Interview: ModNation Racers

Interview: ModNation Racers

Formed in 2007, Vancouver-based United Front Games officially broke cover in May 2009 with the announcement that it was working on a new action title for Activision. In July, at E3, the studio unveiled a second project, the PS3 exclusive ModNation Racers. An 80-strong development team including former EA, Radical and Rockstar employees – many of whom have experience in the racing genre having worked on the likes of the Need For Speed series – is currently at work on the kart racer. We caught up with producer Dan Sochan to find out more about the game, which has been in development since October 2007 and is being billed by publisher Sony as the next title in the ‘play, create, share’ genre.

For those that didn’t see its E3 or Gamescom showings, can you explain what ModNation Racers is all about?
ModNation Racers is the first HD kart racing game, with the accessibility that you expect from a kart racing title, but with the physicality of a racing game. The key to this is we wanted to have a deep customisation tool, probably one of the deepest you’ve ever seen in a racing game, which really ties into the play, create and share genre.

Were you keen on making a racing game and then decided to add creation tools, or did you want to create something LittleBigPlanet-esque but in a different genre?
It was kind of a mix of the two. We’d worked on more hardcore racing games and wanted to create something that was a little bit more fun, something that was a very creative game that could really help push the boundaries and reinvent the genre. We looked within the karting genre and one of the best things about it is that it offers a pick up and play, very accessible experience, so I can play with my nephews, with my girlfriend and everyone can have a good time. One of the things that’s very common in kart racing titles is that anyone has the opportunity to win. If you make one bad turn on the first corner, you still have the chance to get back and to win the race. So that was a goal from the get-go, but we also knew we wanted to take the genre deeper. We’ve got a lot of talented veteran engineers and so we approached it from that side, and we wanted to allow people to be able to create their own race experience, starting from the characters to the karts right on down to the tracks.

You’re an independent developer, so what drove the decision to go with Sony and PS3 exclusivity?
As we were coming up with what we were doing and what we wanted to create, we spoke to some different publishers and immediately there was this sort of synergy between us and Sony with really trying to help reinvent the kart racing genre and push it to allow for more depth and customisation. And in terms of the hardware, the power of the PS3 and the PSN network being free – that we could make sure that everyone who buys a copy of the game is able to get online for free and then share all this content – were really important for us. For us it’s really a lot about the community feel and we feel that the PSN has a very strong community at present.

Have you had much contact with LittleBigPlanet developer Media Molecule and been able to share your experiences?
Yeah, we met Media Molecule after the Spike TV awards in LA last fall. Obviously we’re separated by the pond but we’d send e-mails back and forth and chat about generalities such as the challenges that they’ve seen in terms of user generated content creation and copyright issues and infringements. They’ve given us some suggestions and feedback there, it’s a great relationship. I think that we both feel really passionate about creating a great toolset to give to the users to create whatever they want and there’s no ego behind it. We hope that within the first day [following release] people have made tracks and characters and karts that won’t be anything like what we have in the game because that’s the goal.

ModNation Racers is targeted at a broad audience. How will you manage to attract and satisfy both the mass market and the core gamer crowd?
I think what we’ve seen typically with user generated content titles is that often you only have about ten per cent of the population creating, and then 90 per cent consuming. Our goal is to up the percentage able to create content much higher. We really want to make it so that our tools have that depth to it. Our road editing tools are basic and really simple if you just point and stretch the track, but then there’s a more advanced version that allows you to tweak corners and everything else. I use the terrible analogy of the onion, so we’ve tried to create it using layers. On the top layer we wanted it to be very easy to pick up and play, so that anyone is able to build a track within minutes, but at the same time we wanted to give people that depth so they could create some absolutely mind-boggling levels, things that we wouldn’t have thought were possible to create in terms of tracks.