Become a Mod Master
January 6, 2010 – At E3 2009, there were several games creating buzz; they kept us talking about them well after E3, all the way up to their respective releases. Unfortunately, as in most cases, when it comes to event coverage and reveals, some titles are always overshadowed. One such game that deserved a little more attention was ModNation Racers. It looked to have so much promise, but after E3 it did a vanishing act and no one really heard much else about it. Recently, I was able to finally get my hands on the title. After the amount of time I have spent with the game, my advice to everyone is don’t let this title fall under your radar – and here’s why.
Creativity. That was the biggest selling factor to me and others when LittleBigPlanet arrived last year. Many people loved the potential of creating your own level and sharing it with this massive community, which could then rate your level and even recommend it for others to play. It also became a breeding ground of spontaneous creativity. Granted, some of those never excelled past “here’s X number of trophies level,” but it was still there. However, one of the biggest complaints has always been the complexity of making a level in LBP. No one can deny the innovation of LBP, but nearly all will tell you the pain in making a level just makes it not worth it. In ModNation Racers, it appears this will not be the case.
Beginning with your Mod, you are easily able to change things with just a few clicks of a button. Granted, this is generally the same with most character designing tools, but it is the sheer ease of making mods in ModNation Racers that thus far helps it excel. For example, creating The Hulk takes two seconds and actually looks like The Hulk. I know this may seem like too much praise, but the kicker to this is my four year old son is the one who created The Hulk, and yes it still looks like a ModNation Racers version of The Incredible Hulk. This super-simple approach seems to be carried over into the kart building as well, allowing people of all ages to create to their hearts content with limitless possibilities.
The creation doesn’t stop there, though. I was also able to check out the track-building feature. Though also in limited capacity, like the Kart and Mod creation tools, the track creator once again surprised me with its ease of creation. Granted, this was shown to be easy during the E3 presentation, but I know now from first-hand experience that it is one hundred percent accurate. It boils down to you “driving” the shape of your race track. Once your track is laid out, you have several other options to play around with to complete the track. Everything from the type of grass or sand around the track to the water level of the track can be tweaked. I mean, sure, you can go all creation commando on the game, but it never makes you feel like you have to have a degree in game development to get something that’s more than respectable. There’s even the option, if you start to get into the full-on creation of a track, to have it finished for you if you start to grow tired of the process.
Creation aspect aside, ModNation Racers’ other core element is kart racing. Modnation Racers doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel of kart racing, following a very simple formula created by Mario Kart. There are several things that I personally find more enjoyable so far in the game, but it they could change. Without being able to experience the career mode of the game, it is kind of hard to tell how certain gameplay mechanics will play out. One in particular is the stacking of abilities in races. Collecting the power-ups as you race allows you to stack a total of three for an extremely powerful attack, boost, or various other effects. I enjoyed those and I wonder how, if at all, they will play into career mode. The other thing that is hindered by not experiencing the full release is how the online interaction will be.
Right now, unfortunately, there seem to be more than a few issues when it comes to the servers associated with the game. If anyone remembers the Beta period of LittleBigPlanet, they will know what I am talking about. Let’s just hope that similar follies that remained through the launch of LBP don’t plague ModNation Racers when it releases. Having said this, there were a few instances when I was able to play without interruption; the magic of online kart racing is definitely there, and I can’t wait to see where it ends up.
Every once in a while, there’s a game that promises to change the way things are done. This new “Play, Create, Share” mentality is paving the way for a generation of imaginative game developers just waiting to branch out onto their own. Thankfully, there are games Like ModNation Racers that seem to capture the magic of “Play, Create, Share.” Let’s just hope the final release excels past the already impressive content available in the Beta.
June 4, 2009 – One of Sony’s biggest surprises at this year’s E3 was ModNation Racers, an apparently simple and family-oriented car racer that has it all. It might not look like much at first glance, but those who are already deep into the world of LittleBigPlanet will surely be able to appreciate this title before they even get to play it. If you enjoy Mario Kart and LBP, get ready for this one, because it seems to have all the ingredients for success.
