The setting is 2125 A.D. Jet Moto 2124, like its predecessors, is a futuristic racing game where the participants compete against each other on highly maneuverable, all-terrain hovercraft, similar in appearance and greatly inspired by the late 20th century motocross motorcycles. These contests take place not simply on maintained tracks, but in various locations throughout the occupied solar system. The extraordinary capabilities of these vehicles, which combine the versatility of a hovercraft, the maneuverability and handling of a stunt bike, and the power and aerodynamics of a jet aircraft, allow for track configurations unlike anything seen in any other racing circuit.
There are two different types of competition offered in Jet Moto. The main event is a typical, high-speed race to the finish line, if hopping across the rooftops of a futuristic, downtown megalopolis or screaming through a massive space station at near zero-G can be called typical. The second is a stunt competition, where riders vie for the attentions - and perfect 10’s - of the judges, pulling tricks, catching air, and generally risking life and limb in one of several arenas, all for the highest score
When they start the game, players have the option of playing in Arcade, Touring or Stunt mode. Each mode offers different options, challenges and goals.
Extreme Futuristic Racing!
All-new 3-D racing engine delivers smooth, unparalleled racing action
Race any of 16 sleek jet hover bikes through the 22nd century
Speed through 10 huge futuristic worlds or trick out in stunt mode
Experience enhanced Jet Moto gameplay, including turbo power-ups and slingshot & racer grapples.
Jet Moto 2124 is deep, fast, beautiful, and most important, fun. It was certain to be one of the biggest selling games on the PlayStation and easily lives up to the standards set by previous versions.
What were some of the challenges that the team encountered with Jet Moto 2124?
“The problems with JM4 as I remember was that the tracks were graphically impressive but short and confusing, requiring the player to go over the same terrain on a different part of the track. We were trying to do some things with water tracks that didn't work well. I think we got to the point that it was becoming a startover and we decided to put the JM franchise to rest for awhile.” Kelly Flock, former President 989 Studios
"We tried to stay true to the game design of Jet Moto 1 and 2. The games were challenging - especially challenging and we wanted to try and stay true to the core design philosophy of the first 2 games. Jet Moto featured figure 8 tracks and "suicide" tracks that, once you got to the end, you would turn around and go back the same way you came. This was established in JM 1.
Midway through development when a lot of the tracks were very nearly complete the studio director suggested that we widen the tracks by 50% which would have wrecked our poly count, texturing and AI. It would have been a massive undertaking. The influence of Wipeout on this vision of what Jet Moto 2124 should have been was not in line with what we had been designing. Although both games are futuristic racers, the game play of these games are drastically different. If we had received this direction a lot sooner, the outcome of the game could have been different. Looking back, I think that some of director’s comments had merit. It just went away from what JM 1 and 2 had been. "
“A large problem that we had was that management appeared to have very different expectations of the game than did the development team. They seemed to think that someone should be able to plop themselves down in front of the game and within a matter of minutes be an expert. They would watch with considerable excitement as I demoed the game for them (I played it non-stop) and, when it came their turn to play, they would quickly get frustrated when they couldn’t play it as well as I could. They were of the opinion that if you couldn’t immediately see where to go and easily navigate the track, that the game was poorly designed and therefore a disaster. I, myself literally spent weeks playing the Nightmare level on Jet Moto I before I could complete all three laps without falling off the track. For me and the rest of the team, half of the fun was learning to find the best way through the tracks and learning the split-timing required to make it through some of the terrain.”
What were some of the influences to the design of the game?
"We drew our inspiration from a number of different areas. For game play, we obviously played heavily off of the original 2 entries in the franchise. We were also attracted to the extreme sport of motocross and the insane stunts that the X-Games riders would perform. For the bike designs, we were inspired by the rugged performance of off-road bikes and the sleek, speedy look of supersonic aircraft. To compliment the obviously air-born motos we came up with, we wanted to place them in a futuristic environment where such clearly-advanced vehicles looked at home and natural. This was in stark contrast to the bike designs of the first two games that more closely resembled jet skis. In an effort to make the motos seem real to the design team, I came up with an artificial technology around which the hover bikes were designed. Original moto design concepts such as the Primary Vectored Thrust System, Rear Auxiliary Booster Rockets and Audiomagnetic Grappling Units explained the basic performance characteristics of our motos. Once we described these fictional systems, additional game play concepts logically followed, such as the ability to kick the bike up in the air, grapple off of other players and performance-enhancing power-ups. These new game play elements also led to the implementation of new track design components that had not been available to the previous three games, such as the split loop, grapple slingshot and stepping stones."
Explain why Syd Mead was important to the game.
Why was Syd important? He is a visionary. He did amazing things on Blade Runner, Aliens and the other Hollywood productions he was involved in. His artwork is distinctive and unlike anything else out there. He created the universe in which Jet Moto 2124 took place and brought a consistent look and feel to the game. Having a big name like Syd Mead gave our project a level of respect that I don’t think it would have received had we done our own conceptual work. However, I must admit that a number of the artists on the team were somewhat disappointed that they didn’t get to do the concept art for the game. But they were all excited to get to work with him.
