need for Speed had on racing games.