Interviews// ModNation Racers: William Ho, Director

Posted 10 May 2010 16:34 by
Companies:
Games: Modnation Racers
ModNation Racers is the next PlayStation 3 exclusive to be adopting the 'Play.Create.Share' philosophy, a series that seeks to take a traditional genre and remix it with user-generated content at its core.

As you would expect from the name, ModNation Racers assumes the form of fun, cartoony karting games that a certain mustachioed plumber made famous. But when you fire it up, closer parallels can be found with its British cousin, LittleBigPlanet.

While there are championship races and multiplayer modes to boot, the real beauty of United Front's game is in the Mod, Track and Kart Studio, where you can design practically any element of the experience to your hearts content. You can also download other people's creations and improve upon them yourself.

I had the chance to sit down with the game's director, William Ho, about the similarities with Media Molecule's title, the results of its recently completed public Beta and the challenges that come with adding a user-generated dimension to the racing genre.


SPOnG: What have you learned from the ModNation Racers Beta?

William Ho: The public Beta was released relatively early in the development cycle, especially compared to public Betas for other games. So we knew we were releasing something unfinished and that we had a lot to learn and improve upon. In fact, for the public Beta we only released something like 5% of the final art assets, yet people were able to create a crazy variation of mods, tracks and karts.

What amazed us was how how quickly people picked up the tools - we were kind of worried a bit because we packaged the Beta with no tutorials and no idea of progression. But the users were able to use it without any problems and give us constructive feedback on it. In only two or three days we saw players publishing stuff that were wowing members of our team, who had been working on the game for about two years.

So it was a pleasant surprise that it was very usable and that emboldened us to continue on that path. Since we closed the Beta we also made a lot of improvements based on feedback that was emailed to us.


SPOnG: What sort of features did the community comment on?

William Ho: Things like the loading times and the handlings - we heard those comments loud and clear. They weren't really surprises to us; we knew we had a lot of work still to do but it was nice to see the user feedback confirm to us where we needed to go.

I think we've come along nicely in terms of the control and physics of the karts, I believe we've made it more playable. The frame rate has improved and we also made additional optimisations, to the point where 4 player splitscreen is now a reality. And that was a huge feature request, I'm glad we got it in there.

The engineers have also been able to optimise loading times in several areas of the game. But, you know, it's not going to be cartridge loading times or anything (laughs), but you will see some improvements over the Beta.

The actual loading time of a stage really depends on the complexities of the level customisations. So if you're waiting a bit longer than usual for a particular track, chances are you're going to see something new and complex, so you'll be paid for your patience.


SPOnG: I know you guys have experience of racing games in the past. How challenging was it to make a title that seems so inherently different from your past output?

William Ho: The way we approached this game was a deliberate choice. Collectively, we've got literally hundreds of man years in experience working on racing games, sports games, actions games... even games that heavily focus on user-generated content. Some of our team members have worked on Spore and World of Warcraft in the past.

So what we really wanted to do was take all of our diverse experience and pool it into what was a really clean sheet design-wise - because we had a new studio, new game, new ambitions (laughs). It was quite easy, therefore, for us to go in such a different direction, one that doesn't take itself so seriously compared with some of our past titles.

What we definitely didn't want to do was make a game that tried to draw a line between what was 'cool' and what wasn't. We deliberately set out not to judge who was 'in' and who wasn't, and to ensure the player's personalities are treated equally. That, really, means you're going for the widest possible audience - we don't want to alienate anyone, rather, we want to empower everyone.


SPOnG: There's a danger there as well, that if you start to tell the player what is 'cool', they will automatically roll their eyes and deem it uncool.

William Ho: Exactly! Nothing's cool forever, right? So, in a game where you can create what you want wherever you want ? the only limitation really is your hard drive ? you can keep evolving your style. Keep defining what is cool for you and seeing what is cool for others.
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Companies:
Games: Modnation Racers

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