OutRun, The Teenager And The Commodore 64 Port

Sega’s classic OutRun is easily one of my all-time favourite games and it turns 35-years-old this very day. Its sense of speed and thrills as you tear around Europe in a blood-red Ferrari Testarossa, sunglasses-wearing dude with his blonde girlfriend by his side. That awesome soundtrack that you can still hear in your head thirty-five years later… even without playing the game itself. OutRun was the eighties encapsulated in an arcade game. As I said, it is one of my all-time favourite games. I couldn’t tell you how much pocket money I spent on the arcade cabinet while on family holidays, where I would always make a beeline for the nearest arcade.


When it was revealed that OutRun would be coming to the home computers of the day, I was beyond excited. It was going to be released for the Commodore 64, we had a C64… I had to have OutRun on it. I would’ve been about 10-years-old at the time when OutRun came to the microcomputers of the day. I never really understood how gaming and ports worked back then, I was expecting OutRun from the arcade on our Commodore 64. Of course, the C64 was way too underpowered to handle an arcade-perfect conversion (which I never grasped as a kid) and when I did finally play Sega’s mighty racer on our computer… I was mildly disappointed. It didn’t really look like the arcade version, it wasn’t as fast (depending on the version) and it most definitely didn’t play as well either. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the home ports of OutRun were bad… okay, some were yes. Just more of a case that 10-year-old me didn’t understand why my C64 version didn’t look like the arcade game that I loved so much. If you look at reviews for the home ports back then, you’ll find a lot of average to slightly above average scores. I’ve been playing the C64 version of OutRun recently now as an adult, it’s really not that bad at all. Pretty damn good in fact. Of course, it is limited given the hardware but it is a fairly competent racer all told.

It was while I was researching my book MicroBrtis and the Ocean/U.S. Gold chapters in particular when I began to uncover the story behind just how that Commodore 64 port of OutRun came about. Pretty much the work of one man… well one boy actually. The-then 17-year-old Martin Webb. A story that I feel could do with being covered as it is a wonderful insight into those early days of British gaming. Oh yeah, Martin Webb was a Brit.

Anyway, Martin had already programmed a few titles before he got the OutRun gig. These games were made for the Texas Instruments TI-99 home computer and they were sold mail-order via Martin’s home in Shropshire. It was his father, Dennis Webb who managed the home-based business as well as managing Martin too. While Martin would take care of the programming of the games, it was Dennis who’d handle the graphics. The father and son team really worked out well, they called their company, Intrigue Software and sold quite a few units. However, game sales on the TI-99 began to dry up when home computers such as the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 hit the market.


Martin Webb favoured the C64 and taught himself how to code on it. As the market grew, it soon became clear that father and son could no longer fund the publication of their own games, they needed a big player in the industry to sell their games. It was an idea that Dennis Webb was not too keen on, he had always handled the business up to this point and he really didn’t relish the idea of a big-name company taking over. The relationship between father and son soon became taut and arguments between the two would often break out. Dennis, more than often, would push his teenage son much further than he ever really should have. It all really came to a head when Martin ran away from home. His father went driving around to find him and eventually brought Martin back.

Still, Dennis finally began to see Martin’s point. They were running out of money fast and perhaps getting a more experienced company to sell their games would be a good idea. Martin created a game called Snap Dragon (AKA Karate Chop) for the C64. It was a beat ’em up thing… and it wasn’t very good, very average. Still, it did show that Martin could program on the C64. Ocean Software were a pretty big publisher in the C64 days and Martin set his sights on selling his game to them. A meeting was set up and Martin showed off his new game. Ocean turned it down because they were working on the C64 port of the arcade hit, Yie Ar Kung-Fu (released under the Imagine label that Ocean owned at that point… read my book!). Ocean didn’t feel like putting money behind another beat ’em up, so they turned Martin away. However, the publisher, Bubble Bus Software, bought the game from Martin for £5,000. Not a bad payday in 1987.


Martin developed another game for Bubble Bus Software, Max Torque. This was a blatant rip-off of Sega’s classic bike game, Hang-On. After that, he started work on a clone of Sega’s OutRun. using assets from his Max Torque game and basically swapping out the bikes for cars. To try and avoid any legal issues, Martin used a Porsche for the star of his car game over the famed Ferrari used in OutRun. When his OutRun clone was finished, he needed to find a publisher. Bubble Bus Software wasn’t exactly one of the big names and while they were paying, they weren’t paying all that much. The money began to dry up again and Dennis once more became abusive towards his son. Arguments often evolved into physical fights as Dennis continually pushed his teenage son to code more games. Their relationship was hanging by a thread.

The Webbs sought out a bigger, better and more established publisher for future games. They went to U.S. Gold. Martin showed off his OutRun clone to U.S. Gold boss, Geoff Brown and a handful of programmers. Martin had added a dashboard and steering wheel HUD to his rip-off as he wanted it to look the like OutRun arcade cabinet. As his hand-drawn Porsche sprite raced over the roads on the game, Geoff Brown and the programmers were very impressed that a 17-year-old kid had programmed a rather speedy looking racing game all on his own. Still, as impressed as U.S. Gold were, they couldn’t buy Martin’s racing game from him to publish.

Geoff took Martin into a separate room to talk to him alone, away from his overbearing father. In that room was a sit-down OutRun arcade cabinet and that was when Geoff Brown hit Martin with the big news. U.S. Gold had very recently signed a deal with Sega to produce the homeports of the arcade version of OutRun and here was this teenager with a prototype of a game that had pretty much exactly what U.S. Gold needed. Effectively, the OutRun port that U.S. Gold had signed up to do partly existed. An hour later and Dennis Webb was signing a contract for Martin to convert OutRun to the Commodore 64. The Webbs were given a £20,000 advance and Martin returned back home and set about turning his OutRun rip-off into an actual, fully licensed OutRun conversion.


