Interview: ModNation Racers' Dan Sochan

ModNation Racers has come a long way since the release of its public beta last year. Since then, Sony San Diego Studios and United Front Games have expanded the franchise quite a bit, adding a number of new creation tools, four-player split-screen support and even a PSP counterpart. We chatted with ModNation Racers producer Dan Sochan about what's new, and what we can expect from the future, including support for the PlayStation Move motion controller.

Joystiq: What's new about the code we're seeing today at GDC?
Dan Sochan, producer, ModNation Racers: There's the four-player split-screen, two-player online split-screen, and we've also announced and have been showing off more of the single player career. We kept the story of the single player career mode quite light. At its core, it's still a racing game, so we didn't want to complicate it with you saving the world. The story is you're this young racer who goes into this league, the ModNation Racing Championship, and you're basically going from a nobody to take on the ultimate champion. Through the way you have also have a bit of an influence. It has some elements of Pleasantville, where everyone tends to be a little bit more drab with the colors they choose for their characters and karts, and you influence them by being very creative. So all of a sudden everyone wants to have bright, vibrant colors and doing very elaborate decorating of themselves and their karts, and it's narrated through two characters: Biff and Gary, who offer comic relief through the game.

How does progression work in the single player campaign? Do you unlock creation tools in that mode, akin to LittleBigPlanet?
Yes, definitely there will be a certain number of unlockables you'll get through the career, but we tried not to make it exclusively through the career. We didn't want to pigeonhole people and force them to play that way. So you'll also get more unlocks by publishing, sharing, downloading, voting, basically being a participant in the community, which is kind of cool.%Gallery-64898%
Four-player split-screen has only been recently introduced. How long ago was that feature planned?
It's something we'd always hoped for. We got a lot of feedback from the public beta; this is something people really, really wanted. So, we upped the priority on it and dedicated a core number of our programmers just to focus on optimizations and what they could do. So it's come online in the past month, month and a half, and it's all we're playing in the office nowadays. Lots, and lots of trash talk.

So split-screen multiplayer can be attributed to the public beta. What else did the team focus on and learn from the public beta?
It was great, we were really happy to see it. We had 100,000 people in for both the North American and European beta. I think we logged somewhere between 500 and 1000 unique bugs, and we got tons of great feedback. We listened to all the feedback. We implemented some of the smaller ones we could, took some of the bigger improvements that people wanted. People wanted more control over the cameras, so we added camera controls so you can choose how zoomed in you are. That's something people are happy about to see we got that in. And some other things, we'd consider for future versions of the title.

One of the largest complaints from the beta were the long load times. Has that issue been addressed?
It's something we'd always planned on addressing. We didn't want to leave it as-is, but we needed to get the public beta out so we could test the online features. The North American servers were down for the first day or two, but by the end they were quite stable. I don't think we had any servers go down at all for the European public beta at all. It was great for giving us all that online server knowledge, but we were not where we wanted to be with load times and frame rate, and those have both made tons and tons of improvements.

The ModNation Racers beta was rather restricted. Are there any plans to release a more available public demo closer to the game's launch?
That's something we're investigating, and we'll probably have more information on that in the next month or so.

The big news at GDC this year was the Move controller. Is that something ModNation Racers might feature in some way?
It's something we're really excited about. We realized we wanted to focus on the core racing for this part of the game with the SIXAXIS controller, but we do want to investigate it for the future. We just see a lot of cool ways of implementing it. Grabbing the terrain with the motion controller and literally pulling it up and stretching it out to make mountains, or push it in with the Z-axis to cut in and make water and ravines. And then, giving a spray painting job to your car itself. Or moving around decals on your character. There's a lot of fun implementations.

You mentioned a lot of ways of implementing motion into creation, but what about racing? You couldn't use it like a wheel, or else your hands would cover the orb.
We'll have to play with it and see. Other than a full proper wheel, I haven't seen a lot of good implementations of racing games using motion controllers or things like that. We'll definitely look into it: if it's good, we'll put it in, if it's not, we'll focus more on the creation side.

Are there any plans to implement any PlayStation Home connectivity?
Yes, we will be doing some integration into PlayStation Home, and we'll be talking a little more about that in about a month or so.

Any connectivity with the PSP version?
There's no actual interactivity between the two titles, however if you own the PS3 and PSP version and you go online with both (it doesn't need to be simultaneous, it just needs to know you logged online to both), you'll unlock exclusive content for the PSP version.

Will the PSP version feature the same campaign as the PS3 game?
Yes, the PSP version will have the campaign, with upwards of thirty races and thirty cutscenes that take you through the story. We'll also have a lot of similar tracks as the PS3 version, but we'll have exclusive PSP tracks as well. The actual number of tracks hasn't been announced yet, but there will be some exclusive for the PSP.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.