Tomb Racer was inspired by one game and one game alone. All that claim otherwise are untrustworthy imposters!
In spite of its name, I wanted to make a game like Zelda: Four Swords Adventures on the GameCube. For a few lunchtimes, Mod James, Mod Laura W, Mod Chris E and myself set each other on fire, stole each other's heart containers and blew each other up, while apparently fighting some unspeakable evil in the Zelda universe.
Fun… Setting people on fire…
Anyway, I wanted to set people on fire - sorry, create a game which had a very similar feel to that specific Zelda game. A multiplayer adventure game! But, as you all know, the Internet is broken! (Sort of.) Lag makes it a nightmare to develop interactive games (this was in the days before Mod Zeph fixed this particular problem with his amazing network engine). An attacker could appear to hit another player in game, yet actually hit an empty space because the target's current location hadn't yet been properly transmitted across the globe to the attacker's PC. Such network lag issues are hard to fix, and in 2007 I was too lazy to take on such a huge task all on my lonesome.
So, the solution was to stick the players in different rooms. That solved the problem of lag. And sometimes a little constraint can really free the imagination - sometimes the restrictions help, rather than hinder. Realising that players couldn't interact, the next source of inspiration came from the Gladiators TV show. The last feat Gladiators contestants have to survive is the Gauntlet, an obstacle course each contestant has to run through while being bopped on the head by body builders.
But what if you replace body builders with flame throwers? And dart spitters? And rolling boulders? Well, then you got Tomb Racer! So, the idea was formed: players would race each other through a plethora of lethal traps. And get set on fire. Lots.
One of the early headaches that needed to be dealt with was to think about what happens when players die. In an old-skool game, the player might be booted back to the beginning of the race and have to start again. That's just about fine in a single player game (if a little unrefined by the standards of modern game design) but it's not fine in a multiplayer game. You make one mistake - get set on fire or something - and suddenly you're reduced from glorious pack leader to snivelling runt, effectively out of the race.
The thought initially had been to stick checkpoints in the course, so players who died would only be knocked back a few rooms. But that's still a bit cruel: one tough room placed at the furthest distance from the checkpoint would have a very similar effect to just knocking a player back to the start of the course.
Instead, we - in our magnanimous nature - deemed that the player would restart from the beginning of the room they were in. Our motives were mixed though, as we realised that by being so generous, we could also afford to set people on fire more. Much more. You'll forgive us if we give with one hand and take (or set fire to) with the other.
So, the name, eh? Tomb Racer - act of genius, or act of madness? Well, Tomb Racer is one of the few releases I've worked on that hasn't changed its name during development. Care to guess the original name for Miner Disturbance or Geoblox?
(Actually, the name was always supposed to be changed, but who was going to beat Tomb Racer? Except perhaps Tom Bracer and the Temple of Despair….)