Developer Showcase: Namco (by Ghegs, published on 18th of July, 2014.)


Namco logo

Namco was started in Japan back in 1955 by Masaya Nakamura and the company was originally known as Nakamura Manufacturing. A few years later the company was given the new name "Nakamura Amusement machine Manufacturing COmpany" from which Namco comes from.

Like the name suggests, the company's focus was on creating machines which would entertain the populace. It started out as running children's rides on a Yokohama department store roof and would soon expand throughout Tokyo. In the 1970's the company would create mechanical driving simulators, the first being simply titled "Racer" in 1970. Namco also partnered with Atari for a game called F-1 in 1976, click here to see a video which shows how the game mechanically creates the images on the screen.

Pole Position Around the same time the company would dip its toe into the upcoming video game industry when Nakamura purchased Atari Japan, giving him the exclusive rights to distribute Atari's games in the country for the next decade. Nakamura put these rights to good use and opened up arcades featuring the Atari classics, and soon Namco started developing video games themselves. In 1980 the company released the game that has since been officially recognized as having the most coin-operated arcade machines installed world wide, the game whose main character became a pop-culture icon that still persists today - Pac-Man.

In 1982, only two years after the yellow pellet-popper exploded into the world, his creator Toru Iwatani would go on to design another greatly influential game: Pole Position. It was the first time a real-life racing circuit had been featured in a video game, the circuit being the Fuji Speedway. It was also the first racing game in which the player was required to complete a qualifying lap before being allowed into the actual race, bringing a touch of realism to the race. Like Pac-Man, the game was immensely popular to the point of having a Saturday morning cartoon named after it, though the show's connections to the game are practically non-existent and it has much more in common with Knight Rider that had debuted shortly before. On the video game front Pole Position received ports to many systems, clones from other companies and an official sequel a year later in 1983. The two Pole Position games can be said to have reached immortal status as they have been re-released many times over the years for various systems, most recently in 2008 for Xbox 360 as part of the Namco Museum Virtual Arcade compilation disc as well as to iOS devices as Pole Position Remix.

There was never an official Pole Position III, but developer Tatsumi created a very similar game in 1983 called TX-1, which Namco licensed for distribution, and it's often considered a successor to the series. Like it's adopted parents, the game would claim several firsts to its name: TX-1 was the first racing game to use force feedback technology and it was also the first one to allow the player to choose from branching paths and choose what course they would race next, leading to one of several final stages. The style would be copied by many in the near future, mostly notably Sega for OutRun three years later.

Final Lap R, the last of the series Namco themselves would not rest on their laurels but continued on making new racing games and in 1987 released Final Lap, the first in a new series. The game continued the company's trend of marshalling in never-before-seen features to the arcade scene by making it possible for the arcade operators to link together multiple machines, so that up to eight players may race against each other simultaneously on the same track. It's safe to assume this was considered revolutionary at the time. It was also possibly the first racing game to feature rubberbanding.

At the same time Namco started finally experimenting with racing games that weren't of the Formula One variety that had dominated their racing game output so far. 1989's Dirt Fox is an off-road, top-down title and Four Trax, released in the same year, features ATVs on an off-road course. But their main focus was still clearly on the Formula circuit as Namco started another series in 1988 with Winning Run. It was the first released racing game to feature 3D polygon graphics, giving Namco yet another notch on their belt and setting the technological stage for the future. Both Winning Run and Final Lap received three sequels each until they ended in 1991 and 1993 respectively. But '93 would see the beginning of the company's next great racing game series, one that's name still carries on today: Ridge Racer.

Ridge Racer, the PS1 version Though originating in the arcades, the new series would find its home on Sony's new Playstation console, for which Namco even decided to create a special controller to provide the player with smooth analogue controls that were suitable for racing games. The neGcon has been presented at length here. Soon the game series left its arcade roots with sequels appearing for home systems only, though Ridge Racer V also saw an arcade version.

The series is undoubtedly the company's most persisting racing franchise, having appeared on 15 systems with 26 games. The games became known for their fast, drift-based gameplay, colourful graphics and energetic music. They have been present as launch titles for many new consoles and many were disappointed that a new entry wasn't released alongside the PS4. But the series has recently undergone some changes that have not been received with glee. The 2012 release Ridge Racer Unbounded, developed by Bugbear and not Namco themselves, was a drastic departure from the series' usual theme and feel. The latest games in the series, like the most recent Ridge Racer Slipstream, look like Ridge Racer titles but are mobile games that unfortunately feature microtransactions in a large capacity. The Vita release of 2011 was similarly panned, using mostly content from previous games that is locked away in DLC packs.

Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 4 Even with the success of Ridge Racer on the consoles Namco continued on in the arcades with other racing titles, including the long-running Wangan Midnight series, based on the highway racing manga of the same name. They have also partnered with Nintendo to create arcade versions of the Mario Kart games.

The company's merger with Bandai in 2005 hasn't stopped the newly-christened Bandai-Namco from developing new racing games, though the output isn't as big as it was in the late 80's and 90's. But with over 30 years of racing game development and ~80 titles in that genre alone under their belt, the company's contribution to video game racing is enormous. Hopefully, Namco will find a way to return to form with fun, engaging gameplay unhampered by ill-thought-out business models and continue their good legacy on the home systems as well.





Here are listed all the Namco-developed racing games. Namco has also published several racing games from other companies.

