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ModNation Racers PSP Dev: It's All In The Tools

Vernon Mollette, producer on the PSP version of ModNation Racers, reminds user-gen devs that they should stay focused on a game's creation tools instead of worrying about dictating players' gameplay experience.
Whether the concept of "play, create, share" can work within a console game is largely reliant on the tools that the developer provides players, says Sony San Diego producer Vernon Mollette. His team is working on the slick-looking PSP version of the user-gen-based game ModNation Racers. "Don’t worry so much about controlling [players'] gameplay experience, but rather provide them with the tools and examples of what can be done with them," he tells Gamasutra in advice to fellow user-gen game makers. ModNation Racers for PSP is a pint-sized counterpart to United Front's PlayStation 3 game of the same name, both due to hit shelves May 25. The PSP version of the game, powered by a modified version of Sony Liverpool's slick WipeOut PSP engine, is looking particularly sharp and has the bulk of the same creation and sharing features as its bigger PS3 brother. Creating a user-generated game on PSP isn't without its challenges, says Mollette. And the challenges seem inherent in any user-gen game. He says, "I think that creating the correct sandbox environment that enables people to have fun with the user-generated content is the biggest challenge [in creating a user-gen game]." He continues, "You have to draw this fine line between allowing [players] to do whatever it is they want to do while providing a manageable framework to focus ideas toward. So it’s that weird, gray area where you want users to be able to do anything they can imagine, but you are still beholden to the platform you’re working on." "If you wanted to make a user-generated content game, you really do have to approach it unlike you would any other game," Mollette adds. "Normally, you look at a situation and you go, 'No, we can’t have them do that. It would look ridiculous if ships could float in the air,' but with user-generated content, you really don’t want to try to limit the freedom that the user has." November 2009's critically well-received PSP version of LittleBigPlanet gives hope that user-generated games can work fine on a handheld, as does Nintendo's DS game WarioWare D.I.Y.. Being able to create something, share it via an online connection, then shove the device back into your pocket lends itself nicely to short creative bursts when on the go. Like its PS3 brother, ModNation Racers for PSP lets players create and upload tracks online, and it supports ad-hoc and online multiplayer (although there is no sharing or connectivity between PS3 and PSP versions). Mollette says that like all user-generated games, the ModNation Racers team can only do so much to make an enjoyable experience -- the majority of the fun will be up to the creativity of the game's user base, and that leaves a lot to chance. And that's why it's so important to provide versatile and powerful creation tools to allow players to bring the fun. "You kind of have to bank on the fact that they want to create something that other people will enjoy," he says. "If they’re going to share this content with other people, there’s a natural filter in place within the community as long as they’re given an option to vote. We saw that with LittleBigPlanet and we’ll see that with ModNation Racers. The very best creations will find their way to the top." Mollette adds, "We make sure to reward players who make great creations, through community shout-outs, loading screens that show their names and creations, and several other ways."

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