- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 17, 2002

Kiki Wolfkill has more than a name that looks great on the side of a race car. The 32-year old Seattle resident also has a multifaceted career that combines professional performance car racing, cutting-edge video game development, journalism, a degree in Chinese history and an affinity for fine art.
Wolfkill is also lucky.
Not only has she never been in a serious accident, on track or off, but she has found a dream job. Wolfkill is the art director for Microsoft's racing games for the mighty Xbox, including the just-released RalliSport Challenge ($49.99).
"I love sports cars, production-based cars, with a special affinity for Porsche and club racing," Wolfkill says. "Working on the RalliSport Challenge has been wonderful because it has allowed me to share that love of racing in a very realistic way."
While she is not the first woman to venture into the gaming studio or onto the competitive racetrack, women are still the minority in both arenas.
Few women Lynn St. James (2001) and Janet Guthrie, who broke the gender barrier with three consecutive Indianapolis 500 starts from 1977 to 1979, are two have been able to acquire the vast sums of money necessary to compile a racing team, complete with cars, engineers, mechanics and team personnel.
The money is, of course, not the only necessity. Winning a major race also requires talent and experience.
Wolfkill's talents come naturally. She was born into a family of competitive racers, including both her parents and her brother, Kim. Her father raced extensively in Europe and Asia, achieving multiple podium finishes in the Macao Grand Prix during the 1950s and 1960s, while her mother raced in Asia.
"One of my favorite races was a November 2000 endurance race that I ran with Kim at Thunder Hill in Northern California," Wolfkill says. "It was a three-driver team, and we drove a Porsche 944 S2, maintaining a fourth-place position until the engine blew up just about 15 minutes before the end of the race."
Wolfkill has been working on gathering experience since her rookie year in 1993, when she placed second overall in SCCA Club Racing, and the following year, when she won the SCCA Northwest Region ITS Championship.
Road racing came next with competition in both SCCA and Porsche Club Racing circles from 1996 to 1999. She took seven first-place finishes and two top-three finishes.
During this time, Wolfkill also ran the ICSCC six-hour enduro, finishing fourth in class and fourth overall.
In 1999 Wolfkill finished fifth in total points in the inaugural season of the Women's Global GT series. She had three top-five finishes, including one podium race.
Currently she is chasing her dream to drive at the World Challenge and Grand Am while providing instruction at a number of racing schools in the Pacific Northwest.
"My racing was set aside over the last year as I devoted myself to the final finish and delivery on Ralli Challenge," said Wolfkill. "Now I am looking for a place at both the World Challenge and Grand Am Cup races, which are both product-based endurance races with great drivers and great exposure.
While racing may be a first love, it is hardly the only thing occupying Wolfkill's time. With an early goal of filming documentary films in her native China, Wolfkill earned a degree in Chinese history from Princeton and studied broadcast journalism at the University of Washington.
During these studies, Wolfkill learned production and editing and began her career in video game development as an assistant art director for both Terminal Reality Inc. and Angel Studios.
That led to her working in the Microsoft's PC game postproduction studio and finally as art director on the racing games.
Wolfkill's finds her firsthand driving experience adds to her game development, particularly nuances like enhancing the perception of speed by manipulating roadside objects, which come into focus only to blur as you pass by them at extreme speed.
Other real world touches include bushes that sway with passing cars and changes in the way sunlight reflects off the grass as you race by.
"From a shear driving experience, RalliSport Challenge is awesome; it really provides that emotional response where you feel on the edge of control that is both frightening and exhilarating," Wolfkill says.
"The controls have been designed to give the driver control, which leads to a real adrenaline rush, which is hard to get when using a controller and television. But we have done it."
For race and video game fans who want to experience a bit of Wolfkill's realm, RalliSport Challenge provides a unique racing experience by combining four different types of Rally competition into one game Hill Climb, Traditional Rallies, RallyCross and Ice Racing.
The game features 29 fully licensed cars to drive and 48 tracks on which to race. The experience is heightened by a variety of terrains and ultrarealistic particle effects. Cars run through mud, dirt, snow and water, which reflects the variety of road rally tracks found in European races.
The Xbox allows the player to feel the transition from pavement to dirt to ice, depending on the course. Further enhancing the racing experience are audio effects that feature the sounds from idle to foot-to-the-floor racing, enabling players to distinguish whether there is a Mitsubishi Lancer EVO V1 or a Peugeot 206 coming up behind them.
Visually, the cars leave tracks in mud and dust and dirt builds up on the paint. When you crash, the car breaks, cracking glass, losing fenders, denting and dinging.
"The are real consequences to making mistakes on the track, and we have made sure to put those same consequences into the game," Wolfkill says. "If you crash in real life, you break. If you crash in RalliSport Challenge, you break, though you can keep on racing regardless of the damage. I absolutely think this is the best racing game made to date, at least until our next one is released."


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