In the beginning, the video game universe was a simple place, populated with the most basic of adolescent fantasies: playing sports, battling ghosts and aliens, and, of course, driving fast cars. Well, sort of driving cars.
The first arcade-style driving game, Atari’s “Gran Trak 10,” debuted in 1974, just two years after “Pong.” It was a single-player, race-against-the-clock competition in which the driver maneuvered a race-car icon around a simple 2-dimensional track. Primitive for sure — the graphics were laughable — but it did feature a real steering-wheel controller and a 3-speed gear shifter. Even so, the driving experience wasn’t exciting or, for that matter, close to lifelike.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that software designers bothered incorporating believable driving dynamics and real-world vehicles into their virtual creations. When it debuted on the original Sony PlayStation console in 1997, “Gran Turismo” set a new benchmark for racing simulations with its industry-leading graphics and the true-to-life performance characteristics of its virtual vehicles — specifically, handling and acceleration. The game was an instant success.
Soon, the Xbox-exclusive “Forza Motorsport” franchise began doing the same, and the dueling series turned racing games into powerful, surreptitious marketing tools, in which players spent as much time driving their virtual racers as they did lovingly customizing their exteriors.