I was referring to Sat Navs in the previous blog, but virtual roads come to their own in video games and simulations. Firstly, we need to mention racing games.
Gran Trak 10 in 1974 was confusingly the first arcade game to simulate car racing (there seems to be no Gran Trak 9, 8 and so on). It boasted very low-resolution, black and white graphics. In a mere two years violence became linked to race cars with the game, Death Race in 1976. Evidently the people at Exidy who made the game felt they were giving the public what they wanted and there was a notable jump in sales for the arcade machines.
These games didn’t create an actual world for a player to explore like games do now, they just scrolled in one direction. The first game that could be said to do this was Atari’s Super Bug released in 1976. The game name, “The Driver” might remind today’s players of Guitar Hero, in that the game required you to match the steering wheel and brake actions with the movements on screen. So it’s part, Simon Says and part driving simulator or driving aid?
The first to include a real circuit of track was 1982’s Pole Position created by Atari in the US and Namco elsewhere. The track it used was Fuji Speedway in Japan.
Racing games seemed to be slow lane for about a decade until Super Mario Kart in 1992. Games had now acquired 3D imagery but had probably lost a sense of reality. The big thing about Super Mario Kart that it created a genre of fun character-based race games or “Kart games.”
Vehicle combat games would begin in 1983 with the Spy Hunter series and would spawn some releases as Knight Rider and Starsky and Hutch. In them it was not enough to race, you had to cause significant damage to your opponent.
The Surprising Story of Realistic Traffic
We take for granted that we a driving game will include realistic simulation of how the traffic will act at a certain point or under certain conditions, but there is an interesting origin story of how that came to be.
It goes back even before video games to 1946 where the Monte Carlo method which relies on random sampling to create likelihood from which an algorithm can be built up. The Goal is to aid logistics and road planning to avoid bottlenecks. Municipalities wanted to know how fast emergency services could get to certain points, and so on. It was natural for video game developers to digitalize these algorithms so that the cars on a road or track, to have cars around the POV vehicle behave in a realistic manner in response to obstacles and road conditions.
These algorithms are still used by cities and states in 2019. Those planning a road will create computer simulations to predict traffic on roadways, bridges, tunnels, etc. and it then check them in dry, wet or even icy conditions. Perhaps these models will eventually create a map that can tell you the best time of day to make a trip. Who knows?