has launched its new Fun and Games module, in which we review the latest PC and Playstation 2 racing and automotive-related games. Today, we trace the history of racing games and look to the future…

To visit the module and read the first installment of reviews, click here. has launched its new Fun and Games module, in which we review the latest PC and Playstation 2 racing and automotive-related games. Today, we trace the history of racing games and look to the future…

PC and console gaming is not a hobby… and it’s not strictly entertainment, either. For most of us gamers, playing racing simulations is like a secondary career. We are the frustrated race drivers of this world who have never sat in a racing car nor attended a grand prix.

The first PC games most junkies played were (1987) and (1988). Some of our fondest memories are of spending hours playing these games, which really amount to a collection of dots and lines, static backgrounds for scenery and bleeps, crackles and shrieks for sound effects.

But as the processing power of PCs improved, so did the racing simulation (sim) genre… In 1992, Englishman Geoff Crammond – who reportedly wrote the first true racing sim, , in 1984 – produced the first classic grand prix game called . In the world of F1 racing games, Crammond’s series (I, II, III and IV) has been the benchmark by which other games are measured.

Around the time of , Accolade collaborated with US motoring magazine Road & Track and released , which gave us a taste of early 3D-rendered images, stereo sound, “detailed” replays and a track editor.

What Accolade couldn’t avoid was the usurping of its genre-leading position by a small company in the suburbs of Boston. As early as 1989 David Kaemmer coded , the first IndyCar simulation for PC. Inauspicious as it was, imparted the feel of driving a racecar. You had to be patient, smooth, and fast to win this race. The game also included complete set-up options – very rare in games of the ‘80s.

Meanwhile, the nifty track editor option made what appeared to be its final appearance in the spectacular , in the early ‘90s. It is still being played by enthusiasts today. Based loosely on the Test Drive genre, Stunts allowed you to pick a number of then state-of-the-art sports cars (even a Lamborghini LM002) and race against game characters on custom-designed tracks. The action was aerobatic and accidents would, for the first time, reflect the physics of simulated shunts.

It was not long before was challenged. In 1993, saw the light and simulated the entire IndyCar season. This was the first time that a racing simulation had attempted to master the complex physics of road racing, super speedway oval and short oval racing. But Papyrus’ next title would forever change the face of PC and console racing.

That game was , which offered fun for novices and stimulation for experienced sim players. Hardcore enthusiasts were able to tinker with their race cars’ chassis and gearing, but novices took advantage of both the inherently easier learning curve associated with oval-track racing and the game’s arcade mode.

In 1995, everyone was upgrading their hardware to accommodate a new cultural phenomenon – Windows 95. Pentiums now set the benchmark in processing power and the development of CPU power and speed, memory capacity, graphics capability and the synthesis of sounds increased at an almost exponential rate. That year’s was a bit of a disappointment, however. Few questioned the simulation’s accuracy, or at least the apparent accuracy of its physics modelling, but many critics claimed it was too difficult.

And then, a new dawn… Crammond unleashed , the sequel to his popular , in 1996. Grand Prix II was just as sophisticated as Indy Car Racing II, but offered critical driving aids such as automatic braking, automatic shifting, throttle help and an option that painted the ideal racing path (called the driving line) on the track.

Papyrus included both automatic braking and shifting in and tyre marks on the IndyCar tracks hinted at the proper driving line, but their simulation never achieved the downright drivability of Crammond’s. In fact, many still consider the finest racing simulation ever.

1996 was also the primal year for another legendary PC racing series: Electronic Arts’ , the answer to the prayers of series lovers. The game mixed a nearly-simulation engine with arcadic driving ease to garner a large following. PC games became instant eye-candy with the advent of 3Dfx (or 3-dimensional graphics acceleration) in 1997. Many consider that year’s hit, , as the most lavish graphical racer of its time. In it, gamers piloted futuristic racecars through sci-fi inspired cities glistening with lights.

Shockingly violent racing games also had brief popularity. rewarded the driver who could squash the most pedestrians under his or her tyres. also raised many eyebrows, although the latter title’s drive-anywhere action paved the way for more worthy games such as .

Ubisoft’s excellent and Papyrus’ were highlights of 1998. Legends featured circa-1967 F1 cars modelled to the finest detail. Its 3D graphics and throaty engine sounds set new standards.

But 1998 was significant for another reason… Kazunori Yamauchi joined the Kaemmer/Crammond legacy when he produced PlayStation’s now-legendary . The game modelled 150 cars, from Honda Accords to Dodge Vipers. Each car had unique driving characteristics and it was easy to mistake Turismo’s slick graphics for those of a 3D-accelerated PC Game.

The momentum that grew through-out the ‘90s burst into the new millennium with a vengeance. Crammond blew everybody away, again, with . But EA bought the rights to produce a game bearing “F1” branding from Bernie Ecclestone and threw down the gauntlet with the impressive – ultra realistic – and the slightly better . EA continued making more versions of the F1 series, culminating in .

Meanwhile, and squeezed a bit more life out of the PS1. Of course, one of the first significant PS2 games was – essentially a flashier version of GT2 (with not as many cars) it was nevertheless the ultimate racing game of its time.

Without question, contemporary racing games – too many to mention – are a booming business. Some people are downright obsessed with racing games. For example, we heard of a gamer in Gauteng who built his own version of an F1 car monocoque out of wood, festooned it with the liveries of his choice, and then screwed in a PC monitor, steering wheel controller and pedals for maximum, um, realism.

But if that anecdote convinces you to add your voice to those who claim that gamers are antisocial, consider this: Online racing gamer communities have sprung up all over the Internet. There are countless websites on which gamers post, download and swop car sets, track detail, AI (artificial intelligence, or the programmed behaviour of game elements) settings, patches or even screenshots or replays of their finest gameplay manoeuvres. The multi-player option has made it possible for gamers to play against each other over local area networks and the Internet.

Programmers are developing ever more sophisticated software to get the most realism, excitement and AI out of your hardware. How many of them can accurately translate the feedback from a car’s scrabbling rear tyres to a gamer’s butt or the twitch of the front suspension to white-knuckled hands? We’ll find out for you.

PC titles are reviewed by News Editor Mike Fourie and Playstation 2 games by CAR associate editor Hannes Oosthuizen. To visit the module and read the first installment of reviews, click here.

Original article from Car