The first things Martin programmed were the high-score table and the radio where you select the music. These had to be in the game as U.S. Gold requested them. Also, once he had those in place, Martin knew how much memory he had left to squeeze the massive OutRun arcade game onto a C64 tape. Martin’s clone didn’t have and hills in it, but OutRun did. That was a bit of an issue and programming in hills would take up much-needed memory. Martin got around this by simply moving the horizon in the background up and down. The next big issue was the roadside graphics. The arcade version of OutRun was famed for its very impressive sprite/texture scaling capabilities. This made the game buttery smooth, fast and highly detailed. There was no way that the C64 could replicate what the arcade could do with ease.

Martin had to decide to go for either detailed graphics that looked like the arcade version (or at least as close as he could get them on a C64) or speed. Speed was what made OutRun such a popular game in the first place. Yeah, it looked nice and all, but if the arcade game had been a sluggish racer, it wouldn’t have been as impressive as it was. Martin knew he had to compromise on the graphics to make the game as fast as possible. A lot of the smaller details were dropped and the roadside objects were big, chunky graphics that, truth be told, were not all that pleasing to the eye. Still, Martin’s OutRun conversion may not have been a graphical powerhouse, but it was fast for a racing game on the C64.


Martin didn’t have OutRun’s source code, no design documents to work from either. He was given access to one of the arcade cabinets (U.S. Gold sent him one which he had in his garage at home) and played it for hours on end. He’d record footage of the game on a camcorder and made copious amounts of notes. He strived to make the roads/tracks in his game look and feel just like the arcade version. Put the turns in the right place, hills where they were, etc. But due to the limitations of the hardware, Martin did have to use a few ‘cheats’ as some stages are the same as others, just with different colours, etc. But there was one feature from the arcade that was missing, the forking road/choice of route. Martin did try to implement it into the game, but it was just too problematic. The Commodore 64 just could not handle a multi-loading/branching system that could be played on the fly as in the arcade. He could’ve made the game stop and then have to load each selectable route. But as most games were on cassette tapes at the time (there were disk versions), that would’ve broken up the flow and speed of the game. Plus, being on a tape would mean having to fast forward and rewind the tape to the correct loading spot each time… and that would just be a pain in the arse.

So, as there was no branching system, you just loaded which of the routes you wanted to play (load route A or route B as an example) and then it played out like a single race. Wanted to try a different route? You’ve had to restart and load up one of the other pre-set routes. Still, all stages from the arcade version were included in the C64 port (with some limitations), which was pretty damn impressive for the time. However, having to program every possible stage really was difficult for Martin, who had turned 18-years-old by the time the game had been finished, and was still very much a youngster under immense pressure, mainly from his father.

Speaking of which, Dennis Webb handled the graphics for OutRun and added little Easter eggs onto the licence plates of the cars by including the initials of himself, Martin and friends. The Porsche from Martin’s OutRun clone/prototype even makes an appearance too.


The awesome arcade music was pretty well re-created for the C64 byJason Brooke. Though the game only had two of the three tunes from the arcade. However, the game came with an audiotape of the original arcade music, so you could just pop that bad boy into your hi-fi (look them up kids) and enjoy arcade-perfect music. The Commodore 64 version of OutRun got fair to middling reviews when released. A lot of mid to high-60% scores. Still, the above-average reviews didn’t really matter as, despite the game being released on the 10th of December 1987, it actually became the biggest selling game of the year. That’s pretty impressive for a game that was only on the shelves for a few weeks of that year. Around 250,000 copies were shifted across all formats over Christmas (one was mine). Martin and his dad made plenty of money too. Their first royalty payment was for £17,000 and it had been said that they made about £80,000 total, that’s in 1980 money too. It was the most amount of money the father and son had made from a game.

U.S. Gold were so happy with Martin’s conversion that he was flown out to Chicago to work on the NTSC version of the port, to be published by Mindscape. The US version is arguably better, the graphics are more refined, it runs faster and it has an actual route selector, so no more having to reload a new game if you wanted to play a different route. Quite amazingly, the US version only took around two weeks to program too. The Euro version took closer to six months. While in the US, Martin was headhunted by Nintendo, but his father was too protective of his ‘asset’ and soon put a stop to Martin working for anyone else. When he got back to the UK, U.S. Gold gave Martin another arcade conversion to do, Atari’s RoadBlasters. As this was another arcade racer, Martin just reused and tweaked assets from his OutRun conversion and did the job with relative ease.


Though they were doing well and being offered more jobs, the relationship between father and son was breaking down. While in public, Dennis would always praise and show respect to his son. But behind closed doors, it was a very different story. More arguments, more fights as Dennis pushed his son further and harder to keep programming games. Martin was old enough to move out by then, so he did. He packed his bags, left the family home and the games industry allogether.

Martin now lives in Brazil and has his own cloud software company. He still likes to talk about the ‘good old days’ as he did right here in 2020. He also comments on some of the YouTube videos covering the home ports of OutRun too (he replied to me and gave info for this very article). Still, as upsetting as his past may have been for him in regards to his relationship with his father (that he doesn’t like to talk about these days), Martin did bring one of the biggest arcade games home for so many gamers back in 1987, me being one of them. I still remember that cold Friday Christmas morning, opening my presents. Mom had got me (and my bothers) a copy of OutRun on the Commodore 64, bliss. A game that brought me so many hours of enjoyment and for that, I deeply thank Martin Webb.


Game Review: Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX

Ahhhhhhhhhh, Alex Kidd. Nintendo had Mario, Sega had Alex Kidd. Nintendo still have and use Mario, but poor little Alex Kidd is often forgotten about, lost in time… And because Sega created Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991 of course. But yeah, there was a time when Alex Kidd was Sega’s main mascot. He starred in a few games between 1986 and 1990, usually platformers, but he would make the odd genre change now and then. His first game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was released in 1986 for the Sega Master System. Very much praised back then too and the game is still looked back on with a fondness by old-timey Sega fans. It was even built into later versions of the console too. 

