Remembering classic games: Indianapolis 500: The Simulation (1989) | Top Gear
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Remembering classic games: Indianapolis 500: The Simulation (1989)

Released in the same year as Super Mario Land came the first proper PC sim racer

Published: 16 Jul 2021

It's difficult to trace back the primordial origins of the PC simracing scene, which these days is all virtual reality headsets, thousand quid steering wheels and heated online arguments about whose favourite game is the most painstakingly, nerdily realistic. We reckon, though, that Indianapolis 500: The Simulation could make a reasonable claim to being the first proper PC sim.

Released in 1989, the same year we were all squinting at Super Mario Land on the Game Boy, Indianapolis 500 was shifting coloured 3D polygons around your PC screen at remarkable speeds. Somehow the game crammed in all 33 of the cars from the 1989 Indy 500, a fully functioning pitlane and what we assume are supposed to be hundreds of thousands of fans, but look more like the world's most painful magic eye puzzle.

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The simulation underpinning all this was hugely sophisticated, particularly for an era where Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan were the pre-eminent cultural icons. Each of the chassis and engine combinations from the real race were represented and they all performed slightly differently. You could even tweak the setup of the car, making minute adjustments to tyre pressures, boost and anti-roll bar settings, and then pretend you could definitely feel the difference as you mashed the arrow key on your keyboard to negotiate the oval's four left-hand turns.

With its one circuit and focus on American oval racing, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation might not be as fondly remembered over here as Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series. What’s important though is that it represented the first, faltering steps of Papyrus Design Group, the development house that eventually morphed into simracing behemoth iRacing. Looking back, the lineage is plain to see, though thirty years later we now have more complex physics, laser-scanned circuits and grandstands that no longer make you go all cross-eyed. Result.

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