Like it or not, there’s no denying that the entire history of video games as a popular medium can be told through the steady evolution of three simple acts: shooting a pistol, jumping from platform to platform, and redlining a car’s engine. Even as gaming has democratized over the past decade—with eased access to development tools like Unity ensuring that more offbeat or intellectual fare has the chance to find an audience—the traditional big-budget core of the market has become even more monolithic. Today, only a handful of so-called triple-A developers churns out a steady stream of military-taupe shooters like Call of Duty or sun-spangled racers like Turn 10 Studio’s Forza series.
For that last category of gaming fans, this thinning at the top has devastated the once-diverse racing genre, largely due to the ever-increasing technological standards and demands of today. Players continue to thirst for the feeling of gliding a Lamborghini around a gentle curve rendered as accurately as possible, and only a handful of studios currently has the budget or the infrastructure to keep up.
But if you talk with veteran artists who put hours and hours into these games over the years, this technological arms race has always whirred beneath the shining surface of the pristine racing sims that players know and love. Today, Turn 10 and others continue to push the boundaries of photorealism past the “uncanny valley,” but 25 years ago it took a similar amount of dedication and know-how simply to make any car appear 3D rather than 2D.