Back to the future

Dave Wilson discovers the wonderful world of Pod Racing.

‘There is a happy land where only children live. You’ve had your chance and now the doors are closed sir.’ – David Bowie.

Years ago, when my son was just a lad, we used to spend many a happy hour at the weekend playing computer games on a Dreamcast unit that I’d picked up in a sale for £99 (two games included).

Being an aficianado of all things Star Wars, I’d bought the young fella a copy of Star Wars Racer as soon as it hit the shops. And for hours, we’d race around the barren wasteland of Tatooine reliving all the thrills and excitement of the Pod Race sequence from Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. When we weren’t doing that, we were in the Virtual Shop updating our Pod Racers with all manner of weird stuff to make them fly faster or manoeuvre quicker.

But all good things must come to an end, and those days are gone now. The little fella has grown up and is now more interested in whatever it is that teenagers are interested in. And the Dreamcast gathers dust in a corner next to a stack of games that no-one plays anymore.

I sometimes look at that old console and feel a little sad that he may never be captivated by anything again in quite the same way that he was when he piloted Anakin Skywalker’s vessel through that rather nasty mountain pass in his younger days.

But maybe I’m being too hasty here. Because thanks to none other than Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, founder of the X PRIZE, he might now get a similar thrill by watching rocket pilots rip round the desert for real!

You see, the rather well-off Dr. Diamandis announced this week that he’s founded the Rocket Racing League (RRL), a new outfit with the mission to combine the competition of racing with the excitement of rocketry, bringing the thrill of the Star Wars Pod-racing experience from out of the console right into the Arizona desert.

According to the RRL, these rocket races will operate much like auto races, with the exception that the ‘track’ is up in the sky. Courses are expected to be approximately two miles long, one mile wide, and about 5,000 feet high, running perpendicularly to spectators. The rocket planes themselves, called X-Racers strangely enough, will take off from a runway both in a staggered fashion and side-by side and fly a course based on the design of a Grand Prix competition, with long straight-aways, vertical ascents, and deep banks. Each pilot will follow his or her own virtual ‘tunnel’ or ‘track’ of space through which to fly, separated from their competitors by a few hundred feet.

So while for safety reasons, the members of the Rocket Racing League may never to be able to supply the marvellous muscle-twitching carnage associated with the original Star Wars Pod Racing Game, they are certainly going to supply a lot of the excitement.

But what, I hear you ask, of us that still have sons and daughters that haven’t yet left the happy land where only children live? Well, not to worry, the rocket racing fellas have thought of them too – a video game based on the RRL is slated to launch in late 2007. What more could anyone ask for? Only for some appropriately named pilots like Ratts Tyerell and Dud Bolt, perhaps.