Published by: Orbital Media
Developed by: Orbital Media
Format: 8MB ROM + 4Kbit EEPROM
Dev Time: 3+ years
It’s a 2D, isometric racing game, similar in play to classics such as as RC Pro-am, Super Sprint, Rock’n’Roll Racing, or – the game it was inspired by – the Amiga classic, SuperCars. Various improvements were made for the era, but it’s perhaps best known for having 4 player co-op throughout the entire campaign.
Licenses and Abilities
In a really unusual move, the game featured multiple car licenses, which as I – vaguely – recall was mainly to try and benefit from the marketing pull that might provide. (Just as people like to have real football players in the NFL games, it could be argued people like to have real cars in their racing games.) Midway through development, we found out those same licenses refused to let us make any one car “better” than any other – this is the same era were visually showing car damage was also a big no-no.
We side-stepped the issue by coming up with a unique ability system instead, tagging characteristics to the characters and not the drivers. Since the abilities were pretty out there – collision acceleration, perfect vision, rapid-fire – the licensors were happy and we had a more interesting game as a result. (My favorite character to this date is still Spacewave, strictly because he could see past all of the annoyance tactics from other drivers.)
Racing Gears was one of a select few GBA games to ship with 4 player compatibility, and we tested that feature often. The entire campaign supported it, which is still something of a feat even today. The downside – as anyone familiar with the GBA is aware – was that it required 4 copies of the game, 4 GBAs, and 3 Link cables. I’m not sure anyone ever put together that mess in the wild, but it would be cool to see. It was also a big influence on the starting position mini-game, which is as much a party-game as anything.
The best part of multiplayer was really the weapons. With so many players active, buying weapons and knowing when to use them was key. A popular tactic for players who fell behind was to use mines, littering the track for when other players try to lap them. If it worked, great – but a little known countermeasure was to simply lay your own. With RAM so limited, placing mines beyond a certain limit would simply overwrite the eldest ones, sometimes clearing the way as a result.
Music for the game was composed by a friend of the company, Neil Voss, who was well known at the time as the composer for the N64 game Tetrisphere. He had worked with us on previous projects and was a friend of my boss from back in the H2O Entertainment days.
The original goal was for Orbital Media to find a publisher. They had a long history with Nintendo and sending cartridges to market was a very expensive business. But after many lowball offers, the company did the unthinkable and straight-up self-published in North America, with Zoo helping out abroad. The downside to this? The game was basically finished in 2003, but did not hit retail until 2005. In fact, it shipped in Europe first.