There actually hasn’t been an Alex Kidd game since Alex Kidd in Shinobi World from 1990, thirty-one years ago. Then developer Jankenteam and developer-publisher Merge Games thought it was a good idea to remake the original game with Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. Now, I have to make a confession here… I’m really not much of an Alex Kidd fan, to be honest. I never had a Master System as a kid, but I did have a friend who had one and I did get to play a fair bit of the original game back then. I thought it was pretty good, not amazing or anything, but it was decent enough. Anyway, three decades later, just how does the game hold up now it has had a facelift?

First up, let’s take a quick look at what’s been added for this new version of a classic game. Right off the bat, the first thing you’ll notice is the graphics. The original had a very cartoony look, obviously slightly held back by the limitations of the hardware of the time. But hey, it still looked good with its bright and colourful graphics in 1986. This remake gives the art style a complete overhaul and pushes the cartoony style even further. It still does very much look and feel like Alex Kid, just in glorious HD quality, smoother animations and lots more colour. But, if you are feeling a tad sentimental for those 8-bit graphics, you can flick between both styles on the fly at the touch of a button. All of the original game’s levels have been rebuilt and recreated for this remake. There are even a few all-new levels made just for this remake. There are some new enemies and NPCs too. Even the boss fights have been updated and tweaked. But other than that, the game is pretty much identical to the original, especially in terms of gameplay.


Now, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX has its problems… Several of them. Alex himself feels very floaty to control. The jumping is imprecise and you will find yourself missing jumps and smaller platforms, often due to Alex sliding slightly when he lands. The hitboxes sure are questionable. Alex Kidd isn’t Mario, he can’t jump on his enemies to take them out. Instead, Alex has a punch as his main attack and it is very, very short range. You really need the numerous enemies to get in close before you can attack and quite a few times, even though you press the attack, they take you out first. Seriously, I have saved footage of being killed in this and replayed it in slow-motion. I definitely attacked first and you can see Alex’s fist connect too, yet I still died. This is even worse during the underwater levels where controlling Alex is even more difficult. Some deaths feel massively unfair too, especially when you hit a mystery block that can either reward or punish you. The rock, paper or scissors boss fight thing is back from the original too. Nobody liked it back in 1986 and it’s even more annoying now in 2021.

Let’s not forget that this is old school, one-hit deaths, three lives and game over style gameplay too. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is hard as nails and sometimes very unfairly so too. Yes, this can be frustrating to play and I almost didn’t even bother to play past the first couple of levels initially. Seriously, I must’ve died and seen the game over screen a dozen or so times in the first level alone. However, I stuck with it, I got used to Alex Kidd’s floaty controls. The dodgy hitboxes became second nature and I was able to take out the enemies with relative ease. Something just clicked after a while and the game became easier. Easier, but still not easy. I actually finished this one, something I never did with the original. You know what, I really enjoyed it too.


Yes, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX certainly has its problems, issues that modern gamers will detest. But if you are an old fart like me and can remember those old days of punishing one-hit deaths and questionable gameplay mechanics, you might just enjoy this too. What the devs have done here is recreate proper old school gaming. Yes, they could’ve tightened the controls, worked on those hitboxes and appealed to the masses but no. They’ve decided to cater to certain age groups who played the original back in the day, us late thirty-somethings to mid forty pushers who grew up with these games as kids. I’ve played several modern indie games that offer 8 and 16-bit graphics and ones that try to recreate classic gaming, most of them fail. They look the part sure, but they never feel quite right. What Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX does is, it nails that old school gameplay perfectly, just with a very nice looking 2021 lick of paint.

Just in terms of looks, this game is very pretty. I remember a while back when I first saw a handful of screens for the game, I really didn’t like the art style too much. But now I have seen it first hand, now I have played through the game and seen it on a nice big screen, I really like it. The game offers a very bright, colourful and vibrant art style that is beautifully animated. Of course, as previously mentioned, you can go back to the original 8-bit graphics at the touch of a button. Quite a few modern remakes offer this option and of the ones I have played, I always find myself going back to the older 8-bit style. With Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, I really didn’t want to. I tried it but soon found that I much preferred the new art style over the original one.


As hard and frustrating as the game is, it does offer some help. You can turn on infinite lives. This is a massive help for those not used to this much harder style of gameplay, especially as Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is very generous with its checkpoints. So dying with infinite lives makes the game much more accessible. However, using the infinite lives thing does mean you can’t unlock certain trophies/achievements. Still, even without the infinite lives thing (a far better way to play), you do get unlimited continues. When you do lose all your lives and use continue, you go back to the start of the level you were on. You lose any money you had, any items too and this does make finishing a level much harder. But hey, I really liked the challenge and do suggest that you play without the infinite lives on.

Finishing the game also unlocks two new gameplay options. There is Classic Mode, which is the original Alex Kidd in Miracle World with none of the extras of the remake. A nice little addition for purists, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not the exact game from the Master System and rather a remake built by the devs themselves. The other one is a Boss Rush mode where you can take on all of the bosses in the game, one after another… Yes, that does include all those rock, paper or scissor fights too. 


As I said at the start of this review, I’m not a huge Alex Kidd fan. I thought the first game was decent enough and I remember having fun with it back in the day, but I’m certainly not a fan. Still, having said that, I really honestly quite enjoyed this remake far more than I thought I would. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a very pleasant surprise and one that, once I got used to the old school, 8-bit difficulty, I began to enjoy more and more as the game progressed. With a more than reasonable price tag of £14.99, you just have to get this game. If you were a fan of the original game, then this is a wonderful love letter to it and I highly recommend it. A remake made with respect and passion for the Master System classic that spawned a franchise. I’d certainly be more a tad more cautious if this is your introduction to the franchise and even proper old school gaming though, as I really have to reiterate just how bloody hard this game is.


Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is not for the faint of heart and going into it unprepared will most certainly test your patience as the frustration levels rise and rise with each passing level. It is a brilliant slice of history reborn and one that doesn’t forget its roots either. This is how you bring back old school gaming without pandering to the modern, uninitiated gamer, a game made for a specific audience of those who grew up playing these hard as nails games when  we were kids. Buy it if you think you’re hard enough. Just have to wait for the Alex Kidd in Shinobi World remake now…

That Time Ayrton Senna Helped Make A Video Game

Growing up in the eighties, I was an F1 fan. It was my older brother who got me into the sport. Every Sunday, we’d sit and watch F1 on the TV without fail. I never really understood the sport back then, that didn’t come about until years later as I grew older. But what really made me watch was nothing more than a great looking colour scheme. My favourite colour has always been black (yes I know that technically it is not a colour, but a lack of colour), so I used to watch the John Player Special Lotus cars, they looked awesome on the track. But there was something more than special about one of the cars, the bright yellow helmet of Ayrton Senna.


That’s pretty much how I became a fan of the Brazilian driver, just because I liked the black car and how Senna’s yellow helmet design really stood out against that JPS Lotus. From then, Senna was the man to watch, the most exciting and talented driver on the F1 circuit. He became huge when he drove for McLaren in 1988 where he won his first championship and rewrote the record books along the way. By the early nineties, Ayrton Senna was the greatest F1 driver around and that was when one of the biggest gaming companies in the world approached him about making a game using his name.

Now, licensed games had already been around for a while and several sporting stars happily signed off the use of their likeness and name to make some quick and easy money, without having to do any real work. So of course, Senna jumped at the chance to have his name on a video game. Only unlike other sportsmen who just signed a contract and waited for royalty checks to come in, Ayrton Senna wanted more than just his name on a game, he wanted to help create and design the game itself. Senna wanted to ensure the game in question was not just some cheap cash-in, he wanted it to represent not just him, but also the sport he loved. That game was Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II.


The Monaco GP franchise actually dates back to 1979 with the first Monaco GP title. And despite the ‘II’ in the title of Senna’s game, it was actually the fourth in the series, with Pro Monaco GP and Super Monaco GP released in 1980 and 1989 respectively. But just how involved was Ayrton Senna with the game that boasted his name? Well, that’s exactly what this article is going to look at.

It was 1991 and Sega were one of the biggest names in gaming who were already famed for their driving games. Ayrton Senna was three-times F1 World Champion, the youngest ever three-times F1 World Champion (or he would be by the end of the year). It was the ultimate team-up. It was a company called Tec Toy S.A (later renamed TecToy) that made the connection between Sega and Senna. TecToy were a Brazilian based company, known for publishing and distributing Sega’s wares in Brazil. Their HQ was also in São Paulo, Senna’s home town. Interestingly enough, TecToy co-founder, Daniel Dazcal died in May of 1994, the same month and year that Senna died.

Anyway, then president of TecToy, Stefano Arnhold, approached Sega in mid-1991 before Senna had won his third championship, as the 1991 season was in full swing, and asked them if they would consider making an Ayrton Senna game. At the time, Senna was world-famous, especially in Japan the home of Sega. So it made perfect sense for the two to work together. Plus, there was the fact that Ayrton Senna had already appeared in the previous Super Monaco GP from 1989… Okay, so it wasn’t exactly ‘official’ and the driver’s name was G. Ceara, who came from Brazil. But come on, look at the following comparison image and tell me that’s not meant to be Senna.


Anyway, Sega were already working on a sequel to their Super Monaco GP game when a deal to have the game endorsed by Ayrton Senna was added. As mentioned, Senna wasn’t interested in just having his name attached to the game, he wanted to help make the game too. Senna was even credited in the game as producer and supervisor. Another interesting credit in the game is the project manager ‘Oibaf Odahcam’, which when spelt backwards is Fabio Machado, who was Senna’s cousin and handled most of his business affairs. Getting back to the point, Senna used his encyclopedic knowledge of F1 to help make the game as authentic as possible (for the time). I mean, we are talking about a racing driver who would stand trackside during practice sessions to listen if other cars were using illegal traction control or not. Apparently, Senna refused to lend his name to the game if Sega didn’t allow him to offer his input. The Brazilian was pretty damn serious about making the game, unlike other famed names that were happy with just making money off their name.

One of the things Sega wanted to include was actual voice clips from Ayrton Senna himself. These clips would provide tips for the various tracks, only there was a bit of a problem. One of the races was to be for the Barcelona track, but Senna had not yet raced on it at that point as it was a new track added to the F1 calendar in 1991. As he had not raced on the track, he refused to supply any tips for it, feeling it would be disingenuous. This actually put the release of the game into jeopardy, but Senna just point blank refused. So, Senna agreed to record a voice sample immediately after driving on the track… And he did too. Ayrton Senna drove on the Barcelona track for the first time in 1991, finished in 5th place and then recorded his tips and sent it to Sega in Japan the same day.

In October of 1991, Senna and Arnhold of TecToy were in Japan. I mean, there was a Grand Prix to take part in. While there, they both went to Sega’s HQ to talk about the development of the game. Reports say that when Senna arrived at Sega’s HQ, the employees just stopped working so they could meet the man. He was such a huge star in Japan that he had that kind of power, to stop a four hundred strong employee count, as they scrambled to meet Senna and get his autograph. What was supposed to be a quick 40-minute meeting turned into an over three hours long fan-fest. Ayrton Senna quite happily met his fans and signed autographs too, even though he was there on business. Still, while at Sega’s HQ, Senna met with the development team of the game and talked them through the real F1 tracks and cars, giving them as much info as he could. The following pic is from that very visit with Senna talking to the dev team at Sega’s HQ in 1991.


It was also at that meeting when Senna pitched the idea of creating three new racetracks. Tracks designed by Senna himself and that were included in the Senna GP mode of the game. The development team quizzed Senna on his favourite circuits, which Senna discussed with the team in great detail as the team took copious notes, hanging on his every word as he described every corner as only Senna could. The Brazilian also talked in depth about car handling, speeds and more. One major point Senna wanted to make was the use of the track’s rumble strips. In the first Super Monaco GP, using the rumble strips would slow you down and punish you for using them. Senna disliked this as it was nothing like real-life racing, the rumble strips are often used by racers to help with cornering. So Senna got the dev team to make the use of rumble strips more realistic for his game. When Senna was happy that the development team were taking him and his ideas seriously, he gave permission for his likeness and name to be used.

