In May of last year, SCE San Diego Studio released perhaps the first ever “Play, Create, Share” kart racer in the form of ModNation Racers, where gamers could create, download, and play tracks created by other users. Sony and SCE San Diego Studio were kind enough to grant me an interview with Kyle Zundel, a producer at SCE San Diego Studio who worked on the title. I would like to thank Sony, SCE San Diego Studio, and Kyle Zundel for this opportunity and for their time.
1. Was ModNation Racers always designed with the “Play, Create, Share” philosophy in mind or did that come at a later point?
Kyle Zundel: When we started out we wanted to build a modern kart racer in the Play, Create, Share space. One of the things we wanted to do was make the creation side of things fun and accessible. That was really important to us. We definitely had our fair share of hurdles to overcome early on, but in the end we feel it was a great pairing. Being able to create a track simply by driving is very intuitive and fun.
2. The depth and variety of the MNR community’s creations — especially some of the highest-rated tracks — are quite impressive. How did you set out to build tools that anyone can make these detailed tracks with? Also, did you follow Media Molecule’s “rule” of only building levels with the same tools available to the player?
Zundel: Pretty early on, we decided that we needed to drink our own kool-aid; so yeah, we followed the same rule. It was a lot of work, because we were trying to build tracks at the same time we were building the Track Studio tool set. It would have been a lot easier to cheat but we knew it was going to be the right thing to do for the game in the long run. As the track designers and artists built the early tracks they were constantly pushing the Track Studio tool set to be able to do all of the things they wanted and needed as track designers. The Track Studio evolved way beyond the initial design in order to accommodate everything the designers needed to be able to do. In the end, we were really pleased with the level of accessibility, power and control in the Track Studio and we owe a lot of that to the decision we made to follow “the rule.”
3. The A.I. in ModNation Racers is aggressive. Why is the A.I. this way? Was ModNation Racers designed for players who have more experience with the genre?
Zundel: Generally, racers are more sophisticated than ever before. We’ve learned all the classic arcade racing skills time and time again over the last two or three decades. So not every racing game needs to assume that you are new to driving and drifting and firing weapons. What we really wanted to do was polish those familiar, time-honored game mechanics, but then dial up the intensity a bit to provide a fresh and challenging experience on the PlayStation 3, that players would want to enjoy over and over again.
4. The Level 3 weapons in ModNation Racers are very strong and can be disruptive to pulling off some of the “perform x, finish 1st” challenges. Why are the Level 3 weapons so strong?
Zundel: We held ourselves to a standard that the weapons be tuned once to satisfy both offline and online play. We didn’t want you to get used to a certain tuning in Career Mode, and then be surprised by different tuning in multiplayer races. We arrived at the final weapon balance through lots and lots of testing with players of various skill levels. It was tricky, but we are happy with what we shipped.
In Career Mode, we tuned our Advance, Bonus, and Payoff challenges such that just about anyone could rack up lots of unlocks just by completing one or two win conditions. But we reserved the highest level unlocks for players who relish that level of challenge and have practiced the full array of abilities, including managing the boost meter and timing the shield to block attacks. If you skillfully defend yourself in Career Mode, then you’re prepared for anything the best online racers will dish out at you!
5. What do you think of ModNation Racers for PSP? Also, will MNR PSP’s Last Kart Standing mode find its way to the PlayStation3 version?
Zundel: We think ModNation Racers for PSP is a great compliment to its PS3 counterpart. It’s a great way to take the ModNation experience with you wherever you go.
6. I know that traditionally, kart racers go track-by-track in terms of race selection, but have you ever considered having an open-world with drop-in, drop-out multiplayer for ModNation Racers like in Burnout Paradise?
Zundel: We felt that building each track individually was the best route for this kart racer. We wanted to have total control over the designs of the track as well as the themes they are built in to provide the best possible kart racing experience. We couldn’t do that the same way in an open world racer, where the tracks are all a part of the world.
7. Are there any downloadable content packs coming to ModNation Racers like in LittleBigPlanet? Will any of it have the same impact as some of LittleBigPlanet’s DLC packs (i.e. the paint gun)?
Zundel: We’re still working through a lot of great DLC content for ModNation Racers. We’re really excited about all the content the community has created and it keeps getting better as more and more DLC becomes available, allowing players to build new and different creations. We make regular announcements on the PlayStation blog regarding new DLC, so check in with us there for news on upcoming releases.
8. Is United Front Games going to work on a sequel to ModNation Racers? Can you give any hints as to what your future projects might be?
Zundel: Stay tuned!