The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

« Previous Post | Technology Home | Next Post »

Giant Robot Scion xB art car is a video-game console on wheels

November 26, 2010 | 12:00 pm

Pop the tailgate on the Giant Robot Scion xB and you can play Super Mario Bros. or Mega Man.

Or, if you'd like, lean into the driver's seat and play Return of the Quack, a game about a duck ... sitting on top of another duck ... shooting flying Fudgsicles and broccoli out of a yellow sky.

This isn't the same xB you'll find in Scion showrooms or even the L.A. Auto Show.

GRxB06 This xB is one-of-a-kind and built to the specifications of Eric Nakamura, a video-game lover and publisher of Giant Robot magazine.

And the car, which took about three months and more than $30,000 to build, is a video-game console on wheels.

The headlights and the reverse light on the rear bumper have built-in projectors to shine video games onto walls the car is parked near.

In the trunk, a Nintendo Wii and a vintage 1980s Nintendo Famicom (the Japanese version of the U.S.' Nintendo Entertainment System) are installed powering the images projected from the xB at either end.

The seat belt buckles are topped with controllers, the shift knob is a joystick and the car starts not with a key but rather with an old Nintendo video-game cartridge.

Scion, Toyota's offshoot company aimed at selling cars to younger buyers, builds a couple of custom cars designed with input from people outside the automotive industry each year.

Last year, for the L.A. Auto Show, Scion showed off an xD designed by the operators of the Kogi Korean BBQ food truck.

The custom cars are a marketing scheme for Scion, but the projects also give folks like Nakamura the chance to do something they otherwise might never be able to do.

GRxB04 "Designing a car, a real car, from beginning to end is just something you don't get a chance to do," Nakamura said. "So I figure this is one of those opportunities you just got to grab 'cause I don't think we'll have other car companies calling me any time soon saying, 'Can you design a car for me?'

"This might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, you know?"

Scion approached Nakamura about the collaboration, based on any theme he wanted.

The choice was easy, he said, given his lifelong affinity for video games.

The white-and-gray paint scheme on the custom xB, rimmed with a red body kit, was chosen to mirror the colors of Nintendo's past video-game systems, Nakamura said.

"We wanted to celebrate old video games but also the future at the same time," he said at Scion Installation Los Angeles, where the car, along with video-game-inspired artwork, is on display until Dec. 11 in an exhibit called Pixel Pushers.

"This car kind of has that look; a little bit concept-car-ish," Nakamura said. "But ultimately you want the car to look cool just by itself.

"You don't want to look just like a video-game car. I wanted it to be a cool car that does all this stuff."

And yes, it drives too.

"We joy-rided it in Orange County one night," Nakamura said. "We decided to take it out just as a test drive -- we rode around through neighborhoods and onto busy streets. I got it up to about 60.

"We took it to a gas station and people just swarmed the car right away to check it out. It was kind of cool." QuackGame

Those who make the trip to Scion Installation Los Angeles to see the car can sit in it and play video games in the Culver City art gallery.

Return of the Quack, one of the playable games, was built to coincide with the exhibit in a collaboration of Giant Robot, Scion, San Francisco artist Matt Furie and video-game designer Chevy Ray Johnston.

The game was given away in the a recent issue of Giant Robot and can also be played online or at the exhibit, from the driver's seat of the custom xB or in wooden arcade-style units in the gallery.

As of now, Scion has no plans to build a second car with Nakamura. Though the magazine publisher who also owns four Giant Robot Asian pop culture retail stores and a restaurant called Gr/eats, said he has a few ideas if called upon.

"That would be a dream, huh?" Nakamura said. "And I'm ready to do it."


Microsoft welcomes hackers to Xbox's Kinect

Angry Birds jumping from iPhone, Android to Xbox, PlayStation, Wii

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Video: Interview with Eric Nakamura, publisher of Giant Robot magazine and designer of the Giant Robot Scion xB art car. Credit: Nathan Olivarez-Giles/Los Angeles Times. Photos: Giant Robot Scion xB and a screen shot of Return of the Quack. Credit: Scion.