Wipeout did a lot of things to progress the world of video games. Aside from being a bloody fantastic futuristic racer, it was a beautiful showcase for just what videogaming in three dimensions was all about – looking not only streets ahead of its contemporaries, but in some ways like it had come from the far flung future. At a significant time of change for the industry, and the disruption caused by the onset of CD-ROM and the potential it unlocked, Wipeout was in some ways a showpiece for the future of video games. It is not an exaggeration to say that Wipeout truly ushered in the next generation of hardware.
But for me Wipeout was a far more significant video game milestone, as well as being one of the best racing games of the generation, it was the first game that broke from the traditional definition of video games into something much more. With Wipeout, Psygnosis had successfully legitimised videogames as an artistic medium.
While we all look fondly back at what video games were, often contrasting them with what they’ve become, I always felt that every part of those early games was developed with a very functional purpose in mind, that everything from the graphics to the music existed only within the game world and its influence was confined to those four walls. While it may have all had artistic merit in the real world, it was never intended to transcend the television screen and influence social or cultural trends. Indeed games were growing up alongside the enabling technology, but their influence on anything but schoolyards and retailers was limited. They had developed as an advancement of children’s entertainment – toys – and society (including those who played them) treated them as such.
That was until Wipeout came along.
There was something very different about Wipeout. Developer Psygnosis, which later became SCE Studio Liverpool, was always known for breaking new ground with the games it released, but never before had it forever redefined gamers’ expectations from the video games they played. And while Wipeout and its sequels were brilliant futuristic racers in their own rights (modern classics, really), it wasn’t in the gameplay that the developer took its greatest strides forward. In fact in many ways it was everything around it that, for me at least, made games so much more than just very pretty and very expensive toys.
Wipeout was quite simply the coolest game that I had ever seen. Everything about it oozed a sense of style that most games that had come before it could only dream of. Wipeout took the first steps toward games as art, with everything that padded the simple act of interacting with the screen, feeling like it had come from the advertising campaign for only the hippest of brands. The soundtrack alone was filled to the brim with notable electronic artists – from the Prodigy to the Chemical Brothers – and was enough to rival most film OSTs, but it was the game’s heavy focus on graphic design both inside and out of the game that made Wipeout such a unique and game-changing proposition. From the design of trackside banners in the game, to the packaging and marketing material, the designers of the game had a very consistent message to send. And Psygnosis hadn’t just thrown together polished concept art to plonk of the cover, they had notable hired guns the Designers Republic developing the look and feel of the Wipeout brand. It was a campaign with a message, and that message was that the release of Wipeout was the beginning of the future. Wipeout may not have been the first game to employ graphic design in conjunction with its art, but it was certainly the first game to put it at the front and centre of its brand identity.
While Wipeout only got better with every entry, it is the original game that stands out as being the one that had the greatest lasting impact on the way developers, but more importantly consumers, think about video games. Whether games are art or not is a pervasive one amongst those that play them, with the case only being strengthened at the end of the Playstation 2 era with games like Shadow of the Colossus capturing the hearts and minds of almost everyone that played it. But for me the moment I first saw and played Wipeout was the moment I realised that games are more than just toys, that they are mediums that can stand proudly alongside film and literature as beautifully curated displays of art. Wipeout was more than just a technical step forward, it was a serious step forward toward legitimising video games as a pastime, and one that as a brand left its mark on generation after generation of players.