July 21, 2024

Wade Through Films

The Ultimate Driving Machines

A Secret Event in ‘Sega Touring Car Championship’ Captured the Festive Spirit

Sega Touring Car Championship promotional art

Image: Sega

It’s 1997. Titanic is sweeping theaters all over the globe. Michael Schumacher once again makes a desperate move to protect a championship bid, except this time it doesn’t work. A children’s novel about an 11-year-old wizard releases to widespread critical and commercial acclaim and it’s impossible to imagine its author harboring deeply hateful views. On Christmas Day of that eventful year, you could also fire up your Sega Saturn for a quick hit of touring car racing, only to discover something different — special.

Night has fallen over Boom Town Circuit, and the moon hangs high over the clouds. The first corner now runs right, not left. The infield and the tops of all the buildings are blanketed in white. Deeper into the lap, you whizz by empty grandstands and majestic pine trees strewn in lights. Christmas has come to the fictional track, for one fleeting day — a day in which everyone the world over can compete for bragging rights.

This was one of three “Global Net Events” scheduled for Sega Touring Car Championship in 1997, a racing game released for the Saturn earlier that year. On certain dates in 1997 and 1998 — if your system’s clock was set properly, anyway — you’d happen upon special, limited-time races set in unusual circumstances. Completing them generated a code, which could be input on Sega’s website or sent within the game directly to Sega, if you were one of the lucky few Saturn owners with a NetLink dial-up modem that connected your console to the web. Submitting the code logged your time on a global leaderboard.

The Christmas event was a simple race around a wintry track, where players would compete for the best time. The next one, set for February 14, 1998 — Valentine’s Day — was strangely titled “Hit & Run” and tasked drivers with knocking over as many cones as possible, while also vying for fastest lap. The final Global Net Event on April Fools’ Day that same year marked yet another time trial — only this time, run in the opposite direction to the rest of the race traffic.

Today, developers can of course get much more creative when it comes to injecting a little festive spirit into their games. The last week of every year, for example, Rockstar turns the entirety of Grand Theft Auto’s open world into a veritable climate catastrophe. Compared to that, the idea of hosting a few scattered races themed around holidays is pretty quaint. In 1997, though? It must have been a neat surprise.

What makes these Global Net Events even more delightful is how they worked. Again, it was all controlled by the Saturn’s internal clock — meaning that you can, to this day, set the console’s date and time to Christmas ’97 and take part in a race around the mirrored, snowy version of Boom Town Circuit. That’s how I experienced it, probably sometime in 2009 because I would have been way too young to figure any of this out in 1997.

Technically, none of STCC’s festive content counts as “holiday DLC” then. Nothing’s really being downloaded, after all, and you didn’t even need to hook your Saturn up to the internet to post your times on Sega’s leaderboard. But when I think of gaming on a holiday, I think of Sega Touring Car Championship. This game also comes to mind when I think of epic ’90s Eurobeat. It’s not a great racer — Sega Rally and Daytona USA are much better — but what other racing game affords you the chance to drift a W202 Mercedes C-Class DTM to certified house bangers?