At Gamescom, Namco was good enough to give us a demonstration of Ridge Racer Unbounded’s impressive city editor functionality and talk about the game’s UGC-filled future.
It was quite refreshing to talk to Namco about Ridge Racer Unbounded. One of the first things they said regarding Ridge Racer Unbounded and how they wanted to extend its replayability was “the audience has already paid to be entertained.” This is a marked shift away from the increasingly DLC-heavy approach that many developers are taking, and a move towards a more community-driven approach giving the game a much longer lifespan.
Chief among the features that will drive (no pun intended) Ridge Racer Unbounded’s future is the addition of the City Creator functionality. During development, the team wanted to experiment with different ways of building tracks that would allow them to create a more expansive range of urban environments in which to set the game. Eventually, they settled on a “template” approach that used prefabricated city blocks, each 250mx250m in surface area, and slotting these together to build the game. Indeed, the whole of the game’s campaign is built using these blocks — but after thinking about the way they worked, their simplicity but flexibility, the decision was made to put them in the hands of the player.
Thus, the City Creator was born. It was designed as a response to players impressed with the myriad possibilities of user generated content but daunted by where to begin using the tools. It’s simple, easy to use and intuitive, but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth. Indeed, Namco claims the rest of the game was built with the same tools — and makes the bold boast that it’s possible for anyone to create a retail-quality track in under one minute.
Having watched it in action, it might not be such a ridiculous boast after all — it really is very simple. Offering the player an 8×8 grid (64 tiles), the editor allows players to choose from a selection of interlocking blocks from 12 different city environments (two of which are currently implemented) and fit them together as they please. City backdrops are then generated in the blank squares, though players are free to insert specific landmarks into the backdrop as they please. Once a track has been completed with a start and finish line, players can choose the lighting for the circuit and set up special rules, such as what type of races the track will play host to and any restrictions on cars.
The interesting possibility of a puzzle mode was raised when the possibility of arranging those 64 potential blocks into non-grid configurations came up. Namco was keen to stress it wasn’t confirming or denying anything, but the example of a map with a river running through the middle of it and the player being challenged to create a circuit with the available pieces was certainly raised as a possibility. Namco also didn’t confirm or deny whether advanced editing and customization of individual tiles would be available beyond simply slapping down 64 tiles, but it was again raised as a possibility.
If this all sounds a bit like TrackMania, you’d be right — Ubisoft’s game even includes a puzzle mode with its track editor — though Ridge Racer Unbounded’s circuits are more grounded in reality than its potential rival’s gravity-defying setups. It’s the on-track action that’s chaotic in Namco’s title, with over the top crashes and destructible scenery giving the game a touch of insanity a step beyond taking corners sideways.
Namco’s anticipating integrating the City Creator into the whole Ridge Racer Unbounded experience. The team’s planning to let players unlock additional elements with which to build their tracks throughout the course of the single player career mode, and likewise is building that career mode using the same blocks that will be available to players. The community aspect will be very important to the game, though that hasn’t been implemented as yet.
All in all, Ridge Racer Unbounded is looking very exciting. The potential replayability that the addition of user generated content offers is enormous, and will help give the game a huge lifespan. If Namco does want to go down the DLC route with the game in the future, too, there’s no reason why they can’t offer additional city blocks and environments for download and inclusion into custom tracks, such as what LittleBigPlanet offers with its content packs.
Ridge Racer Unbounded is due out next year for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.