1999 was a notable year for gaming. Some of gaming’s most beloved titles were introduced that year, with many of these titles surviving well into the 2010s and today. Those future classics included Super Smash Bros, Marvel Vs. Street Fighter, Silent Hill, and Donkey Kong 64.
Yet, some of my fondest gaming memories come from racing games. I remember playing two of the biggest racing titles back then. One was Gran Turismo 2, which may have been a bit advanced for a fourth-grader. But the other title gets all of my love: Ridge Racer Type 4.
The Ridge Racer series made its debut in 1993, with Namco — the first game coinciding with the introduction of the Namco System 22 gaming system. That system never caught on, so Ridge Racer was almost always a Playstation exclusive. Aside from some arcade-specific games, the early to mid-augts and the 2010s saw a few games from the series become available on Xbox or Nintendo consoles. Ridge Racer Type 4 was technically the seventh game in the series, but if you exclude the arcade exclusives Ridge Racer 2, Rave Racer, and Pocket Racer, it was the fourth.
The games, Gran Turismo, and Ridge Racer, debuted a month apart. Gran Turismo had come along and taken the top racing game spot from the Ridge Racer series, but the series saw Type 4 as a chance to take back that top spot. When it debuted, Electronic Gaming Monthly described it as “Something to finally kick Gran Turismo’s ass.” The game had matured. But it wasn’t quite the racing sim that Gran Turismo ended up being.
Ridge Racer was specifically designed to be more arcade racer than racing simulation. One of the producers of the game, Motomi Katayama, was quoted as saying:
“I’m not actively avoiding a simulation game, but I think an arcade racer is still the type of racing game that will appeal to the widest audience”.
While no definitive public timeline exists of the game’s development, it’s said the intro movie alone took over six months to produce. And that was a CGI movie that was just over two minutes long with no dialogue. But at the time it was impressive. The game’s main claim to fame is that it was the first to use Gouraud shading textures on everything.
Gouraud shading was first theorized in 1971 by French computer scientist Henri Gouraud in a paper titled “Continuous Shading of Curved Surfaces.” It’s essentially simulated light and shading. It was a way to make things like shadows and reflections look more natural and life-like. Basically, a calculation must be made about the surface of a polygon that runs perpendicular to another polygon. Lighting calculations are then made for intensities to get the desired effect.
Visually, something like this was unheard of at the time. While impressive, the shading pushed the Playstation’s hardware to its limit. Shading proved to be the only way to go to improve graphics because of this hardware limitation.
What’s worse, Type 4 wasn’t even the Playstation’s graphical limits. According to lead artist Kouno, the Ridge Racer series had reached its limits a few games into the series. Because of this, it was rumored that the game was going to be the last one on the Playstation. This proved to be true as both games that followed Type 4, Ridge Racer 64 and Ridge Racer V, were released the following year on Nintendo 64 and Playstation 2.
Type 4 ended up being a commercial and sales success selling 1.5 million total copies in the U.S. and Japan. The gameplay was fantastic. It included a story mode that at first glance appeared rudimentary, maybe even a little dumb. But the storyline was engaging and had depth. It also gave me my first encounter of drifting in a video game which was described as “power sliding.”
The game’s four racing teams are just as interesting. Each is from a different country, and based on different classic Namco games:
Dig Racing Team: An American team, both the name and logo design are based on Dig Dug. The team is sort of the underdog as it has problems with management and funding. The team’s owner is reluctant to increase funding because of its poor performance in the past.
R.C. Micro Mouse Mappy (RC Stands for racing club, of course): The team’s name, design, and colors are based on the old game Mappy. A French team, it was always said to be ideal for people that are beginners due to how slow the French cars are, that are used by the team (more on that in a bit). The team’s owner is a young and friendly woman who took over after her grandfather became too sick to manage it.
Pac Racing Club: The name, logo, and colors are obviously based on Pac Man. The Japanese team is the one to pick for well-balanced cars that won’t be too difficult to control. When playing the story mode you learn that the team’s manager, a former famed racing driver himself, has a dark past. He’s infamous for a racing accident that killed his teammate in the ’80s. He comes across as a prick at first because of this. But once you learn the truth about what really happened, he changes for the better.
Racing Team Solvalou: The name, logo, and its colors are based on the 1983 game Xevious. Solvalou is THE team in the games universe. The Italian team manager is highly professional and expects nothing but the best from the driver. The team also has some unfortunate ties to Pac Racing Club. The driver that was killed in the crash with Pac Racing Club’s manager was the son of the Solvalou team’s founder. Because of this, there’s animosity between the two teams.
Even the cars you get to drive in the game are interesting. There are 320 total car variations available to choose from. If you change nothing, each racing team uses a manufacturer from its country of origin. But you can mix things up and use, for instance, the French manufacturer with the Japanese team. With all those combinations, there are just four fictional auto manufacturers in the game:
Lizard: Lizard is an American manufacturer, described as making muscle cars that are probably the most draftable in the game. You can choose everything from a small two-door coupe, the “Bonfire,” powered by a 3.0-liter V8, to “Nightmare,” an insane hypercar powered by a thermonuclear fusion engine.
Assoluto: Assoluto is an Italian automaker. It’s almost a fictional Ferrari, though the designs of the cars say otherwise. Apparently, the brand is a pioneer in antigravity technology. Their hypercar, called “Vulcano”, utilizes this technology and floats a few feet off the ground, but is still somehow able to drift.
Age Solo: This French manufacturer’s vehicles are some of the easiest to drive in the game. It’s always suggested that you start off with them and Mirco Mouse Mappy if you aren’t used to racing games. The combination of the two makes the game fit for beginners. Even its hypercar is relatively tame by the other manufacturer standards: it’s powered by a 4.0-liter V12.
Terrazi: This company is like a fictional Honda. Ridge Racer Type 4 was also the brand’s debut as it hadn’t appeared in any previous games in the series. Its basic cars are JDM mash-ups. For instance, there’s a sports coupe called “Ambitious,” that looks like an A80 Toyota Supra combined with a Nissan 300ZX. Its hypercar is an EV called the Destroyer and is powered by two electric motors.
Any way you play the game, either free driving, a time attack, or the story, is enjoyable. Granted, the graphical capabilities we have with consoles now may have spoiled us, and it does come off a bit old graphically. But it doesn’t matter as it’s still a great game. I recently bought a Playstation mini just so I can enjoy it again and let my son, another fan of racing games, experience it as well. If you come across an old copy of it, set aside some time to try it out. If you played it as a kid and haven’t picked it up in a while, it’s worth it just for the memories alone.