Ayrton Senna got his manager to give the dev team VIP passes to the Japanese GP that he was taking part in just a few days from that meeting. This allowed the team to see F1 up close and help implement ideas into the game. After that meeting, Ayrton Senna relaxed, took in the beautiful country of Japan. Then just a few days later, he won the Japanese GP. There were more meeting between Ayrton Senna abd Sega’s development team as the game was worked in through the rest of 1991 and the start of 92.

When in development, the cartridge used for the game was going to be bigger than the standard used at the time, but budget and time constraints soon put an end to that. So in order to get the game to fit on the 8-meg cartridge, things had to be cut. You know those voice-over tips for the tracks that Senna recorded? Yup, gone. Replaced with text tips, still written by the man himself though. However, Senna’s voice is still in the game, except they are just smaller snippets compared to what was originally planned. When released in the summer of 1992, Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II was a massive hit, especially in Japan and Brazil… obviously. The fact it was based on the 1991 F1 season, the year Senna won his third championship title probably helped with the sales too. The great man himself even got in on the advertising campaign for the game, at least in Japan.

There were rumours that due to the success of the game, that Sega wanted to make another in the franchise with Ayrton Senna and covering the 1994 season. However, sadly, Imola 94 put an end to that idea. Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II was one of the best racers on the 16-bit Mega Drive and is still much loved among retro gamers today. In 2014, fans made a patch that gave the game the proper FIA 1991 licence with all the correct drivers and cars, etc. All of which took the game a step closer to the authenticity that Senna wanted from the very start.

Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II is a rarity in the sub-genre of celebrity-endorsed sports games. In that it was actually really good, authentic (given the time and limitations of the hardware) and that it wasn’t just a cheap cash-in because it had a sports star on the front. Ayrton Senna wanted the game to be as good as it could be and his direct input can be felt throughout the title too. 

Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II is more than just a game, it’s a testament to the legend that was Ayrton Senna’s attention to detail, his love for his sport and his drive for perfection. The game is part of his legacy as a man, a hero and the greatest F1 driver of all time.

Evolution Of F1 Games 1974 – 2020

Formula 1 as a sport turns seventy years old this year. That’s quite a momentous occasion to celebrate. I used to be a huge F1 fan, mainly through the eighties and nineties with Ayrton Senna being my favourite driver. Then, the blackest race weekend that was Imola  94 happened and for me, F1 died. Still, I’ve always enjoyed playing F1 games even if I really don’t follow the sport itself much anymore.

So I thought, to celebrate seventy years of Formula 1, that I would look at how F1 games have evolved through the years. From the first ever F1 game right up to the latest in 2020. Now, I’m not going to cover every single F1 game as there’s quite a lot of them and when you get into the latter games, they’re really just yearly updates. But I will be looking at some of the more notable F1 games to see how they’ve changed over the decades. Plus, a lot of the early games may not have been officially F1 licensed, but it’s very clear they were definitely F1 influenced. There will be links aplenty to gameplay footage of many of the games, a big thanks to the various YouTubers who complied the gameplay.

So anyway, here we go on an F1 trip through gaming, spanning six decades.

BORN 1950

The first ever Formula One race was held in 1950 at the famed Silverstone circuit. Italian driver, Emilio Giuseppe Farina would go in to be crowned the first official F1 World Champion. I don’t have to go back to the fifties (especially as video games didn’t exist then) for the first ever F1 game, but what could be considered the first F1 themed game is still very early in gaming history.

The Seventies

1972’s Pong is often considered the first ‘proper’ video game. It’s certainly the one game that kick-started the whole arcade and video game revolution in those early days. Back then, gaming was in its infancy and games were very simple. Perhaps the first F1-ish game could be Speed Race from 1974.


Developed and released by Tatio in Japan (Midway in the US where it was called Wheels), Speed Race offered some very simple gameplay. You controlled an F1-like car on a fast vertically scrolling road. Given just ninety seconds to make it as far along the road as you could. Along the way, you’d have to weave in and out of other racers. The arcade cabinet itself was a stand up thing with a steering wheel, simple hi-low gears and an accelerator peddle. The game itself was very basic and may not have offered much in the way of F1 thrills, but it’s cabinet design screamed F1. I believe that Speed Race was also the first ever vertically scrolling video game.

Also from 1974 was Gran Trak 10, developed and published by Atari. This wasn’t scrolling like the previous game, but instead had you racing around a single screen track. Gran Trak 10 was a bit more in-depth compared to Speed Race. It was another stand up cabinet with peddles to accelerate and break, but this one offered multiple gears, including a reverse. There was only one track available in the game and you had to race through checkpoints to extend your limited time. Do as many laps of the track as possible before the time runs out.

A lot of those early seventies racers followed a similar gameplay style. Simple weave in and out of traffic, or complete laps within a time limit. Titles such as Sprint 2 (it wasn’t a sequel, the number just reflected the number of players) was the first in a long running franchise Night Driver and F-1 were further early examples of such games with similar ideas. The latter using a unique miniature diorama and projector system to create the illusion of racing over standard graphics. But it was perhaps Sega’s Monaco GP from 1979 which could be considered the first ‘proper’ F1 game.


Where as the previous games mentioned may have had an F1 art style to the cabinet with some F1 questionable influence, Monaco GP was unmistakably Formula 1… mostly. This one played very similar to Tatio’s Speed Race, it just had fancier graphics and a few new gameplay additions like night driving, ice roads, etc, all those things not seen in Formula 1 . Still with that vertical scrolling, race against time thing while dodging other cars. It certainly wasn’t a revolution in gameplay, but it was definitely trying to engage the F1 fans of the day. I mean, it was called Monaco GP, named after one of the most popular and famous races in F1 history. Plus, once again the cabinet was F1 themed especially the sit-down version.

