Recently the cult magazine Retro Gamer has interviewed Patrick Micheal, head of research and development (R&D) at Sega Amusements Europe. He has worked with several racing developers such as Sumo Digital and Codemasters and in 2008 he was responsible for the development of Sega Rally 3, the return of the classic series to arcades after a decade in exile. Probably not the best in the series, but still an enterntaining arcade racer.
What do you think made the racing genre so popular in the early days of arcade gaming?
Every boy or girl wants to drive, they watch their parents do it and know they have to wait years to try it for themselves. Every adult driver harbours a secret desire to take a corner a little bit faster or push the engine a bit harder to see what will happen. With an arcade game they can all try it without any of the risk and a possible police record. I think that at the start is was about accessibility and familiarity. Games like Atari’s Gran Trak gave players a proper steering wheel and with the “20” version an opportunity to race against their friends. Driving games are best when they are social, it is about looking across at the expression on your friends face when you overtake them and then racing neck and neck to the finishing line.
What was the first arcade racing game you played? What do you remember of it?
It has to be Atari’s Championship Sprint, pretty much a slightly more hardcore version of Super Sprint. I remember being obsessed with it for a whole summer in the late eighties, a friend and I played it nearly every Friday and kept a tally of wins. I remember there was an upgrade system requiring you to pick up spanners on each track to upgrade your car. I also seem to remember there were helicopters but I think they were for replacing your car if it got trashed. I really must try and find one to play it again.
When working with a beloved series like Sega Rally, it can be hard to please the old fans. What were the essential elements that needed to be carried through to Sega Rally 3 from previous games?
It was a dream come true for me to work on Sega Rally 3 and making sure that we created something that deserved the name was so important to everyone involved. We installed an original Sega Rally twin cabinet in the Racing Studio to ensure that everyone involved with the project understood the heritage. From the start we knew that this game needed to bring together the key features of the game without simply being an HD remake.
Single player Rally was about learning the tracks and perfecting your racing line and it was important to keep that championship structure with enough AI competition and the reward of a beautiful Lakeside track to spur you on. For multiplayer we wanted to increase the number of linked cabinets but keep the tight feeling of competition from the original. So the AI was modified and the rubber banding was fine-tuned not just to simply level the playing field but to ensure that it is all about close interaction.
The most obvious homage to the original was an HD remake of the original Desert ’95 track. However with the game now supporting six players it was widened to allow more cars onto the track but the helicopter stayed in. Probably the most extravagant non-game feature was the attract sequence. The original twin networked Rally split the sequence across the two monitors. The Studio made this work across 6 x 62” monitors and pretty much took my breath away. Visually the game keeps the same Sega “Blue Sky” feel from so many classic racers. And finally we kept a few secrets for dedicated players to find… try pressing brake at the car select screen (hint, hint).
This is just an excerpt, if you want to read the full-lenght interview (and if you’re a real arcade racer, you should) jump on Retro Gamer blog.