Sure, now we may play super-realistic racers that link us to living opponents all over the world, but it’s worth remembering the joy there was in plinking a quarter into the slot for the earliest arcade racers. And no early arcade racer brought more joy than OutRun, so much so that it was ported to just about every home computer and video game machine that could handle it, and some that couldn’t.
Jalopnik’s Opposite Lock has a great interview with Martin Webb, who developed the Commodore 64 version of OutRun. Webb worked in the days when you didn’t have huge teams, millions of bucks, and generous sliding release dates to make a game. Instead the project was left in the hands of a teenager who did poorly at everything in school, except for computers.
“At the time I was totally into cars, so I was writing racing games. I had one with a Porsche, racing the same way as in OutRun, fitted with a dashboard, a steering wheel – you name it. One day, one of the magazines was running an ad from US Gold, looking for program writers for their coin-op conversions. I told my dad: ‘This is it, we should do it,'” Webb said.
Webb’s Porsche game was impressive enough for him to get the job and an arcade cabinet to study. He started working on the game, with his dad doing the graphics.
“I finished the music-selection screen quickly, but the real challenge was how to get the game working. Speed was a priority. For me, that was the most important part, so we kept the graphics to a minimum as possible. It was fast, but still a bit chunky. Also, we didn’t include the forks, because it would have been too complicated. We worked 20 hours a day, sleeping 3-4 hours, and then my dad woke me up and urged us into continuing. I was 18 years old, I felt like crying. This went on for months,” Webb said.
Webb took his game back to US Gold’s Geoff Brown.
“He liked it very much. He said we should totally do the four other stages. Originally, our game had only one route to run through, which we had to expand to five. It wasn’t just the sections – it was writing a new loader and everything. Moreover, they wanted to publish the game for Christmas and I had only few months left and a holiday booked. Geoff told me to cancel the trip and that he would pay me another one after – which he did, very nice bloke. If I was in the same situation now – being 47 – I’m sure I’d have second thoughts about it, but then it was like ‘Ah well – let’s do it!” Webb said.
The whole interview is worth checking out as an impressive look back into the history of video games.