From the PS to Wipeout and Monument Valley: a history of gaming in CR

As it’s Games Week on CR, we’re delving into the magazine archives to look at how we’ve covered gaming over the years, including the design of games themselves and the at-times controversial advertising for them

The history of Creative Review maps fairly neatly onto the history of ‘video games’, as they were once known. CR began in 1980, during the so-called ‘golden age of arcade games’.

Our early years coincided with the first home consoles from the likes of Commodore and Atari, while we watched on as Nintendo, Sega, Xbox and the Sony PlayStation changed the industry, as well as prompting some of the most striking advertising of the times.

September 05 profile piece on then-TBWA Paris ECD Erik Vervroegen, the man behind many a controversial PlayStation ad
Rebirth for Sony PlayStation by TBWA/Paris, 2003
PlayStation Veteran by TBWA/Paris

Of all the consoles, we have probably covered the PlayStation the most, mainly due to a run of brilliant and at times controversial advertising in the late 90s and early 00s from TBWA, in both London and Paris.

Creative at the latter agency was headed up at the time by the Belgian Erik Vervroegen, who had the happy knack of both whipping up media frenzies and winning awards for ads such as Rebirth – in which a woman was shown apparently giving birth to an adult male gamer – and Veteran, featuring a teenage gamer turned into a grizzled old soldier due to his experiences playing shoot-em-ups. Vervroegen was also behind Doll, in which a gamer was pictured inflating a blow-up doll in the shape of the PlayStation icons.

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Sony PlayStation Nipples ad by TBWA/London
CR October 99
CR feature on the making of PlayStation Mountain from November 03

Not to be outdone in the outrage stakes (and the regular tabloid-led moral panics that followed each gaming ad in those days), TBWA London produced Nipples in which a couple’s, yes, nipples became the console’s icons.

The agency’s work was about more than cheap outrage though. The Chris Cunningham-directed spot Mental Wealth, in which a digitally-manipulated Scottish actress Fiona MacLaine encouraged us to “land on our own moon” created some of advertising’s most memorable imagery, while 2003’s Mountain was a triumph of post-production.

But capping it all was Frank Budgen’s DoubleLife, in which a soft-voiced little boy informs us that he has “conquered worlds”.

Tribute to director Frank Budgen after he passed away in 2015

Perhaps only the Xbox, with a memorable run of advertising from BBH, matched the PlayStation for the impact of its advertising, in the UK at least. For a time the two competed to be the most outrageous – with Fred & Farid’s Champagne commercial for Xbox from 2002, directed by Daniel Kleinman, a high/low point, depending on your point of view. We interviewed Fred & Farid in our November 2002 issue (see below) and Kleinman (along with the fellow founders of his production company Rattling Stick) in March 07 (also below).

No matter what you think of these campaigns’ attempts to push the boundaries of taste – and there was plenty of criticism at the time – they knew their audiences. And when was the last time you saw a commercial as memorable as DoubleLife or Champagne?

If we are looking at graphic design’s involvement with video games, it’s hard to go past Wipeout. The game identity and packaging by The Designers Republic influenced a generation of designers – including those of the recent Formula 1 rebrand. The music (from Orbital, Underworld and the Chemical Brothers) paved the way for many similar licencing deals, while the in-game ads suggested new media opportunites for brands.

Wipeout featured heavily in both our ten-year TDR retrospective piece from August 01 and Rick Poynor’s critical assessment of TDR’s influence from April 09 (after the studio had announced it had ceased trading). For 2000’s Wipeout Fusion, however, Sony went with Good Technology for the game’s design – we reported on the process in our July issue from that year.

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July 2000 piece on the design of Wipeout Fusion

Over the years we have covered gaming from every aspect, including the hardware itself (a piece on the Nintendo DS from November 08) to games designers and the process of making games themselves.

In March 2015 we interviewed Matt Prior, Creative Director of EA Sports’ FIFA series, but a personal favourite remains a 1997 visit to the making of a long-forgotten football game from Eidos called World League Soccer where we got to interview the one and only Les Ferdinand, dressed in a Lycra bodysuit decorated with ping-pong balls. Doesn’t get better than that.

Lead banner image from Johnny Hardstaff‘s 2001 film History of Gaming. Hardstaff was one of CR’s Creative Futures in 2000

Available now to all our subscribers, the CR archive features every issue of the magazine from 1980 to now. It’s a treasure trove of creativity featuring the most significant work and brands from the past four decades. Access it here

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