Títle: アウトラン (Out Run)
Production/ Development: SEGA
Japan Release Date:: september 1986
Hardware: “Out Run Board”
ROM Size: 15,75 Megabits
The time has come to face one of the main challenges of our project. It’s time to do justice to the greatest exponent of the Super Scaler technique, paradigm of the arcade world and cultural icon: Out Run.
The genesis of this game had its origin in the passion of its director, the now famous Yu Suzuki, for sports cars. In an interview published in British video game magazine Retro Gamer, the Japanese producer mentioned the film Cannonball Run as one of his sources of inspiration. The film in question, inspired by an illegal road race spanning the United States from coast to coast, humorously reflected an era in which awareness for issues such as pollution or safety was still residual. In the 1980s, there still was a fascination for fast cars and for driving as synonymous with freedom, despite the increasingly rigid speed limits.
In order to get ideas and inspiration, Suzuki embarked on a leisure trip around Europe using a rental car. On the trip back, he decided it would be convenient to use the Old Continent as backdrop for the game, given its greater landscape and orographic diversity with respect to the United States (his original idea).
Another of his early ideas was to offer a choice between several characters, each with their corresponding sports car. Short cutscenes featuring the player’s character would be shown as interludes after completing each of the various checkpoints, creating a set of background stories for each of the characters. These are just some of the revolutionary ideas that unfortunately could only be partially included in Out Run, because of technical and time limitations.
Among the many decisions that had to be taken along the development process, we can safely state that one of the most important ones was the choice of the main car. The final decision was to include a car well known among both the car connoisseurs and laymen of that time due to its ability to cause fascination: the Ferrari Testarossa.
Launched in late 1984 after stirring passions in its Paris Motor Show debut, the Testarossa was the most talked about sports car of its time. In Out Run, the car would bear Ferrari’s characteristic shade of red and appear in convertible form, even though the actual car was a typical closed body gran turismo. However, despite what it may seem, this was not an artistic license, since precisely during those weeks the specialized press had been publishing reports about a one-off silver spider unit that Ferrari built for the then chairman of the Fiat group and one of the most powerful men in Italy: Giovanni Agnelli. Although this was never confirmed, we are convinced that the choice of the car for Out Run was decided after the developers caught wind of this information. Since it was a one-off unit, if you ever see a Testarossa Spider other than the original silver one, be aware that it must be an aftermarket modification.
Just like with the rest of SEGA’s Taikan Games, different types of Out Run cabinets were developed in parallel in order to appeal to all kinds of prospective buyers, regardless of their budget and desired cabinet location.
The most spectacular and remembered one is without any doubt the Deluxe version. Like SEGA’s previous releases, this was a moving cabinet. Through a complex hydraulic mechanism (a technique already experimented with Space Harrier), the entire cab would move left and right, faithfully following the steering wheel’s movement. Anyone who has had the privilege of sitting in this marvel of industrial design probably remembers how convincing the effect was, creating a true sense of immersion, especially considering the violent swing generated during on-screen accidents and rollovers. As for the cabinet’s visual impact, taking a look at a picture of the unit and mentally traveling back to 1986 is a good way to have a slight idea of what it meant at that time.
Two other big format cabinets were available at the same time: the so-called standard, based on the deluxe version but without all the hydraulic mechanisms, and another one called cockpit, again without any kind of hydraulics, but with a design that was very similar to previous machines of the same type, such as Monaco GP or Pole Position.
As it was customary at the time, a more modest upright version was available, especially designed for smaller premises and a few weeks later, this design was supplemented with an even smaller and more budget-conscious model called mini-upright.
The huge success of Out Run caused several localized cabinet variations to appear in various countries, but since these were third party creations we will not go into further detail for the time being, despite the undoubted interest some of them deserve.
As often happens with video games from this era, it’s difficult to know the exact names of the staff responsible for the game, but everything suggests that it was the same team behind Space Harrier, with the addition of the now famous Yuji Naka as a programmer, in what would be his first job at the Sega Amusement division.
Technically, Out Run meant the debut of an evolution of the hardware used in previous Super Scaler titles. The now called “Out Run Board” was very similar to the Space Harrier one, except for three main facts: the two MC68000 processors now run at a frequency of 12.5 MHz instead of 10 MHz, the sound is now generated by a YM2151 chip (previously tested in Enduro Racer) in lieu of the YM2203, and the new video chip allowed to double the number of colors, with no less than 12,288 simultaneous ones.
But let’s leave the cold technical data aside. Let’s sit down, insert a coin and experience the legend.
The artistic level of Out Run was such that it was possibly the first game where you could have just taken a number of screenshots and shown them in an art exhibition. The design, definition and chromatic qualities reached a level that blew the collective mind of video game enthusiasts. The background transition effects when reaching the end of each in-game zone need to be seen to be believed.
