ModNation Racers — Racing Walkthrough with Designer Mat Thomas

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Hello everyone, my name is Mat Thomas and I am a game designer here at United Front Games working on ModNation Racers. Today I want to talk about our approach to the racing and give you an insight into the philosophy around developing the handling, weapons and AI.

When we started working on ModNation Racers we knew we couldn’t simply create a basic physics system to deliver our core race experience. We were also weary of the fact that unlike many racers, the player in ModNation Racers will also be focused on weapon play. Very early on in development we experimented with extremely tight handling (akin to driving on rails) and a much more physical race experience. What we soon realized is that when the handling model is tight, there is not much fun in the race experience, it was essentially too easy and likewise when the user is spending a lot of time concentrating on just keeping the vehicle on the track with a more complex handling model then this doesn’t leave any mental power to experiment and use weapons. So as you may expect we ended up with something in the middle which offered us the physicality and emergent feel that for us makes this feel like a true next generation karting title. What we found is that this made the handling very much pick up and play, and easy to understand but at the same time offering depth you’d expect in other racers.

The other key component to a kart racing title is the drift, and we focused very hard on this to make it fun. Our drift is simple to use; the player simply presses and holds the X button to engage the drift. The key thing is that while drifting the user can still steer, influencing the turn and the counter-drift. Holding the drift as long as you can and disengaging at the right time can become quite an art. This is made more fun by the endless number of track designs we expect from Track Studio. Successful drifts are rewarded in our other key component: the boost meter.

We decided very early on in development that in order to make sure the race experience is fun at all times, the player should have a lot of different abilities even when they were unarmed. All of these abilities are then tied back into our boost system – we encourage the user to earn boost by doing a variety of abilities. These include drafting, spinning, hopping, hitting enemies and of course drifting. The better the player is at this then the more boost they will accumulate. This accumulated boost can be spent in several ways: the player can obviously boost, but also the player can use their shield to defend against weapons, or spend boost on delivering a tough ramming attack on a nearby opponent in the form of a sideswipe. The result is that even without weapons the player can combine all these skills to have a great race experience.

In terms of weapons, no kart racing game can go without them! Again, we set out early to try and add depth to the weapons system. You can play ModNation Racers by collecting weapons and firing them but the key is what we have called the ladder system. In a nutshell, the more item pods you collect the better the weapon you will get. In all, we have four classes of weapons with three levels to each. Also you can convert all weapons to secondary weapons that can be dropped behind the player. The depth this adds is great; it gives the player the option to either save up weapons to get to the more devastating weapons or simply fire as you please. Saving up can be risky however, as the player will lose item pods if hit by other racers. This really helps build up different strategies, and we have found playing the game here at UFG that people approach the weapons in very different ways. Personally, I am big fan of constantly firing so I don’t tend to upgrade all the time but then again, I don’t win all the time!

Finally I will touch on the artificial intelligence (AI) and how we approached this. Fundamentally, approaching the AI has been a very complex process but the goal has been clear – the AI has to be competitive, the AI has to be fun to play against and it needs to feel fair. Also layer on top our biggest challenge: how do you develop AI when anyone can create a track that contains anything?

Traditional racing games rely on the fact that the tracks never change, and good racing lines can be recorded or generated during development. Since we did not have this luxury, our development team followed a river analogy for the AI. A river flows along its path, around any obstacles such as rocks, forming rapids through tight spaces, and slowing down in wide open areas. Similarly, we have created a flowfield that is interrupted by avoidable objects, and flows towards the apex of corners or special objects such as boostpads. The AI racers then “flow” along this “river”. Everything is computed in real time, which would not have been possible without the incredible power of the PS3’s cell processor.

The result is AI that feels very smart, can react to anything thrown at it, and can make key decisions at the right time. Give it a go in the public beta in Track Studio; build any track and go to test race to see how the AI deals with your designs!

Anyway, that is it for now. Stay tuned for future posts where we will go into more detail on the racing, and we look forward to hearing from you all.

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  • Beta is Fun but will there be split-screen online racing and if so can the 2nd player log into there PSN account like Resistance 2 that will be Sick

  • do you guys have more beta keys? i wasn’t able to get one and im very interested in playing this game

  • very good and informative post. I’m looking forward to playing this game. Will we see more beta vouchers around here?

  • I’m enjoying the beta so far, but in the future I’m hoping we’re going to be able to create loop-de-loops, even small ones. I had a few ideas that involved those. Still, the beta being what it is, I’m not one to complain; especially being able to snag not one but two beta keys, thanks to my prior LBP GOTY purchase and my status as a subscription holder with the Qore service.

    Anyway. Also, I hope that, perhaps, we’ll see an updated beta build before this party meets its end.

