Best Games - Wipeout
The swirly, nature inspired, art nouveau in the early 1900s gave way to the more architectural and defined art deco of the 1920s and 30s. The psychedelic designs of the 60s and 70s provided a framework for the more angular, dimensional design of the 80s and 90s. The design of Wipeout fed directly off of the increasingly digital, splashy, design in the early 90s but leapfrogged into the future. The graphic design of this hovercraft racing game from 1995, when most games were still trying to evoke some aspect of grunge rock or gangsta rap culture, laid out a visual language roadmap for the next 20 years.
Shapes composed of parallel lines and strokes of a consistent thickness. Solid, vibrant color and smoothly radiused corners. This is the design language of modern technology. This is the language that defines the icons and controls on the computer, phone, or tablet you are reading this on right now. This was the same language used to represent fictional racing teams Feisar and Qirex and Auricom in 1995. Prescient, influential, or both Wipeout is pure, distilled graphic design from top to bottom.
It helps that Wipeout is a fantastic racing game. It combines the slippery speed of rocket powered hover ships with an on-track combat mechanic similar to Mario Kart. The game plays great and feels faster and more demanding than most other games of it’s era. That isn’t why Wipeout is important. That isn’t why it still resonates. It’s the visual design that endures.
Wipeout was made to feel, sound, and look like the future. That future, at least visually, became our present. Even if you have never played Wipeout you can see it’s influence all around you.
Now, knowing that, it makes you wonder what aesthetic being developed right now for some piece of pop culture will send its waves out into the future.
Wipeout is graphic design condensed into video game form, and it is one of the best games.
We have a concept around these parts called ‘good stupid’. More to the point, stupid exists on a gradient between ‘bad stupid’ and ‘good stupid’. I’m not referring to people here. I’m not using stupid as an insult. Good and bad stupid are almost exclusively used to describe movies or games or music. Entertainment.
As an example, Pacific Rim is good stupid. Bright is bad stupid. The difference between these two movies is how aware they are that their basic premise is nonsense. While the characters in Pacific Rim don’t appear to be aware that everything happening around them is silly, the movie constantly winks and nods at the audience. The creators are aware of how stupid it is and they lean into that stupid in fun ways. Bright presents itself as a veiled social commentary but can’t help stepping on itself in the process. It doesn’t seem to know how stupid it is.
There is a gag in Bright where the human character played by Will Smith calls an Orc character ‘Shrek lookin’. This is a world where Orcs exists and, seemingly, have existed for thousands of years. Shrek is a CG animated movie about an Ogre. CG animated would mean that Shrek had to be a movie made in the very recent past in that world. Not only is it horrific to consider that people made a movie like Shrek in that world, having a main character use it as a joke is almost inexcusable. As an audience we are given a lot to consider in that moment. It’s not really a joke, but one of the main characters, a man who is supposed to be on a redemptive arc, being hateful and cruel. As soon as you think about it, the movie and the character never recover. The internal logic of the ‘stupid’ movie crumbles and the only conclusion you can come to is that the creators really didn’t know what it was they were making. Bad stupid.
That is a particularly blatant example of bad stupid. For bad stupid of the more careless rather than thoughtless variety you can always look to the Transformers movies. The Transformers as a concept is pretty stupid, giant robots that hide as vehicles and structures even though the people of earth they are hiding from pose absolutely zero threat to them. Or maybe they are hiding from each other, except they why bother changing shape when they could easily hide underground or in the ocean. The cartoons and comics understood how stupid it was and offered this option: giant robots are cool, cars and jets are cool. Want to see a robot that turns into a car or a jet? Yeah? Want to see them fight? Okay. And now everything else that these giant robots do from here on out will absolutely not point out how ridiculous this concept is. That’s what we would call ‘good stupid’.
The Transformers movies forget all of that, sideline the Transformers as secondary characters and comic relief in a movie named after them and consist of action set pieces that don’t link in any logical way. Bad Stupid.
Due to the limitations of the medium, up until a few years ago video games have almost all existed in the realm of ‘good stupid’. Why is Mario running from left to right. Doesn’t matter. No effort is ever made to explain or expand on that. If anything, the narrative drive of attempting to rescue a princess weakens the game. Running and jumping is why you play that game. You could just as easily have made the end goal of each level collecting all of the ingredients for a really good salad. That’s the kind of silly I can really go for. For the most part, it’s ‘good stupid’.
‘Good Stupid’ in games isn’t anti-narrative though. A game like Dream Daddy where you play as a dad dating other dads presents a weird idealised world of pleasant characters and uncomplicated sexuality. The world is absurd, but through that lens the creators tell stories about unconditional love within families and interactions between people just searching for companionship and sharing joy in their lives. The premise is silly, but very much ‘good stupid’
With the technology of games improving, there will always be this drive to strive for realism or grit or accuracy. The systems and method of interaction with video games is still pretty ridiculous. Pressing buttons on a controller is not like jumping and selecting items from a menu is nothing like actually talking to a person. Until we come up with something better video games will remain pretty silly. I say lean into it. Better to be ‘good stupid’ than ‘bad stupid’.
I don’t title any of these posts. I don’t title any of the stories I have written and posted here. I realize that can be a bit annoying if anyone was trying to find a particular post. You can search for strings in the search bar that sits just up and to the right on the desktop version of the site. The string “Best Games” will, for example, return every post in the “Best Games” series where I examine why a specific game is good or important.
I posted most of the stories in parts. I would work on them, post what was done, edit, append, and repost them over and over until they were complete. Searching for those might be a little tricky.
Since I now have 6 short stories and 2 more in the works, I thought I should organize a bit. The menu now includes a new dropdown that has all the completed stories and the unfinished one that is the furthest along. You are welcome to read any of them, but the unfinished ones will be in a constant state of chaos and awful sentence structure. So, you know, fair warning.
I won’t post the stories here anymore, but I will post links and updates as they progress and take shape.
I will still be writing a new post for the front of the blog every monday, but some of them might just be a link to updates and progress over on one of the story pages.
So I wrote a few more pages in the longer story I have been working on thinking that this new stuff would directly follow the stuff that I have already posted. Of course it’s not nearly that simple. I immediately discovered that this new stuff needs something, probably only a couple more pages, to bridge to the previous stuff. Right now it’s all just a bunch of disconnected stuff.
When I was writing the super short 1-5 page stories I could do that pretty easily. I could write a line or a scene that comes in the middle or near the end of the story and then fill in the gaps. I quickly found that I usually didn’t know what those gaps had to be until I had defined their shape with scenes before and after, or even off to the side of them.
It’s probably unsurprising that I tend to think of stories as collections of scenes, since pretty much all of my storytelling experience comes from visual media - stage, film, etc. Because of that I also tend to think about all of it in terms of editing, the film kind not the literary kind. The stories I put together in my head are shot out of order and reassembled in post.
There are probably better ways to write stories, but those are all the tools I have in my box, and until I gather some new ones I think these are the tools I will have to make use of.
I could post up a bunch of disconnected scenes, but I don’t think that would be very entertaining to read. Also, some of the unassembled islands of ‘stuff’ are from very late in the story and that would be pretty spoilery. For me at least, writing non-linearly works well. Reading non-linearly remains a poor experience.
Here is what I think I will do. Every once in a while I will drop very large chunks of story on a separate page that I will link from one of these posts. That way the story can live on its own over there as an incomplete, but readable, piece that you can check in on from time to time. If that is something you are interested in.