The Eighties

If the seventies was the infancy of the Formula 1 game, then the eighties were its teenage years. The first few eighties F1 games still carried the same ideas and concepts from the seventies, not too much evolution really going on. Then 1982 happened and Namco released Pole Position. Just reading that title should spark off memories of many an older gamer and if it didn’t, this screenshot will:


Pole Position was perhaps the defining Formula 1 game of the eighties. Playing from a third person perspective, you raced around a (for the time) accurate recreation of the F1 Fuji racetrack. Before you could race, you’d have to ‘prepare to qualify’, as the digitised speech would tell you. Put in a good time for a lap and then it was on to the actual race. Here it was you against several CPU controlled opponents in a championship race. Overtake other cars, try not to explode by crashing into billboards and come first. Pole Position was the first F1 game to depict a real race track and also the first to feature a qualifying session and actual racing instead of just overtaking endless opponents. The following year in 1983 and Namco followed up with Pole Position II. Very much more of the same with some minor graphical refinements. Plus it added three more tracks, taking the total to four. Though the gameplay between the two games was identical.

By now, and thanks to the success of Namco’s two Pole Position titles, F1 racers were fast becoming hugely popular in the arcade and even at home. The rise of cheaper hardware saw consoles and computers in the abodes of avid gamers around the world. 1983’s Chequered Flag for the ZX Spectrum was an early example of a F1 simulator. You got to chose from three F1 cars, two called Ferretti and McFaster (Ferrari and McLaren) and race around six representations of real F1 tracks and four fictional circuits. There were no other cars to race against, just you trying to put in fast laps… oh and you had to avoid on-track hazards like oil slicks and broken glass, just like real F1? Chequered Flag also featured a pit-stop game mechanic, the first game to feature pit-stops where you could repair and refuel your car.

Grand Prix Manager from 1984 on the ZX Spectrum was the first ever F1 management game. Putting you in charge of a Formula 1 team. Chose your difficulty, number of races, sponsor, driver, hire mechanics and then it’s away you go. You have to keep an eye on your team, the car, drivers as you advance through the season. Grand Prix Manager was basic, very basic stuff, but it did the job well enough, for the first ever F1 management title.


By the mid eighties, there was a great mix of arcade style racers, more simulation style F1 games and even a few hybrids of the two. Atari released Super Sprint in 1986, a sequel to their long running Sprint franchise. 1985’s Formula 1 Simulator, despite it’s name, was less a simulator and more a Pole Position clone for the home market, even though Pole Position saw several home ports. Pitstop and Pitstop II (1983 and 84 respectively) offered some simple but fun F1 action for home computers. The latter of the two, me and my brothers spent many an hour on racing each other on our Commodore 64.

The late eighties began to see the rise of the officially licensed Formula 1 games. Satoru Nakajima F-1 Hero for the Famicom from 1988 was one of the first licensed F1 games. It saw a release outside of Japan on the NES as Michael Andretti’s World GP, which actually made little sense as Michael Andretti wasn’t an F1 driver, he raced in IndyCar. Though he did eventually race in F1 for the 1993 season. Anyway, the game was one of the first to offer a playable full F1 season, complete with all the real races and ‘drivers’… though pseudonyms were used. Then there was Nigel Mansell’s Grand Prix for home computers from 1988. This one was much more simulation-like and even allowed you to try full race distances. It also offered recreations all of the sixteen Formula 1 circuits of the time.


Arcade titles such as 1987’s Continental Circus and Final Lap, 1988’s F-1 Dream and 1989’s Super Monaco GP (the sequel to the Sega classic Monaco GP from 1979) began to push just what arcade games could really do. Buttery smooth and fast gameplay with exciting race action to boot. But then, as the eighties began to end, a real game changer was released. Namco had already established themselves a great arcade racer developers, but in 1988, they unleashed a genuine beast of a game. Winning Run was was a revelation in arcade racers, F1 themed sure, but it was the titles amazingly impressive 3D shaded polygon graphics that really blew people away. Giving you a choice of two difficulties (cars) but only one track. You have to complete a qualifying lap before going up against twelve other racers to fight for first place. Winning Run opened the doors for 3D polygon racers, both in the arcade and at home.

The Nineties

Well this is it, the decade where Formula 1 game really took hold and began to show just how good they could be.  There were more F1 games released in the nineties than any other decade. The arcade format began to grow a little tired of the Formula 1 racers and started to look at other racing disciplines for games to be based on, but the home market was a very different story, you could hardly move for F1 themed games for home consoles and computers. It was 1991 when one of the finest Formula 1 games ever was released with Formula One Grand Prix.


At the time, Formula One Grand Prix, from game designer Geoff Crammond was THE definitive F1 game for home computers. Its impressive 3D graphics were highly detailed for the time and the game offered a very, very in-depth, simulation representation of the 1991 season. Though the game was not officially licenced by the FIA, Geoff still made the game as authentic as he could. All the correct tracks were there and so were the drivers and cars… kind of. The driver helmets and car liveries were in the game, but the names were not. However, Geoff was smart enough to add an editing tool in the game so you could change the names with ease. There is so much I could write on this one F1 game alone (like it’s online and modding community that still exits) that this article would go on for days and I have so much more to cover… like this game’s sequels. But I will finish by adding that this game was the one that not only got me into racing some, but also F1 as a sport much more deeply. Yeah I watched and enjoyed F1 before this, but it was all the car set-ups, track info, etc from this game thatmade me want to understand the sport more.

Two of the biggest F1 drivers in the sport of the era got in on the whole licensing thing in 1992 when they had games released bearing their names and likenesses. Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing saw you able to play a full F1 1992 season as the mustachioed one himself. This was much more arcade-like but still offered things like pit-stops, minor car set-ups, tyre choices and the like. Even the greatest racing driver of all time ever got in on the action with Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II from Sega, a licensed version of their long running F1 series of games. This one was based on the 1991 season and Ayrton himself even helped with the development of the game. He not only allowed the use of his likeness, but Ayrton pops up though the championship offering you driving advice and tips for each track, all of which was written by the man himself. Plus he helped with how the cars should handle and even designed two fictitious tracks for the player to drive on, Ayrton even had a few voice samples in the game too.


