Crispy Gamer

Narcisse and Jones Test Drive ModNation Racers; Take Pictures

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Vancouver feels like a very new city. There's big, fancy buildings going up everywhere and the people I met when I visited all seemed very bright and chipper and eager to help. (Except for Jones, that is.) Jones has long been regaling me about the development scene in Vancouver and it kind of makes sense that there'd be a cluster of video game production houses in this new-feeling city. Video games are a forward-looking industry and Vancouver's got the kind of vibe that seems to fit the medium.

And speaking of the city, man, the United Front Games offices are swank! Every place I've ever worked looks like a hovel compared to the spacious three-floor set-up they've got going on. We got a brief tour where I snapped some pics. I've beeen covering this indutsry for a while but usually I don't get to seee the places where the games get made. Demos usually happen in hotel rooms or some kind of event space, so it was nice to get hands-on time where the game is actually being made.

The folks at UFG are calling ModNation Racers the first hi-def kart racing game and
say their inspiration comes from urban vinyl culture. (You know, like
those Munnys.) In keeping with that, the character customization suite is amazingly deep. Both the racer characters and their cars will support up to 256 layers of "decals," meaning either the stickers or coats of paint. You can then tweak the material properties to add details like chrome to your design. The character custo tools were so good that I didn't even want to race. But race we did.

I pretty much agree with Jones' previous post as far as how the racing currently feels about ModNation Racers. It's a little slippery and the drifting is tough to get the hang of. But the thing that's got me most excited is the game's upcoming public beta. As I said in my recent review of LBP PSP, the best part about the Play, Create, Share model is the stuff other people do with the tools games like LBP and ModNation give to players.  And when you think about it, kart racing's the perfect genre to apply this model to, as well. About five years ago, you couldn't go into a game store without bumping into shelves full of Mario Kart knockoffs and franchise-based wannabes like Crash Kart Racing. Everyone knows how to play them and, in a sense, knows what to expect.  That's clearly the principe that UFG's working off of. During the demo, one of the studio leads mentioned how racing games aren't any fun once you've mastered the tracks. It's a metaphor for kart racers, too. The genre got stale and the best remedy to that staleness might well be user-generated content. Creating tracks was as easy as driving around in an open field and, if you want to slap something together really quickly, you can use an auto-complete function to drop details into the world lickety-split. 

The other part of the demo day that Jones had to bail on was actual, in-real-life go-kart racing. After 25 laps of the same turns over and over again, let's just say I have a new-found respect for professional racecar drivers. You need a strong core, strong shoulders and nerves of steel to do that stuff week in, week out. You also need a cast-iron stomach. If the jostling from sitting in a rattle-trap car with no shocks and the occasional bumping doesn't get you carsick, then the exhaust and gasoline fumes will. You're literally sitting right on top of the gas tank! My lungs are aching even as I type this. My greatest moment was successfully pulling of a pass in a tight turning situation but overall my lap times were nothing to write home about. As Jones said, we all got figures based on our Mods. Rumor has it that you'll be able to purchase these things through an in-game store with real-world monies.

United Front's also working on another title, which got unveiled yesterday in a teaser vid for the upcoming VGA awards. Any guesses as to what it might be?