TrackMania Sunrise Designer Diary #4 - The Spirit of Super Monkey Ball
Find out how Sega's acclaimed Super Monkey Ball was a major influence on the high-speed stunt racing in TrackMania.
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TrackMania was one of the most underappreciated games of last year, which is a pity, because most people missed out on its blend of simple, addictive, and over-the-top stunt racing. Still, that didn't deter French developer Nadeo from developing an even better-looking sequel in TrackMania Sunrise, which ships to stores this week. TrackMania Sunrise contains the same core gameplay of the original game, but it sports a vastly upgraded graphics engine to put it on par with other racing games, in addition to sporting new styles of gameplay. One of the new modes is platform mode, and the goal isn't to race against the clock. Instead, you try to navigate your car through puzzle-like tracks using as few lives as possible. In many ways, platform mode is inspired by some classic arcade games, and in this final edition of our designer diaries for the game, Nadeo's Oliver Torreilles explains how some famous monkeys influenced TrackMania Sunrise.
Simple is Beautifulby Oliver Torreilles
Sega's Super Monkey Ball is the perfect example of the mantra "simple is beautiful" when it comes to arcade games. It has simple controls: You just need an analog stick to play. There are simple goals: You need to reach the end of each level without falling. There's a simple scoring system where you get points for the time remaining, as well as points for all the bananas you collect on the way. And it features simple progression in that when you finish a track, you go to the next one, and you try to go as far as you can with as few lives as possible. It also has nothing superficial: There are no settings, no unnecessary bonuses, no intermediary cinematics, and just one type of "vehicle." Well, actually you can choose between four monkeys, but they all play the same. So it's really just a personal preference about which monkey's death scream you prefer. The learning curve is linear and rewarding because you get a little bit better after every attempt. If you keep trying, you'll manage to roll at full speed through challenges that seemed impossible just a few days before. However, the game seems to have an endless supply of harder challenges requiring superhuman levels of accuracy and concentration.
We tried to keep a similar simplicity in TrackMania. It has simple controls: The four arrow keys on your keyboard handle acceleration, braking, and turning. There are simple goals: You go through all the checkpoints while trying to reach the finish line. And there's a simple scoring system: It's based on the time it takes to reach the finish. We left hand brakes, manual steering, and tweaking the suspension on each tire to realistic games. A more surprising choice was to also avoid features usually present in arcade games, such as a nitro boost, weapons, various bonuses, and even collisions. The reason for this is that while TrackMania is an arcade game, it also is a competition game, based solely on skills. With this philosophy, it would not have been acceptable to allow you to win because you were lucky enough to get the right bonus at the right time...or because you were the only one to escape the chaos some player generated by taking the track backward. The main mode of Super Monkey Ball does not have collisions, either, probably for the same reasons.
I believe that the gameplay of TrackMania is more comparable to Super Monkey Ball than to Super Mario Kart or Micro Machines, because both games don't take themselves seriously but manage, at the same time, to be very serious in terms of play mechanics. Super Monkey Ball was also an inspiration in terms of level design. Since the TrackMania editor allows pretty warped track designs, we soon realized that tracks consisting of 200-meter-high platforms joined by insane jumps and very narrow rails were a pretty interesting change of pace from the usual ring-shaped tracks. When playing those wacky tracks, the first objective is to actually bring the car to the finish line without falling, rather than breaking some time record. This requires careful positioning, accurate lining with the ramps, and a good estimation of speed to avoid falling short a few meters. The car is granted a small level of air control, allowing some airborne adjustments of the speed and arrival angle for a smoother landing.
The newly added platform mode in TrackMania Sunrise tries to capitalize on the fun you can have by just having you try to reach the end of a track without having to worry about time. The medal you are awarded depends solely of the number of tries you need to reach the finish line. We first added this mode just as an experiment, unsure of whether this deserved an independent mode. But the glowing returns we had from many testers and journalists convinced us quickly that this was, indeed, a mode with a lot of potential.