There really were a slew of Formula 1 games in the early nineties, they were everywhere. Titles like F1 Pole Position, F1 Hero MD, Formula One World Championship: Beyond the Limit, F-1 Sensation (which was actually fully FIA licenced), F1 Grand Prix: Nakajima Satoru, F1 Circus Special: Pole To Win to name just a few, were all released between 1990 and 1994. I just need to give special mention to F-1 Grand Prix Part III from 1994 on the SNES. One of my favourite F1 games on any console at the time as it melded a really great racing game with some light management elements, allowing you to create your own F1 team.  But 1995 saw Geoff Crammond return and vastly improve on F1 game when he released the sequel, Grand Prix 2… only this time, fully licenced by the FIA. All the races, drivers (with the exception of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger for obvious reasons), and teams for the 1994 Formula 1 season were wonderfully recreated and the simulation feel of the previous game was exceed ten-fold.

But it wasn’t all about heart pumping racing as Grand Prix Manager and Grand Prix Manager 2 saw releases in 1995 and 1996 respectively. Two very good and solid F1 management games full of options and variables as you take your chosen F1 team onto victory over a ten year career. To be honest, the games do feature some very questionable AI and overall simplistic gameplay, not exactly in-depth for management games, but still offered some good gameplay along the way.


1996 saw the release of Formula 1. Perhaps one of the most important F1 games to ever be made. This was the genesis of the F1 games we have today. Formula 1 featured the most accurate representation of the sport to date at the time. Fully licenced cars and drivers, tracks designed using actual real-life data and telemetry, TV style presentation including Tag Heuer timings. It even had commentary from the legend that was Murray Walker. This wasn’t quite as simulation heavy as Geoff Crammond’s games, but it was the first F1 game to get the whole feel and presentation of the sport right.

Formula 1 as a sport already had a rich history worth exploring in the nineties, and one game broke from the norm of trying to make the most recent season the star of the game. 1998’s Grand Prix Legends took the sport back to the sixties, in particular, the 1967 Formula 1 season. The tracks were tighter, the cars didn’t have the safety features and the sport on the whole was far more dangerous an this game tried to capture that. A full on simulation of what it would’ve been like to drive and F1 car back then, Grand Prix Legends was brutally realistic, a trait that turned many gamers off and the title didn’t sell well. But it is a game sim fans look back on with fondness.


As the nineties came to and end, the F1 games did not. F-1 World Grand Prix, Formula One 99, Monaco Grand Prix: Racing Simulation 2, Grand Prix World and Official Formula One Racing were all released in the last coupe of years of the decade. And believe me, I’ve not even covered half of the F1 games released in this decade.

The Two-Thousands

As the next century began, F1 licenses became more strict and the games began to thin out in an quality over quantity kind of way. That’s not to say there still wasn’t a good few F1 games released. Kicking things of right was that man again, Geoff Crammond, with the third of his brilliant F1 games.

Grand Prix 3 followed the 1998 season. Yes, that is two years out of date. Though it was given an update in 2001 for the 2000 season via an expansion pack. Much like Geoff Crammond’s previous F1 titles, this one once more offered a fantastic racing experience and some in-depth simulation options. Electronic Arts got in on the F1 act using their famed EA Sports (it’s in the game) label, releasing multiple titles.  F1 2000, F1 Championship Season 2000, F1 Manager, F1 2001, F1 2002 and F1 Career Challenge all offered a more acradey feel to the racing over a deep simulation. Except for F1 Manager which was obviously a management game.

F1 Championship Season-2000

Grand Prix Challenge from Infogrames was a decent attempt at an F1 title, though it strived to be more simulation-like, it never really felt like it. Williams F1 Team Driver from 2001 put you in the driver’s seat of a young driver trying to make it into F1. Starting out in  go karts before Formula 1600cc, Formula 3, and finally onto Formula 1. An interesting title that was doing things a bit different from the usual Formula 1 games a the time, but overall, it was pretty disappointing. 2002 saw Geoff Crammond release his final F1 game with Grand Prix 4. This was pretty much more of the same from Geoff, still a good F1 racer indeed. But the problem was that other games on the market were beginning to get better and better, meaning these, once standout games no longer stood-out.

Formula One Arcade

Formula One Arcade from 2001 did exactly what the title suggested. It was a much more arcade-like game wrapped up in the official F1 licence. As far away from a simulation as you could get as the races featured power-ups like speed-boots, large high-grip tyres and even shields. This was all about high-octane, OTT racing.

By 2004, F1 games started to just became yearly update affairs. Sony secured the official F1 licence back in 1996 and made plenty of games from it too. Fourteen games in total released between 1996 and 2007. Other studios made F1 games, sure, but by the mid 2000s, Sony monopolised the market. Then in 2008, Codemasters were the ones to pick up the licence, though they didn’t use it proper until the next decade. There were still a very small handful of Formula 1 games released. For instance, F1 2009 was published by Codemasters, but developed by Sumo Digital. It was in 2010 when Codemasters released and developed their first Formula 1 title.

The Twenty-Tens And Twenty-Twenties

Yup, from this decade onward, Codemasters had exclusive rights to the official F1 licence. Meaning only they could release ‘proper’ F1 games. I don’t think it’s really worth going into all of their titles as they are basically yearly updates over the previous game. From F1 2010 to the most recent F1 2020, Codmasters have given us a decade of solid F1 simulations. Their F1 games over the last ten years have been great and easily offer the best Formula 1 racing around. All fully licenced with all the tracks and drivers representative of their respective years. I reviewed the most recent game only a few weeks back too.

