They say William Shakespeare wrote King Lear during quarantine for the plague in 1606. During Covid-19, my brother, Adam Gossage, created his own masterpiece of sorts in his basement: a 100-foot working replica of the most beloved (and loathed) racetrack from Mario Kart: Rainbow Road.
The inspiration for the project was Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, an augmented reality game for Nintendo Switch that lets you race webcam-enabled toy cars IRL against virtual opponents — around a course you build in your home. But the real impetus for all of this was being laid off from his job back at the end of March as a sales consultant at a high-end speaker manufacturer in Lawrence, Kansas.
Amid shutdowns and an impossible job market, Adam decided to go all in on gaming. Since the NES days, he’d been obsessed with video games, particularly Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) like Persona 4 and Final Fantasy. He’d obsessively followed gaming YouTubers like Cooltoy, RKG, and BeatEmUps, and had dreamed of starting his own channel. He teamed up with his brother-in-law and next-door neighbor Jordan Goldsmith, and they launched Complete Geek TV on YouTube and Twitch in April. (Clearly, a lot of other gamers had a similar idea: Between February and April, the number of streamers on Twitch nearly doubled from 3.8 million to 7.2 million, according to TwitchTracker.)
Since the launch, Adam and Jordan have tried a few gimmicks to gain followers, including eating atomic wings as punishment for dying in Dark Souls and eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans as a punishment for dying in Mega Man. They’ve also unboxed collectibles and arcade cabinets, the kinds of things they would be buying anyway. They initially preordered the Mario Kart Live race cars (which go for about $100 each) with the idea of unboxing and reviewing them on YouTube.
“We were basically unboxing the cars the day I got them, and I said to Jordan, ‘How are we going to differentiate ourselves?’” Adam recalls. “Because there’s already a lot of reviews out there, and they’re pretty informative. So I said, ‘What if we built our own racecourse? Not just one around the living room, but a real course?’” They toyed with the idea of constructing a tricked-out track through Adam’s kitchen, including a ramp that would go from the floor up to the kitchen island, before the idea hit them: They could construct their own Rainbow Road.
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Some version of brightly hued track has appeared in every Mario Kart game since the SNES in 1992, and it’s typically one of the toughest courses in the game, known as much for its psychedelic colors, space motifs, and floating track as it is for its hairpin turns and precarious drops that make you want to throw your controller. Building it would be a challenge.
Creating the rainbow effect was probably the easiest part of the project: They bought about 200 feet of rainbow LED strip lights from Amazon. The track itself was a lot more complicated. After first toying with the idea of building the whole thing out of plexiglass and suspending it from the ceiling, they decided to make the track out of wood and raise it from the floor. They spent a few hundred dollars on white plywood from Lowe’s, as well as wood trim to go along the sides of the planks, to attach the lights to. Then they laid everything out on the floor of the basement, to figure out how they wanted the track to look. They settled on an overlapping two-level course, shaped roughly like a figure eight, but with a few hard 90-degree turns. “We knew we didn’t want a boring circle,” says Adam.
After using a table saw to cut the boards, they screwed them together, used wood putty to fill in the gaps, and anchored the course on two-by-fours to lift it above the ground. Adam spent six hours spray-painting the wood trim black so that it would look like the course had no guard rails before attaching them to the sides of the track with small nails and adding the LED strips.
He also bought foam spheres from Walmart, and spent two days meticulously painting eight planets and two moons out of neon and glow-in-the-dark paint. That was a “big fail,” he says. He planned to use a black light to make the planets pop, but the black light did funky things to the video footage. They ended up skipping the black lights, and used screws and invisible cord to hang them from the basement ceiling. Then he hung black sheets around the track to block out the light and give the track the appearance of floating in space.
The finished product, which they documented on YouTube, is as stunningly bright as it is massive. The whole course takes up an area of more than 480 square feet.
The only problem? The computer racers in Mario Kart don’t respect the course. “They ignore the ramp, and sometimes they take shortcuts through the middle of the course,” says Adam. So he mostly races the cars with his two-year-old son, who asks to play “Luigi cars” at least once a day.
“As tough as this year’s been — which it has been — I try to look at the positive that I’m still trying to pursue a dream,” he says. “I’ve been at places where I’m passionate about the company but not necessarily about the job, and I’m now trying to do something I’m passionate about and I enjoy what I do. And I’m extremely happy that I’m pursuing it and going all in. I think you should follow your dream and see what happens.”
Right now, Complete Geek TV is still relatively small, with around 400 subscribers, but Adam is hopeful that the channel will grow as they invest more time into creative videos.
When I asked him what his next project might be, he said he wasn’t quite done with this one. He’s thinking of adding even more track and a computerized rotating tunnel made from a cat toy and glow sticks. The dream continues.