Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ben's Gaming Memories - Racing Games

The other day I did something I had dreamed of since I was a little kid. I went to the store and bought GT6 and a racing wheel to go along with it. For as long as I could remember, I wondered what it would be like to play a racing game with a realistic wheel, and now I know. While it may seem funny to say now, when I was growing up, this isn't the type of thing you'd normally see. Sure you could find SEGA racing games and what not in arcades, but to take that arcade racing experience home with you, was unheard of. (Although, to be fair, having an arcade experience at home in general was unheard of.) It wasn't until the N64 and PS1 took off that you would see such add ons, but even then the wheels weren't something I was able to get myself. Back then gaming stores were uncommon, the closest Toys R Us was about an hour and a half away (so I rarely got to go there), and local stores (such as Wal-Mart) only carried the basics; popular games, standard controllers, memory cards, and that's it. Because of this, I never knew how to get one, and never once did I ask my parents. Looking back on it now, I guess I just didn't understand how it would work. I mean, I didn't have a gaming chair, and we didn't have a desk table to mount it on, so I truly had no idea how it would work. Although, just because I didn't ask for one, doesn't mean I didn't want one. Anyway, here we are, 16 or so years later, and I've finally done it. I bought a wheel with force feedback, 900 degrees of rotation, and a racing sim that's part of a series I haven't played since 1998. It's kind of crazy to think how everything finally worked out, but it's nice to see that they finally have. Looking back on it all now though, how I got into racing games, it actually makes me miss the past...

Although a lot of people I've met in my life are against racing games, I started loving them from an early age. Back when my uncle still had a super Nintendo upstairs at my grandma's house, I would play just about everything he bought (which I believe I mentioned before). Playing his random games is what actually got me interested in a lot of the games I still love today, and one of them just so happened to be a racing game. The game was called "Top Gear 2," and it was basically a "3D" racer. The camera was behind the car, the road turned and sloped, and I thought it was amazing. To me, the game was the most realistic game I had ever seen, and it almost instantly had me hooked. It had a single player mode where you could race through tracks across the world, cars could become damaged, some stages took place at night, there was weather effects such as rain, there was a shop where you could buy upgrades for your car, and you could even change your car's color! On top of all of that, if you didn't want to do it all alone, you could put a second controller in and co-op the whole thing! The game was just great (at least at the time). For awhile there I was only able to play it there at my grandma's house, but later on my uncle did let me take it home with me; which is where I basically beat the whole thing with my dad. I worked hard to always get first, and I played the thing over and over again until I knew it in and out. It was the first time I was addicted to a racing game, and little did I know, it wouldn't be the last.

After Top Gear, I drifted away from racing... At least a little bit. There weren't other racing games coming out (at least not that I knew of), and I was able to complete Mario Kart within the three days our local movie rental store "Broadway" gave me. While I did rent Mario Kart every now and then, it wasn't a game that hooked me as much as Top Gear. Sadly it wouldn't happen again until a few years later when that SNES upstairs was replaced with a PlayStation.

When my uncle got a PlayStation, he once again started inviting me over to play games with him. Just like with the SNES (which he had then sold, along with every game he didn't give to me instead) he bought basically every major game released, and exposed me to a wide verity of titles. Typically he'd let me play games like Crash, or Star Wars, or some Disney game, but one day when he invited me over, he had the brand new racing game "Gran Turismo" as well as a wheel. Up until then, I had never seen a racing wheel outside of arcades, and I was excited to use it; however, that didn't happen. I remember he let me use it for a bit, but then switched me over to the controller while he took the wheel instead. I didn't understand why, but it was something he never let me use. Maybe it was because he thought I was too young, or maybe it was because he wanted to use it; whatever the case, I was always stuck with the controller instead. Even when my cousin from out of state would visit, him and my uncle would use that wheel, while I would be handed the standard PlayStation controller. Up until I was no longer allowed to play the game that is.

GT1 was one of the few video games I could not play growing up. While I loved playing it, it actually gave me a headache. After getting migraine, after migraine, my mom finally told me to stop playing it, and from that point on I was stuck to just watching. Although I was never able to play the game again, later when I got my own PlayStation GT2 was on the demo disc. Despite it too making me sick, it didn't stop me from playing it when no one was watching. I just wished it was the full game, and not just a demo with only a few races...

After the whole thing with GT, I faded in and out of racers. I got basically every Mario Kart game that came out (with Mario Kart DS being the first DS game I played online), rented random racers on the N64 and PS1, and played some of the Need for Speed titles on the GCN and PS2. I also played games such as Sonic R, Sonic Riders, and other kart racing type games, but It wasn't until I was in my last year of high school with an Xbox 360 that things really changed. Finally for the first time in my life I had a job, a powerful gaming console with online play, and I could buy any game I wanted whenever I wanted. That was when I started buying racers.

While most of the people I knew hated racing games, I had one friend who loved them, and mostly only played them. On weekends he'd spend his time restoring a classic camaro with his uncle (which he still drives to this day) and play racing games when he had time, and then everyday at school we'd discuss both. He'd give me an update on how his car was coming along (such as what he had to do, or what issues they ran into), and then we'd start discussing the games we had played. Although we were both in band together, ate lunch at the same table, and saw each other throughout the day, it sort of became our daily routine to discuss such things in our physics class.The class only had about 8 students in it, and was mostly focused on doing projects, so it was the perfect time to just hang out and have fun. At one point I remember him mentioning Need for Speed Pro Street (which he had recommended to me before I owned a 360, and I had bought later that summer shortly after), and it became one of the main game that we discussed. Although it was about a year old at the time, and many other racers had come out, it was something we both just kept returning to. Personally to this day it is still one of my favorite racers, and it is the one that really opened the door for me to others. I spent so much time playing it, customizing cars, and racing along side my cousin, and I spent who knows how many hours discussing it with my friend. It was a game I had a lot of fun with, and was the first time since Top Gear that I was that dedicated to a racer. Sadly the spiritual successor Need for Speed Shift was a big let down for me, but that didn't stop me from playing others.

Really, looking back on it all, I didn't have the best track record with the genre. I mean, there were games I loved, and now days I play most of the major titles which are released, but before I got to this point I had to deal with quite a lot. My uncle and cousins wouldn't let me use a race wheel, GT1 and 2 both made me sick so I couldn't play them, one N64 racer I had was given to me by someone who then stole other games I owned in return for it (mostly Pokemon games like Stadium 2, Trading Card Game, etc), a lot of the NFS games I rented (as well as other racers) didn't work half the time due to the discs being damaged, and I even lost a lot of my save data (including my data from Pro Street). A lot of bad things have happened to me with racers, but even so, I love racers, and I can't wait to play even more now that I finally have my first racing wheel. With The Crew, Drive Club, and Project Cars just around the corner, the future looks bright! (Maybe one day I'll buy one of them race chairs. Then my dream of having an arcade racing machine will have come true as well.)

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