Sega, like other veterans of the video game industry, is constantly bombarded by requests from fans for updates to existing properties with sequels or reboots. It's an understandable situation; there's always the desire to see your favourite game reborn – even when it's decades old. That's why the announcement that Sega would be producing a new entry in the beloved OutRun series triggered such an overwhelmingly positive reaction back in the early 2000s.
The original OutRun (or 'Out Run' if you prefer – the legitimacy of that space in the middle has been questioned over the years, not least by Sega itself) was a revelation in 1986. Employing Sega's groundbreaking Super Scaler arcade technology which allowed for the smooth manipulation of 2D sprites to create convincing 3D effects, it was the closest arcade goers could get to the feeling of driving an expensive sports car on the open road. An instant critical and commercial success, it spawned numerous sequels – such as Turbo Out Run, Out Run Europa and the criminally underrated OutRunners – which, while enjoyable, failed to capture quite the same degree of attention or affection.
That's perhaps why the 2003 entry OutRun 2 – which was firmly positioned as the true sequel to the '86 original, hence the '2' in the title – made such a dramatic impression in arcades. Boasting the official blessing of Ferrari and using the latest 3D hardware, it took the core components of Yu Suzuki's '86 classic and updated it for a new generation without losing what made the original game so relentlessly appealing.
However, at the dawn of the 2000s, OutRun 2 was something of an outlier. It came at a time the popularity of arcade games was on the wane; in the '80s, Sega's coin-op hardware was far more advanced that anything available in the home, but by the time the new millennium came around, the gap had all but closed. Domestic consoles were practically on par with what was being seen in amusement centres and systems like the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube had shifted focus from arcades to the living room. OutRun 2's real worth would be proved on home system, and somewhat surprisingly, Sega – which had exited the hardware arena a few years previously after the failure of the Dreamcast – chose an external studio to handle the transition.
Sega Europe Senior Producer Ben Gunstone – who started his career at SCi and joined Sega just as it was transitioning to third-party publishing – was instrumental in selecting UK-based Sumo Digital as the team for the job, and became the key contact between the two companies. "The choice was very difficult and I talked to many different developers," he remembers today. "In the end, Sumo had completed a port of multiplayer racing game for Codemasters to Xbox, and this experience was the clincher."
"It was a bold move," admits Mark Glossop, who worked as Sumo's internal producer on OutRun 2. "I believe it was led by Sega Europe who were looking to move more development to external development studios presumably for cost reasons; I guess it was more of a dipping a toe in the water for them. Sumo Digital was very small at the start and had less than 20 staff; despite their size, the staff and management were very experienced in the games industry and had worked together for many years at Gremlin Graphics, Gremlin Interactive and Infogrames. " Sumo had been formed when Gremlin was bought out by Infogrames, which, when faced with financial difficulties, closed their Sheffield studio. "Most of us had grown up with Nintendo and Sega through the '80s and '90s and many of us were Sega fanboys. We were also very experienced developers who had a lot of experience with networked games," adds Glossop.
Even so, it wasn't a case of Gunstone simply selecting the studio he deemed to be the right one and starting production immediately; he had to work alongside Sumo to put together a demo which would convince the higher-ups at Sega Japan – including Yu Suzuki himself – to greenlight the project. "I had to fly to Tokyo for a two-day visit to present the game, the developer and get final sign off to start development and approve using Sumo," he remembers. "That was a daunting meeting. My presentation was translated into Japanese in real-time as I spoke. Thanks to my team for international support at Sega Japan, we passed with flying colours – even if the demo did crash halfway through the presentation!" While Suzuki had a say in the selection of Sumo, both Glossop and Gunstone confirm that beyond that, he apparently had no further input into the conversion.
Equally surprising is that, while OutRun as a series was a firm favourite with Glossop and his team at Sumo – he admits that the 1986 original was one of the first arcade games he ever completed and that Sumo even got an OutRun 2 arcade cabinet for its Sheffield HQ – it would be the sequel which turned Gunstone in a believer. "I obviously knew of the arcade game and had played it, but wouldn’t have called myself a fan," he admits. "However, after producing OutRun 2 and its semi-sequel OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast, I am definitely a fan, now and always. I loved the game and played it to death during development – I used to visit the Sega arcade in Southampton to play the OutRun 2 machine just for fun."
As it happens, Gunstone's visits to that very same arcade resulted in one of the more amusing anecdotes surrounding the development of the Xbox port. "One day I had been to the pub beforehand and had a couple of pints. Another chap was playing on OutRun 2, and I offered to race him, as it was a twin sit-down machine. After I beat him, I then told him not to be too disappointed as I worked at Sega. He revealed himself to be a complete fanboy and asked me loads of questions, and me being so impressed with actually meeting a fan in real life, I duly spilt the beans on development. This nice chap then promptly told everyone on a forum in GameFAQs – he quoted his 'unnamed source' from Southampton Sega arcade! The problem is that I was the only person living there that would know, so my PR Director knew it was me! Luckily he was a good friend and tidied the problem away so I didn’t get in trouble."
Glossop was equally enamoured with the game. "I was personally blown away by it; it had a lot more depth than the original from a car-handling point of view." It also boasted incredible visuals thanks to the fact that it utilised Sega's new Chihiro arcade board, which was built on Xbox architecture. As you might imagine, this made the porting process much easier – but also meant that the game was exclusive to Microsoft's home console, a real coup for the American firm as it tried to claw away market share from Sony's PlayStation 2. "It made the port a damn sight easier," explains Glossop. "I believe we had the arcade version running on an Xbox dev kit in an afternoon, once we received the assets."
