Making anonymous users into superstars with Modnation Racers at Game Design Expo

William Ho, a game designer with Yaletown-based United Front Games, detailed the creation of ModNation Racers, a casual and customizable PS3 racing game to an audience at the Game Design Expo in Vancouver this Saturday. 

 Ho said the philosophy of Trip Hawkins, the founder of EA, was to make games “simple, hot and deep.” Ho said that after three decades of video games, people already know games are hot, so he concentrates on simple and deep, or as he termed it “fast and fun”. 

 Ho defines fast as fitting into his lifestyle, so that its immediately appealing, accesible and aesthetic. He pointed to iPhone games as a perfect example of all of those principles in action. THe games generally look good, are easy to play and are cheap and easily available over the phone. 

 Ho defined fun as something that  pays off emotional investment, pays back your effort and brings satisfaction. He pointed to big titles like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 2, as well as World of Warcraft, as great examples. But there’s a space between deep games and fun casual games, and that’s where Ho said he does his work, trying to combine the best of both genres. 

 Ho said Modnation Racers wanted to follow the “play, create, share” model pioneered by Sony’s Little Big Planet. United Front wanted a fun arcade experience that integrated a boundless online ecosystem, much like Facebook and Twitter have accomplished. 

 Modnation Racers used Urban Vinyl as a base for their player models, and also followed the Urban Vinyl philosophy of turning “anonymous artists into superstars.” Urban Vinyl are generic models that are then modified and embellished by artists through paint and other mediums. The Modnation Racers team wanted to emulate that philosophy with their player characters, and gave the player an almost endless set of modifications for their avatars. The cars are equally modifiable. 

 The challenge was not only to make a fun racing game but also integrate the heavy modification aspect of the game. In fact before even creating the racing portion of the game United Front got to work proving they could create the modification engine. The customizability extended to the track creator, which generates itself as you drive around.

 Sharing was a very important aspect of the game, so the team made it easy for players to create custom “trading cards” allowing players to look at people’s custom creations and then download the stuff they like. They also highlight the most popular and creative modifications, leading people into new content. Daily tracks are updated every day using user-generated tracks as well.

The end goal for all these features was to make the game “fast and fun” and from the look of the finished product, United Front seems to have accomplished just that.