  • The beta keeps freezing on me.

    I was in the create area and it just froze while looking thru downloads.

    Did it twice. I had to hard restart the console.

  • The beta keeps freezing on me.

    I was in the create area and it froze while I was looking thru the downloads. Did it 3 times.

    I had to hard restart.

  • it would’ve been nice to have seen a shoutout to Criterion for really fine tuning the “cool things gives you boost” concept throughout their Burnout series.

  • Have to finish downloading the beta, been having too much fun with UC2.

  • Schweet, the beta is great fun! Great job on this game :D

  • This Beta is great although it does need it’s touch-ups. But what Beta doesn’t? When can we expect a release date?

  • Still waiting for my code as a Qore member!

  • Bah, I’d love to be playing atm (I was about to create some well known tracks like Spa-Francorchamps and Brands Hatch) but my PS3 bit the dust on Christmas morning! Loved the beta during the time I had though, excellent job on the creation tools! Driving could be a bit tighter, but the game is pretty awesome as is.

  • any trophy support? maybe an easy platinum – hehehe! would look nice on my psn profile!

  • the beta has been great fun and looking forward to some split screen racing with the family. first day purchase for us! keep up the great work UFG.

  • Enjoying the Betafor this game very much, for the little time I have had to mess with it before my wife and I ran off to see family for the holiday. Looking forward to digging in to it over the long weekend starting Thursday.

    From what I have played so far I rather like the controls while drifting. It feels nice, and something that I really appreciate is that this game (because of the need to create your own cart) will not come down to everyone driving around in the same two or three carts…like another more established kart game. I really appreciate what you all are building with this game. This is one of the reasons I purchased my PS3 in August.

  • Are Qore subscribers supposed to get this beta? I still haven’t. I never got the MAG beta either.

  • I have been playing the demo and so far, it’s been very enjoyable. It’s good that some racing games take a more “casual fun” approach. (Mario Kart is a prime example). ModNation Racers is shaping up to be a great title.

  • looking good, wish I was in the beta.

  • I like the Beta, but I think that the speed of the game, although great for veteran gamers, will keep it from selling to the more casual PS3 gamers. As we all know, the PS3 is being adopted by more and more people since the price cut. And all these people are not gaming veterans and young people. What I would love to see included in the game is a speed editor or a way to ratchet down the speed to a more manageable level to make it more accessible. I’m not talking about putting it in slow motion, just not as frantic a pace where people get frustrated and give up on the game. Obviously this feature could only be used offline and lap times would not translate onto the Leaderboards. But what this speed editor could do is make this game much more “pick up and play” capable and enjoyable for all those people that cannot keep up with the frantic pace of this game. For instance, I like this game, but I don’t see myself playing online much if ever, but I definitely see the potential for a lot of “same room” split screen racing possibilities with casual type gamers. Sorry for the long read.

  • Looks like a mix of Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing…and thats awesome…

    Ill def buy this game

  • Still no beta for me :( another unhappy fan walks away…….

  • I’m a Qore subscriber and still haven’t got my code, and every time I call SCEA tech support they tell me to keep waiting for the code. what should I do?

  • As much as I love the character customization (which by the way blows LBP out of the water) it’s a real shame that the game is running at such an abysmal frame rate. I’ve never seen so many consistent frame rate drops in a beta before and so I hope that this is a very, VERY old build ’cause I will not be buying this if the retail copy is the same way. There is absolutely no reason why Modnation Racers should be running at anything lower than 30 fps locked when you have games like Gran Turismo and Motorstorm running smooth as butter all the while looking 10x better.

    Just saying, game’s fun but the frame rate is horrible. Fix it.

  • This is slightly off topic; but I agree with many of the complaints that people have presented here.

    The online play is abysmal. I have trouble connecting and staying online with this game. I’ve had trouble with the game freezing my PS3 and like people have said the constant frame rate drops are another thing to look at. The loading times are just too long.

    Hopefully these things are fixed because I will not buy a game with these many issues and it’s really a frustrating experience instead of it being a fun one which the core game really is.

  • Like some people have stated; extremel long loading times, online connectivity problems, constant frame rate drop, are what’s keeping this game down in the beta state.

    I was really looking forward to buying this game but if there aren’t huge improvements in those areas, It will not be a purchase for me.

  • how do you do tricks in the air?

    • When you\’re in the air you can use the RIGHT STICK to spin your kart in either direction. Complete spins earn more points.

  • Looks great, but fix the framerate issues. You don’t want to be remembered as the Killzone 1 of racers, do you?

