At the age of around 12, I was lucky to have a sort of pocket-money job working at a small computer shop called Wizzy-Wig Computers in Exeter. The somewhat eccentric owner, Andy let me hang around the shop doing little bits of work like tidying up second hand games or installing things like Microsoft Works on big old IBM AT computers. It was probably the place I first learned the most about PCs, and certainly the place where I discovered demoscene productions via Public Domain floppy discs.

One of the treats for me at the end of the day was stopping by the local arcade in Fore Street Exeter, and playing Ridge Racer in a sit-down cabinet. This place was mildly intimidating for me – it was the beginning of the era where arcade games were being supplanted by more and more fruit machines, naturally attracting gambling types who did seem quite dodgy at the time. Gamer types themselves probably saw me as a bit of a brat, but it was worth braving the cigarette smoke and unwelcoming looks for a blast on Ridge Racer.

Ridge Racer Arcade Machine

Ridge Racer Arcade Machine

50p would get me around 6 minutes of gameplay on this beast – it was so expensive at the time but the game itself was exhilarating – the bold colours, the 60 frames per second display, 6-shift gear mechanism and the pumping rave soundtrack. I’ve never been very good at games but I always liked to play Novice or Advanced with the ridiculous Rotterdam Nation track on. Being young I did worry that all the noise would annoy someone nearby – I suppose it added to the adrenaline!

So, the ’90s continued on and Ridge Racer saw home releases on the PlayStation & N64, then in the 2000s the series continued with releases on PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo DS and Xbox 360 – and the last true Ridge Racer was Ridge Racer 7 on the Playstation 3 (Ridge Racer Unbounded does not count at all!).

I pretty much bought my Xbox 360 for Ridge Racer 6 (well, and Grand Theft Auto while it wasn’t released on PC). The PSP had two Ridge Racer games released entitled “Ridge Racer” and “Ridge Racer 2” which were based around the Ridge Racer 6 era with the annoying announcer and nitro charges.

I’ve long since sold my Xbox 360 and PSP due to my need to travel light, and with my weenie i3 laptop it’s quite difficult to get my fix of Ridge Racer (certainly in the modern form). By all means you can run the classic Ridge Racer games (Ridge Racer, Ridge Racer Revolution and Ridge Racer: Type 4) under a PlayStation emulator pretty well. My system isn’t powerful enough to run Ridge Racer 5 under emulation (PlayStation 2), but I’ve been following with some enthusiasm the development of PPSSPP – an Open-Source PlayStation Portable emulator.

In the space of a few months this emulator has had incremental but significant developments. As of February, Ridge Racer had many issues including the soundtrack cutting out after one second, no introduction or prizegiving video playback, certain sounds not playing at all, cars appearing through the tracks and various sound distortions. All of these have been pretty much been eliminated and a reasonably serviceable game of Ridge Racer 1 or 2 can be played under emulation.

The only outstanding issues are around visual fidelity, you have to disable a feature called Buffered Rendering which leads to compromises with visual accuracy – some of the polish is missing from the games like car reflections and post-production shader effects like blurring when a nitro is activated.

There’s also the issue of no rear-view  mirror which can prove painful on the later harder levels where you need to block passing cars – but I’m so impressed with how far this has come and anticipate that within the next few months the game will be completely playable and accurate.

Note: This video does not contain the original Ridge Racer 2 Soundtrack!

It certainly has been a joy to observe the development of the PPSSPP emulator. Every day, a handful of code modifications and fixes are submitted to the main developer (Henrik Rydgård), and once approved the emulator is compiled regularly for testing purposes. I’ve been checking in most days to see what new changes have been applied and to see the dedicated efforts of reverse-engineering enthusiasts with real visible and audible results is fascinating.

This certainly isn’t a new concept by any means, but with a game that has been a mainstay for me for a long time, it is great to see that my nostalgia can be indulged without too much trouble. Thank you Henrik and co! 🙂