The roads show similar depth effects to those seen in Enduro Racer, but they are much more varied and have larger width sections. Such is the sense of speed experienced by the player that the fact that the game moves at 30 fps often goes unnoticed. The game never suffers from any kind of slowdown, not even when showing more than six vehicles on screen.
Moving on to the sound department, Out Run also innovated in this section by giving the choice between three melodies. SEGA’s usual composer for these Super Scaler productions (Hiro) displayed his artistic genius in what is perhaps his masterpiece. The publishing of video game soundtracks and the formation of bands like Zuntata, Gamadelic or SEGA’s own S.S.T. Band was largely driven by the impact caused by this game’s music.
Sound effects also went through a notable evolution. For the first time in a driving video game they went unnoticed, which was actually an achievement. The simulation of vehicle engine sounds was frankly convincing, as were impact and rollover sound effects. Digitized voice samples deserve a special mention, given their quality and charisma, especially in the case of the check point female voice, which is identical to the sample found in Enduro Racer.
Viewed from an analytical prism, the mechanics of Out Run are an evolution from those of Hang-On: the design is based around check points, with the same scoring system, and with a similar control scheme based on knowing how to read the radius of the curves and managing the traffic. The only real innovation was the stage selection mechanism based on road forks.
But Out Run transmitted something else to the player. Something not transmitted by other games of this type and which we have rarely felt again. As good arcade video games do, this game presents a challenge that if completed, rewards the player’s skill and encourages them to try once more, maybe in order to reach the goal with a higher score or a better time, to travel through new routes or to enjoy the rest of the five different ending scenes. The game even holds some secret techniques reserved to the best high scorers.
But what Out Run really does is invite you to play just for pleasure: the sense of speed, the silhouette of your red spider, the presence of your beautiful girlfriend, the bucolic landscapes you drive through as the wind moves your hair… These are all magical moments that, when enjoyed together with the game’s musical offerings (even better when enjoyed in the hydraulic-equipped version of the cabinet) evoke sunlight, nature and ultimately, the real pleasure of living.
SEGA kept the spirit of Out Run alive in other video games which we will discuss in future chapters of this monograph, like Turbo Outrun or Outrunners, but none of them came close to reaching the original’s status of timeless classic. Not even the relatively recent and ambitious Out Run 2.
Being one of the most successful arcade games of the second half of the 1980s, it’s unsurprising that Out Run inspired adaptations for all 8 and 16 bit computers and all SEGA systems. Of all conversions from the time, our favorite is the PC Engine HuCard version published by NEC Avenue in 1990, very superior to Hertz’s later adaptation for Mega Drive. It is a pity that the only system that could have had a faithful adaptation in those years -the X68000– remained one of the few systems that were left without a conversion.
Leaving aside the historical interest that such conversions may have, if what you want is to replicate the arcade experience at home, your first option is, as always, MAME. If you have a good, properly configured steering wheel and pedal set you can achieve an unmatched degree of fidelity.
Alternatively, we cannot end this article without mentioning the extraordinary Cannonball project, a marvelous hack of the original ROM with all kinds of modifications and interesting improvements.
As a third option, we recommend the extraordinary Rutubo Games conversion for Saturn. It is wonderfully faithful to the original, runs at a smooth 60 fps and, in the case of the Japanese version, comes with an arranged soundtrack. No other conversion came this close to the original.
Finally, a special mention to the recently 3DS adaptation by M2. It exhibes good taste, love for the details and respect to the original. Includes several options and extras, but it’s a shame the modification of the Testarossa Spider sprite for legal reasons. This version is available worldwide for download and published in physical form on the japanese Sega 3D Fukkoku Archives.
Although impartiality is one of our aims, our passion for Out Run is such that we fear that, throughout this article, we may have been carried away by this fascination. We hope you can forgive us for it. If at least one of you is encouraged to give the game a try after reading this, we will be satisfied.
We recommend a visit to this two websites:
- http://outrun86.wordpress.com/ An extraordinary Blog about the game created by a British enthusiast: @sean_tagg
- http://outrun.org/ This web promises to become the main reference site in everything related to Out Run. Today has several sections under construction, but worth a good look.
As always in our articles , we are going to propose a series of videos to complement the graphic material of this article:
In this playlist of the Japanese Youtube channel Replay Burners,, we can see several videos of the best player of Out Run in recent years, Tiny-MID. Includes an amazing super play in a original deluxe cabinet and a valuable guide in which we can to learn different techniques to achieve the best times and scores.
Also,although our level is not even remotely to the Japanese players, in our YouTube channel we included a Superplay of the japanese version: