Calling it Little Big Kart Racing is a bit unfair to ModNation Racers, which is the upcoming kart racing game from Sony and developer United Front Games. That said, the game shares a great deal with the Create, Play, Share ethos of Media Molecule's Sackboy-starring darling. Nearly everything you can play with in ModNation, you can customize to your heart's content or create from scratch, including your character, your kart, and even the tracks you drift and zip through. Back in December, my fellow editor Shaun McInnis got a hands-on look at the track creator in the game. Today, developers from United Front dropped by GameSpot HQ where we got a chance to check out the game once again. Here are a few things I learned:
CREATION IS COOL
Track creation tools in other games are often powerful, and the end results can be thrilling. Unfortunately, track creation hasn't really been fun until now. ModNation looks to find a happy marriage with easy-to-use tools that are simple in execution but don't sacrifice the depth that the hardcore will appreciate. Even better, the tools are fun to use. For example, instead of linking sections of track together on a piece-by-piece basis, all you need to do to create a track in ModNation is simply drive. By piloting a steamroller around the playable area, you build the track as you go--making turns where you turn and adding elevation at will.
Once you've got your track together, the game will automatically populate it with environmental scenery (such as buildings and trees), as well as on-track necessities like pick-ups, turbo boosts, and illuminated chevrons indicating tight turns, among other things. Naturally every bit on the track can be minutely edited--during my demo, the producers created a sweet banked uphill corner that would become my favorite drift spot in the game. You can also easily and quickly add things like shortcuts and obstacles to the track. Using triggers that are tied to objects on the track, you can create more complex on-track behaviors. For example, producers created a shortcut that was blocked off by movable walls. Then, they connected a trigger to the wall that, when engaged, would lower the wall and allow a brief window of access to the shortcut.
There are plenty of examples of detailed editing for the obsessive track creator but what impressed me nearly as much was the simplicity of everything. You can paint a section of track to automatically add a tunnel or change the texture of the road. You can even press a button to automatically finish a track if you're short on time.
CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT
Beyond the track editor, there's also a ton of content to fool around with when it comes to your kart and driver. And I do mean a ton of content. According to producers, the recently released multiplayer beta of ModNation contained about 15 percent of the total content that will be in the final version of the game.
The rest of that 85 percent will come in the form of a ridiculous number of textures and objects you can use to personalize your kart and character in ways that continue to surprise the United Front developers. For example, beta fans were creating unique hairstyles for their drivers by piling multiple goatees on top of existing hairstyles. Whether you're adding tomatoes to the side of your car, cardboard and duct-tape spoilers to the rear, or recliners as your car seat, you'll have lots of choices. In fact, all of the objects in the game have been designed to work together--for example, you can drive an F1-style car with supersize tires and the parts won't overlap unnaturally.
GET THE DRIFT
When you aren't neck-deep in the creation tools, you'll be driving in the 12-player races that look to be a lot of fun. In fact, one of the biggest surprises for me was how fun it was to drift in the game. You press the X button to drift around corners and easily steer or countersteer in mid-drift with the left stick. The controls are tight and responsive, and when you get a great corner like the one described earlier, you can rack up huge boosts in the process. Let's face it, drifting usually sucks in racing games; so it's nice to see it work to your advantage in ModNation.
SMALL IS BIG
Considering the huge size of some of the tracks in ModNation, you might expect to see huge file sizes. Fortunately, that's not the case; according to producers, a track file size will only run a few hundred kilobytes, thanks to some clever development that has kept those files to a minimum. That means you'll be able to save lots of tracks locally and also download new tracks at will with minimal wait time. After all, even despite all the creation tools, it's all about getting to race and across the start/finish line as quickly as possible.
ModNation Racers is due for release this spring on the PlayStation 3.