There was a project, with the working title “Prince” that we were starting to mock up on paper to get a green light from Kelly Flock. The premise of Prince was that you were a covert agent that infiltrates embassies and top secret military bases, taking out sentries and avoiding security cameras. Sound familiar?
At E3 that year, Syphon Filter (which was published by Sony but we knew nothing about) and Metal Gear Solid were both announced. So, we had to start all over.
[It was called “Prince” so when we changed the name, it would be “the game formerly known as Prince.” Still one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard...]
Paul Willman suggested that we take a week and put design treatments together to pitch as a new project. We all worked diligently to create something new. On the day of the design meeting, after each of us had all talked about what new game we might make, Paul casually asks us if we would like to work on Jet Moto. Of course, we all leapt at the chance.
There was some concern internally that JM3 was not going to ship on time. We were the sequel to that game but also, a sort of insurance policy so that SCEA would have something if JM3 was unable to overcome problems.
The JM 4 team was exceptionally well-balanced. We had great programming and art. I was very proud to be a part of that team, I learned a good deal from each of them.
I felt that the physics were especially good. Our lead programmer, Tim Monk was taking flying lessons at the time. He turned what he was learning in the cock-pit into a great handling game. We had to make adjustments to the physics because the first version of the game’s motos had too much lift and wanted to fly – which makes sense. If you had a real moto, you probably would want it to fly – it just didn’t translate to the game.
As Assistant Producer, my responsibilities weren’t really defined. So I looked at the things that no one had the time to do, and focused on that. Paul was managing the team. I jumped on everything else.
Another team within the studio was using an outside conceptual artist to give their game a more cohesive look. We thought that was a great idea. I went around the studio and asked artists I admired to suggest a list of names for possible concept artists. Lots of the artists mentioned by our in-house art staff were featured in Spectrum and did covers for Heavy Metal. Donato Giancola, Stephan Martiniere, Luis Royo to name a few. I started making calls to their agents to meet with them.
In the end, we decided that Syd Mead was the best fit for our game. We were going for a bright, clean future: Star Trek, not Star Wars and post-Apocalyptic concepts had been done to death. We wanted an optimistic future. Also, Syd’s angular style worked well in using a limited number of polys, something that he seemed to understand well- he should since he designed Tron.
If you’re not familiar with Syd Mead, he designed Johnny Five, Blade Runner and the marine’s tech in Aliens. Syd refers to himself as a “futurist” which is a very apt description.
We sent Syd a written description of the level and some art done in-house and Syd would send back two renderings per level that we would use to guide the direction of the look of the game. It was awesome. I definitely learned a lot from looking through his perspective.
The next step I tackled was in-game sponsors. Having real sponsors within the game really helps build an “authentic” feel to a game. But they have to be the right sponsors. While movies and TV shows have ironed out the wrinkles in advertising, video games were still trying to figure it out. Do you charge or not? What is an equitable exchange? Is it more important to have the right sponsor, or is it more important to get revenue from the sponsor?
I must admit, that this caused a problem with our marketing dept. Marketing wanted to get advertising co-ops. We wanted the right sponsors… In the end, we got a little bit of both. I think you can tell where the split is when looking at the actual sponsors: Doritos vs. SMP and Slim Jim vs. Body Glove. Personally, I wanted to see the same sponsors I was seeing at motocross and extreme sports events. Since the game didn’t release, it was all for nothing anyway.
[SMP technologies were in San Diego at the time. They were great. They even put together some suit designs for our riders to wear.]
I attended a lot of motocross and Superbike events to take pictures and video. It made the most sense that I go since I didn’t have kids to worry about and the artists and programmers had work to do. I got a lot of resource material from the paddocks and racetracks. It was a lot of fun, definitely something I enjoyed doing.
Music was the next item on the list. To go with our futuristic utopia, electronic music was our choice. I definitely was taking cues from Wipeout. Wipeout and Jet Moto are close in some ways and very different in others. I was a little concerned in going so close in direction but it worked for us on several levels.
First of all, it is easy to manipulate electronic music, in terms of length and looping. Also, electronic music was very popular at the time. I’d like to think that we chose the right music -music that kids into the rave scene would recognize and respect. I was hoping that we would get some attention from the music press if we did it right. Lastly, techno music is perfect for driving fast.
[The way I test music… I get in my car and play the music loud. If I start speeding – then I know it’s good for games.]
At one point, we were in discussions to publish a video game soundtrack CD.
We spent $150,000 on the music alone…
We drew inspiration from other games and media. The trailing lights effects in Akira gave us the idea to include light trails when you used turbos. We had arcing electricity effects to show the bike was suffering damage.
