Saturday 27 March 2010


Are you ready for some horrific screen resolutions!?

This is Turbo as MAME currently sees it; a 1981 arcade game by Sega. All racing games that adopt a third person perspective owe their success to this game, as Turbo was the first to take the genre out of the top-down world of the 70s and into the psuedo-3D world we all know and love today. I first learned of this game when I inherited it in its 1983 Milton Bradley board game state. Yes kids, they used to make board games out of video games. It had lots of little blue plastic formula one cars and spinning dials.

Turbo is essentially Sega's Monaco GP with a different perspective. You drive your little car across an exceedingly long stretch of road, avoiding other cars and trying not to crash into obstacles. Doesn't really make a huge amount of sense, because these sorts of races tend to be around a circuit, but who cares.

The strange thing about Turbo is that though it was revolutionary, it didn't do as well as Namco's Pole Position, released in the following year in an attempt to topple Sega's work. Sure Pole Position has slightly more detailed graphics, but it only has one extremely basic set of backgrounds - a grassy field with hills in the distance. Turbo on the other hand went nuts, having you drive through cities and tunnels and various other pieces of scenery. It was well ahead of its time, and though you could argue the game struggles to render these scenes properly... it's would lead to things such as OutRun in the coming years so it's good that Sega were trying.

Being the first of its kind, Turbo didn't really have the viewpoint sorted out. The camera is positioned further above the car than in Pole Position and because of this, as things move towards the camera, they tend to look strange as they aren't rotated or skewed. Sprite scaling was just a dream then so things already look choppy, but now they're both choppy and weirdly placed.

Also, it could be an emulation issue but there's no transition between different environments either, and cars are often difficult to see. Your car will also be damaged when you're hit from behind, which isn't fair, especially when there's loads of cars on the track. All of these problems were very quickly fixed by the industry as a whole, but it does make Turbo more difficult than it needs to be.

Surprisingly the first first-person driving game came to arcades a good five years earlier in the form of Atari's Night Driver. Night Driver only deals in white squares, but it's interesting nonetheless that it took so long for a third person racer to come along. Turbo was brought to the Intellevision and Colecovision in 1982, suffering greatly due to weaker hardware and largely forgotten about because of the North American video game crash. An unreleased port for the Atari 2600 popped up at some point in the last few years, but you'd be made to play that version over the arcade original.

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