If ModNation Racers was designed as an offshoot of another Sony property instead of its own entity, it would probably be called LittleBigPlanet Kart. Like that iconic platformer, there appears to be a highly competent game built into MNR right from the start, but United Front’s new game is truly designed to give the player the chance to customize their experience and really create their own game.
For starters, there is a very detailed character customization tool. In addition to a large variety of props and outfits, such as gas masks and ballerina dresses, the character’s body can be tweaked to almost-unprecedented levels. You can paint your happy little cartoon avatar’s skin with any pattern you want, adding hair and fur effects, and tweak the size of just about any area of the body. So, if you want your character to have gorilla arms, simply shrink the upper arm and fatten up the lower arm. Once satisfied, the player can save their creation to a ‘Mod List’, where our demoers had previously saved a goth girl (pale white skin with all black clothes) and the best character ever, a monkey in a business suit.
Eventually, they settled on a trucker-looking character with a hard hat, and moved onto the vehicle creation mode. Your ride is just as customizable as your character, using the same design engine. It doesn’t even have to conform to the standard definition of a ‘car’, as some of the premades include a go kart, a dune buggy, a cardboard cutout of a car, and a big rig. Our rep selected the big rig to go along with his trucker character, and went about jumping into one of the premade race tracks. We were told that the editor was industrial-grade enough to satisfy professional track designers.
But seeing is believing, so at this point the rep loaded up the level editor and gave us a more detailed taste than what we saw at the Sony press conference. The first thing he made clear to us was that they did not have a specific track design in mind for our demonstration, but that it’s so simple that you can make a decent course with a few seconds and some intuition. You are free to make it as simple or complex as you wish, with the only requirement being that you have a track that starts and ends at the goalpost so that the AI drivers have a spline to follow. However, even this can be easily worked around, as multiple paths are possible, and once the track is placed, it can be completely edited over so that there is no visible ‘track’ at all.
Regarding terrain, there are many different options. The default for the country theme we saw demoed was a dirt road, but UF edited it halfway through so that part of it was made of cobblestone. Surface changes blend seamlessly with other track pieces and other terrain. When changing terrain, if there is a piece of track in the middle of the drawing circle, the game is intelligent enough to know that the track takes priority, and will not change that part.
One of the big complaints about LittleBigPlanet was its emphasis on micro-management. The editor in ModNation Racers was likened to painting a canvas. First, the artist uses broad strokes to communicate the general idea, then he goes back and adds layer after layer of fine detail until the painting is finished. How this works in the game is like this: in a lot of other creation-based games, if the player wanted to make, for example, a forest, they would need to select the ‘tree’ object and then place thousands of trees individually. In Mod Nation Racers, the player simply adjusts the size of a circle they want the forest to reside inside, and drag it along the area they wish to place it. If desired, they can then move individual trees or small groups to organize them a specific way. The same can be said of any other object in the game—entire villages can even be made this way, and the game is smart enough to automatically have the houses facing the track.
Special objects can be placed on the track to allow for even more zany kart-racing mania. In addition to the genre-standard weapon containers, it’s possible to make jumps, boosters, launchers (like the one in the DK Falls stage of Mario Kart: Double Dash), cliffs, lakes, and all manner of other obstacles. When asked if we would be able to add waterfalls and other such larger hazards, we were told to ‘stay tuned’. A similar answer came when another publication asked about importing your own music, though we were told that they want the music to be as customizable as the rest of the game.
If you want to test a certain feature of your track, or see if the whole package is ready for primetime, a simple option in the pause menu will drop your selected character and car at the starting point, with no time limit, and you’re free to test and explore to your heart’s content. You can also drop in AI characters to test out a race and make sure they take the proper path from one end to the other. Once you’re satisfied with your creation, it can be published online for the world to see and download for free. When joining a player’s match for which you don’t have the appropriate track, it will be quickly downloaded and stored in your PS3’s cache, similar to how this feature worked in LittleBigPlanet. United Front confirmed that there will be official downloadable content for the game, but they weren’t ready to announce a price point.
All in all, ModNation Racers is shaping up to be an excellent choice for gamers looking to customize their kart-racing experience.