Monday, June 9, 2014

The Car Tangent, part 13...

The popular social game Cartown is built around caricatured versions of real cars. Both production and race style cars are featured in the game for players to collect, customize, tune and race. The proportions used for the car models are a careful balance of Japanese and Western aesthetics. The large wheels and compact frames make them look like a marriage between Choro-Q and Pixar's Cars. The makes and models, all based on real-world rides are easy to make out despite all of the exaggerated scales. To add a sense of legitimacy the company that made Cartown even partnered up with the Car and Driver magazine.

The proportions on the Cartown models looked amazing. Players enjoyed the collecting and customizing aspect of the game but were eager to see how those vehicles would behave in a racing title as well. The closest non Choro-Q title to test the amazing little rides was a short lived racing MMO that never got past the Beta stage.

Scott Robertson, a teacher and master of design, had done a lot of work in the entertainment industry. He was tapped to create a series of cars for an action racing game. The cars would not be based on any actual production models but they would hint at contemporary muscle cars and exotics. They would have the exaggerated proportions featured in Cartown and would actually push the scale between the wheels and bodies even further. The plan from the developer was to sell collectible expansion cards that would allow players to upgrade their cars. Engines, wings, body kits, tires and bottles of nitrous would be randomly inserted into packs. The concept was good and the designs of the cars was rock solid but the game never got out of the beta-testing stages.

Real cars and even cartoon cars can be aesthetically pleasing, even to art critics. A great car can be likened to the ultimate symbol of form and function. Hundreds of patents in technology and thousands of individual components are brought together to work seamlessly as a machine designed for transportation. All of the elements are added up to become something more than the sum of their parts. The contours of certain cars, especially older Italian cars are not unlike classical sculptures. When combined with a bold paint job and polished chrome then they can appear like rolling works of art. Animated versions of these vehicles can have as much personality as any actor. The Pixar Cars film could attest to that.

Even fictional vehicles, like those designed by Mr. Robertson could hold their own against actual production models. The best designers in entertainment could be as influential to vehicle design as those working in the car industry. The work of top level designers could even rival, and in some areas exceed the wildest concept designs. The godfather of modern science fiction design Syd Mead proved that in the 1982 film TRON. His Light Cycles completely changed the way people thought about motocycles and vehicle design altogether.

Many years later a younger master of design named Daniel Simon came along and helped re-imagine the Light Cycle for Tron Legacy. All of the vehicles that were featured in the film were bold statements in design. Mr. Simon had accomplished the same visual spectacle that that Mr. Mead had given audiences a generation earlier. Designers like Robertson, Mead and Simon were not simply talented artists. They all had respect for their subject matter and a knowledge as to how the vehicles operated under the hood. They wanted to present vehicles that audiences would accept as functional in whatever time frame or universe they were set in. Mr. Simon in particular had actually worked for Volkswagen, Bugatti, Le Mans and Formula-1 race teams. He certainly had more credit than the person that Pontiac hired to redo the GTO in 1999. These professional designers would help shape every aspect of the entertainment industry. The next entry in this series will explore their contribution to gaming.

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