Here in Los Angeles, in the South Bay communities of Manhattan and Hermosa Beaches, there is a concrete pedestrian path that hugs the shore. Lined with multi-million dollar mansions and Mediterranean-style beach condos, "The Strand" is easily my favorite place in the whole world to go running. As I don my headphones in the early hours of the evening and begin my run under dark palm tree silhouettes, set against the backdrop of the fading Pacific sunset; it is in these moments that conscious thought and mundane stress melts away, giving way to the purity of rhythm and music.
During my runs, I feel truly grateful to be healthy and alive, and the image of sunsets and palm trees calls to mind childhood summer vacations, on a different shore, where the sun touches the sea only at dawn. On this coast, in my memory, the rushing waters of the outgoing tide echo beneath a pedestrian path of a much different sort, made not of concrete but of wooden floorboards, bleached gray and desaturated by the sun and briny ocean air. This path is lined not with mansions or palm trees, but with funhouse mirrors and roller-coasters, with miniature golf courses and water slides. It is a place filled laughter, smiles and the balmy aroma of fried dough and powdered sugar ...
... and arcades upon arcades like there was no tomorrow.
It was in this place, the Boardwalks of Ocean City, New Jersey, that my two older brothers and I, ages 10 to 15, would spend the evenings of our summer vacation in an electric feeding frenzy of pixels, color and music. Our bemused parents, welcoming the respite from their three little geeks, would sit on the benches outside, keeping a close eye on my baby brother, enjoying a cool, nocturnal ocean breeze and a slice of fresh fried pork roll on a bun with cheese.
It was during these beloved halcyon summer nights in the mid 1980s that my love for Sega games probably first started, and no game more powerfully evokes poignant memories from this magical time than Sega's arcade driving masterpiece, Out Run.
Out Run's innovative mechanical features, such as the candy-red, motorized sit-down cabinet that pivoted side to side as you drove and the force-feedback steering wheel that jerked in your hands as you crashed, supported a very tactile and uniquely immersive driving experience for its time. But it was the game's replayable, branching course structure, vivid art direction and amazing sprite scaling technology that truly distinguished it from its contemporaries: Few games offered the sense of velocity and tension as you downshifted from 290 kph and power-slid into a hairpin curve.
For me, however, the most memorable and lovable aspect of the game is easily the musical soundtrack, composed by Hiroshi "Hiro" Kawaguchi, of Sega's legendary R&D Department, AM2.
I have always loved videogame music, probably unusually so. I listen to it all the time, and it never fails to conjure impressions and feelings of people, places and moments from my younger days. The beautiful thing about game music is that it's a way to continue to derive enjoyment from a game long after you've beaten it or put it aside. Back in the 8- and 16-bit console eras, sound tests were an extremely common and welcome feature in games, and for me, half the fun of buying the game was playing it through first and experiencing the music afterward. Naturally, this worked out fine for home console games, but in order to experience the full fidelity of Out Run's music, there was just no way to get around it - you had to go to the arcade and feed it quarters.