This is the premise behind the 1996 PlayStation sleeper hit, Blast Chamber (maybe less of a hit than I remember, actually). Regardless, this game was published by Activision and created by Attention to Detail Ltd. It's also heralded as the first "4-player non-sports game" for the PlayStation and Saturn. Now, I understand what they mean by
"sport", but what is this "Blast Chamber"? How does it work? Can you die in it for real? Would the developers have had a better reception if they'd named it "Futuristic Gladiator Explodeyball"?
Blast Chamber is a cross between rugby, motocross, and a Saw-style trap room filled with explodey torture puzzles. Four competitors face off using their wits, their grit, and their mighty stiff arms to pick up a glowing crystal ball and put it inside a hole that corresponds to their individual player color. Depending on the difficulty options selected, the crystal ball either adds time to their bomb or removes time from opponents. It sounds simple enough, except that the field in which the game is played is a rotating cube filled with fans and killer spikes.
Over the years we've seen several bloody, future sports games that drew from various influences. There was Rollerball, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and my favorite, Death Race 2000. These sports were violent but grounded. But the gaming landscape in 1996 emphasized wakiness when it came to futuristic sports. Such games included robots and superpowers, in titles like Baseball Simulator 1000, Base Wars, and Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball (another personal favorite).
Blast Chamber's violent premise as a twisted future sport made it a game worth picking up. Still, the real draw for me and my crew of misfits was the multiplayer. You could run, leap, and Heisman the hell out of other players to make them cough up a football-shaped crystal. You could approach a wall and kick the flashing arrow to rotate the entire stage 90 degrees, or leap on the 180 degree switcher and cause every other player to fall and smash into the floor.
Fans blew you up into the air, moving floor tiles made spikes fly out to prematurely "kill" an opponent (effectively costing them time). Moreover, there were also power-ups to grab that could shift the state of play, like crystal magnets, player freezers, magnetic boots, and the always hilarious crystal bomb.
Legendary Texas Longhorns football coach Darrel K. Royal once said, "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad." Well, about thirty things can happen in a round of Blast Chamber, and twenty nine of them are bad. As Mario Party later taught us, "bad things happen to everybody" is at the core of party gaming.
The real fun of Blast Chamber was that, with a multi-tap, you could play with three friends in frenzied battles that were as much about self-preservation as complete and utter conquest. Your in-game avatar has a ticking bomb on their chest, and so, that sense of urgency genuinely transfers right through the screen to you. If you are playing with a group of particularly venemous players, the intensity is palpable. You didn't really win a Blast Chamber match, you survived it.
I think this philosophy - where "winning" is sometimes less about being a great shot, and more about pure cunning - has continued to find a home in modern games like Fortnite, PUBG, and Apex Legends.
Blast Chamber was fun as-is, but what really pushed it into the realm of gaming bliss was the discovery that placing the game on THERMONUCLEAR (hard mode) created three interesting effects:
- You got less time (+15 sec) for putting the crystal into your own reactor.
- Opponents got more time off when the crystal landed in their scoring reactor (- 45 sec).
- Explosions were larger and would kill other players that were too close.
When you saw your clock dwindling down to its final ticks, you could choose to abandon the goal of outright winning and instead punish your opponents. Impeding opponents, especially at the last moment, as you laugh maniacally while you explode into colored mist (taking the poor sap with you) was its own kind of satisfaction. Of course, it worked the other way around too. If you were lucky enough to grab a crystal magnet and tear the lifesaving ball away from your opponent, they could quickly grab a crystal bomb and fling it towards you, where your only option is to watch helplessly as you ancitipate the imminent explosion.
Blast Chamber is athletic nihilism. It takes this concept to absurd and hilarious depths by inverting player expectations. It's basically Schadenfreude: The Game. You will lose time. You will die on spikes. You will explode at the hands of other players. You will rotate the entire stage to save yourself. You will make your friends hilariously miserable (but perhaps not as miserable as they make you). Blast Chamber is an awesome example of just how much fun shared misery can be when it's executed in an engaging and competitive way. I think I've finally hung out with enough Brits to understand that this is how they think American Football works (you kind of just...bang heads until you die).
So, the next xtime you and your friends want to go old school, see if you can pick up a copy of Blast Chamber. Then spend some time pushing each other into walls until you all explode. Repeat, then giggle 'till you pass out. Pure bliss.
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