[In this special column, originally printed on sister editor weblog GameSetWatch, Drew Taylor talks with illustrator Neil McFarland, one of the four designers behind the artistically-driven Omega Pack for PSP racer WipEout Pure, who reminisces about his creative past and explores ideas about a more aesthetically driven future for games.]
'Passing through the mouth of Venus,' says Neil McFarland.
'Passing through, the driver is riled and beguiled by a procession of gigantic beauties,' he says to me.
The 34-year-old illustrator
is describing his contribution to what is arguably the best piece of free downloadable game content ever made.
'Gripped with paranoia and fear in the all-seeing eye tunnel,' he adds, 'blinded by Medusa, and reborn anew at the completion of each circuit.'
This should be the way all video games are reviewed. In narrative. In dialogue. In fan fiction. Using words soft as breasts that when caressed leak all over the screen or page in a myriad of colored pixels and ink. Purples. Oranges. Mauves. Crimsons. Cyans and blonds.
At the very least, it should be how the Omega Pack is described. A four track wonderland
[YouTube videos] for the futuristic PlayStation Portable racer WipEout Pure
, made free in 2005 to everyone in Europe, Australia and New Zealand as a giant suck-up, featuring the unique work of UK artists and designers. Jon Burgerman, 123Klan, Mark James, Neil McFarland.
—complete with chimpanbees, dancing sausages and sheer character design genius is the reason I download the pack; I've always been a fan. But it's Neil's Paris Hair track
that gives me the Flash Gordon moment.
A sense of flinging oneself into the void, only to become trapped in an off-world sideshow recreated from drug-induced visions of hair, melancholy and Barbarella-like pleasure tortures. An uncomfortable memory of sitting in a car with a mate (who would later become a youth pastor) as he confesses to having recently cheated on his girlfriend by fingering a woman in the very seat I'm occupying.
I never had a real job says Neil, father now to 7-week-old twins, husband to Pippanella.
Neil listing his work history as 'published comics, pornography, sold paintings, design for mobile phones, animate for TV and internet'.
'I am who I am,' he says, 'because I always drew, was left alone a lot as a child and have been exposed to some amazing people, places and chemicals'. Growing up, he says, I was inspired by comic books, 2000AD and Robert Crumb. 'I then discovered the work of Jamie Hewlett. He painted Tank Girl so beautifully, and with such energy, that from then on a strand of my own work was based on this love of the powerful female figure'.
Looking at Neil's track, at his wider body of art, I have no doubt that this is why he was approached to contribute to the project. What I'm even more confident of is the fact that the developers had no idea that the Omega Pack would completely redefine the game. Re-imagine it. Re-emotion it.
'I'd like to think that [my track] is as far from the established aesthetic of WipEout
as is possible, and that it evokes the spirit of my own work,' says Neil.
'For the gamer, I hope it's a track that's fun to play, surprising, and at times distracting to fly through. I want people to feel that they have entered into a lysergic fun fair and that [my art] has added a whole new atmosphere to this terrific game.
'[I want] to convey some kind of feeling in my work,' he says. 'I always want it to communicate more than just a design aesthetic or an editorial idea. The huge psychedelic influence on my work can come across as sadness or longing, but I think this is a by-product of trying to capture that state of mind of being “out there”, disengaged from trivial matters and contemplative.'
This is not slick, futuristic FX300 anti-gravity racing anymore. This is voyaging and voyeuring. Traversing—now with 40% more eye-shadow and uncertainty. Downloadable content that doesn't just skin, but reaches inside and rummages about with the heart and soul of a game. Rummages with hands made of loss and maturity and shame and vulnerability.
Extra costumes that turn Kratos into a banana are great. That put Lara in a Think Geek-inspired bathing costume are brilliant. Content that allows Frank West to slice and dice zombies in 10 new ways is awesome; download them all. But this is an opportunity for something more. This is DLC that is able to revision the game world. Given to an artist and re-souled. Marketplace points for a new experience. A new religion.
This is Neil's dream. Post Orange Box
and teleport gun. Post Elebits
He wants in. And not just a track.
'A first-person shooter', says Neil, spasming with inspired possibility. 'How about Half-Life? I'd turn it into some kind of pie fight or paint ball extravaganza. Ludicrous costumes and character animations, insane architecture and a wigged out soundtrack.'
This is Neil, thinking about WipeOut Pure
, imagining a new Halo
. A new Zack and Wiki, Metroid Prime, Guitar Hero 3
. Imagining a Paris Hair Mass Effect
. A mascara-filled, prehensile curl-laden World of Warcraft
Neil imagining what he'd do to a Grand Theft Auto
. Red cordial-like.
'I'd trip it out!' he says, mentally crossing speed pads. 'Round off some corners. And... Wow. I have to lie down now.
'Thinking about this makes me dizzy. I could quite happily disappear in that design job for a year or two.'
[Drew Taylor works in the games industry in Australia and writes video game culture articles for various magazines. He has never been to Paris, but would like to get his hair cut more often.]