In 1992, Sega released Virtua Racing as an arcade game, and later for the Sega Genesis for the price tag of $100, an astounding price tag for any video game even now. (inflation adjusted for 2014, 20 years after its Genesis-version release, the game would have cost about $160!) The game was mind-blowing across the board. In fact, the game changed history forever.
Once upon a time, polygon based games were rare. When Virtua Racing hit the arcades, it upped the competition. All of a sudden, 3D games were all over the place. When the Sega Genesis version was created, it used the Sega Virtual Processing chip (SVP) invented exclusively for Virtual Racing. Never before had the Sega Genesis seen 3D graphics to this caliber. It was jaw-dropping.
The idea of integrating a chip to add more processing power, graphics and sound is not a new concept. It was used for Pitfall II on the Atari 2600 to create arguably the most advanced game ever made for the console. Custom hardware was also used for the majority of the NES games on the market.
While game graphics were evolving from sprites to 3D polygons, I remember being very confused. Sprites, like in Doom for example, were photographs. Even most of the monsters were made from photographed models. So I used to wonder: how could someone think that colored polygons look more realistic than a picture of real life itself? How could it possibly be better? Now that enough time as passed, The advantages of 3D graphics is clear.
Anyone curious about Virtua Racing should try to track down the June 1994 issue of Gamepro which features an advertisement, developer interview and review of the game. It also discusses how the SVP chip increased the Sega Genesis’ processing power by 20 times. Incredible, is it not?
The irony of selling a $100 game in 1994 is that you can buy Virtua Racing today for about 10 bucks on ebay. This does not change the fact that it is probably the most advanced game ever made for the Sega Genesis and even offered split-screen two player competition. So you owe it to yourself to own a piece of history by introducing it to the other awesome collectables on your shelf.