Hang-On Game Comparison
Released: 1985 | Genre: Racing | Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: Arcade, SEGA SG-1000, Master System, MSX, PC-88
SEGA Hang-on was released in the arcades in 1985, and was then ported to SG-1000, Master System, MSX and PC-88. In the game, it’s a race against a timer pretty much like a lot of SEGA racers of this era. You race against computer opponents over the course of five stages.
Interestingly, the SG-1000 version was called Hang-On II, but it was a port of this original 1985 game. It is compatible with the SH-400 bike handle controller, and was the only SG-1000 game designed for it, the peripheral is compatible with Sega Master System and Sega Mega Drive (Genesis).
Yu Suzuki began development of SEGA Hang-On after deciding to design a motorcycle racing game as a way to use a torsion bar in an arcade game. With market research suggesting GP 500 racing was popular, Suzuki took inspiration from world champion Freddie Spencer and his style of racing. The game’s soundtrack was written by Hiroshi Kawaguchi, who used rock music that was uncommon in arcade games at the time.
Hang-On was very popular at launch and sold well for Sega. Several sequels were later made for arcade, as well as video game consoles. It received positive critical reception for its realism and graphics, despite some initial modesty concerns in Japan, and has been recognized as a well-remembered and influential arcade game.
SH-400 Bike Handle Controller
Suzuki Research for the game
While Suzuki was doing research for the game, he admired the riding style of Freddie Spencer. He had just become the youngest person to win a motorcycling world championship at 21 years old. According to Suzuki, “Freddie Spencer’s riding style, it was so nice. And my game was like a homage. That’s the reason I wanted to make it – Freddie Spencer, he rode a Honda bike, and I loved the way he hung on!” Two cabinet designs were made: a basic version with a handlebar and levers, and the deluxe cabinet which featured the full motorcycle to be tilted.
Suzuki had additional features he wanted to implement that could not be done due to cost, including a gyroscope to simulate motorcycle acceleration and deceleration. The title is derived from when the biker is turning and has to “hang on” to the bike while the bike is leaning, which Suzuki had read in a Japanese bike magazine. Suzuki later learned the technique was called “hang off” in North America, but he chose to keep the former name.
Hang-On was the second game to be developed by Yu Suzuki, the first being 1984’s Champion Boxing. Development of Hang-On began with a project brought to him by a colleague who asked him to implement a torsion bar into an arcade game design although the bar proved too difficult to implement in the final game design and springs were used instead.
Suzuki was given the freedom to decide what kind of game to design. As a fan of cars and motorcycles, he chose to design a game where the arcade cabinet simulated an actual motorcycle and players would have to move side to side on the motorcycle in order to turn. He also had a desire to make his game better than Pole Position. In developing the game, Suzuki wanted to make his new motorcycle racing game a realistic experience.
His initial desire was to create a 3D game, though the technology of the time made full 3D environments impossible. Instead, he specified the design of Sega’s new Super Scaler arcade system board initially known as Sega Hang-On hardware. Enhanced from the existing VCO Object system board that would utilize multiple CPUs and back end DSP compatibility to create 3D effects, while utilizing 16-bit graphics. The game achieves its 3D effects using a sprite-scaling technique.
In designing the game, Suzuki had to decide on a style of motorcycle racing for the game. Suzuki was a fan of dirt bikes, along with motocross, dirt bikes and would later be used in Suzuki’s Enduro Racer. However, Sega’s market research concluded that road-based GP 500 racing was more popular worldwide.
Certainly, SEGA Hang-On is considered well-regarded for its music, which was composed by Hiroshi Kawaguchi. He came to Suzuki’s attention after Suzuki heard he played in a band.
Also, Suzuki wanted songs for the soundtrack to Hang-On that would be like what a band would play. This led to Kawaguchi writing four songs for the game, including “Theme of Love”, the game’s theme song. Kawaguchi made use of the hardware’s PCM sampling and added drum samples to use Hang-On’s Yamaha YM2203 sound chip. To maximise potential and create a more realistic soundtrack featuring rock music, which was uncommon in arcade games at the time.
He also created the game’s sound effects. Kawaguchi did not program his own music into the game; he instead wrote out his soundtrack by hand, made a demo, and gave that to the sound programmer. He has said this was because he did not own a sequencer, and that this method was faster for him.