Despite handing one of its crown jewels to a relatively small studio on the other side of the world, Sega was surprisingly hands-off with the project. "The key feedback from Sega Japan was that we had to make it pixel-perfect to the arcade version, to the point where we had a stand-up arcade machine in the office and I used to regularly play that side-by-side to the Xbox version at slow speeds to check it looked the same," says Gunstone. Beyond this, the team was permitted to work relatively independently. "For the large part we only had contact with Sega Europe via Ben, whom I worked closely with," explains Glossop. "We were given all the assets and just got on with it. Sega handled the QA end of it. At the latter stages of the project we were in direct contact with an AM2 representative who made sure the game was as close as possible to the arcade version. For the last two weeks, he came to camp – literally – at the studio."
While gamers of the '80s and '90s were pleased just to be able to play reasonably faithful facsimiles of arcade hits in the comfort of their own homes, by the 2000s players had become a little more demanding. Simply porting the arcade game to the Xbox wouldn't have cut it; additional 'consumer' features would need to be added to extend the title's longevity. "One of the main things we added was a mission mode, which was quite common in racing games in those days," says Glossop. "We were fascinated by the drift mechanic, which was the real key to being good at the game, so lots of missions were based around that. We also had quite a few unlockables – we raided Sega’s archives for many of those."
One of these bonuses was the inclusion of tracks from Scud Race and Daytona USA 2, two titles which, at the time of writing, have never been ported to any home console. It was a remarkable addition to what was already shaping up to be a stellar package, and it's tempting to ask if there were any plans to port those games around the same time. Gunstone admits it wasn't on the cards. "We needed more content than just the arcade machine so we came up with the added tracks," he recalls. "I think this came as a suggestion from Sega Japan when we had asked for extra content we could add. The budget didn’t include doing more work than the port, so no consideration went into adding the other full games."
OutRun 2 also benefits from additional music supplied by acclaimed composer and long-time Sega collaborator Richard Jaques. Gunstone remains a fan of the new tunes. "I loved the music," he says. "The remixed songs from Richard are amazing. I still have a t-shirt that I got printed that says 'To Sound This Good Takes Ages' for a live performance Richard did of the OutRun 2 music."
If Gunstone had had his way, we might have gotten another extra 'treat' for hardcore Sega fans. "I really wanted the original 8-bit Sega Master System audio chime on the Sega logo on boot up," he reveals. "It transpires that Sega Japan did not want that – we were a new and modern Sega. I asked Sumo to add it in as a cheat, which they did. So after a specific button press, it played the 8-bit audio on the next bootup. Unfortunately, it worked out that it caused a memory overflow crash and it had to be removed at the very last moment!"
Released in October 2004 to widespread critical acclaim, the Xbox port of OutRun 2 marked a new phase in the life of Sumo Digital. The company had proven beyond all doubt that it possessed the technical mastery required to produce a top-tier console racing game, and has since become famous for its talent in that particular field. While Glossop never officially heard from Sega regarding its opinion of the port, he feels it must have gone down well. "I think you’ve got to assume they were impressed as it was the start of a very close relationship between Sega and Sumo. I became the ‘Sega producer’ at Sumo and we collaborated on many more conversions, such as several versions of Virtua Tennis and OutRun 2006, leading on to a few original Sonic games, such as Sonic & All-Star Racing And All-Stars Racing Transformed. You know a developer is trusted if Sega lets you do Sonic games." Gunstone, who would have been privy to internal feelings at Sega Europe, confirms that the company was indeed very pleased with the results. "From my recollection, it was classed as a 'critical success' within Sega," he says.
As had already been mentioned, OutRun 2 was followed by OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast, which broke free of Xbox hardware exclusivity and was also launched on the PlayStation 2 and Sony PSP, with Sumo once again handling the development duties. The package consisted of a conversion of OutRun 2 SP – a 2004 arcade update of the original OutRun 2 with 15 new courses to complete – and the Coast 2 Coast mode, which featured single-player challenges as well as local network and online multiplayer.
Glossop would work with Sega on a host of ports during his time at Sumo but has since left the games industry following "long hours, weekends and crunches" and now works as a library assistant on the English coast. He fondly remembers OutRun 2 as a career highlight, and points how remarkable it was that "Sega entrusted one of their most iconic brands to the hands of a small development studio, and we pulled it off." Indeed, it's worth stressing that point; while the Sumo Digital of today is a real force in the UK games development industry, back in 2004, it was a relative minnow compared to its rivals. That OutRun 2 is such a close conversion of the arcade game is testament to the talent of the company.
As for Gunstone, he left Sega in 2006 and moved to Stainless Games as Production Director, where he spent more than a decade working on titles like Carmageddon and Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers. He's still in the industry, employed as Director of Business Development for QA, localisation and technology company GlobalStep, but like Glossop, he still has very positive recollections of the making of OutRun 2 for the Xbox – and feels incredibly fortunate that he was part of the process, as it enabled him to cross off some vital bucket list challenges. "As the game was officially licenced by Ferrari, I was also lucky enough to visit the Ferrari offices and factory in Maranello twice! I love the game and loved that we could do a sequel to it, as well."
Massive thanks to the one and only Ken Barnes for supplying exclusive screenshots for this feature.
This article was originally published by purexbox.com on Tue 19th May, 2020.