Friday, February 3, 2023

Ayrton Senna and SEGA Games

Called Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II, the title released in 1992, appropriately, Senna is listed as a supervisor in the credits.

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The original Super Monaco GP is a really beautiful game, in that it arrived at the peak of Sega’s sprite-scaling supremacy. Before the days when 3D polygonal games were possible, Sega mastered the art of layering, rotating and scaling a high quantity of 2D graphics with such speed that it created the illusion of perspective. Think Out Run, but with an even more dizzying barrage of visual information. Super Monaco GP also had that eye-catching cabinet, styled to look like a McLaren Formula 1 chassis from the time. Sega eventually brought Super Monaco GP home to consoles like the Genesis/Mega Drive and Master System, though of course, these ports were incapable of replicating the spectacle of the arcade edition. The home releases were nevertheless successful enough to spawn a sequel — this time buoyed by an endorsement from the sport’s biggest name.

Sega trophy from Donington 93

As it turns out, Tectoy, a Brazilian importer of Sega products, asked Sega if it’d consider working with the then two-time champion. Senna was a star all over the world of course, but especially in Japan, so Sega didn’t need much convincing. However, rather than merely plastering his name and face on the box art as it had done with so many other athletes, Senna actively cooperated with Sega to improve the driving simulation.

The driver reportedly explained to the programmers how an F1 car should react over curbs, and offered feedback on the sense of speed. Players would receive tips written by Senna himself before visiting famous tracks, like Spa-Francorchamps and Hockenheim, and were able to drive three fictional circuit designs he contributed to the game.

Called Ayrton Senna’s Super Monaco GP II, the title released in 1992; appropriately, Senna is listed as a supervisor in the credits. (In a very strange coincidence, the following year Sega gained a new executive who would later lead the company, named Shoichiro Irimajiri. Irimajiri’s name will be familiar to any fan of two- or four-wheel Hondas — he designed the CBX as well as engines for Honda’s Formula 1 and Grand Prix motorcycle racing programs in the ’60s and ’70s.)

Nearly a year after Super Monaco GP II’s release, Senna went on to deliver one of the best performances of his career in the infamously rain-stricken 1993 European Grand Prix at Donington, passing his way from fifth to first within the first lap. Sega happened to be the title sponsor for this race, as if you couldn’t tell by the copious white-and-blue billboards encircling the track. Sega was also one of Williams’ main sponsors that year, reflected in a cute nod to Sonic the Hedgehog on the sides of the footwells of Alain Prost and Damon Hill’s cars.

A year later, Senna was gone. But he’d get one more Sega release bearing his namesake, exclusively sold in Japan in 1995 for the Saturn console. Called Ayrton Senna Personal Talk: Message for the Future, this is less a game and more just a disc of English-language interviews, preserved only in audio form, while still images of Senna flash above with Japanese subtitles overlaid. The interviews themselves span 1987 to 1993, and some are so overrun with static that it’s difficult to make out the dialogue at times. It’s a strange and surreal release by today’s standards, though totally fitting for optical media at the time, and speaks to Japan’s admiration for the legendary driver. The disc includes three hours of interviews in total, where Senna speaks on a wide range of topics — from racing to spirituality, to how he stays motivated. At one point, he even theorizes as to how Brazil and Japan could learn from each other politically and socially.

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