|Developer(s)||Rocket Science Games|
|Release date(s)||October 1996|
|Genre(s)||Action game, Sports game|
|Mode(s)||Single player, Multiplayer|
Rocket Jockey is a PC game created by Rocket Science Games and published by SegaSoft in 1996. Originally developed for the Sony PlayStation, Rocket Jockey became a PC title because "hardware limitations and longer lead times forced the switch to PC as the initial platform." The game benefited from unique game concept, developed by Game Designer/Lead Programmer Sean Callahan, paired with an inventive alternative reality 1930s America setting, conceived by VP of Development/Creative Director Bill Davis.
In Rocket Jockey, the player jets at high speed inside a grassy enclosed sports arena on a rocket sled that is always in motion and chiefly steered with two grappling hook guns mounted on its flanks. The rocket can change speeds but always flies about three feet off the ground unless it is engaged in one of the games' frequent and often comic collisions.
Initially receiving high marks from reviewers and much hype from SegaSoft, its steep hardware requirements (at the time) and a much-delayed patch which added LAN play hurt game sales and later reviews. As time passed it has suffered a classic example of software rot and compatibility issues have appeared, making it very difficult to install the game on modern systems. Some diehards have created workarounds for this, most notably a custom modified registry key.
When starting a game, the player must go through three menus:
In the first menu, the player must pick a character they wish to play as. While each character has a different name (many humorous) and logo, they all perform with the same characteristics.
Next up is the selection of the "sled," which is basically a rocket with small wings for directing the ride slightly left, right, up, and down, and one more major component: grappling hooks mounted on the sides.
These hooks shoot out of the rocket when the proper button is pressed and sink a tethered projectile into the first thing in their path, be it pylon, mine, sporting equipment, body, or anything else that can be grappled (with the proper upgrade they can even grapple the ground). The grappling hook guns are fixed to shoot out horizontally, 45 degrees to the left and the right of the rocket's direction of motion. The player can also tap a key to connect the left grapple line to the right one and fly free, leaving a clothesline obstruction for others. Hence, grappling hooks serve a dual purpose: tight turns on pylons and anything else stationary (which are spread throughout the arenas), as well as offensive tactics such as setting traps and grappling mines, other rockets, and even other riders! Rockets also have the ability during play to receive power-ups, such as repair and speed boost. Grappling hook projectiles and cables are also modifiable.
The rockets first available to the player have only minor differences, but sleds unlocked later in the game have major stat advantages, i.e. acceleration, top speed, boost, and maneuverability. A new rocket is generally not unlocked by beating levels: it is unlocked when the player steals it from an opponent. Therefore, in order to unlock a certain rocket that has not been acquired yet, the player must find a level in which a computer-controlled adversary is riding it, knock them off it, jump off their existing rocket, climb onto the target sled, and successfully complete the level. Existing unlocked rockets are not lost when ditched for a newer model. Most of the sleds will also unlock if all of the levels of a certain tier of competition are successfully beaten. The tier that the rocket will be unlocked on is generally one or two tiers after the first level the rocket was introduced. Most of the end-game rockets sleds cannot be unlocked in this way.
The last menu before play is the game mode selection. There are three to choose from: War, Ball, and Race. For complete descriptions of these, see below.
Rocket War is a classic deathmatch mode with the player facing any number of computer controlled jockeys in a fight to the death. The goal is to eliminate or disable all the opponents, using any means necessary. Points are awarded based on how the player eliminates the computer opponents. Basic moves such as a tripline or a ram off receives minimal points, whereas more difficult moves, such as the matchmaker (joining two riders together with grappling hooks), or ball and chain (joining a rider to a mine), awards much higher points. Points are used to rank a jockey's run through each individual arena. Points are not required to advance to the later rounds, only the elimination of all rivals. Dismounting an opponent and stealing their sled is also an option, both to switch to a working or less damaged sled and to unlock it for use in later levels.
Rocket Ball, a twisted take on polo or soccer/football, is a more distinctive game mode. Facing an opposing "team" which ranged from one to several independently acting computer opponents, the goal was to score as many points as possible in a set amount of time. Stealing the ball from the opponents, or eliminating them outright, while navigating the field and scoring goals with the sometimes explosive balls was a challenge at best and near impossible at worst. Aiding the player was the fact that the AI is rather weak and never works together, but strict time limits, handicaps and the number of opponents makes Rocket Ball very difficult in later levels.
