Since the advent of arcade games, those that offered a chance at testing your racing skills have always remained a popular attraction. In the early days, the graphics left much to be desired, as you guided your dot through a track of dots without a fellow racer to be found. This all changed in 1983, with the introduction of Namco’s Pole Position. Offering state-of-the-art graphics and realistic controls, the game offered a much more realistic racing experience – and aspiring drivers lined up in droves.
Released by Atari in the United States, Pole Position was available in two varieties, the stand-up and sit-down version. Both offered a steering wheel, a two-speed gear shift and a gas pedal. The sit-down version also included a brake pedal (as if any self-respecting speed demon would ever consider using such a device). The graphics and gameplay were unlike anything previously witnessed in a racing game, offering colorful mountainous landscapes, competitive computer adversaries, and realistic dangers of crashing from bumping into other drivers and pesky road signs. Crashing into either of these led to a fiery explosion that shaved precious moments from your time. And time was a very important aspect of Pole Position.
The game began with the authoritative “Prepare to qualify” announcement. Drivers then proceeded to do one solo lap, seeking out the best possible qualifying time for the following race. Depending on how well you did determined which of the eight starting slots you earned. Of course, you wanted that #1 spot (or “pole position”) to put you ahead of the seven competitive adversaries you would face in the next race. Being out in front of the pack made for easier navigation of the course, better times and fewer collisions. If you won, you continued on to more difficult challenges.
Pole Position immediately proved itself a winner, gathering lines of people eager to empty the quarters from their pockets into this addictive and innovative game. It’s popularity led to the inevitable sequel a year later, Pole Position II. Along with slightly better graphics, this game offered four unique courses to choose from, three more than its predecessor.
Pole Position has also found success in a number of home gaming platforms, and continues to be released as a part of various “Namco Museum” compilations. And like any truly popular video game, Pole Position even earned itself a little Saturday morning cartoon representation in 1984.
If you have fond memories of getting your racing fix on with Pole Position, we’d love to hear them in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this arcade classic.