ModNation Racers is not being developed by the LBP creators, but by United Front Games and Sony. However, the game definitely has a similar feel and even many of the creative features found in last year’s platformer. For starters, character customization is a big part of the game. The developers want the users to be able to express themselves through very unique avatars. You start off with a blank vinyl character with no facial features or clothes and then start adding eyes, mouth, hair style, etc. There is a wide selection of features; there seems to be over 100 eyes to choose from, around 100 mouths as well, and dozens of hair styles. As if that wasn’t enough, you can tweak some of these features by making them larger, smaller, rotate them, etc., which allows you to achieve a unique style that sets your character apart from other players. There are 2D and 3D hair styles, so you can add some dimension to the character or make it more classic-looking. Racing suits, dresses, and pretty much anything you can think of make up a great collection of outfits for our little racer. You can also pick from diverse accessories like hats, helmets, or even a gas mask to complete his/her look. Finally, a virtually unlimited color palette lets you change the color of each feature and different parts of the outfit, and you can even sync up the color scheme with the rest of the body so you only have to color one thing or two.
Kart can also be deeply customized and “painted” to achieve different color styles and textures. You can pick from different body styles, whether it’s a boogie, a classic sedan, a sports car, an old-school convertible, a truck, you name it! Of course, you have to take physics into account, and use karts that are more aerodynamic for certain races, while other times you might need a heavier vehicle to tackle a specific track.
The game comes with a good amount of tracks already built into the single player campaign, and as you advance, you’ll be able to unlock parts and assets that you can then use in the amazingly deep Track Studio. Here, players will be able to pick from many different themes – the developers said almost anything you can think of, including the obvious rural landscapes, modern cities, etc. Once selected, you can start adding a track by simply dragging the cursor around the screen. In order to spice up the track, you will then add trees, houses, hills, mountains, bridges, animals, or whatever it is you want, and then you can move them around individually, rotate them, or delete them need be. You can add most elements on an “auto” mode, but you can also get as detailed as you want and place each object individually, if precision is your thing. The cursor seems to move very smoothly, allowing for a very accessible experience for everyone. From what I saw, the level creator seems more user-friendly than the one in LBP. You can even add textures like gravel, cobblestone, mud, etc. to the road, change the weather or time of the day, create bumps, modify terrain, or even add launchers, tunnels, and obstacles. All these things will affect the driving experience, so basically players will create their own challenge from top to bottom. Oh! And let’s not forget the weapons, which are inside little bubbles (similar to Mario Kart’s boxes). You can drop these around the track, place them in hidden shortcuts, and much more.
As you can see, this game is extremely customizable, so all these elements already set it apart from other racers out there. The developers are really focused on creating the most original kart racing experience, while still paying full attention to the presentation and gameplay. The game is displayed in full HD, with detailed textures and a realistic yet cartoonish style that looks very professional. Characters have a full range of expressions and react to the events in real time, taunting and all. The vehicle physics are also very accurate, with everything happening in real time like it would in Burnout or MotorStorm. Collisions affect terrain, your own vehicle, and other vehicles as well, when you crash against them. The racing is very fast-paced, as it is to be expected. Handling the vehicle seems very easy, though we didn’t get to try it for ourselves. You can drift, get turbo boosts, and attack other players with an arsenal of weapons you pick up along the way. Although the game is very accessible from the beginning for new players, you will definitely get savvier later on and use weapons to your advantage, obviously like you would in Mario Kart. They couldn’t talk about the music yet, but they have very cool plans for it as well, with a wide range of music tracks that should please everyone.
The online component is also worth mentioning, since it’s supposed to be huge. In addition to local and online multiplayer, players will be able to upload their custom tracks and download tracks other users have created. Anyone can edit the downloaded tracks, though it won’t overwrite the original creation, which is good. This way, a group of friends could join forces and create the coolest track there is. Since the track designer tool is the same as the one used by the creators of the game, the options are virtually unlimited. This sense of community already included in previous games like LittleBigPlanet or Spore seems to be the way of the future, and that’s why I think this game is going to be very popular for years to come. It looks like Sony has a great exclusive here, so hopefully they’ll be able to continue to grow their library with unique and strong titles such as this one. There’s not a firm release date, but they’re aiming for 2010. Long way to go!