Racing Through the Black Hills
Jan 30, 2012
My job is to promote South Dakota as a travel destination. I do that with photography, but not always through means you’d expect.
My use of photography as a promotional tool has taken some interesting turns over the years, one of which is video gaming. As a relaxing pastime, I play car racing video games and that took a creative turn when I began “painting” race cars for the game “NASCAR Racing 2003”.
Other players of the game can download the cars to use in the game at www.racingrafix.com, a website run by an online friend of mine in Texas.
After painting hundreds of cars, many with South Dakota-related sponsor logos, inspiration struck about making an even bigger splash in the video gaming world. I reached out to a race track builder. Jeff (I don’t even know his full name) in Chicago creates new tracks for those of us who race in the game.
A few email discussions determined that my photographs of South Dakota scenery could make a great backdrop for some fun tracks. “Rushmore Scenic Byway” was born with photos of the Black Hills landscape forming the virtual horizon, including Mount Rushmore, the Needles, Harney Peak and Crazy Horse Memorial. Using Photoshop, I blended several photos into one extra-long panoramic image that encircles the race track, so no matter where a driver turns he sees the Black Hills around him.
We decided to give the track a 1950s feel, so I included buildings and billboards for tourist attractions of that era. Racers negotiate through or past pigtail bridges, tunnels, the 1880 Train, Dinosaur Park and signs for Reptile Gardens, Sitting Bull Caverns, Thunderhead Underground Falls, and more.
“Rushmore Scenic Byway” was a smashing success, with over 1,000 downloads spreading the South Dakota message across the world. We quickly began planning a sequel – “Badlands Byway.” I shot a 360-degree panoramic photo in Badlands National Park for the horizon in this track, which worked well.
With some leftover ideas from “Rushmore Scenic Byway,” we completed a South Dakota track trilogy with “Black Hills Backroads,” this time in black and white. We replaced the completed Mount Rushmore with an under-construction version and removed most of the billboards to drop the timeline of the setting back to the 1940s.
Both “Badlands Byway” and “Black Hills Backroads” have been well-received with hundreds of downloads. The success of these projects has prompted me to approach other video game developers about including South Dakota in more games. We’ll see if anyone bites and how my photos might be utilized in the future.
If you are still a bit confused about all of this, maybe a video featuring all three tracks in action will help.
Chad Coppess is the senior photographer at the South Dakota Department of Tourism. He lives in Pierre with his wife, Lisa. To view more of his work, visit www.dakotagraph.com.