  • DEFO BUY FOR ME AT 2010! XD Gettin this for my birthday =)

  • @ UFG in the stages i made, more recent ones, AI are not to bright, literally they wont take the jump, instead they turn and drop off. and if you dont look for my most recent stages and test it out, i would show a video if i could but cant, and yea im really good at this game (‘ll Beat the Devs most likely) and it terminates my winstreaks when i get disconnected which always happens within 5mins of being online, it always freezes after a few minutes under the download list, and frames drop alot, but the racing is the best ive tried and very comfortable, plus customization is actually beyond LBP. they betas great but it is kind of unfair for us to play a issue filled beta then i know when europe gets they will get fixes, please fix it. & sony, u really need to fix the blog issues have it on your ps3 home page but not functional on it other than pics and what was posted

  • Off Topic…
    @ Sony Reps (Jeff, Chris for example)
    i know its not the game of choose to talk about but why hasent guest appearences for sony been annouced for Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing, you should atleast have Ratchet & Clank in it so it can promote both the game sales & promote Ratcher & Clank Future series. Also Sly or Jak & Dexter since dexter always has something great to say lol

  • I love the beta and I can’t wait to see what going to be new in the full game. So much to unlock and already so much creativity.

  • Looks cool, they really should that take blinking car effect out of the game. I hate when stuff blinks in videos games it looks really dumb, there are much better ways to handle that kinda stuff.

  • If this game is priced correctly, maybe around $30 or $40, and marketed well it could be sony’s mariokart. Btw I look forward to play the beta, Im downloading it right now.

  • I would like to know if modnation racers would implement features for the ps3 motion controller or playstation eye. It looks good so far and i can’t wait to get it!

  • I would like to know if modnation racers will implement the use of the ps3 motion controller or the playstation eye. I like what i have seen so far and i can’t wait to buy it!

  • I’m really starting to like this game! More vids!!

  • Im really excited for this game! cant wait

  • The beta needed some kind of tutorial or something like that (I didn’t know how to use a weapon). Hopefully the full game will have one.

    • You can press the SQUARE button to fire any weapon you\’ve picked up. Holding SQUARE for a bit longer and then releasing it will drop your weapon behind you as a mine. L1 to use your boost. CIRCLE to use your boost as a shield. Hope that helps.


    been in the beta since day one and have create my own car , dude and tracks . such a fun game with the nice controls , tracks and weapon and the menu is HOT…

  • @ 38 ,

    its a beta and there is a tutorial,
    during the long load .


  • we want more weapons!!!!PLZ

  • I would have really liked to see this game with your tight handling cars that you first experimented with.

    The loose, out of control, feel is the only thing I dont like.

    The customization, and the way the lobby is set up is really cool.

  • This game looks so awesome I can’t wait to play it. Anyone want my left leg its a good leg really, but I am willing to trade it for a beta key lol.

  • @ willtheshake, BrianC6234, NissanFlyboy

    I have been an annual subscriber to Qore both years and I am in the same boat. Never got the MAG beta key, still do not have the ModNation key.

    Last year QORE was good and delivered when they said they would, this year its lacking in content and the content they do have(2 betas), never arrives anyway. Definitely not getting QORE ever again if they don’t explain themselves, rectify, or apologize soon.

    Well if you guys have any luck add me to your Friends and message me!

  • Great video. I love the beta — and picked up a new tip in the video I wish I’d known before (the boost start).

    Your video points out the use of rumble and I’ll confirm it is very well done — it’s so well done you don’t really notice it, which is to say it never feels out of place or artificial.

    Drifting is definitely an art, and if I had any complaint at all it would be that drifting is more important than any of the other skills you mention — more important than drafting or jumping or spinning. Get good at it (and at coming out of it, as a collision with the environment will lose all the boost you’d earned from the drift) if you want to succeed.

    I’m having a blast, and just wish the beta lasted longer or that the full retail version was available already. I’ve got it preordered on amazon, for what that’s worth — and I’ve NEVER paid full price for a PS3 game, preferring to pick them up used or as classics a year or two after they’re released.

  • How do I delete individual trees? one got stuck in the middle of my road

    • In Track Studio you can add, move and delete props like your tree. When editing props you can toggle the behaviour of the X button between adding another of your current prop or selecting ones you\’ve already placed. Toggle between these two modes with the L1 button. This way you can toggle your cursor to the selection mode, move over your prop, and then when the cursor snaps to your tree you\’ll be able to select it and delete it.

  • @ 30
    I agree wif you, but this game is really awesome already,but yes it would be an awesome game, ‘sony racing’ :)

    i cant wait till this game, gran turismo and god of war III and collection

  • @ 30
    this is game is really awesome but i think that is they had a game called ‘sony racing’ they would make tons of cash

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