WipeoutZone @ E3 2001 Report
On a fantastically sunny day in Los Angeles, the LA conference centre held host to the elite of electronic entertainment. There were hundreds of games, publishers, developers and twice as many flashing lights and banners. This time last year there weren’t this many PS2’s outside of Japan in the whole world - now they were all crammed together, showcasing the latest code from developers hoping to sell their wares to us over the coming year.
However, I was there to see one game out of the hundreds - Wipeout Fusion - a game with as much underground anticipation as GT3 has media hype.
Upon entering the daunting hall and faced with a feast for the eyes, it was difficult to place where abouts in this electric circus that I would find what I had travelled half way round the world for. Heading straight for the Sony Computer Entertainment America stand and taking in a quick tour, I was concerned to find that Wipeout Fusion was at best well hidden.
Deciding to take to a gantry above the human zoo contained in the LA Conference Centre, I used this vantage point to get my bearings on the fairly huge PlayStation stand. Over to my right was a reminder that the PS1 was still alive and kicking, while over to my left crouched the huge plastic figure of Solid Snake of Metal Gear fame - an indication that second generation titles on the PS2 would certainly be bigger and bolder.
Never mind the GT3’s, the tactical espionage whatever and the Disney licenses fighting for attention of their target group of fans - where was my favourite futuristic racing franchise? And at this point it dawned on me. Of course - this was Sony Computer Entertainment America - not Sony Computer Entertainment Europe who are producing the game at Studio Liverpool. No american marketing man would appreciate the importance of the title - it was time to go to ground and hunt it down.
After pushing instinctively through the crowd, weaving around the islands of humming consoles, I finally happened upon a solitary PS2 pushing Wipeout Fusion out into the world through single a Sony screen. Initially it looked as it had done at ECTS, eight months before in London. This time, though, the code was there for the playing - not molly cuddled away behind some closed doors while a looping video distracted the audience.
This time ’Fusion was within reaching distance.
After watching the someone luckier than myself race round a highly detailed track for a short while, I decided to play my one wild card and asked a Sony badged onlooker if he knew who Nino Ceraolo was. As Nino had contacted me via e-mail shortly before E3, I decided this was a good place to start in the search for some official information on the game. Spoiling myself by playing the game could wait a while longer.
Quite matter-of-factly the Sony badged onlooker turned and pointed at someone who was scurrying around in the background carrying more t-shirts than was possible for him to hold onto and looking pretty frantic in general - "There - that’s Nino" I was told before I stepped forward and introduced myself.
"Rob Foxx - WipeoutZone" I said and immediately felt about as stupid as someone born without a brain who had attended stupid school from an early age before going on to graduate from the Royal College of Stupidity. Why didn’t I just say "I’m absolutely no-one who runs a fan site and we worship your game - and did I mention I’ve been a complete geek since I was seven?"
Yep - other than suddenly finding that I was naked, I felt as stupid as I possibly could. For less than a second.
The instant recognition of my name and the word "WipeoutZone" sparked an infectious smile and a rush of enthusiasm from the hyperactive Nino Ceraolo. After greeting me and my girlfriend he introduced us to everyone within shouting distance from Studio Liverpool and SCEE. Some names I recognised, some I didn’t, but top of the list had to be Rob Francis - whom any AG racer worth his missiles knows as the lead designer on Wipeout Fusion.
"Here - talk to Rob - he knows the schpeel off by heart!!" Nino offered, adding "I’ll just go and find Fliss a medium t-shirt!" before darting off into the crowd. So there I was - myself, Rob Foxx from WipeoutZone with Rob Francis from Studio Liverpool.
To his credit, Rob Francis coped amazingly well with the flurry of questions I aimed in his direction. Not once did he avoid a topic or skirt around an issue. When I asked him what programming for the PS2 was like - he told me exactly what had gone on and asked what running WipeoutZone was like in return!
From the Designers Republic to Kappa, from thrusting to scraping - Rob was an open book on the subject of Wipeout Fusion. I didn’t see many other developers allowing themselves to be quizzed by the public during E3 - so for the time he gave I was entirely grateful.
Sadly my pow wow was cut short by someone immeasureably more important than me who wanted the "schpeel" as Nino had put it, however Nino himself had made a return at this point and was handing me some t-shirts in return for the attentions of Rob.
"Have you played the game yet?!" Nino enthused, and when I said I hadn’t I was ushered over to the console and was playing the game in time-trial mode before I knew it. After a couple of laps I was told I could try it with the high speed craft that had been locked away from the general public.
This was great to play - the scenery looked great and the craft was so smooth that I quickly got into that rythm of bringing down the lap times. Sadly I didn’t pay enough attention to remember a time and handed the Dual Shock back to the man in charge after about five minutes.
Rob was waiting nearby for my opinion on the game so far and I was pleased to tell him that it was looking great. I said I’d noticed the collisions were spot on with regard to the walls - no more short cuts and dreaded "turbo-scraping" - and he agreed that the latter was something he had made sure was left out of ’Fusion.
At this point the corporate guys cut in again and I bid a brief farewell to the SCEE guys in order to continue my tour of E3. Later on I would be back, though, for an exclusive interview with Nino Ceraolo.