In Part One of our interview with United Front's William Ho, we sat down to discuss the early days of ModNation Racers development, parallels with LittleBigPlanet, and the game's creation tools. To conclude, Will tells us about making ModNation a great kart racer, downloadable content, and the future of the franchise.
Gaming Union: Creation elements aside, how much emphasis did you put on making ModNation Racers a great standalone kart racer?
William Ho: I describe the game as "Race. Create. Share." - we built the game and the development team around those three pillars equally, so that no one aspect was an afterthought. We started with racing, but at the same time worked on creation tools and sharing. Online multiplayer was running right away, and the database was also running so people could upload and download stuff. So, all of those elements were developed in parallel with each other. Having said that, each pillar had a full crew to flesh out each experience. For instance, our gameplay team have been prototyping racing mechanics since day one - familiar drifting, jumping, items, and all of that.
We also thought: "How can we innovate this?" So, the team have been experimenting with ideas for the last two years. There's a lot of depth, our gameplay guys have introduced a level up weapon system. For example, immediately you can pick up a randomized weapon pod, everyone understands how that works, but in ModNation you can collect more weapon pods and level them up to level two and three. There's a lot of strategy involved. I liken it to a poker game - initially there's luck, but if you know all the cards in the deck and when to play them you're going to come out ahead. We've worked on that through so much testing in the studio, playing the game over and over everyday, making sure the game is fair, balanced and deep.
GU: The game was announced at E3 last year and now is coming out less than a year later. What was the idea behind the relatively short promotion cycle?
Will: I think it was a factor of us having to start a brand new game studio and everything else - the game engine, the team, etc... So, we didn't have anything we were confident showing as the initial reveal of United Front Games until [E3 2009]. It made sense for us to come out with something we were very proud of, something that would appeal to lots of people, and something that was representative of the final game. We sort of set out to make the game in this timeframe, I guess it will be almost exactly a year since E3 now, and that served the development. If we could have shown it sooner we would have.
GU: When games take several years to come out after they've been teased it can feel like a dead period for waiting fans. Did you notice any benefits of having a shorter marketing cycle?
Will: Something we've learned over the years is to not show vaporware, don't show something that isn't representative of the end product. E3 last year happened to be the right time for it, and I don't think we would've done it any differently.
GU: What's the plan for ModNation Racers downloadable content? Will we see a lot of other franchises making appearances?
Will: Yeah, we already have a number of Sony characters like Kratos, Nathan Drake, and Rachet & Clank which have been so well received that I would be surprised if there wasn't more of that in the future. We are prepared to do downloadable content because we want to see what the community thinks after the game is released. People can vote with their feedback, and with the kinds of creations they're making. We want to service and nurture the community, so we'll definitely respond to what people want.
GU: What does ModNation Racers bring to the "Play. Create. Share." formula? How does the game expand on it?
Will: Well, everyone loves racing games, right? It's one of those games where you can live out your road rage fantasies. Everyone knows the controls, the rules, and the objectives, there's just something classic about racing. We saw some of that in LittleBigPlanet and we've been able to flesh that out into a full featured racing game. We aim to make a modern classic, and hopefully that will be the case. In terms of "Play. Create. Share." there is an expectation because people for years have been able to put their personas, fantasies, and stories online, so there's probably going to be a lot of it.
GU: User-generated content really is in its infancy right now, it's just beginning to evolve in games.
Will: It's a way of consolidating it. I mean these user-generated content games have a full toolset available to everyone, in a place where you're comfortable doing it, on your couch. You shouldn't have to go back to the mod community from years ago where you had to be knowledgeable about a game engine, and be into a small number of games that allowed this kind of extensibility. It should be accessible to anyone, using a game controller, and be shared instantly to a wide audience. I don't think anyone's going to want to go back to the way it was in the past.
GU: Can you speculate about the future of the franchise? There's already a PSP version.
Will: The fine folks at Sony's San Diego studios made the PSP version and they did a fantastic job. They preserved all of the "Race. Create. Share." features, so I think it's going to have its own healthy community right from day one. Personally, I'm focused 100% on ModNation Racers [for PS3]. We want to see what people do with this sandbox.
GU: Could you foresee a full ModNation Racers 2 retail release? Or are you planning to expand on the platform digitally?
Will: Well, it's up to the fans, if they vote for a sequel. I don't think they'll get bored with this game as it stands because there's so much content, but if the fans want a sequel they can vote for it with their dollars and support. We love hearing from people playing our games.
GU: Last question. How has the studio received the critical response to the game?
Will: I think the team is extremely flattered. We've always had the end users in mind, and part of that audience is critics and reviewers. If the critics like our game then we're thrilled. We hope that they continue playing after their review period and become a part of the ModNation community.
ModNation Racers is out now in North America and Europe. For more on the game and United Front check out their website HERE.