Mach Vision: A Bubble Era Arcade Game from Sega, Nissan, and Makoto Kobayashi

Mach Vision car design sketches by Makoto Kobayashi


In the Japanese economic bubble of the late ‘80s, seemingly anything was possible. That’s why it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that Nissan, Sega, and Makoto Kobayashi collaborated on a massive, event-only arcade game that seemingly defied the technical limitations of the era. The game in question was Mach Vision and debuted as part of Nissan’s “Super GameZ” pavilion at a Worlds Fair-like event called Communication Carnival Dream Factory ’87. As its peculiar circumstances suggest, Mach Vision was no normal arcade game.

Mach Vision was no normal video game but instead, a bunch of Outrun arcade machines rigged up to control remote control cars as they raced around an enormous, sci-fi-flavored race track. The cars and track were designed by Kobayashi and made use of tiny cameras that transmitted a driver’s eye view to players sitting in the arcade cabinets. Today drone racing and GoPro cameras are common enough that such a game doesn’t sound too impressive, but remember, this was 1987 and at the time home video cameras meant bazooka-sized rigs you put on your shoulder.

Dream Factory ’87 was, as far as I can tell, a one-time event that set up shop in two different cities (Tokyo and Osaka) during the summer of 1987. Reportedly inspired after a trip to Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, a couple of Fuji TV execs and artist Shotaro Ishinomori (Kamen Rider, Cyborg 009) set out to create an event in Japan with the same festive summer atmosphere albeit focused heavily on new media and technology. While largely unknown in the West, Dream Factory ’87 was the catalyst for a video game most fans in the English-speaking world should know well — Super Mario Bros. 2. Before being overhauled with Mario graphics for a Western release, Super Mario Bros. 2 was known as Doki Doki Panic in Japan and produced in cooperation with Fuji TV for a tie-in release with Dream Factory ’87. The game’s vaguely Arabic-inspired characters and mask motifs were pulled right from Dream Factory’s mascot characters and the Carnivale-inspired masks used heavily in promotional materials.

Mach Vision wasn’t the only game in the Super GameZ section, but judging from the information available in event guidebooks it was easily the most impressive. “Big” features of the area included the debut of Ultima IV on the Famicom, a game called Soridonia for the Famicom 3D System that doesn’t seem to have any internet presence outside of the aforementioned Dream Factory ’87 guidebook, and some sort of robot that could play the Japanese word game Shiritori. Despite the event’s focus on new media and technology, it was not exactly a lineup of heavy hitters.

Kobayashi and the Mach Vision track.

Mach Vision was the exception. Set up at 1/12 scale, the massive race track featured detailed sci-fi buildings and an animatronic bio-mechanical dragon’s head, all imbued with Kobayashi’s unique style. The cars themselves used modern racing livery but were properly sci-fi, too, with wide bodies that obscured the r/c car’s wheels and suggested that they were some sort of hovercraft. No doubt those large body shells also helped obscure the small cameras that engineers had to fit on them, too. The car designs were also reminiscent of race cars featured in a lesser-known Kobayashi mixed-media manga series called City in Labyrinth.

A Mach Vision car body.

Contemporary video suggests that attendees had to wait in lines up to three hours long for a chance to play Mach Vision and track staff kept an eye on everything via a massive bank of CRT monitors. As you’d expect, the wear and tear on the cars necessitated having a mini-workshop on-site just out of view of guests so that staff could swap out cars or bodies as needed. For the arcade heads, it’s also worth noting that the Outrun cabinets used were the deluxe motion cabinets. They didn’t bother to cover up the Outrun livery, but at least they went all-out on the hardware.

Attendees could take home their own Mach Vision race car in the form of a 1/35 scale motorized kit from Tokyo Marui. Despite a number of different liveries in the actual game, Tokyo Marui’s kit seemed to come in only one color, although it was apparently compatible with Kyosho racing parts and no doubt there was some expectation for modelers to customize it to suit their own tastes. If Tokyo Marui sounds familiar, it’s probably because today the company is best known as a major airsoft gun manufacturer.

Despite being an event-only game, Mach Vision reappeared a couple of years later with a completely overhauled appearance at Yokohama Exotic Showcase ’89. Decidedly less information is available about the game’s (presumably) final appearance, but the Yokohama Exotic Showcase ’89 (or “YES ’89” as it was abbreviated at the time) was a celebratory event to mark the 100th anniversary of the city’s constitution. This second iteration scrapped Kobayashi’s designs in favor of a race track that would have looked more appropriate in a laser tag arena. Gone were the biomechanical flourishes and sci-fi setting and in its place was a lot of day-glow shapes and arrows. But hey, at least they covered up the Outrun livery on the cabinets.

Oh, and it might have inspired this Gran Turismo kart track?