A Quick Look at UI’s in Racing Games (1986—2001)

As a keen fan of Racing Games and a veteran UI Designer, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at User Interfaces in Racing Games.

And why not? A good excuse to include some colourful screenshots, note some of the details, and get nostalgic too! Click to read more. 

_article_OR_logo (2).pngOutrun SEGA (Japan)
1986 — Arcade, many many ports since

Nobody above a certain age can forget the instantly-engaging Music Selection UI from Outrun. As soon as you’ve dropped your Quarter, 20p, ¥10 or hit that START button on your controller, the screen greets you immediately.

Steer left for Magical Sound Shower, right for Splash Wave or stay dead ahead for Passing Breeze, then just hit Start and go!

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OutRun (1986)
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OutRun (1986)

There’s little other actual UI in OutRun, other than the Name Entry and the non-interactive (but adorable) Progress Map:

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OutRun Progress Map (1986)
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OutRun Name Entry (1986)


Virtua Racing
(1992) / Daytona USA (1993) / Sega Rally Championship (1994)SEGA (Japan)

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There is a simple joy of turning a steering wheel to highlight an option, then hitting the gas/accelerator pedal to select it. Super-simple, no-nonsense UI.

SEGA’s 90’s Arcade Racing titles used the same UI formula over and over again, and for good reason: it worked. Minimal on-screen text, bright colourful panels, bold selection highlighting all works a charm and is still evident in modern Arcade Racing titles —

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Virtua Racing (1992)
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Daytona USA (Japanese Edition) (1993)
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Sega Rally Championship (1995)
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Sega Rally Championship 2 (1998)

Wipeout series to 1999:
Wipeout (1995), Wipeout 2097 (1996), Wipeout 64 (1998), Wipeout 3 (1999)
— Psygnosis (UK)
PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC, Amiga, Mac OS, Nintendo 64

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Dare I say it, but it’s not the UI itself that is notable within much of the early Wipeout series, yet the insanely unique design provided by legendary UK design agency The Designers Republic (a long-term favourite at Vyxl!).

I don’t believe tDR were responsible for the actual UI design; but the main game logos, fictional team logos, overall art style, futuristic typography and of course those sublime in-game HUD’s—

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Wipeout 2097 (1996)
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Wipeout 2097 (1996)
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Wipeout 2097 (1996)

The Designers Republic have been hugely influential in 90’s Games Culture and are (thankfully) alive and well— these days focusing on design for the music industry.

Note that later Wipeout series titles will be included in the next article ;)


Micro Machines V3 —
Codemasters (UK)
1997/1998 — PlayStation, N64, GBC, Windows

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I hold Codemasters in extremely high regard for the quality of their UI’s, and they’ve always had a significantly-sized dedicated UI team (I remember, I interviewed with them once). Back in the mid/late 90’s this was a unique situation even for larger dev studios.

Micro Machines V3 has possibly one of the most creative and fun User Interfaces in memory; giving the player control of a toy car in an isometric toy town to select their game options —

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Micro Machines V3 (1997/1998)
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Micro Machines V3 (1997/1998)

It was fast, fun, intuitive and set the playful tone before the game had even loaded. A truly great example of creative UI design done right. Check out the UI in action with this YouTube footage.

 

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Gran Turismo 1 (1997), 2 (1998), Series (1998~) — Polyphony Digital (Japan)
PlayStation, PlayStation 2~

The ‘Racing Game of Racing Games‘ —and with sales figures well clear of $80 million— Gran Turismo is without doubt the most famous racing game series in history.

The first two Gran Turismos’ had highly polished UI’s; arguably a decade ahead in terms of the flat style we’ve seen on HD displays since —

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Gran Turismo (1997)
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Gran Turismo (1997)
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Gran Turismo 2 (1998)

A notable design touch was the ‘magnetic snap’ as the Player navigated with a D-Pad or Analog controller, the cursor arrow jumps cleanly between locations or option regions.

While the visual polish has increased steadily throughout the series, one of Vyxl’s personal dislikes with GT as a game title is the sheer complexity of the Menus which saw the Player spend as much time in the UI as in the Game itself.

While The deep menu systems are not bad UX per-se (and are arguably a core part of the Gran Turismo experience) some, like GT5, were particularly overwhelming  —

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Gran Turismo 5 (2010)


Lotus Challenge (2001),  
— Kuju Entertainment/Virgin Interactive (UK)
PlayStation 2, Gamecube, Xbox, PC

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I’m going to be hugely sneaky here and include a UI that I designed, long before starting Vyxl.

Lotus Challenge was an officially-licensed Lotus Racing Game for the PS2Xbox, PC and Gamecube (yes) back in the early 2000’s. I wanted to keep a simple and functional selection menu, which also allowed both players to make selections concurrently (wherever applicable), as can be seen in the first image below —

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The upper section was reserved for images of cars or tracks, and the design allowed the Player to change the entire UI theme to historical Lotus liveries such as Gold Leaf  —

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The UI was nominated for a BAFTA® Interactive Award in 2001. You can even check out a small clip on YouTube.

If Vyxl can help with your Games’ User Interface — get in touch by clicking the link below!

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