LEGO Media // March 1999 – August 1999
LEGO Rock Raiders was one of LEGO Media’s first titles in development, and intended to launch on PC and Playstation alongside a brand new toy range – ah, the joy of synergy!
The original game design (as seen in the PC version) was for a point-n’-click RTS-style game, with little LEGO space miners battling Rock Monsters for glowing green ore deep within the bowels of an alien world. It was a pretty neat concept, mainly due to the miner’s cool range of futuristic drilling and flying vehicles.
However, in early 1999, a mere six months before the Playstation version was due for Sony submission, LEGO Media’s boss suddenly decided RTS games didn’t work on console (I suspect due to the lacklustre performance of Command & Conquer).
And so a decree was issued that the game had to be changed into an action title. Wisely, the original Producer pushed back and insisted he didn’t have time to close the PC game AND totally revamp the Playstation version, and so the poison chalice was handed to me. Thanks!
Right from the start, we knew it was going to be impossible to create a great game – we simply didn’t have the time or resource. After reviewing the project with the developer, Data Design Interactive, and chucking out anything strategy-focussed, we didn’t have much left: just a 3D engine capable of rendering deformable terrain, some nicely-modelled vehicles and tiny LEGO miner sprites.
The vehicles were nice to control, and it was fun tonking around and drilling through the crumbling cave walls (for a while, anyway), so I suggested a sort of Gauntlet-stroke-BlastCorps hybrid. The player was given a mission (“Collect X ore crystals”, “Rescue Y lost crewmen”, etc) and then they could tackle it how they saw fit, either on-foot or behind the wheel of vehicles.
Each vehicle had different attributes – speed, drilling power, shields, etc – and it was left to the player to decide how best to use them to smash through the mazes of rock and lava. The player could also collect LEGO bricks and then deploy them at warp pads to build new vehicles.
To be honest, that description makes it sound more exciting than it was. Ultimately, it was pretty thin stuff but our options were sorely limited. Hearts heavy, we dived in and tried to do the best we could. As the submission date loomed, I spent nearly two months living in Birmingham, working alongside the devs, playtesting and designing levels, and every night I’d retire to my hotel room, exhausted, thinking to myself “That was a good day, we made good progress… but the game’s still going to crap.”
All in all, it was a depressing and demoralising experience that soured my attitude towards working at LEGO Media. So when I got a call from a former colleague wondering whether I wanted to be part of a bold new magazine launch, my answer was obvious…