LucasArts' Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer, while not without flaws, wooed N64 owners with its speed, dexterity, and graphics, especially with a boost from the RAM Pak. The title was planned for the PlayStation at one point, but technically, the 32-bit system couldn't handle what the game had to dish out, so the project was canceled. Now, after that dissolution and with little surprise, LucasArts has announced that Episode 1 Racer will be available for the Dreamcast this spring.
Videogames.com got a chance to speak with Reeve S. Thompson, the game's production manager at Lucas, on the eve of the announcement. Our first question? What changes have been made for the Dreamcast version of Racer?
"There are three main areas where the Dreamcast version improves upon other console versions of the game," said Thompson. "The first is the high-resolution graphics. This is definitely the best version of Racer you're going to see on your TV. It's faster, sharper, and smoother than previous versions. The second is the online component we are implementing with Sega for the Sega Dreamcast Network that will allow players to compare race times online. And the third main improvement is the addition of prerendered cutscenes, which we were able to include thanks to the added space on the game disc."
Back to the basics, the game plot and mode of operation will remain thematically close to the originals. You've entered the Podrace, an illegal "street" tournament that is much like the Ben Hur chariot race meets… Star Wars. As in the N64 version, the gameplay is based on Anakin Skywalker's Podrace scene in the Episode 1: The Phantom Menace film. Each contestant drives a vehicle made of a small cockpit that's toggled about 15 feet behind two huge starship engines. These vehicles gain up to about 600 miles per hour and hover just a few feet off the ground when fully functional.And full functionality is the key; it's your job not only to win the race with the best time but to maintain your podracer by monitoring and repairing your twin engines as needed throughout the race. As before, the game supplies 21 race tracks within eight worlds and offers the option for you to play the Multirace Galactic Circuit with a selection of about 22 podracers (including Anakin's) at your disposal, or take the single-player route, upgrading your podracer as you earn money and win races. All of the familiar obstacles from the N64 game also grace the Dreamcast version, such as cascading lava, rolling boulders, antigravity tunnels, meteor showers, and others.
Although the N64 Racer played and scored well, there was room for improvement. We asked Thompson if he thinks LucasArts benefited from the feedback on the first game when it was porting the title to the Dreamcast.
"The main adjustments we've made actually have more to do with tailoring the experience to the new platform, and with it the new controllers, than making adjustments based on feedback from the first version of the game. The Dreamcast controller gives us analog triggers and a great analog joystick, and we're working to take advantage of these controls. Our main concern was making the game feel great on the Dreamcast controller," said Thompson.
But since consumer feedback is only part of the equation, we asked Thompson how much input Sega offered Lucas. "We've been listening to Sega's suggestions, and they have been very helpful," said Thompson. "As I mentioned before, we're working with them on the game's Internet features, but we're also taking advantage of Sega's testers' experience. Those guys know Dreamcast games better than anyone, and we want to make sure our controls feel natural to Dreamcast players."