Margaret Robertson

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What’s your favourite console ever? Mine’s grey, regular in shape, weighs about three pounds. Graphically, it’s a bit underpowered by modern standards – great colours, lousy detail – but it’s got a killer game library. The one I’ve got is showing its age a bit, but it’s still my most precious possession in the whole world.

It isn’t, as you’ve already guessed, the Dreamcast. It’s my brain. My spongey, stupid, sloppy, saturated brain. The thing that makes it the best console ever made is that it’s 100% compatible. It’s like the ultimate emulator. Using it, I can replay ever game I’ve ever played. I can even, thanks to its remarkable ‘Imagination’ engine (watch Sony nick that for PS4), play games that haven’t even been made yet. It’s portable, never needs batteries, never needs upgrading, boots instantaneously. There are no carts to lose, no discs to scratch, no controller wires to unsnarl.

The last thing I played on it was Wipeout, which I dug out last night when I couldn’t sleep thanks to a head full of rather shampoo-y white wine and a three hour argument about the future of game distribution. Proper Wipeout, mind. Original, clunky, exacting Wipeout. Nearly 15 years on, it plays as well in my mind as it used to on my trusty 14″ Trinitron. I can still nail the boost start every time, still feel the flow and flex of every camber and turn as I loop endlessly under the specked ink of Altima’s sky. Some insomniacs count sheep; I count zip pads.

It’s long been a defence of books that they leave so much to the imagination, and a criticism of games – especially modern games – that they don’t. It’s never been an argument I’ve had much of a feel for. I’m not someone who pictures the people and places I read about, but I am someone whose mind fills in the gaps left by games.


I can tell you what the early evening air smells like on Ragol. I can tell you how it feels to let the surf wash over your dusty, bloodied boots as you pause in your pursuit of the Silent Cartographer.

Games have always been a jumping off point for imaginative projects – for fan fiction and illustrations, for mods and clones and day-dreams. They’re the perfect raw material for the liminal state between exhaustion and sleeplessness. Vivid, familiar terrain, full of patterns and loops and repeats. It only took me a few laps of Altima before I dropped off, soothed and satisfied. Imagination is the great liberator of games – a way to get the camera to go where the game won’t let it. To float free and own the game world as fully as you’ve always wanted.

Of course, that freedom is also a danger. I went back to Altima for real this afternoon, courtesy of a quick PS3 download. Stretched across a giant plasma, it loses remarkably little, despite being only a button-press or two away from the gleaming majesty of Wipeout HD. The sounds that issue forth from the TV are the perfect match for the ones that echoed in my memory last night. Every loop of the track is still fresh and clear in my mind.


But, as my hands close on the controller, thumbs tightening though pure muscle memory, I fluff the boost start. And again. Again and again and again. Before I make it to the first corner, I’m already slaloming like drugged elephant from one crash barrier to the next. I can’t count the zip pads because I can’t hit the damn things, not a single one. Reality doesn’t so much bite as devour me whole and drown me in acid.


And it’s this, if nothing else, that means my brain is remains my favourite console. It means I end each day a conquering hero who lands every jump, nails every start, and pulls off every combo, regardless what would have happened if I were playing for real. It enriches my imagination with the imaginations of thousands of game creators, and enriches a thousand of their creations with my own imaginings. Perfect, somnolent synergy.

For the record, though, my favourite real console ever actually is the Dreamcast. Which, for its grey blockiness, its wonderful colours and its killer game library, I love just as much as I love the PS2, SNES, 360, DS, GBA, Neo Geo, PC Engine, PlayStation, Game Boy and N64 for all the things that made them the best consoles ever, too. Because, plainly and truly, they are the stuff that dreams are made of.

[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can’t stop going back to.]

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  1. Somehow a promo copy of Wipeout XL the soundtrack made its way into my CD collection, though I’ve never played the game. A lot of mid-nineties techno by the likes of Orbital, the Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Prodigy, etc. Not my taste now, but one heckuva noise for a 16 year old to learn how to drive to.

  2. was probably one of the best songs in the series, its the one for Track 5 of the PS1 version

  3. I agree completely, games can stimulate imagination as much as anything else, and that´s why we love them.

    You nailed the question with the phrase “I fill in the gaps left by games”. Sure, they can directly show you a base on mars overrun by demons, with (in this case, gory) graphics, but there are plenty of details your own mind adds to the experience that makes it unique.

    At the very least, the motivations of your character are enriched, when not directly provided, by one´s mind (and often looks, voice, background, everything). My brain automatically makes up stories about what is happening to my people in a godgame or strategy game, and it´s essential part of the fun.

  4. I think WipeOut XL might be one of my top 5 games of all times.. Of course I had the pc version, which is about as buggy as all get out. Thanks to the lack of 3d tech at the time of release the “timing loop” is a bit lax and it doesn’t really play on anything remotely modern…

    Someone should open source the code and get the community to rebuild it. Much like Star Control 2 and Descent Freespace… (Also terrific games).

    The XL soundtrack is slightly different than what shipped with the PS version of the game… Both excellent IMHO.

  5. Don’t forget about Wipeout beta in the movie Hackers. Or that Wipeout XL, as far as I know, was the first media blitz of the Red Bull energy drink. I remember me buying the drink in efforts to “Improve Reaction Time.” I’m not sure if it worked but it made the Piranha car on Phantom more manageable.

  6. Once you’ve gotten good at WipeOut it’s REALLY hard to play the lower levels. All your reflexes are tuned for high speed. If as, bcsizemo asserts, the timing loops are off then it would be pretty hard.

    I’ve considered picking up a PSP and borrowing a PS3 just to play those versions. Otherwise I’ve played them all up through wip3out.

  7. Oh it’s just not a timing thing like reaction. Though I never could make gold in the last bonus level…

    On my old K6-233 system with an orginal ATI All-in-Wonder AND Voodoo 2 system it would play…but only using the ATI card. The Voodoo 2 could easily do the 640×480 setting, but on low detail areas (like down straight aways) the FPS and game speed would jump to 1.5-2 times normal speed. Then in the curves you would go back to normal. This affected all aspects of the game, which made it pretty impossible to play.

    I’ve seen some stuff that you can get timing programs that “slow” down older games and make them playable on new hardware. Never tried it, but it “might” work…. I still think releasing the source for Wipeout and XL would be a nice thing to do.

  8. One of my favorite games ever. I’d like to point out that Wipeout was one of the first games where the visuals were created by a graphic design agency (the sadly now-defunct, but amazing Designers Republic). They basically branded the Wipeout universe, and it looks still looks fresh.

  9. bonuswavepilot

    It’s lovely to be able to revisit the pixelised virtual lands of one’s youth. I also feel a strange sense of cameraderie to know that there is a whole generation of others who know the graph-paper plottings of Dungeon Master’s halls or the precise position and angle to lurk in ambush in Gravity Force II.
    Even those lands which had to be walked alone like aforementioned DM, Populous, Another World, and so on; even here the shared rite of having encountered them, perhaps having beaten them, means having had them leave their own pattern of metaphorical tribal scars.
    If your eyes don’t light up at the mention of certain Amiga titles, then you aren’t from *my* village. ;)=

  10. Pingback: One More Go: God Hand, or why hardcore games ring my bell | VENUS PATROL

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