Winning Run '91 Cyber Cycles Ace Driver: Victory Lap Ridge Racer 6 Mario Kart Arcade GP2 Dead Heat Riders
YearNameLinks
1982Pole PositionPole Position videoPole Position Wikipedia page
1983Pole Position IIPole Position II videoPole Position II Wikipedia page
1987Final LapFinal Lap videoFinal Lap Wikipedia page
1988Winning RunWinning Run videoWinning Run Wikipedia page
1988Final Lap UR
1989Winning Run Suzuka Grand PrixWinning Run Suzuka Grand Prix video
1989Dirt FoxDirt Fox videoDirt Fox Wikipedia page
1989Four TraxFour Trax videoFour Trax Wikipedia page
1989Winning Run 3
1990Driver's EyesDriver's Eyes videoDriver's Eyes Wikipedia page
1990F1 DouchuukiF1 Douchuuki video
1991Winning Run '91Winning Run '91 video
1991Final Lap 2Final Lap 2 videoFinal Lap 2 Wikipedia page
1992Final Lap 3Final Lap 3 videoFinal Lap 3 Wikipedia page
1992Suzuka 8 HoursSuzuka 8 Hours videoSuzuka 8 Hours Wikipedia page
1993Final Lap RFinal Lap R video
1993Suzuka 8 Hours 2Suzuka 8 Hours 2 video
1993Ridge RacerRidge Racer videoRidge Racer Wikipedia page
1994Ace DriverAce Driver videoAce Driver Wikipedia page
1994Ridge Racer 2Ridge Racer 2 videoRidge Racer 2 Wikipedia page
1995Ridge Racer RevolutionRidge Racer Revolution videoRidge Racer Revolution Wikipedia page
1995Cyber CyclesCyber Cycles video
1995Rave RacerRave Racer videoRave Racer Wikipedia page
1995Speed RacerSpeed Racer videoSpeed Racer Wikipedia page
1995Dirt DashDirt Dash video
1995Alpine RacerAlpine Racer videoAlpine Racer Wikipedia page
1996Rage RacerRage Racer videoRage Racer Wikipedia page
1996Alpine Racer 2Alpine Racer 2 videoAlpine Racer 2 Wikipedia page
1996Aqua JetAqua Jet video
1996Alpine SurferAlpine Surfer video
1996Pocket RacerPocket Racer video
1996Ace Driver: Victory LapAce Driver: Victory Lap videoAce Driver: Victory Lap Wikipedia page
1997Final FurlongFinal Furlong videoFinal Furlong Wikipedia page
1997Downhill BikersDownhill Bikers video
1997Armadillo RacingArmadillo Racing video
1998R4: Ridge Racer Type 4R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 videoR4: Ridge Racer Type 4 Wikipedia page
1998Race On!Race On! video
1998Techno Drive
1998500GP500GP video
1998Motocross Go!Motocross Go! video
1999Final Furlong 2Final Furlong 2 video
2000Ridge Racer VRidge Racer V videoRidge Racer V Wikipedia page
2000MotoGPMotoGP videoMotoGP Wikipedia page
2000Truck KyosokyokuTruck Kyosokyoku video
2000Kart DuelKart Duel video
2001MotoGP2
2001Ridge Racer V: Arcade BattleRidge Racer V: Arcade Battle videoRidge Racer V: Arcade Battle Wikipedia page
2002Alpine Racer 3Alpine Racer 3 video
2002Wangan Midnight
2002Wangan Midnight RWangan Midnight R video
2003MotoGP 3MotoGP 3 videoMotoGP 3 Wikipedia page
2003R: Racing EvolutionR: Racing Evolution videoR: Racing Evolution Wikipedia page
2004Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune
2004Ridge Racer PSPRidge Racer PSP videoRidge Racer PSP Wikipedia page
2005Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 2Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 2 video
2005MotoGP 4MotoGP 4 videoMotoGP 4 Wikipedia page
2005Critical VelocityCritical Velocity video
2005Mario Kart Arcade GPMario Kart Arcade GP videoMario Kart Arcade GP Wikipedia page
2005Ridge Racer 6Ridge Racer 6 videoRidge Racer 6 Wikipedia page
2006Ridge Racer 2 PSPRidge Racer 2 PSP videoRidge Racer 2 PSP Wikipedia page
2006Ridge Racer 7Ridge Racer 7 videoRidge Racer 7 Wikipedia page
2007Mario Kart Arcade GP 2Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 videoMario Kart Arcade GP 2 Wikipedia page
2007Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3 video
2008Ace Driver 3: Final TurnAce Driver 3: Final Turn Wikipedia page
2008Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3DXWangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3DX video
2009NirinNirin video
2009Ridge Racer AcceleratedRidge Racer Accelerated videoRidge Racer Accelerated Wikipedia page
2010Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3DX+Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 3DX+ video
2010Dead HeatDead Heat video
2010Ridge Racer DriftRidge Racer Drift video
2011Ridge Racer 3DRidge Racer 3D videoRidge Racer 3D Wikipedia page
2011Maximum HeatMaximum Heat video
2011Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 4Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 4 video
2011Ridge Racer VitaRidge Racer Vita videoRidge Racer Vita Wikipedia page
2013Dead Heat RidersDead Heat Riders video
2013Mario Kart Arcade GP DXMario Kart Arcade GP DX videoMario Kart Arcade GP DX Wikipedia page
2013Ridge Racer SlipstreamRidge Racer Slipstream video
2014Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 5Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune 5 video
2014Super Alpine RacerSuper Alpine Racer video