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In most racing games (Mario Kart, Sega Rally, F-Zero, etc.), racers typically make some number of laps in a closed circuit. The most notable exceptions that come to mind are all arcade games, or arguably not even a racing game (Trackmania, OutRun, the Cruis'n series). Why would a designer want to build tracks as closed loops, and why is it so commonplace?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by jgallant, Vaillancourt, Almo, Kromster says support Monica, Maximus Minimus Aug 25 '16 at 6:40

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ why are looped circuits such commonplace in real races? \$\endgroup\$ – Gnemlock Aug 22 '16 at 1:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you look at Burnout 2, one of its great advances in tech was live streaming of the level. It had 2.5 minute or longer point-to-point races. \$\endgroup\$ – Almo Aug 22 '16 at 2:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Some people happen to enjoy racing in looped tracks! \$\endgroup\$ – congusbongus Aug 22 '16 at 4:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Timelord64: Because it's cheaper to build a shorter track and loop it. And also because it's convenient to have the finish line relatively close to the starting line, so that you don't have to haul the vehicles all the way back after the race. Depending on the type of race, it can also be more convenient for the audience if they can watch both the start and the finish (and most of the race in between) without having to move around. Note that none of these are major issues in a computer game (although designing a longer track does take some extra work, even if you reuse parts of the design). \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Aug 22 '16 at 10:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ @IlmariKaronen All those reasons you gave have the same core reason in common with the reason why it's used in games (apart from familiarity) - why are you looping fourty times instead of just making the race shorter? Even the exact reasons you gave are analogous between real-life and games - it's more expensive to build a long track, and spectators can't see the whole track even on most looped tracks anyway (the major exception being Nascar, AFAIK). It's also harder to make a game that can handle arbitrarily long tracks (though it's generally a "one off" cost). \$\endgroup\$ – Luaan Aug 22 '16 at 10:53
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I'm not sure about your assertion of "most" - many games like GT, DriveClub, etc, have many point-to-point races...

But there are two reasons to this:

Firstly, many real-life races are lap-based on closed circuits (Formula 1, Nascar, etc), so gameplayers might expect this as a standard.

Secondly, and from a game design point of view, putting multiple laps on a closed circuit means you can multiply the game time for less game design (a 4 lap race on a 1 mile circuit means only 1 mile of track and environment design - a 4 mile point-to-point means 4 miles of track and environment design).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also racing games are skilled based, so a looping track allows for faster iterations. It also allows to even out the odds in case of mistakes, with races becoming a sort of "best out of x laps". \$\endgroup\$ – angarg12 Aug 22 '16 at 9:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, there's Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition (awesome game for PS2) that has a race mode where you have to go through the city to reach the finish line. You can go any way you want! And that game has very few closed-loop circuits. \$\endgroup\$ – Ismael Miguel Aug 22 '16 at 10:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also you can reuse the track for different events: 1 lap, 4 laps, 100 laps... And there is less for the player to learn, the user can focus on mastering one particular turn, because they go through it numerous times. \$\endgroup\$ – njzk2 Aug 22 '16 at 14:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ In the Mario Kart games, there are hidden shortcuts that require power ups to be used. You're unlikely to be prepared on map 1 but this allows you to plan ahead to map 2 or 3, when you might have the power up necessary to take the shortcut. \$\endgroup\$ – SuperBiasedMan Aug 22 '16 at 14:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also it is fun to lap people, as opposed to being so far ahead that you're alone for the rest of the race. \$\endgroup\$ – Darcinon Aug 22 '16 at 17:28
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From a design point of view, it's advantageous for new players to learn the placement of powerups, dangers and other landmarks on the track in the first lap so they can focus more on gameplay for the remainder of the game.

The sooner the player can get through the learning phase of the game, the sooner they can start mastering the other aspects of the game.

As Bushnell's Law states: "All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master."

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In racing games, going as fast as possible is only part of the game. It would not be as interesting to race against a timer. Loops force interaction between players, as even those that are far ahead are near the others. Loops allow multiple chances to cut each other off, or to use power-ups against opponents. As an example, the banana peel item would have much more limited use on a point to point race.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ + for the probably most relevant reason. \$\endgroup\$ – Stormwind Aug 25 '16 at 12:28
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A couple answers already covered the design aspect of it pretty well (more stuff = more work).

Something that hasn't really been brought up yet is how laps measure skill. Someone did mention that it is an "endurance" sport for professional racing. This is a pretty big factor in real life; no so much video games.

The other skilled aspect of the lap system is what is important. Determining relative skill is extremely complicated. There are so many active variables that the skills between two close opponents are often not the only factor in determining victory. A big factor is variance. Not everyone is going to have their best race every time. A lap system gives a better measure of consistency by testing performance on the same track multiple times in one race.

It's like doing an measurement 3 times instead of 1 to make sure you have accurate values.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The decreased relative variance of doing 3 laps instead of 1 is due to driving three times longer. Making a point to point map three times longer would also reduce the relative variance by the same amount, so while the variance might be a good reason to have longer races, it does not provide any justification for laps. \$\endgroup\$ – Rick Aug 22 '16 at 14:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rick Not necessarily. Driving along one longer path is going to be somewhat different. When you drive along the same course 3 times you get the advantage of having just driven through it. It gives you an opportunity to improve on your last lap and make up for any mistakes. It also provides more opportunity to mess up if you happened to get lucky going around the corner the first time or something. Repeating the same test 3 times is different than running a 3x longer test (and yes, I know this is a bit of both). \$\endgroup\$ – JMac Aug 22 '16 at 15:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree completely. In both cases you give more opportunities for success and failure reducing the relative variance due to anomalous driving. However, driving the same track three times if very different from driving three new tracks. I think that should be highlighted in your answer, as the reduced variance isn't really relevant to laps or not laps but merely length. \$\endgroup\$ – Rick Aug 22 '16 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I tried to cover that with the "consistency" bit. I guess the implication I was making was you reduce the variance due to chance by making a lap system vs. a straight run. I'll edit it a bit for clarity. \$\endgroup\$ – JMac Aug 22 '16 at 15:44

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