Sony seemed to be putting a lot of its eggs in the LittleBigPlanet basket during E3 2008, and at times even appeared to make the furry little androgynous creation the new face of the PlayStation brand. Although the game certainly had its fair share of impact on the industry and appears to be the conduit for the creation of the Play Create Share moniker, it may not have been the console-seller that Sony had hoped.
During today's E3 2009 press conference, Sony confirmed that Vancouver-based studio United Front is picking up the torch and running with it. ModNation Racers is being pitched as a fully customisable and creative kart racer, and looks like a mash-up between Mario Kart and LBP. Like in the latter, you'll be able to dress your characters (in the case of the demo, a monkey and a human model) and put them in all manner of costumes before popping them into tweaked go-karts. The team is apparently drawing inspiration from the look of vinyl toys and art, and though the characters aren't sack people, there's more than a passing resemblance in their looks, mannerisms, and the textures present in the environments. Showing, sharing, and rating are all essential components, and once you've painted your rides, you'll be able to swap and share them with your PlayStation Network friends.
Racing follows the established and successful Mario Kart formula very closely, and puts large, over-the-top vehicles on the track with an array of weapons, power-ups, alternate routes, and a drift mechanic. A bar on the right-hand side of the screen appeared to fill with boost juice by successfully performing a drift move, though it remains to be seen whether you'll be able to fire it at will or if you'll need a certain amount in the tank to trigger the speedup. United Front made particular mention of the physics system at play, demonstrated by the dynamically generated bounces as the kart drove across a rickety bridge at speed.
Racing is a big part of a kart game, but it's certainly not the only trick. With the game taking more than just a single page out of the LittleBigPlanet manual to game design, you'll also be able to create original tracks that you'll be able to share with others online. The demo was designed to show just how quickly and easily you can put something functional together, and if your goal is little more than a basic NASCAR circuit, you can paint a path, hit go, and be putting tyre to road surface in as brief as a minute. Design controls mirror those of the racing, so you won't need to mentally retrain yourself to become creative.
For those who are interested in spending a little more time and creating something more advanced, you're able to add road crossovers, inclines, and cosmetic features such as roadside sheep. The ability to add or remove environmental objects and take the course for a spin without the need to save or wait on rendering appears to give designers a lot of creative freedom. Don't like that piece there? Ditch it and try something else. Snap-lock guides make it look like you can easily place several road obstacles, or power-ups, in a row without the need to fiddle around with spacing. Mountains, trees, and bodies of water can be added by simply selecting the appropriate tool from a radial menu and painting them on. Errant tree placement in the middle of a road will simply not show up.
United Front didn't offer a launch date for the game any more specific than 2010, but we're keen to get our hands on it and take it for a spin. Stay tuned for our continued coverage from E3 2009.