We had story lines and victory cinematics for each of the riders like they have in Tekken or Street Fighter. I wanted to give the player a reason to play as each character. This would give the game some replay value. Also, each character had a personality, which gamers would hopefully identify with and adopt. (I still haven’t really seen this in a race game…Maybe Mario Kart.)
Besides barrel rolls and forward/back flips like they have in JM 1, 2 and 3, each of the riders had a signature move and each of the riders could also do conventional freestyle motocross tricks like can-cans and heel clickers. You could even combine them and do a can-can barrel roll if you wanted… Special areas with long air-times were added in the levels to do tricks. Tricks added to your turbo meter.
Lastly, we devised several game play features that weren’t in any of the previous JM’s. Slingshot grapples, trampolines and teleporters were just a few of the types of features we added to the game.
Andy Jarros was the game’s primary designer. He came up with most of the new game play ideas.
The game was hard. Really hard. We were in the process of tweaking the difficulty when progress was halted. We were taking cues from JM 1 and 2 and trying to decide whether to focus more on speed or technical riding. We wanted to give it the “Jet Moto” feel but with “Wipeout” speed.
So, why was it cancelled? It’s hard to say. JM3 was panned by the critics and sales weren't stellar. We got a new president that questioned the need for a 4th version of the franchise. The studio director wanted to widen the tracks by 50%, which would have cost us 6 months as we would need to rebuild everything, including AI. It was probably a combination of all three…
I will say, however that it was pretty tragic. It is tragic because I believe it would have changed mine and my team-mates careers in the video game industry. I think a lot of people would have enjoyed playing it. I would have loved to have carried the franchise to the PS2 and the PS3. Could you imagine JM for PS3?!?
Even with all of the racing games and motocross games, there’s still nothing quite like Jet Moto. Jet Moto 2124 may well be the best game that no one will ever see but then again, we all know exactly what that’s worth.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Realistic Development Cycle - This was one of the only non-sports titles that had been given what I would consider a reasonable development time table. The fact that it was started while JM 3 was still pre-alpha certainly helped and, towards the end, when JM 3 slipped its schedule, the thought that we could possibly beat that game to the shelves really motivated the team.
Appropriate Staffing - We had THE BEST programmers in the studio working on this game. Tim Monk and Rich Carp were arguably the best programmers that SCEA had (with the possible exception of Brandon Bogle who I would rank up there with those two). These guys could program circles around anyone in the industry. Rich was dedicated to in-game effects and the results were stunning, I think you'll agree. Fully-animated bikes, light trails, lens flare - he put the polish on that game that no other had. Tim's character and animation engines were amazing and gave an unprecedented realism to the characters. There was not a single frame of motion capture in that game, yet his characters behaved more realistically than any game that had hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on motion capture.
The art staff was also top-notch. We had enough artists that we could dedicate one per track, which allowed a single person to focus on an entire package. Each track had a consistent look throughout.
Game Design - We had the Jet Moto franchise! What else needs to be said? Chris, Tim, Andy Jaros (lead level designer) and myself were all die-hard fans of the original Jet Moto and spent the entire time chomping at the bit, trying to take the original game into new and exciting areas. We had the phenomenal talent of Syd Mead at the helm of the conceptual art, which gave the entire game a unique, but consistent, look that we would never have achieved ourselves. Chris scored a major coup unprecedented at the Studio by getting nearly $100k in music licenses from big-name artists for a sound track that I STILL listen to, today.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Moto Physics Model – Although his animation engine was state-of-the-art, Tim’s physics and collision models for the environment and the motos had serious limitations and needed to be tweaked. Granted, at low speeds, it absolutely rocked – the response, look and feel of the game was amazing and held great promise, but, when the motos got up to top speed, we ran into real problems. The virtual shocks built into the physics model simply couldn’t handle the stresses that the game put on it. It bottomed out, bounced off the collision polys and the nice, smooth feel of our predecessors was shot. Such track features as sharp turns and loops were rendered nearly unplayable. We played with a number of different methods to patch these problems, but were never able to come up with a satisfactory solution.
Lack of Marketing Support and Coordination – Although I listed concurrent development with JM III as a plus, it also worked against us. Marketing was focused on JM III and had no time to spend on us. This was a problem with all the studios – marketing typically wasn’t even interested in your product until it was at Beta. Then, they would step in and make suggestions and requests that should have been made way back in the early design stages. Many of the requests they would make were incompatible with the current design or technology and could not be addressed.
Camera Perspective and Moto Scale – As all the pieces started to come together, it became apparent that something had not quite gone as planned. Levels that felt nice and roomy in the level editor seemed tight and cramped when placed into the game engine. The highest speeds of our motos – speeds that, if exceeded, would totally break the physics model – did not feel particularly fast, especially in light of the recent game play of JM III, which was BLAZING fast. A few people around the office began calling it Jet Slo-Mo. This eroded external enthusiasm for the product and eventually hurt the morale of the team. We tried several different tricks to address these issues, such as scaling the motos down, scaling the levels up, changing the position and tracking and focal point of the camera, but nothing seemed to help the problem.