F1 Race Stars

Codemasters did release a little curiosity of an F1 game back in 2012 that wasn’t part of their F1 sim games. F1 Race Stars was a more kart-racing-style arcade game, Full of power-ups, weapons and crazy track layouts that included jumps and even loops. Far and away from the simulation games, F1 Race Stars was actually really good fun and it even featured the official FIA licence too. Yup, you could drive as any of the twelve teams and twenty-four drivers from the 2012 season around OTT tracks inspired by the real circuits.

Other games have offered F1-like racing in some of their games. Rockstar introduced F1-style cars and races in GTA Online and the Forza Motorsport series has also included  Formula 1 cars and tracks. As too does the Assetto Corsa franchise. Though in these cases, they are either fictional cars or historical ones due to Codemasters having exclusive rights to the current F1 season.

And so, that’s pretty much it. Formula 1 games from the dawn of the sub-genre in 1972 right up to today in 2020. From simple arcade racers to more in-depth, realistic simulations and even management titles. F1 has seen a real evolution in terms of games that has spanned six decades. As much as I love the Codemasters F1 sims, it’s a shame they have exclusivity over the licence. I’d like to see more studios making F1 games like back in the eighties and nineties. I’d like to see more variation on the sport too instead of these yearly updates. Codemasters’ own F1 Race Stars was good fun and showed you don’t have to always make 100% serious Formula 1 titles.

I’d love to see more historic F1 games. Why not relive the career of a legend like Ayrton Senna or Michael Schumacher? Start out in karts, before moving through the ranks of the  Formula Ford 1600 Championships, Formula 3 before moving into F1? There could be a real-life comparison kind of thing where the actual career of Senna/Schumacher is going on in the background and you have to try your best to match it. I’d like to see more F1 management games, a sub-genre greatly underused. I’d like to see more acradey-like games and so on, titles that push the imagination of F1 beyond the simulation genre. There’s so much scope to be had with the sport, yet all we are getting are yearly updates of (admittedly) great F1 sims and cameo roles in other driving games.

Do I Like Shenmue II?

So I guess this is a kind of sequel to my I Don’t Like Shenmue article. Quick recap, I didn’t like the game when it was originally released and I still don’t like it now. But I did buy the recent Shenmue re-release (with a few minor tweaks). While I played the first game when it was originally released, I didn’t actually finish it – I just got so damn bored and decided to spend all my time in the arcade playing Space Harrier and Hang On instead. I never bothered with Shenmue II because the first game was so damn tedious, though I heard the sequel was far better. Still, when I recently got my hands on the re-release, I told myself I would finish Shenmue this time around before moving onto the sequel. Well I’ve finally finished the first game (god damn it that was laborious) and now I’ve played the sequel…but do I like it?

Shenmue II Ryo

By and large Shenmue II is pretty much more of the same with some minor refinements, but is that enough to make it an overall better experience? Well right off the bat. You can skip cut scenes and fast forward time to meet a specific deadline, this alone makes this one infinitely better then the previous game, no more needlessly waiting around for hours or days. Straight away I noticed how the world of Shenmue II is much more lively and vibrant over it’s predecessor. There are more people around doing more activities with more buildings to explore. Everything just feels so much more “alive”. The controls are still clunky and getting Ryo to simply turn is cumbersome but they feel a lot smoother though, plus some of the buttons have been switched around which took me a while to adjust to after getting so used to Shemnue’s layout. I have only put in a few hours, maybe 6-8 but in that short time, I’ve found this sequel much more playable and interesting than the first game by far.

Yeah Ryo is still an insufferable bore to play as with zero personality. But thankfully he’s plunged into a version of Hong Kong that’s full of interesting and enjoyable characters coupled with plenty of pleasing locales to explore and play around in/with. Some of the really crappy parts of the original still remain in the sequel, the clunky controls, the boring protagonist, the difficult and sometimes awkward navigation, the annoying look mechanic. But I found the short comings of Shenmue II much easier to forgive over the first game due to how much more interesting and interactive the world is. This sequel just has so much more character and personalty. Personality goes a long way too.


Of course being the huge OutRun fan that I am, my first port of call was to the arcade to see one of my favourite games in all its glory. Sega lost the Ferrari licence a while back (that’s why you can’t buy any OutRun games anymore) so I was curious how they would handle this in Shenmue II. Maybe they’ve removed and replaced OutRun with another Sega classic? But to my surprise as I entered the arcade, there in the middle of the floor was a sit-down OutRun cabinet sparking off childhood memories…and you can still play it too. But due to the lack of a Ferrari license, sadly there is no big red Testarossa to drive anymore. Instead the iconic Ferrari has been replaced with a generic, Ferrari-esque red sports car, no Ferrari badge or any whiff of the Italian car manufacturer anywhere. Still, Outrun within Shenmue II is still an absolute joy to play. I’m a happy gamer.

Shenmue II OutRun.jpg

I begrudgingly forced my way through Shenmue and found very little to enjoy along the way – that god damn forklift truck racing and job is still one of the most boring things I’ve ever experienced in a game. Shenmue II is a very different animal, a game I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with and a game (unlike the first one) I’m in no hurry to reach the end of, one I want to enjoy to its fullest by soaking up everything it has to offer. Do I like Shenmue II? Oh yes, very much so.

Shenmue plays like a broken, unfinished prototype and in may ways, it is. Given the scope of the game’s designer, Yu Suzuki original ideas for Shenmue and how much it was cut or trimmed back – it is a broken, unfinished prototype. I will never understand the praise Shenmue receives, its a terrible game but an average demo at best. It was back when it was originally released and it still is now. Shenmue II is different. Yeah its a little rough around the edges and yes its slow at times but that roughness is enveloped by a really strong and playable game, one that most definitely deserves all the praise, unlike its predecessor.

Shenmue II Ryo Walk.jpg

From the first game to this sequel, I’ve been converted, Shenmue II is wonderful title and in a way, I’m glad I didn’t play the game when it was originally released as now I feel as if I’ve found a long lost treasure, a real hidden gem of a game. Now of you’ll excuse me, I have a date with an OutRun arcade cabinet…oh and apparently I’m supposed to help Ryo find his father’s killer – but there’s always time for OutRun.