Arcade Blogger owner (and Missile Command arcade Guinness World Champion) Tony Temple has tracked the fascinating story of what he believes could be the last functional 'Ridge Racer Full Scale' in the UK – and perhaps even the world.
Namco's Ridge Racer is one of the most iconic arcade driving games; not only did it usher in a new era of intense, texture-mapped 3D visuals, it also spawned a home console series which has sold millions. However, while much is known about the domestic exploits of Ridge Racer, one of its arcade variants was, until recently, at risk of fading from history altogether.
Back when the game was released in arcades, Namco – in collaboration with carmaker Mazda – produced Ridge Racer Full Scale, the ultimate version of the original. Not only was the action spread across a 10-foot-wide, front-projected triple screen to deliver the most immersive experience possible, but it also sat the player in a Eunos Roadster, the Japanese version of the famous Mazda MX-5 (the car was also rendered in 3D and displayed in the game itself).
The vehicle's wheel, gear stick and pedals were all fully functional, and players even had to turn the ignition key to start the car in-game. Speedometers and RPM gauges were also operational, and – to really cap off the whole experience – a set of fans blew gusts of wind on the player as they drove around the game. It was the ultimate way to play Ridge Racer.
Costing around $250,000 a pop, Ridge Racer Full Scale was never going to be produced in large numbers. Cabinets had to be built to order (Namco would visit each location and adopt the setup specifically), and spotting one in the wild was considered something of a rarity.
However, as time went on, units became less popular or stopped working, and operators had no option to dismantle and dispose of the game – an understandable move when you consider that Namco will have stopped supporting the units in terms of spare parts and repairs, and that floor space in any arcade is at a premium.
However, Full Scale isn't just of interest from a historical or physical perspective – it's also a target for those who wish to preserve game code before it's too late. The game is significantly different to the standard small-scale Ridge Racer as it features different on-screen menus, as well as the MX-5 itself as an in-game car – so it's understandable why it's such a valuable item in the realm of video game preservation.
A few years back, Tony Temple was contacted by high-score chaser Jason Newman, who had travelled to the UK seaside resort of Blackpool and was given exclusive full-day access to the only remaining operational Full Scale in the country, with the aim of setting a series of new world records.
This put in motion a series of events which led up to the unit finally being preserved – a tale which can be read in full in this exhaustive and meticulous account on Arcade Blogger – but suffice to say, it's quite the ride, involving mysterious collectors, scrapped parts and even, at one point, The National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, UK.
The short story is that the game is now thankfully safe, as Temple explains:
I’m pleased to report that earlier this year, the remains of the Ridge Racer Full Scale cabinet were collected, including the shell of the MX5. The hardware I’m told is largely complete, but the physical structure of the enclosure is not (presumably scrapped). The elusive missing graphics code has been dumped with a view to get Full Scale running fully in emulation.
What remains of the cabinet is safe and is now in the hands of someone here in the UK with the resources to rebuild this Full Scale and have it operational in the UK again. Watch this space….
We do love a happy ending! Be sure to check out the full story on Temple's site - it's quite a ride.
Did you ever get a chance to sample Ridge Racer Full Scale in the arcades when you were younger? Perhaps you were one of the last people to play it when it was still in Blackpool? Let us know with a comment below.