If I had to single out one game that has had the most profound impact on me merely in terms of visuals, I’d say Daytona USA by Sega back in 1993 when I saw it at the local arcade for the first time. I was 13 years old, and to describe the experience as religious to some extent isn’t that far-fetched. It rocked my world and irreversibly changed the way I perceive real-time imagery.
What I didn’t realize back then was the fact that Daytona USA represented the first title of so-called Model 2 lineup of games, many of which would follow more or less the success of Daytona USA. Model 2 was the first arcade system board by Sega which used filtered texture mapping to provide speed and detail never seen before in a mainstream real-time imagery. That meant the team behind Daytona USA had to consider texturing as an integral part of creative process for the first time. And it shows.
There is, in my mind, this carefree, even childish, sentiment towards texturing, in a sense that the texturing is more stylistic than realistic. Granted, the visual design of that era of games at large was generally more grounded in visual styles than a striving for photo-realism due to technical limitations which were compensated with immense artistic license. Still, considering the context of the game, which resembles real-life stock car racing, the texturing was perhaps more stylistic and fantastical than would’ve been technically necessary. In short, Daytona USA could’ve looked more (photo) real than it did.
For instance, the foliage textures are not only unrealistically inconsistent in terms of hue throughout the game, but far too bright and colorful to be taken as credible representations of vegetation – even by the 1993 standards. The next major Model 2 game, Sega Rally, released a year after was already far more coherent and convincing what comes to visual realism through texturing, which underlines the fact that the fantastic and stylistic nature of Daytona USA wasn’t something made out of technological reasons but by design (deliberately or not).
There are yet other examples of this rather creative and laid-back nature of texturing, such as the cliffs that look like moon surface in the Beginners Circuit, the yellow strobo-lights in the Advanced Circuit’s tunnel, and the surveillance monitor passageway in the Expert Circuit, to name but a few.
In the end, I believe the overall design of the textures in Daytona USA came down to two main factors.
The first factor, as hinted earlier, was the inexperience of the team, which manifested as lack of proper art direction in terms of visual consistency. It seems like each member of the texturing team designed their own subset of textures without seeing each other’s work until the end.
The second factor – and remember, this is me speculating – has to do with the technology itself, in a sense that back in 1993 when Daytona USA came out real-time textures, let alone filtered ones, were a subject of amazement in themselves, meaning basically any design would’ve been somewhat remarkable. So, I guess it was expected to see the developer to go a little crazy with the designs, which in fact happens with just about any novel technology that comes along.
But regardless of everything, I find the look of Daytona USA extremely charming in all its incoherence, even today. In addition, I really liked the Sega’s overall vision back in the 90s of one virtual parallel universe that its arcade games supposedly shared, at which heart Daytona USA undeniably was.