Wipeout (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Wipeout Overlay: Looks more intestinal than intense...Wipeout Overlay: Looks more intestinal than intense...Wipeout was the first home videogame racing simulation. I know there was nothing in the arcades in 1972 with a racing theme, and I've never read anything about mainframe versions of a racing game, either. That being said, just as we saw with Invasion and Baseball, Wipeout is more boardgame than videogame.

Addressing the videogame portion first. The overlay is a stylized racetrack, reminiscent of the twisted cargo fleet's course in Submarine. The players take turns acting as the Driver and serving as the Timer. Prior to a racing phase, the Timer uses the left controller to position their light behind the clock on the left side of the overlay. The Driver uses the right controller to control the light that represents their race car. The Driver's goal is to maneuver their light around the race track. The Timer's job is to hit the reset button (on the Driver's controller!) to "serve" the BallSpot so that it comes in from the right side of the screen, crosses the screen and hits the light behind the left side clock to deflect back across the screen and off the right side again. The Timer player does this throughout the Driver's journey around the track. The Driver starts with 30 laps in their count. Every time the Timer player hits the reset button, one lap is subtracted from the lap count. If the Driver leaves the track, they lose two laps. If the Driver's light is actually hit by the Timer's BallSpot, they lose a big fat five laps! The idea is to get around the track before the lap count evaporates entirely.

So, what is the lap count for? Is it just a score? No, it's more of a dice roll... which brings us to the boardgame portion of this.

There's an off-screen game board that goes with this game! The game board supports four lanes (for up to four players) and contains Passing, No Passing and Pit Stop Zones. When the player finishes his race on the screen, he uses the number of laps left from that race to move his little car token as many spaces forward on the board's track. Stopping in a No Passing Zone prevents other players from moving past that player's car. The Pit Stops on the board calls for the use of the Pit Stop! card deck. Card messages communicate a variety of good and bad: "Good Cornering! gain 2 spaces.", "Tire Change! lose 4 spaces." or even meta-directives like "Lady Luck! Use to cancel any pit stop card you pick." By getting lucky breaks with the Pit Stops, moving forward using the earned lap counts, and blocking others with the no passing zones, players race to the end of the board's racetrack to win the game. First one in gets the win.

Wipeout Game Board: Here's the board. This was an unbelievable pain to scan and stich together! The Red Spots are Pit Stops. Could've used more of those, I think. The White Spots are No Passing zones.Wipeout Game Board: Here's the board. This was an unbelievable pain to scan and stich together! The Red Spots are Pit Stops. Could've used more of those, I think. The White Spots are No Passing zones.

I think it's important to mention that the Timer can, in essence, act as a Shooter. By engineering collisions between the Driver's light (car) and the oscillating BallSpot, the Timer could knock five laps off the Driver's count in one shot. This isn't an easy thing to do, as the rules explicitly state that the Timer's controller is not used for the game. In other words--no English manipulation allowed! The collision would have to all be in the Timer's, um, timing (or the Driver's lack thereof). In addition, the time the Timer spends "aiming" could be better spent just decrementing the lap count normally. It's definitely an alternative strategy, though its effectiveness is questionable.

Complicated? Not really. Fun? Well, surprisingly, yeah. During our playing of the game, I noticed my son (who was seven at the time) exhibiting signs of genuine enjoyment. He got very excited and jumped up and down at certain points. He was not just tolerating his old man's weird obsession with old games so he could move back as soon as possible to the GameCube.

One of the problems we did have with the game was that we really weren't hitting the Pit Stop spots as often as we'd have liked. The "random" element ("Bad Skid! Lose 2 spaces") that would add the racing flavor to the game was just not as apparent as we felt it needed to be. That's just the luck of our particular draw for that game, I guess. Maybe we could learn to time our lap counts so that we'd hit those Pit Stops more often, (if we'd ever intended to play this again).

There were two elements which I really enjoyed about the design. First: I liked that PlayerTwo and PlayerOne had to use PlayerOne's controller simultaneously. This is not a convention that took hold in the industry, fortunately, but an interesting idea regardless. It showed that these people really were trying to be be creative in a new field of entertainment without being limited by precedents. Second: I also liked the use of the BallSpot as a timer by design and as a collision device by emergent strategy. Taking the role of Timer and converting it into a racing fan gone wackjob trying to sabotage a racer strikes a dark chime with me that I enjoy.

So, comparing it to the state of the genre almost 40 years later: Racing? Yes, that's what it is designed to simulate. Timer? Sort of, you have to count BallSpot oscillations, but it's there. Collisions? Yup, but you'd have to be really good or really unlucky. Hell, you could even consider the boardgame portion as a kind of career mode tracker, if you're willing to accept the stretch. I contend that this is the Ur racing game of videogames! As a plus, we had fun with it, so it gets the point.

The Score:

Ultraman: 8, Odyssey: 12

Not sure what I'm doing next. For 1972 we only have Handball and Volleyball left. Poor planning on my part to leave two with such similar names for last.

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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I noticed that these weren't

I noticed that these weren't referenced on the Wikipedia entry for the Magnavox Odyssey, Michael, so I went ahead and did that. Also, I had to fix some of your keywords, which should always be separated by commas. I made sure to standardize everything on "chronogaming" so it's easier to reference.

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Anonymous (not verified)
Hey-- very cool article but

Hey-- very cool article but I'm curious-- what was the actual gameplay like? Responsive, twitchy, dull? What the the racing component actually like? Was there a sense that the user could improve his skills over time? THANKS!

Michael McCourt
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Joined: 01/17/2007
Hey, cool! Thanks for the

Hey, cool! Thanks for the reference on wikipedia, and for the keyword fixing. I'll check out my previous entries and try to be more consistent with them. I generally pull them off the bottom of my head, :D , but for purposes of referencing I see the reasoning!

Luke Alexander (not verified)
Cool Post!

The information are really worth reading, thanks for the share. Been blog hopping for sometime now.

Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Wow now this is something - Wipeout on the Odyssey!

A very interesting read - and an honest opinion on this game and it's still fun! That's amazing!
I just love this series, Michael!

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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