Three interesting aspects of Rocket Ball are the presence of referees, tether cables, and the shortened cable duration. Referees are jockeys which tend to run around the arena after you on foot. They never mount a rocket but will sometimes try to kick you or another jockey around the field. They can be treated exactly the same as other jockeys. Tether cables connect all jockeys, including the player, to their rockets. In this way, if a jockey falls off of his sled, or are cabled off, they will remain attached to their sled by a short cable until a certain amount of time passes. This allows a jockey to land nearby their rocket, even if they were to be cabled by an opponent. Shorter cable durations are also used, which shortens the amount of time a cable may be attached to a jockey or ball to only a few seconds. This increases the complexity of the game, generally forcing the player to make shots at a net, rather than towing in the ball, as well as making it harder to disable the opponent. The rules of Rocket War still apply in Rocket Ball: taking out your opponents can sometimes be a good strategy to gain some breathing room while trying to catch up in goals. Completing a match is dependent on the amount of goals you have versus your rivals. Winning on a stolen sled will also unlock it in this mode.
Rocket Race is what it says it is: a race to the finish. The course must be done in a certain amount of time, with either the player's rocket passing though sets of pylons, or grappling on to certain pylons as they light up. This is the most difficult of the three modes, especially for the AI, which almost never completed the course. At times, it can become an obstacle course, and on more than one occasion it becomes a test in how quickly the player can memorize a series of razor-quick turns, sometimes in very tight space. It features interesting tracks, but since the AI is virtually absent, Rocket Race does not have as much lasting appeal as the other two modes. Tethering cables and shortened cable duration on opponents are used, similar to Rocket Ball. Winning on a stolen rocket will unlock it, as in the other two game modes.
Although no commercial entity has ever expressed an interest, several grass-roots Rocket Jockey remake attempts have come and gone since the late 1990s. Most have been conceived as modifications of other commercial games.
The first such project to see any progress used the original Unreal Tournament game as a foundation. A partial gameplay hack and a handful of themed maps were released.
Another ill-fated project appeared in the Quake 3 community shortly thereafter. Nothing was published beyond early development screenshots.
In October 2006, an effort to build a remake of Rocket Jockey was announced by independent developer. Unlike previous efforts, this project is not proposed as a modification of another game. The developer published several development screenshots early on in development. Then, in March 2008, the first alpha test version of the Solar-Ray remake was released, which allows the player to walk or fly around in a small arena and attach cables to one of two posts but does not include any real game play. In July 2008, Solar-Ray announced that development would be "frozen for an unknown amount of time!", then in January 2009, a SourceForge project was founded. Pre-alpha code is still available for download. Unfortunately the project is officially canceled.
A spiritual successor was being developed using the UDK (UNREAL development kit) by Six Shooter Games  and called Sprocket Junkie! So far, only a demo for the PC has been released, the Sprocket Junkie website is offline, and no updates on its progress have been posted since May 2012.
It had very high hardware demands for 1996: at least a 90mhz "Pentium" grade CPU, and recommended 120mhz or higher.
Six-person LAN multiplayer was advertised on the original box but was not included with the game. When sent to many reviewers, most were told by SegaSoft that a patch would be available by the time the game hit store shelves, and therefore this missing feature was not noted in some early reviews. When the game was finally released and LAN play was still missing, it upset many in the gaming community. The much promised patch did not appear until several months after the launch and was never included in any retail version. These later versions included a slip of paper providing the website address for the patch. Many blamed SegaSoft for not delaying the release date and/or dragging their feet on finishing the patch. This was typical of SegaSoft, who were known for releasing games without extensive testing to meet deadlines.
Because of a quirk of the installer supplied with the game, a specific DirectX 3 component (d3dhalf.dll) must be present in the Windows\System directory (on Windows ME and before) in order to complete normal installation. This file can be found in the DirectX directory of the Rocket Jockey CD, has been provided on Rocket Jockey fansites in the past, and can still be found on many general Windows and DirectX troubleshooting sites.
The installer also fails to install the game on Windows 2000 and XP systems, requiring either:
- a complete dump of the CD onto the hard disk, as well as movement of some sound files, and a modified registry key, or
- a specially made installer made by fans
Once installed, Rocket Jockey runs without reported problems under these newer versions of the Windows OS.
- Kuchera, Ben (July 27, 2011). "The story behind Rocket Jockey, and the 360 port you can't play". Ars Technica.
- Unreal Tournament 2003 Rocket Jockey mod listing
- SourceForge Website
- Six Shooter Games website
- Official Sega Soft Webpage (ARCHIVED)
- Rocket Jockey Group on Facebook - downloads, ideas, effort to find programmers / developers for a remake.
- Rocket Jockey at MobyGames
- Designer blog "Remembering Rocket Jockey"
- Rockey Jockey preview at Wired.com from June 1997
- Rocket Jockey review at GameSpot
- Rocket Jockey at the Internet Movie Database