Behind the Scenes: Sega Rally
Tetsuya Mizuguchi might be best known for musically inclined titles like Space Channel 5 and Rez, but the designer rose to fame thanks to a different kind of sound – the roar of an engine and a cry of ‘Game Over, Yeeeeaah!’
In the 16 years since Sega Rally Championship’s release, the evolution of the racing genre has been explosive. The contrast between a racing game now and a racing game then is so enormous that evaluating the impact that Sega’s once-dominant racing trifecta – Virtua Racing, Daytona USA, and Sega Rally Championship – had on the industry could fill volumes. A quick recap reminds us that Virtua Racing brought the polygons, and that Daytona USA (itself the most successful arcade game of all time) brought a colourful, adrenaline-charged racer with a distinctive soundtrack and fantastic multiplayer competition. But Sega Rally… Sega Rally was altogether different. Not only did it usher in the era of the drift, but it did so in compelling fashion, offering a focused, minimal feature set that makes the racing games of today look excessive to a fault.
Born in an era of arcade dominance, when videogame consoles were still playing second fiddle to the powerful coin-crunchers of the time, Sega Rally represents the peak of Sega’s arcade reign. Although the balance of power would soon shift to consoles, thanks to the emergent PlayStation, by the mid-Nineties Sega had ushered in the Golden Age of arcade classics. If Sega’s silver age was represented by Hang-On, Afterburner and Space Harrier, then the vanguards of the new wave were surely Virtua Fighter 2, Daytona USA, Sega Rally and Virtual-On. In terms of racing, once past Sega Rally, arcade racing would only occasionally duplicate, but not surpass the innovation and excitement of this on-and-off road drift king.
Enter Tetsuya Mizuguchi. By the time he began to assemble the team that would create Sega Rally, he had only one project at Sega under his belt, the long-forgotten AS-1 ‘Motion Ride’ title Megalopolis, itself more of a Blade Runner-inspired CG-movie-theme-park-style ride than a proper game. Created with the help of then-programmer/now film director Michael Arias (who recently directed the anime hit Tekkonkinkreet), Megalopolis’s hydraulic cabinet enclosure gave Mizuguchi the experience he would need to envision the high-production off-road experience his team would create for Sega Rally. While Megalopolis was created by a team of only five people, including Mizuguchi and Arias, the Sega Rally team would more than double in size to a 12-member staff (although by this time Arias had returned to the States to move into film production).
Megalopolis provided A great deal more experience to the team than just an understanding of arcade cabinets and hydraulic systems. It also marked the first project within Sega that specialised in the burgeoning field of CGI, particularly textured CG graphics. Mizuguchi remembers: “That was so tough a project, because nobody knew about CGI. ‘What is a digital movie?’ We learned a lot. At Sega there was no staff like that specialised in it. All the staff at Sega, they just wanted to make a game. But this was the first visual expression project for Sega.”
After the [Sega arcade centre] Joypolis-exclusive Megalopolis project was finished, Mizuguchi began thinking about his next project. It wasn’t until a trip to Sega’s European offices that the kernel for Sega Rally would be formed. “I wanted to make a racing game,” Mizuguchi continues, “but I had to think about what the concept would be, and what the differences would be. [On a trip to Europe] I met up with people from Sega France, Sega Italy. I asked them – remember I was a new face at the time, so I didn’t know so much about the industry at first – I asked them for their inspirations and their opinions. ‘What kind of game do you want? What kind of vision do you have?’ Most of the people had complained to Sega headquarters that they only watched the American market, for example, things like Daytona. So Sega of Europe people were complaining about this, but they didn’t have the answers either.