Out Run is a coin-operated multi-dimensional racing game developed by AM2 and released by Sega in 1986. It is unique in that it was the first video game to not only feature a real Ferrari in the arcades, but the first with graphics so hyper-realistic as to cause motion sickness.
Originally, Out Run was considered a racing game, but designer/developer Yu Suzuki later re-classified it as a "driving/wanking-game", as the gamer has no enemies to defeat other than the clock. This drew comparisons to Suzuki's own sexual experiences as a child, especially in the form of being under pressure to pleasure himself in a timely manner (danger-wanking). The main aim of the game (Out Run, that is, not danger-wanking) is to reach the end of the course by taking a variety of routes through lush countryside, finishing at one of five predetermined destination points. The soundtrack offers such high quality that some gamers enjoyed it so much that they pumped in the coins just to listen to the music, ignoring the race completely.
Custom routes and finish lines
For the first time in gaming history, players had the option of which route to take to the finish line. Although each play-through starts from the same start point, five finish lines are available to those who complete the race. Which route you take determines which finish line(s) become available to you. Planning ahead is vital to finish at a particular finish line. Certain routes are more difficult than others, giving the player an inadvertent opportunity to select a difficulty setting.
The sixth finish line
After the tremendous success of the coin-op, Sega planned to release a special edition of Out Run featuring a sixth finish line, thereby increasing the number of routes the gamer could take, and potentially increasing profit margins in the arcades. After a meeting in March 1988 between the Sega board and AM2's head honcho Yu Suzuki, the idea of a special edition Out Run was scuppered due to technical constraints and the perceived political incorrectness of having a Moria-based route path (filled with real-life midgets) whereby the driver could splatter scurrying little bearded people whilst being chased by a Balrog in exchange for extra time on the clock.
Despite Out Run being a commercial and critical success, the sense of speed and sheer realism of its graphics caused unforeseen problems in the arcades. Gamers reported suffering from nausea and motion sickness, with signs and symptoms of vertigo commonly reported. One hardened gamer at the time, after playing for seven hours straight, likened the sensation of playing Out Run in the arcades to "flying a solid sherbet Gyrocopter into the sun, man".
To combat the ill affects of Out Run's advanced technology and lifelike graphics, Sega teamed up with pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer to devise a new drug which could be administered in the arcades without fear of being prosecuted by parents. After successful tests on squids and other humanoid life forms, in May 1986 "OR-86" was released by Sega and distributed freely to arcades across the world.
Out Run addiction and symptoms
By 1988, Sega had administered over 700 million OR-86 tablets to gamers worldwide in an attempt to combat Out Run-induced motion sickness. Although OR-86 was particularly successful in stopping gamers from violently vomiting after gameplay, two of its lesser-known side-effects were hideous hair loss and weak gums. OR-86 was also extremely addictive on a level comparable to another highly addictive substance: food. By September of that year, Out Run Addiction had become a common enough problem across the U.S. that the DEA finally addressed it. The DEA found that Sega’s business model, which had put profits above people, was unlawful and had failed the people of America by putting them in harms way. In 1989, the state of California successfully sued Sega and was awarded damages of $50,000,000.
Three different arcade models were originally released with the aim of giving the player a new experience each time they played the game. Each model features a steering wheel, cigarette lighter, acceleration and break pedals, stick shift, indicators, power steering, and wing mirrors (the SDJ also had a wind-open sunroof).
Out Run Jamma Cabinet (ORJC86)
This was the most popular cabinet Sega produced due to its low cost (£100.000 / $742.000 each). Over 20,000 were produced between 1986 and 1988 and were available worldwide.
Sit Down Jobby (ORSDJ86)
The SDJ was an expensive model and as a result only 5,000 were made and deployed in Europe alone. To have the pleasure of experiencing the SDJ, gamers were required to pay twice the price of what the usual jamma cabinet demanded.
The flagship version of Out Run featured a real Ferrari Testarossa with a large inbuilt widescreen TV (replacing the windscreen) and a gorgeous blonde for company. Gamers would start the car engine (usually to the dismay of other gamers in the arcade) and under the supervision of a member of the arcades staff they would proceed to play the game. Unlike the other models, this one didn’t have a soundtrack installed as the deafening roar of the engine rendered it inaudible.
