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WipEout: The story of the world’s first rave-inspired video game

today02/04/2024

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Burcombe was working as Lead Designer at the Liverpool game studio Psygnosis and the company had been bought by Sony to create new games for the launch of the Playstation One. Psygnosis artist, Jim Bowers, had already started work on a very early concept demo movie for a futuristic racer game when he went down the pub with Burcombe one night. “Relaying the story to Jim about my trance Mario Kart experience, he also started to get excited,” recalls Burcombe. “So we decided to put new music to his video. We opted for The Prodigy’s ‘No Good’ because of the pace of it really fitting with the action on screen.”

Another lightbulb moment began to ping and shatter inside people’s heads once they saw this marriage. “There was a shift inside the company,” says Burcombe. “Everyone understood it on a conceptual level. From that point on, we knew we needed a great soundtrack in the game. It became part of the identity and a core element of everything we were wanting to make.”

So they went to their in-house sound designer, Tim Wright. “Nick blathered out the names of bands he was listening to and they just went straight over my head,” says Wright. “I just nodded.” While Burcombe was a hardcore raver and dance head, Wright was not. “I was a lover of old school stuff like Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre,” he says. “So suddenly I was confronted with music that was coming out of the acid house era and into trance and techno vibes.”

He did his research but it left him somewhat cold. “I got a stack of Ninja Tune CDs but it was all a bit dry,” he says. “A lot of it was just filter sweeps and drops and then rises again. I was like, where’s the actual music? I really didn’t get it.”

Wright’s own epiphany came when he went clubbing with his Psygnosis workmates, who were frequent visitors to thumping underground club nights like Voodoo in Liverpool’s Le Bateau. “The last time I’d done nightclubs was when Stringfellows was big,” laughs Wright. “It took me a little while but I was like, I get it, because it’s not about listening to music, it was about feeling the music.”

Read this next: How Blackburn dominated warehouse raves in the Summer Of Love

And so Wright took his newfound connection to feeling the pulse, throb and hypnosis of dance music back to his studio. “But as I’m writing it, I’m shitting myself because it’s like oh by the way we’re also getting The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and Orbital to feature [on the soundtrack] in the game,” he recalls. “You know, these artists who have been doing it for years in this style that you’ve only just discovered and previously were either ambivalent about or kind of hated.”

He came up with a moniker for making this music, CoLD SToRAGE, and within weeks had crafted a soundtrack of high BPM trance-techno that was both melodic and glitchy, hard-edged yet immersive. A year or so later this music was being funnelled, and indelibly left, into the minds of millions of gamers and clubbers. Recent Mixmag cover star, Evian Christ, being one perfect example of an artist who has spoken of the significant role that WipEout has had in instilling his love for trance and setting him off on his own musical journey

But Psygnosis’ desire to capture the spirit and energy of dance music into a video game went way beyond just a zeitgeist soundtrack. The whole project underwent an accompanying aesthetic overhaul. They brought in The Designers Republic, a Sheffield-based company who were responsible for the design and visual output of Warp Records. “Designers Republic was the coolest graphic design house in the country,” says Burcombe.

Ian Anderson from The Designers Republic recalls Burcombe’s vision when they spoke: “It was more techno sci-fi than the then-standard metal-soundtracked Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer type imagery. We saw the whole WipEout thing as a potential playground for us to explore all the futureworld branding ideas we didn’t have the clients to use them for in the real world. We didn’t want to design the game, we wanted to create the world in which it existed.”

After they agreed to come on board, one day a fax came juddering and squawking through from Psygnosis to Designers Republic. It was their confirmed brief: “Change the way computer games look forever.”

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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