Lego Racers (video game)
North American Nintendo 64 cover art
|Developer(s)||High Voltage Software|
|Release date(s)||Nintendo 64
|Distribution||CD-ROM, Nintendo 64 cartridge, Game Boy Color cartridge,|
Lego Racers is a 1999 racing video game developed by High Voltage Software and published by Lego Media, released for Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, and PlayStation. The player races various characters made of Lego in custom-built go-karts based on the Lego Racers product line in an attempt to become "the greatest Lego racing champion of all-time" by defeating the Rocket Racer. Originally conceived by High Voltage founder Kerry Ganofsky, creative expertise from The Lego Group assisted High Voltage in the game's development after Lego Media agreed to begin production. It was a best-seller, despite being met with mixed to positive reception from critics. A sequel to the game, Lego Racers 2, developed by ATD, was released in 2001.
Rocket Racer, the greatest Lego racer in the galaxy, along with his genius sidekick, Veronica Voltage, travel through time and space to collect the best racers in the galaxy: Captain Redbeard, King Kahuka, Basil the Bat Lord, Johnny Thunder, Baron von Barron, and Gypsy Moth, who each host their own circuit. The player, as a determined racer, takes on the hosts and co-racers in an attempt to become the champion. After defeating the six hosts, the player takes on the Rocket Racer himself. Winning Rocket Racer's car set triggers the credits.
In Lego Racers, the player assumes the role of either one of several pre-built or a custom-built Lego driver. The camera is positioned behind the car, as in most racing games, and the player may make use of a four types of power-ups, which are presented with different colored bricks: Projectiles (red), mines (yellow), shields (blue) and "Octan" speed boosts (green). By collecting "power bricks" (white), the maximum number being three, the power-ups gain strength. The Windows version supports keyboard and gamepad control, both of which can be fully customized in the game settings.
A feature in the game allows the player to build cars and driver minifigures of their own design. Both the driver's Lego minifigure and the car are built from scratch using a wide selection of Lego bricks and parts. This selection is limited when the player starts the game, but each time the player places first on a circuit, a new set is included, each containing the host's chassis, allowing the player to build the host's car or the alternative version of it using the "Quick Build" feature, which is also included in the already-unlocked sets to create other pre-built cars. The host is also unlocked in the character building mode.
For character building, you choose between a variety of headgear, heads, chests and legs. By clicking the "Mix" button, a driver made out of random pieces. The player must also create a driver's license for the driving by naming him and snapping a photo, choosing between a variety of expressions. Customization of the driver is purely aesthetic and has no effect the performance of the car.
In the circuit mode of Lego Racers, each of the hosts host a circuit, meaning there are a total of seven circuits. Each circuit is made up of four different races on track with either a Pirate, Adventurer, Space, or Castle theme, with an exception of the final circuit hoster by the Rocket Racer, which includes only one track titled the "Rocket Racer Run". The player is awarded points based on his finishing spot in the race: 30 points for first, 20 for second, 10 for third, 3 for 4th, 2 for 5th, and 1 for 6th. You need at least 10 points after the first race to advance to the second race in a circuit, 20 points total to advance to the third race, and 30 points total to advance to the final race of the circuit. If the player comes in second overall, the next circuit is unlocked. First place overall unlocks the host's character and vehicle set. Most of the tracks contain one or more shortcuts. With the player and host included, there are six racers in each race. The first six circuits consist of four tracks each, and the last three circuits, excluding the "Rocket Racer Run", are simply mirror-images of the first three, a practice also used in the Mario Kart franchise. The single race mode allows the player to race on a particular track in any of the unlocked circuits.
In the time race mode, the player races against a single opponent, Veronica Voltage, who is the granddaughter of Professor Voltage, a character in the game Legoland. Veronica drives a ghost car that cannot crash into the player's car in any way. If the player wins races in every track of the first three circuits, they are awarded Veronica Voltage's car set.
The game also supports a two-player multiplayer mode called the versus mode. If a second input device, such as a joystick or gamepad, is plugged in, two players can race against each other in split screen display.
High Voltage Software founder Kerry Ganofsky originally came up with the basic idea of a game in which the player build cars with Lego bricks and race with them. After more than a year spent on preliminary design and prototyping, Lego Media agreed to begin production. Creative expertise from Lego Media and other facilities within The Lego Group collaborated with High Voltage during the production of the game.
Character models, documents and pictures of nearly every Lego System character were sent to High Voltage, who chose to go with four Lego System themes: Castle, Adventurers, Space, and Pirates. After reviewing all the characters and choosing the ones they like best, character studies were drawn up in order to further capture the essence of each character and persona. After again reviewing the list of character, the team chose the strongest characters focused on as "Champs" in the race, while other characters would also race, but not the as the central figure, meaning that the "Champ" is the one the player must beat. The team felt this would "bring a level of focus and stronger character development to the game." While the cast of characters included existing characters in the Lego Universe, the team created two original characters, the Rocket Racer, the best among the Lego racers and the main antagonist of the series, and Veronica Voltage, Rocket Racer's genius sidekick who is also an expert racer, but with other talents in the scientific field.
