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Posted on Jul 23rd 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (JaguarWong)
Posted under Classic Games, retro, arcade, outrun, nostalgia,

It's the sound, I think...

More than the sandy beaches and palm trees. More than the branching routes and agonising countdown. More, even, than the girl and the Ferrari.
It's the sound that really makes OutRun special.

It's fairly unlikely that I encountered Yu Suzuki's iconic driving game 35 years ago but it was then, late in 1986, that the bright red and vaguely car shaped cabinets first arrived in Japanese arcades.

It's more likely, however, that a couple of years after I would have discovered it when my grandparents took me and my brother on holiday to Great Yarmouth, a popular seaside destination for people living, as we did, on the outskirts of London. This was largely thanks to its Pleasure Beach; a collection of aging arcade machines, roller coasters, and other death-trap rides and attractions jutting out into The Wash.

I have vague memories of walking past cavernous arcades and hearing it above the fruit machines, the other kids, and the other games. OutRun wasn't louder than Hang-On, R-Type, Pac-Man, or Arkanoid - but every sound effect and every piece of music was totemic. Everything emitted from those headrest mounted speakers was a siren call across a sea of noise; an irresistible demand for unspent pocket money to be dashed against its sandy yet unforgiving shores.
I would have made my way across the tacky floored room, avoiding eye contact with the bigger kids and ignoring games that would have previously drawn my full attention, all the time a silent chant repeating in my head: Please don't be taken, please don't be taken, please..."

The game's iconic credit tone, a high pitched fanfare heralding my backsides arrival in its well-worn seat, would have trumpeted a welcome. Fittingly, my first true interaction, as is everyone's, is to select the music that will accompany your blast through the games pixelated vistas.

Magical Sound Shower, Splash Wave, or Passing Breeze? Arranged left to right and chosen with the steering wheel, selection confirmed with a press of the peddle, a rev of the engine.
Hard left and floor it, Magical Sound Shower. Every. Single. Time.

And it starts. A crowd cheers, the starter counts down.
3...  Fidget in the seat.
2...  Check the gear is in the 'Lo' position.
1...  Adjust your foot on the accelerator.

A squeal of tires. Watch the speedo... 150, 160, 170, 180kph, knock the gear lever down to Hi, another squeal lets you know you missed the sweet spot.
Sweep around that first easy left and you're away, transported to a faraway coastal ribbon of tarmac. You, the girl, the car, and the road. What else could you ever want?

Magical Sound Shower is a slow building tune. It was the ringtone of my Siemens c25e and its the ringtone of my Pixel 4. On these, and every phone in between, I've had to edit out the first minute or so to ensure it begins at the recognisable bit.

But in the game, when you're easing through those first corners, the long intro reflects the anticipation of whats to come, it guides you down that wide road and bursts into life just as you clear the first tricky corner. Congratulations, it seems to say, now lets really get going!

OutRun isn't a race.
After decades of playing the game on various formats it wasn't until I read an interview with it's creator, Yu Suzuki, four or five years ago (the exact source eludes me) that the truth of this really solidified in my mind. Unlike almost every other game of this type OutRun isn't about going faster than anyone else or arriving anywhere first and winning a medal.
OutRun is about going as fast as you can, for as long as you can, and enjoying the ride.
Its not a racing game, as Mr Suzuki declared, its a driving game.

And what a drive it is.
Mountains flash by to be replaced by fields of wheat, stone structures bridge the road before trees, their tops enshrouded in mist, take their place. You'll blast through deserts and vineyards, visit desolate towns and coastal villages. Each of the game's 15 levels has its own personality, and each is wonderfully realised in Segas then ground breaking Super Scaler graphics engine.

The only thing stopping you seeing them all, is time.

Today, time limits are seen as indicative of poor design. Put a countdown clock on-screen and the modern game consumer will roll their eyes and move along. You may as well have 3 lives and no save points.

But OutRun's clock was the enemy, as irrepressible as it should be, immovable and unfeeling, its sole purpose, as with that of any good video game adversary, was to end your game.
You don't die in OutRun, you simply stop. No more road, no more speed, no more wind in your hair. The music changes to a calm, almost melancholic ballad, the map shows you how far you came, and how far you had to go.

My hand would have dug around in my pocket for another heavy, silver, 50p coin.
The iconic credit fanfare would have heralded my decision to try again. Was there really any question?

Hard left and floor it; Magical Sound Shower.

3... Every
2... Single
1... Time


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I remember as a little kid, there was a small arcade I'd always want my dad to take me to, mainly because of one game there. Even though I was barely big enough to run the game, thus sucking pretty bad at it, I was enchanted and fell in love with Outrun at the time. It felt fast and open, in a way that surprisingly few games have been able to follow without feeling forced. Always will have a nostalgic place in my heart.
Wow, this was a great read! I love the poetic way you describe the game. I'm not a racing game fan, generally speaking, and as Suzuki said, it's not a racing game, it's a driving game. That was a distinction I made, even as a kid, that solidified it as a more fun experience, because I never felt as rushed or as desperate playing it as I would any other racing game. To me, Outrun was the arcade fulfillment of what I experienced with Enduro on the Atari 2600. That same kind of driving the open road, going as fast as I can, enjoying the ride kind of deals. And yes, the music in the game is iconic, and a vital part of the experience. Outrun may well end up having the distinction of being the only racing/driving game soundtrack I ever buy on vinyl, because it's just that good.

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