The inspiration behind the development of OutRun was born out of two things. The first was to overturn Namco, the developer (at the time) of the hugely successful Pole Position and a company synonymous with racing titles, to make Sega Japan's leading manufacturer of racing games. The second, surprisingly, was Yu Suzuki's love of the Burt Reynolds movie Cannonball Run. Suzuki states "The main impetus behind OutRun's creation was my love of a film called Cannonball Run. I thought it would be good to make a game like that."
Suzuki took the development process very seriously and wanted to visit the locations where the courses and levels of his game would pass through. The film Cannonball Run is a pan-American road-race and Suzuki made plans to follow the same course and collect photographic, video and audio data along the way. However, he quickly realized there was a problem:
"The film crosses America, so I made a plan to follow the same course and collect data as I went. But I realized, once I'd arranged everything, that the scenery along the course actually doesn't change very much so I revised my plan and decided to collect data in Europe instead..."
OutRun departed significantly from Namco's popular Pole Position formula. This is most significant in how OutRun moved the setting away from the racing circuits towards the streets, with oncoming traffic, making it the first true street racing game, paving the way for modern street racers such as Need For Speed and Burnout.
There were four versions of the OutRun arcade cabinet, Deluxe and Standard moving models, an upright with a force-feedback wheel and a cockpit version without any movement.
The early classic Arcade machine for OutRun, featured force-feedback. If the side of a wall was hit the player would get a slight jolt, but completely wipe out and reveal the mistake to everyone else present. The rumble brought a sense of immersion that most other arcade games lacked at the time.
OutRun also featured a unique way to play through the game. At the end of each area (or checkpoint) the road would fork left and right. The way the player chose to go would decide if the next track is more difficult or less difficult. Some areas and paths were much more difficult than others, so it is best to choose wisely. Each path features different endings, most of which are often humorous.
Out Run was the first racing game to introduce the use of gradients, with the car climbing uphill and downhill along the course. The camera angle through which the player views the car was also significantly lower than other racing games, with a more over-the-shoulder viewpoint directly behind the car, giving it the feel of being in a car where the driver cannot see what is above or below a certain gradient, thus keeping the players always on their toes and bringing more excitement to the gameplay. The game was praised for these innovations.
The game's main competitor in 1986 was rival Konami's more traditional WEC Le Mans, which was initially the favourite at the time for its more sophisticated hydraulic cabinet. It was OutRun, however, which went on to become the much more popular game, selling more than 20,000 arcade cabinets worldwide, for hundreds of millions of dollars, along with ports to numerous home platforms.