For character building, to help add sense of creativity, special attention was paid to the elements that were chosen for character pieces. To further add to this, special animations were created to breathe life into the character the player created. The team aimed to make car building easy to learn, allow as much freedom as possible to build with a variety of bricks to build from rather than just standard square bricks, that brick placement effects the cars handling or physics, and to encourage building when new sets are unlocked. With a number of ideas for the power-ups, the team settled that the power-up system should be unique, use Lego elements and "construction values" as much as possible, and that it would "fun and awarding to use."
Lead programmer Dwight Luetscher designed around platforms' capabilities. During the design, he assumed that the artists could optimize the artificial intelligence-controlled cars in the game by hand, and therefore the only variables would be custom built cars by the players. From there, he backwards engineered the numbers to get what was required for custom built cars, and still have freedom in car building. He created formula that the artists could work with to construct the elements within the formula. The pieces for the car sets were then chosen first by aesthetics, and then analyzed to see if they could fit into the formula. Those that didn't were cut, while those that passed both criteria were used in the final product. The formula came after months of testing and prototyping hundreds of Lego elements, and the elements were built and finalized for the game only a few months before its completion. After several designs for car building were made and tested, the team settled on a design they believed was most easy to use and understand. The car building mode took over a year's work of several people to finish. To reduce confusion with trying to balance out numbers ("we were shooting for a low age demographic 6 and up") the decision was made to rely only on the visual appearance of the car.
Due to a high number of sets and pieces they contain, a custom mesh code was created to weld the geometry in place and to optimize the cars polygon count. The code and the pieces were continually optimized during development. This meant that no matter what configuration the player built, it would weld it right to the chassis, using as few polygons as possible, to become one solid mesh. Other levels of detail were created for use in situations other than cars in-game, like the menu screens and cinemas, which had to be more detailed since the player would see them up close. In the end, many different levels of detail were made for every Lego element, which the team believed successfully upheld "the suspension of disbelief and completes the feeling of continuity between the race, cinemas, and menu screens."
Lego Racers received mixed to positive reactions from reviewers. The Windows version was met with generally positive reviews and currently holds an 75.45% average rating based on 11 reviews at the review aggreagator GameRankings. However the releases on both the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 received less positive reactions from critics despite featuring no gameplay differences: At GameRankings, the PlayStation version has a 63.33% rating based on three reviews, and the Nintendo 64 version a 65.87% rating based on eight reviews.
GameSpot gave the PC version 7.0 out of 10 describing the game as "a simple, colourful, and fun high-speed romp". However when they reviewed the Nintendo 64 version they scored it 4.6 out of 10 and said "With bland gameplay, boring racing and a frustrating Lego construction system, Lego Racers just translates into an incomplete package." Conversely, IGN gave the N64 port a 7.5 out of 10, praising the gameplay and feature set, but criticizing the lack of multiplayer functionality.
After the release of Lego Racers, the now-defunct developer ATD was commissioned by Lego to create a Lego Racers attraction for Legoland Windsor. This attraction, initially called Lego Racers and then renamed to Rocket Racers, let park visitors race against each other on space and desert themed tracks with custom characters and a variety of cars. ATD was then commissioned again by LEGO to create a complete sequel to the original game, Lego Racers 2, which was released in 2001 for Windows, PlayStation 2 and the Game Boy Advance. In the game, the Rocket Racer is first seen retired from racing after the disappointment of losing the final race in Lego Racers, but after traveling to the planet Xalax, and after winning a race against the planet's racing-skilled species, once again becomes the greatest Lego racer in the galaxy. The player must race in five different worlds in order to race against the Rocket Racer, and once again take the Rocket Racer's title from him. The game was met with mix reception from critics. In development, Drome Racers was referred to as Lego Racers 3, though the final game had no obvious ties to the first two games. ATD then went on to begin development on a Lego Racers 4, which would have featured a massive world streamed from the game disc, but the game was canceled before release. Another canceled game called Lego Racers CC was advertised in Lego catalogs, but never released, though developers have confirmed it is a separate game from the canceled Lego Racers 4. Similarly, a game simply titled "Lego Racers: The Video Game" was advertised on Lego set boxes in 2009, but never released.
- Morton, Keith (May 24, 1999). "Developer Journal: Lego Racers". IGN. News Corporation. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
- Morton, Keith (August 19, 1999). "If you build it...". IGN. News Corporation. Retrieved October 30, 2012.
- "Lego Racers". GameSpot. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- Imperio, Winnie (October 26, 1999). "Lego Racers". IGN. News Corporation. Retrieved August 12, 2012.