If you were a child in the 1980s, you will remember Outrun. The fact that are reading this is probably in large part because of Outrun.
It’s easy, of course, to overstate cultural influences, and to tease a thread out of the twisted tapestry of culture and follow it back accurately to its causes is notoriously difficult. But most late thirty to fortysomething petrolhead will have the colourfully pixelated, luxurious world of the Mastersystem arcade game burned into their frontal lobes.
Launched into arcades in 1986, the game had a number of innovations in both it’s game-play and the technology that drove it. But of course, the most visible of these was the moving cabinet. It looked like a car for chrissakes! It bumped and shimmied. The steering wheel gave feedback too. This was the draw that a subsequent generation of arcade game developers would use. Outrun did it first, and, arguably did it the best.
Once in the cabinet, the player would control a man driving a car with his comely girlfriend in the passenger seat. At first sight the player one car appears to be the more or less non-existent cabrio version of the Ferrari Testarossa, though it seems the games developer didn’t have an official license in the early years (though it cleared up that tricky little detail for the release of the console-friendly version of the game, artwork above).
The rear view actually, however, bore a striking resemblance to Pininfarina’s 1989 concept for Ferrari, the Mythos (below). Intriguing to think that the pensmen at the hallowed design house might have been originally inspired by an arcade game.
Various other key cars of the period were featured, including a 911 and an E30 325 Cabrio, and there was a fundamentally synthed-out, fizzing and popping soundtrack that was in part Miami Sound Machine-like period discopop and Japanese jazz-funk fusion. It was the lush and varied 3D-styled environments through which the player would travel, rather than seemingly to merely pass over it, thanks to the innovation of some cool technology that would set the gaming world alight in years to come.
In a brilliant piece of cultural cross-pollination Yu Suzuki, the chief designer of the game, made it his mission to evoke a Miami Vice– like world of speed, colour and glamour, thereby feeding young, impressionable minds a driving dream in exchange for a twenty pence piece.
The legacy of Outrun has, well, run and run.
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