Unlike other arcade games at the time, Out Run offered players the opportunity to select their own choice of music to listen to during the gameplay. Seven tracks (plus one bonus track for the F-Testarossa Model) were offered to players and were noticeably blues-themed. The Out Run soundtrack has gone on to be one of the most celebrated video game soundtracks of all-time:
- "Born Under a Bad Sign" – Albert King
- "Blueberry Hill" – Fats Domino
- "Strange Fruit" – Billie Holiday
- "Your Feet’s Too Big" – The Ink Spots
- "Hoochie Coochie Man" – Muddy Waters
- "Death Letter Blues" – Son House
- "Minnie the Moocher" – Cab Calloway
- "Oobie Doobie" – Roy Orbison (F-Testarossa Model only)
The hyper-realistic graphics of Out Run changed how games looked forever. Sega’s own sub division AM2 utilized Sega’s new SKAGBAG system (Scalable Kinaesthetic Advanced Gamut and Bilinear Automation Graphics) to great effect after the success of both Hang On and Space Harrier. The SKAGBAG system allows for a large number of sprites to be viewed on screen simultaneously (12) and supports up to an incredible 128 colors.
According to Yu Suzuki, chief developer and designer of Out Run, the majority of the backgrounds were inspired by his journeys across Europe whilst high on acid. Contrastingly, none of the actual routes in-game look anything like anywhere in Europe, looking more like the Australian outback or on a few routes, Antarctica; although one route does feature a dwarf version of the Eiffel Tower, a large floating bulb of garlic, and on route B5 the blonde (or negro, depending on the version you're playing) companion gorges on a huge mayonnaise-covered bratwurst.
Due to the success of Out Run in the arcades, Sega commissioned several conversions of the game for the home consoles and computers of the time. The insufficient power and graphical capability of the average home console frequently resulted in a shit conversion. Much to the disappointment of the fans, the soundtrack was also frequently replaced with a high-pitched fart noise to save space on the cartridge/floppy disk.
- Sega Master System (1987) – Ported by Sega and renamed Widdler after the Master System’s CPU. Missing graphics, reds replaced by blacks, less routes, car flicker, constant wave noises, blonde woman replaced with a negro with an afro.
- Nintendo Steam Tank (1987; unreleased) – Ported by Rico Game Industries who went bust during the conversion.
- Commodore 64 (1987) – Ported by Max Von Sydow whilst working for U.S. Gold. Missing road forks, missing spoons, car flicker, red diffuse, mangle and frequent omni-slops present.
- Amstrad CPC (1987) – All-round inexplicable disaster after Lord Alan Sugar "Tits" got involved.
- Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1987) – Ported by Probe. Missing all music, all sound affects, map, scoreboard, scenery, one tape green one tape smaller than the other, blonde woman replaced with a negro with an afro, banned in Eastern Europe.
- Amiga (1989) – Ported by U.S. Gold. Missing car and omni-slops present.
- PC DOS (1989) – Ported by Unlimited Software Inc. Near perfect conversion. Bill Gates's head frequently pops up covered in jam.
- Sega Mega Drive/Genesis (1991) – Ported by Hertz. Near perfect conversion. Car flicker and strange smell emits from the console after ten minutes of gameplay.
- Sega Saturn, Nintendo Duke, Mobile Phone, Xbox, PowerStation 2, Dreamcast, Gayboy Advance (1991–2002) – All ported by Sega. All perfect conversions except the man is inadvertently replaced with bratwurst when the track "Hoochie Coochie Man" is selected.
In popular culture
- A feature-length script based on the game's "story" has been submitted by Carol Thatcher to BBC films. She has yet to receive feedback.
- In 2009, famous actor Bob Hoskins claimed Out Run was the reason he went back to acting school: “I sat there all day playing it in the house, putting the coins in, twisting the wheel. Before I knew it I’d been playing it for two years, I HAD to return back to the stage, it was eating my entire life away.”
- Out Run was blamed for the Children's Disappearing Act in 1986 due to the amount of children who went missing simultaneously when the the game was released.
- Old English 10 pence coins were redesigned and made smaller after reports that the weight of so many coins in the pockets of Out Run gamers was pulling their pants down in the street.