This article was originally published on Lv42.com
In the heart of Yaletown in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia is the home of United Front Games, the up and coming developers of games such as ModNation Racers and True Crime. For the most part gamers only get to see the finished product itself, but they don’t always get to explore where the game was made. While I was in Vancouver for the Olympics I stopped by the studio and was given a tour of the studio by Dan Sochan, the producer of ModNation Racers.
When you immediately walk in, United Front Games is actually what you would expect the lobby of a development studio to look like; it’s open concept, nicely decorated, and there are plenty of posters feature concept art or magazine spreads featuring some of their highly anticipated games.
After a couple of seconds looking around I was taken to the lounge/break area of the studio. With the Olympics in full swing a few employees (some there with their children) were huddled around a TV cheering. Not only is the studio increasingly busy as they put the finishing touches on ModNation Racers, but they are also outside of one of the busiest destinations in downtown Vancouver (especially during the Olympics). It’s nice to see a sense of unity amongst all of these workers, it just goes to show that even when you’re in the middle of deadlines you don’t have to tune out all aspects of your life.
Next I was taken to the main development area of the studio. As Dan explained to me, there is a large sense of camaraderie between all of their employees. With certain teams placed close to each other people are easily able to ask questions or get re-assurance from their coworkers (ie. Character Modelers are sitting next to the Art team).
At this point in time I was only able to see the part of the studio working on MNR, with their work on True Crime kept under wraps at the moment. Even so, United Front Games seems to have struck quite a balance between work and pleasure, even their meeting rooms are named after various Mexican “Luchador” Wrestlers (there is also a wall of Mexican wrestler masks when you first enter the floor currently working on True Crime). As I look back at the studio tour, I must say that I found it very interesting to actually see where a game was developed. In this day and age, so many gamers are very narrow sighted and only look at a game for a week or two until it becomes deemed at “old news”, however this tour has now really wet my appetite for the release of ModNation Racers on the PS3 this spring.
Of course what studio tour wouldn’t be complete with an interview? Below is a transcript of my interview Dan Sochan.
What can you tell me about the history of United Front Games?
United Front Games was formed in 2007. The goal was to make great games that really pushed the boundaries of creativity and what was also technically possible. We also wanted to do that while having a really fun environment. Making Triple-A games right out of the gate is actually pretty challenging! We’ve been really fortunate to partner up with two fantastic publishers like Sony and Activision (for True Crime) that have believed in us since the beginning and have been very supportive. I think they’ve been very happy with the results we’ve been able to achieve as well. Overall, we’re a two-teamed company, and we are dedicated to making the absolute best games that play to the strength of our platforms.
How did you originally partner up with Sony?
When United Front Games was looking to form, we were looking for different partners or publishers, and obviously you want that sort of synergy with the partner, especially being a young studio. What we wanted to do was make a great racing game that pushed the boundaries of creativity, and it just lined up really nicely with what Sony wanted. They really wanted to push the online component (such as the sharing). They’d already announced LittleBigPlanet at that point and they felt that that was a very strong genre and that the industry was going to move in that direction, and they wanted another game that had those same elements, yet was different. Although there are quite a few similarities between us and LBP, there are also quite a few differences.
Why did you decide to reveal the PSP version of ModNation Racers so late in the cycle? How long had the idea for a PSP version been in the works?
The PSP version has been in the works for quite a while. It’s just all about timing and releases. Often you don’t want to make an announcement just before New Years or things get lost. It was all just about timing and getting a lot of excitement and energy about the Playstation 3 version, and then showing off how fantastic the PSP version is looking early in the New Year.
What are some of differences between the PS3 and PSP versions of ModNation Racers?
We worked really closely with the PSP team to ensure that they’ve done an unbelievable job at creating a game that still has those “Play Create Share” aspects to it. They also did an amazing job of not being hindered because the PSP obviously isn’t as powerful as the PS3. They took what the PSP did best and really built those game features around that. It’s been really great seeing the progress they’ve made and the really fun, interesting game they’ll be creating. There will be more announcements about the PSP version in the future.
What else does United Front Games have in store for the future? Are you looking at only developing for the Xbox 360 and PS3 or would you ever consider developing for handhelds?
We definitely wouldn’t want to ever close the door on any opportunities. What we want to do is make the best possible games that really help change and define what the games industry is. We’re essentially console-agnostic, which means whichever console we feel best suits the style of game that we want to work on then we’re always open to those ideas.
What is one thing you are most looking forward to with the launch of ModNation Racers?
The thing that I am most excited about with ModNation Racers is just getting it out there and really being able to interact with the community. The Public Beta was a great example of that. There were obviously some things that were still getting fixed at that point, like load times and framerate (which is standard with every game), but it was amazing being there; racing with different people, seeing different race styles, seeing the unbelievable creations that people made, and that was with a very limited subset of our total parts. Only 20% of the total parts we’ll have in the game were available in the public beta, maybe even less, perhaps only 15%. I can’t wait to see what happens when someone has had more than just a couple weeks with the game and they have the full part set available.
Depending on the success of ModNation Racers would you consider doing a sequel or would you just continue to support the game with long-term DLC?
I think that that is something where we would have to wait and see. I think both obviously have a lot of merit, there’s a lot of things you can do in a sequel that you can’t do by just having a DLC pack. I think a lot of this will come from the feedback that we get from the general public, sort of “what do they want to see?” and then we’ll respond accordingly.
What are some of your favorite games that you’ve played recently?
I haven’t been able to play a lot recently, but over Christmas I was playing the sort of “classics”. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was great, but I was actually playing a lot ofBuzz! Quiz TV with the family which was a lot of fun. Also, Beatles Rockband was fantastic; I really like a wide variety of games, I’m definitely into sports games and have a strong background in developing sports games, but I have to say it’s pretty cool in the industry these days. There are a lot of people doing some very unique things such asScribblenauts. People seem less confined by “I must make another shooter”, “I must make another hardcore sim-racer”, and with the power of the consoles we have today you can do a little bit of everything. Thinking of what ModNation Racers is, it’s a kart racing game, but it’s also a track building game, and a character or kart building game, as well as an online racing/sharing game; it’s multi-tiered. Those would have been six different games 4 or 5 years ago but with the power of the PS3 and the Playstation Network being so accessible we’ve been able to take all of the best elements of those genres and put them into one package.
Do you think it would have been possible to develop ModNation Racers on the Xbox 360?
I think parts of it could have been developed on the 360. We really like the hardware configuration for the PS3. Another big thing for us was the built in hard drive, not to mention the Playstation Network being for free; these things all help to make the game that much more accessible.
Does UFG look at other developers in the industry to help better or strengthen the games you are developing?
One of the things I’ve always really enjoyed about the video game industry is that it’s very collaborative; it’s definitely not cut-throat in the way of “I have created some new technology and I will not share it with anyone”. It’s actually very much the opposite. If anyone ever has the opposite to go to some game symposiums, such as GDC, it’s amazing! People get up there and they spill beans. Obviously there are some things that are patented, but in general they talk about their principles and how they developed technology, how they build great game studios or come up with fantastic designs or beautiful artwork. I think it’s a general belief of: we’re a relatively new industry, we want everyone to succeed, because the more of us who make great games the more we are inspiring each other and thus the bar gets raised.
This article was originally published on Lv42.com