Sega Shifts Into High Gear With Daytona
New Game Seeks to Be Easy to Learn, Nearly Impossible to Master
Retro is in, and there aren’t many titles in the arcade business more recognizably retro than Sega’s 1994 iconic driver, Daytona USA. It became one of the highest-grossing arcade games of all time, blowing away the competition with revolutionary texture-mapped, 3D graphics. The original game debuted at number two on RePlay’s Players’ Choice deluxe videos chart back in June 1994, and stayed on that chart for 60 months, with 16 of those spent in the number one slot. An impressive track record to be sure.
Daytona has inspired numerous offshoots –– ports to console and PC players, updates, a sequel in ’98 and remakes –– but never a full arcade reboot of the original game. Until now, that is, with Sega nearly ready to ship its Daytona Championship USA.
“We first discussed Daytona about three years ago, and it made everyone incredibly nervous,” said Sega’s head of R&D Patrick Michael. “It is a hugely important franchise for Sega and the arcade industry, and there is a gigantic fan-base that has continued to play the original game. From the start, the most important thing was to try to hold on to what the original did right: the handling, physics and challenge on the track.”
Michael, who works out of Sega’s U.K. headquarters, says near the beginning of the project, that nervousness disappeared. He spent some time in the States to observe players and found that older Daytona games were still relatively popular. He witnessed three generations of a family –– players ranging from 10 to 70 –– enjoying the game together, and knew another iteration of the classic was due.
“It’s really exciting to see a game that is now 20 years old enjoyed by such a wide range of people. We can only hope we’ll say the same about this one down the line,” Michael said.
This new arcade racer highlights the staples of the original hit – sunny blue skies, NASCAR-inspired stock cars, intense skill-based racing and recreations of the original game’s three tracks – and brings them into the modern day. It even features a soundtrack composed by Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, who also composed the earlier Daytona game’s music, as well as multiple other Sega titles. Keeping players fully immersed in the race is the game’s 47” HD LED monitor, which maintains a constant 60 frames per second. (Fun fact: The original Daytona was oft-celebrated for being one of the only games at the time to be able to provide such a smooth frame rate.)
According to Richard Listash, national account executive at Player One Amusement Group, the remade game succeeded. “The new Daytona by Sega is awesome, the force feedback steering really captured the feeling of the original Daytona with updated graphics from today’s technology,” he said.
Many industry members got their first chance behind the wheel of Daytona during last year’s IAAPA show, where a not-yet-finished version of the game was debuted. In March, Sega brought a nearly finalized version to the Amusement Expo where, according to company officials, it was a huge hit with many industry players loving the nostalgia.
Don’t for a second think that it’s only retro with Daytona Championship USA as the driver includes plenty of new, innovative features. Three brand new tracks augment the revamped original three, including a recreation of the newly renovated Daytona International Speedway. New game modes offer challenges to players of all ages and familiarity with the game. One of which is Championship mode, which offers single players the chance to race on three tracks: If the player achieves a podium position, he/she qualifies for the next race, and so on until the final race. If they fail at some point during those three tracks, they have a chance to continue.
To amp up competition and personalize each race, an integrated camera captures each player’s face and displays the live camera feed to other racers as they approach or pass on the track. A 27” video billboard marquee tops the games, and helps draw in spectators who, according to Sega, enjoy watching just as much as playing!
“Obviously, we wanted to add a lot of features, but we also wanted to give the operator the option to take some of those features out,” Michael continued. The result is that Daytona is a highly customizable game built with a wide array of skill levels and players in mind.
To appeal to a wider audience, the firm added new features. Plus, the original “catch up” feature makes it so that casual players, or those new to the game, can still have a chance when racing pros.
“Even if the casual player crashes at the start or middle of the game, this ‘rubber band effect’ will bring them back and give them an opportunity to win. It keeps players involved in the whole game, from coin-up to the race’s finish,” said Sales Manager Vince Moreno. “I can play with my mom or uncle –– someone who never played a video game before –– and they can still have a chance to beat me,” said Vince.
Some features of the original game didn’t quite make the cut with Daytona Championship, though. Sega removed the Endurance mode, where operators could set up hundreds of laps in one race. Another difference is that the cabinet comes standard with a sequential shifter instead of the classic four-speed.
“There is an option to include the four-speed shifter, because a lot of diehards don’t like the sequential. They think it results in slower acceleration, but from what I’ve seen, a lot of the guys using sequential shifters will overtake the four-speeds. In the end, though, it’s up to the operator to decide that,” Michael said.
Built with the operator in mind, an all-new Party mode allows them to set up special events and tournaments to drive players back to the game. Sega conceptualized this as a way for the operator to personalize each machine for the location it’s in. Operators can design the parameters themselves, adjusting the rules and difficulty for a “perfect fit.”
To assist in service and troubleshooting, Daytona also introduces “Sega-IQ Intellgent Service Menus” which offer prompts and troubleshooting advice for quicker, easier repairs.
Revved Up & Ready
According to Sega, reception of the game has been stellar. They report that multiple publications, blogs and the fans themselves have raptly followed release details. “In the industry, distributors and operators are eagerly awaiting the chance to get it out and earning,” they declared.
“There’s no question that our distributors are highly anticipating the comeback of Daytona after playing it at Amusement Expo where it was 90 percent complete,” said Moreno. “They were quite excited on the gameplay.”
Additionally, Michael shared that there have been numerous requests for home versions of Daytona, but insists that this is an arcade exclusive.
“It was probably the project I’ve had the most fun working on,” Michael said. “We tried to open the game up to a wider audience. The operator can take it right down to a very short and incredibly easy game, and there are lots of additional features for a younger audience. Even if a very young player can’t reach the pedals, the game will sense that and actually take over for them so they can still steer and enjoy the race.”
Michael stressed that despite the search for a wider general audience, the game can still be dizzyingly difficult for those diehard drivers. The 24 years since Sega released the original Daytona, the new game sees exponential increases to processing power, not only allowing for crisp, realistic graphics but more intelligent AI that adapts to stay competitive with each individual player.
“Operators can absolutely set it up to be incredibly challenging. There are five difficulty levels to choose from and six game lengths. The expert courses, as well as some of the new ones are very challenging,” Michael said. “I have staff who’ve been playing this game for eight months who still struggle to get first place on the hardest settings.”
With a revamp of one of the most iconic games in Sega’s lengthy library, one wonders what the firm may set their eyes on next. Michael was reticent to share such secrets, however, only hinting at what may be coming from the well-known arcade designers at Sega.
“Suffice to say, we’re expanding our R&D team here, and expanding our product line,” Michael concluded. “We have an incredible game designer from Sega Japan, Shinichi Ogasawara working in the U.K., and lots of very exciting, very innovative things coming down the pipeline. We are always looking at reinventions of old arcade games and some of our other incredible franchises, so watch out for us!”
Learn more about Daytona and other Sega games at www.segaarcade.com.