VANCOUVER, British Columbia – While many game studios have folded with the recession that has hurt the industry, independent game studio United Front Games has prospered. Over the past two years, the start-up has grown from 40 to 200 employees. The world got a glimpse of the first game from the studio at Sony’s E3 press conference, when ModNation Racers was singled out along with huge franchises like God of War 3. United Front Games opened its doors to game journalists for the first time this week and unveiled new details on its PlayStation 3-exclusive Spring 2010 kart racing game.
According to Julian Beach, lead producer of the game at United Front Games, ModNation Racers is classic kart racing with a creative twist. That’s because it’s the latest game from Sony to focus on user-generated content. Like Sony’s hit LittleBigPlanet, every aspect of the new game can be created, shared and played by others. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, the learning curve for creating your characters, customizing your karts and designing your own tracks is pretty much zero.
“Kart racers can pretty much be played by anyone…brothers, sisters, friends, family,” said Beach. “We’ve designed this game to be accessible to anyone who picks it up. And for the more mature or veteran gamers, we have a lot of depth that can be applied to everything from character creation to car customization to building elaborate tracks. We think the key to ModNation Racers and the reason this game will stand apart from other kart racers is because of the community. The game will never get stale because there will always be new characters, karts and tracks to download and master for those who don’t want to spend the time to create their own original content. It’s free to share creations with friends via PSN.”
Gamers will be able to get a feel for how easy customization is in this new kart racer when they jump into the December beta. Anyone who bought the recent special edition of LittleBigPlanet received a beta code, and Sony will be delivering other codes to gamers in the coming weeks. The beta will feature three tracks: Market Run, Farm Frenzy and Sandstorm, as well as editors that allow for character creation, kart customization and limited track creation that won’t offer some of the more high-level obstacles that the Blu-ray Disc version will ship with next year.
The three tracks offer a variety of locales and interactive environments – complete with obstacles like cows and sand – to give players a sense of the various track surfaces like pavement, gravel, and dirt. But with the Track Studio 2.0 editor, the early beta community will flood PSN with new tracks to keep the racing action fresh until the full version of the game ships. Even novice gamers will be able to build a track from scratch in a matter of minutes, thanks to the intuitive editor that introduces a “drive to create” feature in which your kart is followed by a huge steamroller that follows you around as you lay out the track. Everything in the world is customizable from creating mountains and lakes to pyramids and giant skulls. The editor literally lets you shape the earth around the track and makes it a synch to build bridges and corkscrew turns.
One of the coolest features of the track layout is that at any point, you can hit the triangle button and the editor will automatically connect your road to the starting point. It’s then a matter of hitting the “auto population” button and you can watch as an entire world of trees, buildings, signs, and obstacles like turbo boosts and power-ups are randomly generated to turn your track into a living, breathing world in mere minutes. Players can jump into a quick Test Drive mode and decide whether additional objects should be added. And when it’s complete, they can jump into a race and check out the power-ups with a field of karts. It’s going to be very easy for fans to get creative with this tool, especially when the full game ships with all the additional bells and whistles like elaborate mousetrap-like devices that include barrel rollers, moving platforms and gravity-defying jumps.
“It’s basically a really advanced prototype and playtest sandbox on the back end that makes it extremely easy for anyone to build tracks and then immediately try them out to make any changes on-the-fly,” said James Grieve, technical director at United Front Games.
Wes Holder, lead track designer at United Front Games, showed off two exclusive levels from the final game at the event, including Village Run and Miner’s Rift, which showcased more elaborate features. But there was also a demo of advanced editing features that included a level that even the developer found challenging with its booby-trapped events and moving platforms and double spiral turns. Every level of the final version of the game will be open for players to edit what the developers created. The ability to make a challenging track even harder was demonstrated by using the intuitive brush to literally erase land around a weaving stretch of track, so that veering too far to the right or left would result in a plunge over the cliff. Holder can’t wait to see what gamers start creating with the beta, and later, with the final version of the game once all the tools are unleashed.
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