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When Your Tires Kiss the Street (Part 1)

Game:
R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
Release:
Dec 98 (JPN) / May 99 (NA) / Sept 99 (EU)
Platform:
PlayStation
Game Director:
Namco

As a designer and a human being, the Ridge Racer series has been one of the more foundational presences in my life. From games to music and design, Ridge Racer has in some way shaped my taste in all three areas. Each title in the series is a showcase of brilliant artistic talent in sound and visual design. However, none more so perhaps than the final PlayStation entry in the series: the curiously named R4: Ridge Racer Type 4. A veritable archive of visual and graphic design; the game’s UI alone is worth studying for its consistent use of very few colors, empty-space and minimalist decoration.

In establishing a universe that seemingly exists solely for the purpose of racing fictional cars around the fictional Ridge City, the developers at Namco have populated the series with a mountain of logos, icons, banners, signs, patterns, and color palettes that have become synonymous with the brand. This entry will focus specifically on the use of branding applied the race courses themselves. It is not an idea that is unique to R4, or the Ridge Racer series itself, and in future Visual Attack Formation posts, I will explore other instances of this particular design implementation.

Branding an actual race track is not an entirely foreign idea; it does have a real-world basis. Race facilities like Laguna Seca, the Nürburgring Motor Sport Complex and ACI Vallelunga Circuit all have a branded logo or logotype of some kind that identifies the location. However if anything could be said about these logos (and many automotive logos in general) is that they all have a similar look, and as a whole are not particularly evocative of an emotion or feeling (other than speed or checkered flags).

What sets the track logos apart in R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 is that they work to establish the curves, straightaways, and tunnels as very real places with a history all their own. How did Wonderhill get its name? Why is it called Shooting Hoops? Where are these places in Ridge City and how do they fit into the Ridge Racer universe?

Recreating the Logos

In this post, I will talk about 3 of the 8 total logos, the remaining five will come in a follow-up entry. The process of recreation overall was a somewhat challenging task. I am familiar with these logos after dozens of hours logged into the game itself, however for reference material I was left with almost nothing. I resorted to taking photographs of the Japanese collector’s edition manual kindly lent to me by a friend. The logos contained inside were in color and printed slightly larger than in the North American manual.

Wonderhill

Recreated Logo Reference Photo from Instruction Manual

Wonderhill is my favorite track in the game (I particularly enjoy the windmill section toward the end). It is perhaps because of this that its logo is also one my favorites.

The double s-curved lines behind the “wh” mark seem to depict a set of rolling hills, a landscape feature from which the track itself is apparently named.  Interesting to note that the lower “n” shaped part of the “h” in the “wh” mark is the same shape doubled in the “w” albeit upside-down.  This made it a relatively easy mark to recreate and seeing how many curves play into its construction was intriguing, as they seem to be a subtle visual descriptor for the many winding back-and-forth turns that occur on the track itself.

If any two colors could be used to describe R4: Ridge Racer Type 4 they would be yellow and black.  Here in the Wonderhill logo we see both colors repeated, with a purple highlight color.  I would like to think that this is perhaps in connection with the dusk/dawn time of day that Wonderhill takes place in, but it is unlikely the artistic direction runs that deep.

The typeface utilized here is Neuropol and is not an exact match;  the “e” in “Wonderhill” is either of a different typeface, or stylized for some purpose.  It is my understanding that Neuropol is a look-alike of some other typeface, but I am unsure as to what it is called.

Out of Blue

Recreated Logo Reference Photo from Instruction Manual

The mark for Out of Blue is a stylized ying-yang symbol, which given its name and location (a seaside harbor) is appropriately evocative of ocean waves. The right circle is a solid blue and the left is a subtle gradient from light blue to almost white, lending a sense of motion in fitting with the water/waves motif. The typeface of “Out of Blue” itself is Bimini, a font I identified right away from my over-use of it many (many) years ago; the bottom line is Helvetica.

Two curious things to note about this logo. One, the odd use of a gradient stroke around the shapes. Typically this technique is used to give a metallic quality, as though the two intersecting shapes are metal discs with a honed edge. Secondly, if the shapes were completed rather than cut away from one another, they would not be perfect circles. The interlocking “fingers” of each shape have a slightly increased angle (they are squeezed in) as they approach the middle. It is difficult to see in the final image, and this issue may in fact simply be a drawing error on the original designer’s part.

I particularly like the additional line at the bottom. It’s rather descriptive for something intended to be a logo/brand, but I like its quirky specificity in re-iterating the track name and giving an actual location.

Edge of the Earth

Recreated Logo Reference Photo from Instruction Manual

Out of all the logos in R4, this one is perhaps the least inspired. Utilizing a familiar waving flag concept, the name “Edge of the Earth” seems befit for a much more interesting logo. I do like the clever E and reverse-E shapes intertwined, referring to the two E-words Edge and Earth; however the use of the gradient seems a little lazy. There’s just something about its placement that doesn’t convey what the original designer was likely intending to be a waving flag.

When tracing the red reverse-E shape, I had some trouble with feeling that I had done an adequate job. Where the red reverse-E shape ends and the gradient shape begins are some truly awkward lines to draw. Taking them out of the context of the design they look poorly drawn; their angles are strange. The typeface used here (and several other of the R4 logos) is Helvetica Inserat italicized/skewed by hand.

The second part of this entry will cover the Helter Skelter, Brightest Night, Shooting Hoops, Heaven & Hell, and Phantomile logos.

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Posted in Logos, Logotypes, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4

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