We talk to one of the masterminds between the master Mania...
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With over 9 million players to do, It's fair to say that TrackMania has been a success, and could even have been an inspiration for titles like ModNation Racers and LittleBigPlanet. With TrackMania2: Canyon now on the way, we say down with front man and International Product Manager Edouard Beauchemin to talk about what's coming:
Strategy Informer:Can you start off by giving us a brief rundown of what new changes for TrackMania 2?
Edouard Beauchemin: Well we don't really view it as a sequel, that's why we call it TrackMania2 (squared) - it's just a more powerful game. It's got better graphics to be more realistic, the cars are heavier, feels more like a real car. We've also brought more power to the creative player to help better express themselves, we've got better tools, the map editor has 237 blocks now (I counted them myself). There's more possibilities for copying parts of the track, you can add shadows, you can put your own triggers and scripts so you can script your own events.
You can also create your own games modes - obviously this isn't for everyone - even someone like myself just likes to plays and not create. We have about a ratio of one person who likes to create out of 1000. We do take great care of the people who like to participate in creation, but it's for the benefit of everyone - to allow regular players to have fresh and new ideas for their game.
Strategy Informer:How do you avoid falling into the trap that creations games can sometimes fall into. Take for example LittleBigPlanet - sometimes it feels like if you're not creating as well, there's really no point in playing that game.
Edouard Beauchemin: Well it's kind of funny - there are still a few people who've been playing TrackMania for many years who don't even realise there is a track editor, that the maps they've been playing have been created by other people. Honestly though I think we've spent most of our time designing the gameplay, making sure we had it right and that people would enjoy jumping in. It's four arrows and a gas button to race. I think a lot of people are enjoying the simplicity.
By providing the tools to those who are interested, but keeping them separate form the main gameplay, we've created an eco-system of players who are all interacting with each other, in tournaments, cups and servers. There's the ManiaLive interface (which couldn't be shown today) - you can be your own DJ by choosing music tracks, you can have votes, there's a load of options for people who like to organise events. ManiaPlanet is also going to apply to ShootMania as well
Strategy Informer:Why are you not viewing this game as a true sequel? Is TrackMania "Squared" the game you wanted the original TM to be then?
Edouard Beauchemin: We've been working on the ManiaPlanet systems since 2005/6, so most of the things we've managed to include in this new system are things we've been working on for a while. Some of things we tested out in the original TrackMania but others had to wait until the new system came out. It's not a dream come true, but it's a great ambition we've always had to address the needs of all different kinds of players and to give them possibilities in all sorts of genres. We're great fans of FPS, for example, and we thought why couldn't we apply the same game mechanics, the same systems in TrackMania to an FPS games?
Strategy informer:The original TrackMania eventually made it onto consoles, correct? Do you think the same thing will happen with Canyon?
Edouard Beauchemin: That was created by another studio, we were focusing solely on the PC, to make sure we provided cutting edge features, and making sure things didn't get diluted by not getting lost in the whole multiplatform thing. For example we had interest in getting the game on the Wii and the 3DS, so we gave that to another studio and we gave them all the art assets - but they are the ones who re-created the gameplay. They were the console specialists so they would be able to make it feel more at home on the platform better than we could.
Who knows, maybe we'll see a form of ManiaPlanet, or other ManiaPlanet titles on consoles going forward, but that would be from one of the other Ubisoft studios, so who knows. But that's further down the line.
Strategy informer:So if it came to you having to hand off assets to another studio for a port of Canyon, you wouldn't have any problems with that?
Edouard Beauchemin: Sure, I mean I've played the Wii version in the studio and I think it's a fairly good game. I mean we wanted to make sure the quality is there, because we have a name and a brand, so we would of course make sure the quality is up to standard. But I don't see any reason why - I mean XBLA and PSN are great networks for exchanging content as well - not as good for us obviously as we're in the PC world, but there's an audience there for consoles as well.
Strategy informer: Do you think then that for franchises trying to hit the multiplatform angle, they should hand off to other studios with greater expertise?
Edouard Beauchemin: The whole thing for trying to do a "one-size-fits-all" all, doesn't really work - especially for something like TrackMania. There are some things that are on PC that don't work well on consoles, and there are some things that work better on consoles that shouldn't necessarily be in a PC game. So there are different worlds and different ways to enjoy games and we just think that they should be tailor made to each and every platform, and there shouldn't be those shortcuts that you see in some games.
Strategy informer:Obviously you're starting up a franchise now using ManiaPlanet with ShootMania, QuestMania, etc... TrackMania however was your first title. Is it fair to say you're partly using it as a prototype for everything you want to do in the other games?
Edouard Beauchemin: Yes. Prototype is an interesting name - a few years ago when we were first interested in doing an FPS with the same game mechanics, we were also looking at what we could do for TrackMania. Should we make TrackMania 2 separate from the rest? Or keep it together with one big system? We decided the one big system was the best, because it requires one XNA, one update etc... It also means that if you know something about the creation in TrackMania, it will make things easy for when you move over to the FPS. So yeah, sort of a prototype in the way, but we learn a lot of things from one game that we can apply to the others. The Storm system in ShootMania for example is inspired by a similar system in TrackMania.
Strategy informer:Are there any plans for post-release support? Patches, Expansions, Content Updates etc... ?
Edouard Beauchemin: They will definitely be some content updates. The question is always "what can we bring to the player that they are not already bringing to themselves?" For example most of the maps playable today were all created by players. We gave them a contract, they came into the studio for a couple of weeks and created these maps for us - because they are really good at it. No point in trying to substitute for talent like that.
But yeah there will be additional content, we will also be releasing a tool that can allow players to pack files together to create their own content updates of sorts. Let's say I want to do a crazy race in a canyon, with some special 3D pixels and game modes and what have you... I could pack that all together and share it online. That's a feature that's coming in down the road.
We were thinking of doing a platform game mode after launch - we like doing platforms - but we don't have time to do it now. We also want to release titles on a regular basis. So in 4-6 months after launch you will have a new title in ManiaPlanet. That's our way to contribute best at this system - giving the players new tools, new environments, new date etc...
Strategy informer:With a game that's got such a high focus on creativity, do you guys see any point in releasing mod tools? Sometimes it seems that no matter how much control you give to the player, there are always some that will want to dig into the core game files and make tweaks.
Edouard Beauchemin: There could be eventually - we thought about it quite a lot - do we put a limit on it? What's the ideal balance? For the moment, we're keeping the control firmly on the gameplay part - the car should drive the same for example. You can't have a car driving a car that goes at 1000 kph in one map and then 100 kph in another. I don't think people enjoy that - you'd have to learn a new gameplay every time you tried a new track.
It's something we've talked about on the forums, maybe as an experiment after launch, but we worry that if we saw allow blocks to be tweaked, things will get too messy.
Strategy informer:The first TrackMania has something like 9 million players at the moment? Are there going to be any rewards or incentives to move that existing player base over to Canyon?
Edouard Beauchemin: We haven't worked out yet what the incentives are going to be for each and every area - each country has different circumstances. We have a new studio that's in charge of the Live Operation. We also realised that since TrackMania is an online game, with events happening all through-out the community, we needed a team to take care of those people.
There you have it - TrackMania "Squared" is shaping up to be a cracking addition to the franchise, sequel or no. The game plans to enter a closed beta period within the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for further info. Also, don't forget to check out our hands-on preview.