It was almost seven years ago that the original TrackMania made creation and customization a core part of its driving experience. The TrackMania community is still thriving, and later this year it will have an opportunity to get creative in an entirely new racing game that employs developer Nadeo's new ManiaPlanet creation platform. That platform, along with eight-player time trials on a number of different tracks, is on the show floor at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, affording us our first opportunity to check it out.
TrackMania 2 Canyon, like previous games in the series, doesn't do collisions with other vehicles. Its focus is squarely on finding out who can negotiate its imaginative tracks in the shortest time. In the Time Trial mode being shown at E3, the eight players taking part can't even see each other when events get under way. That's because there's an option in the game (presumably enabled by default) that causes other vehicles to disappear from view anytime they get too close.
Most of the tracks being shown felt like they could be small sections of much larger circuits and could be raced in under 30 seconds. They were well suited to the Time Trial mode though, which affords you as many attempts to record a fastest time as you can squeeze into the time limit. Make a single mistake, and your best bet is to immediately hit the restart button. It was a lot of fun to repeat these short tracks over and over again for a few minutes, because it didn't take long to learn the routes, and it was really satisfying to shave even fractions of a second off our previous best time.
TrackMania 2 Canyon is a great-looking game. The car models are sharp, the canyons that the tracks wind through are nicely detailed, and the sensation of speed is impressive. We saw our car getting covered in dirt and, on occasion, taking realistic-looking damage, though the latter didn't appear to impact its performance in any way. If you're already a member of the TrackMania community, you might be pleased to hear that you'll be able to import any cars that you've customized into the new game. The same won't be true for tracks, though.
After taking part in a number of eight-player Time Trial events, we were invited to meet with a couple of guys from the TrackMania community who gave us a quick demo of the ManiaPlanet creation suite. You'll be able to import any images that you want to turn into graphics for your car, and positioning, rotating, and resizing them appeared to be incredibly easy. Other basic options that we saw included a slider to determine how shiny a car's paint job is, and a similar slider that can be used to apply a dirty, worn look to your ride. We were told that because every vehicle in the game performs exactly the same, players are also encouraged to create their own models. Examples cited included not only other cars, but also fighter jets and even Warner Bros.' Road Runner.
If anything, the track creation tools looked to be even more powerful, and only slightly more complicated to use. One of the community guys we were chatting with described the process of building a new track as not being entirely dissimilar to working with Lego bricks, though it's clear that you can go much deeper with creation if you choose. One of the major improvements in TrackMania 2 Canyon will be automatic terraforming; if you want to build a track that cuts through a mountain, for example, you'll no longer need to clear a path for your track beforehand.
The last thing we were shown was an option to create your intro movies for tracks that you've created. What we saw created in just a couple of minutes was a relatively straightforward fly-through of the track, but there were plenty of different camera and visual effects available for those of you looking to get extra creative. It was also pointed out to us that, in addition to intro movies, you can set triggers for movies and camera angles in the middle of your tracks if you wish. For example, you might want to have a sign pop up that warns drivers of a sharp turn as they approach it, or force drivers to use a different camera angle while negotiating a roller-coaster-like loop.
TrackMania 2 Canyon is currently scheduled for release in September. Based on what we saw of it today, we'll be very surprised if it doesn't end up being at least as successful as its enduring predecessor. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.