A New Experience for a New Generation; “Powerdrome” Races Back
If it weren’t
for the name you’d never see the resemblance.
A long time ago, on a game
console far, far away, game developer Michael Powell wrote code for the
world’s first futuristic racing game: Powerdrome. Looking back it may not
seem too futuristic now, but at the time gamers didn’t have too many great
racing games. The genre was pretty bleak; devoid of all the aspects that make
a game great. Powerdrome was a step forward. It gave players hope, and
showed signs of the future.
The gorgeous picture you’re
looking at is not from the Atari Powerdrome, but rather a piece of concept art
from the all-new Powerdrome developed exclusively for Xbox and PlayStation 2.
Michael Powell (now the
Studio Head of Argonaut Sheffield and Executive Producer of Powerdrome) was
once again at the helm of the project, so you can be sure that just as much
hard work and dedication was devoted to the new Powerdrome.
What made him want to
develop another game in the series after all these years? We spoke to Michael
to find out. While talking his ear off, we threw in a few more questions,
hoping to learn more and go deeper into the world of his exhilarating series.
First off, what does it take
to make an exciting racing game?
To us, keep the racing pure. It should be easy to pick up and play, but the
best in the genre require genuine skills you can master and get better at –
that’s what gives you the satisfaction and keeps you coming back to a racing
game, even if you’ve lapped hundreds of times.
The original Powerdrome was
released for the Atari ST and is more than 10 years old. What was the
catalyst to develop an update to the series?
Two things really – firstly we didn’t like the way other people had treated
the futuristic racing scenario; to us there was no need for weapons if we made
the racing as exciting as it should be. Secondly I really wanted the next-gen
version to try and embody the sort of thing that was in my imagination when
the first Powerdrome was done – you couldn’t do it then but you certainly can
Give us the game’s
statistics: how many tracks and vehicles are there?
There are 12 characters and "blades," 20 tracks set on 6 different worlds,
plus 4 "challenge" point-to-point tracks for head-to-head challenge racing.
A rough battle to the finish
What are the themes of the
game’s tracks? Could you describe some of them for us?
The overriding objective in designing the tracks was to create something that
looked like it could be actually somewhere. In practical terms this meant that
first of all we designed the landscape in which the track layout would be
placed, and that could be anything from a city to a desert, then we would lay
out the track within that environment, cutting through mountains where
necessary, sometimes using natural features like gorges or valleys. We think
this gives a really natural flow to the tracks.
An example of this would be
the Matawai series of tracks, these are set on a world where a huge
planet-wide ocean is held back by a vast dam, and people live on the resulting
land mass. One of the tracks runs along the top of this dam, between massive
rocks, and across tropical lagoons. The other layout takes a route along the
base of the dam, between the hydroelectric stations, then cuts up through a
Another world is AcerNaim –
this is a planetary orbital, a vast man-made ring. On this track you will
circle around the space elevators that take people up off the world, and even
head out onto the edge of the ring, where after diving through a tunnel
through the mountains that hold the atmosphere you can see out in to space
where giant ships dock to the port.
Do the tracks spin around,
flip upside down, or do anything along those lines?
We do not make the tracks do anything which would break the feel of this being
relatively realistic physics, but within those design constraints the tracks
are real rollercoaster rides. We think Powerdrome would make an excellent
theme park ride!
Beside aesthetics, what are
the differences between the vehicles? What sets each one apart?
MP: Besides the Blades all looking
different they do have different characteristics, some are heavy but stable,
others are light, skittish but very maneuverable. Some blades "slide" more
than others, where the vehicle turns side-on to the airflow and really scrubs
off speed for a tight corner.
There are many possible
driving styles in Powerdrome and each style will have a most appropriate Blade
I’ll make a guess here and assume that
Powerdrome includes a number of power-ups. If that’s the case, what are they,
and how do they aid you in the race?
The main "power-up" model is gathering Boosts. You do this by driving above
supersonic speed, without hitting the walls of the track. If you do this for a
while the Boost Meter fills up, when it reaches the top you are awarded a
Boost, one of three that you can carry. You can then use that Boost to either
turbo your power for a limited time, allowing a rapid overtake, or use it to
repair the damage on your Blade. There’s strategy involved here as you’ll want
to save some Boosts for the end of the race, but not drop so far behind that
even that won’t let you catch up.
How many game modes does
Powerdrome feature? What are they?
We have Quick Race mode (race with any unlocked character or track), Time
Trial (set the fastest possible time, with a ghost blade), Championship (A
series of single-player races, challenges and lap time trials by which you can
unlock content within the game), Split Screen Multiplayer, and on the Xbox
version System Link and Xbox Live online play.
Where did the name "Powerdrome"
come from? What does it mean?
Not sure – I made it up so long ago I can’t remember!
Were there any significant
changes that had over the course of the game’s development? Anything that
changed the game a great deal from the original concept?
One of the nice things about working on this game is it didn’t really change a
whole lot from concept to final disk. You can see that in the fact that the
pre-rendered intro to the game was created before we’d written one line of
code – and I think you’ll agree the final game certainly measures up to that
The only major component
that got dropped was the ability to paint custom skins for your blade. We also
toyed with the idea of having cut-scene based storyline segments, but decided
to concentrate on a more arcade-style concept.
Looks like he’s ready for
battle, not a race.
Argonaut has developed a game in almost every major genre.
Have you worked on any titles besides Powerdrome? If so, which genre would
you say is the most difficult to work with?
I have, yes – the original Powerdrome, Subwar 2050, SuperFX Vortex on the SNES,
then I-War, Independence War series and an unreleased arcade robot fighter
The most difficult genre? I
would say they’re all difficult in their own way – and there is a lot more
competition out there than when the original Powerdrome came out in 1990.
Thank you for your time.