Game Design: Trackmania

When we are asked “what’s your favorite videogame?“ we often wander through all the games we played, mostly exceptional ones, without being able to pick one. In that situation, my mind constantly thinks of Trackmania. So, even if it’s not my answer, it’s a testament to how much value I attribute to this game. But what’s good about it? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the game? And not from a player perspective, but from a developer perspective, what would I keep and what would I change?

PLUS: Physics, this game show how important it can be, the whole game is perfectly crafted around its simulation and how consistent it is. This aspect of the game lays fundamentals so strong that are able to hold the game at its hardest level, the developers designed each level not with the mindset of pushing the car to its unnatural limits, but to push the limit itself forward.

PLUS: The supercar is indeed the core of the game, a perfect representation of the modern principle of game designing: “power to the player“. The base of the game is not driving a car, is driving The Car, pushed as far as it can possibly go, only at that point they start developing a worth challenge around it.

Trackmania at its best.

PLUS AND MINUS: This lead to the biggest weakness of the game, one that has an unavoidable weight on the game: it’s an arcade racing game. These words are probably the reason why the game does not has the attention it needs. It all goes back to the big topic of judging games, one meter isn’t enough to measure all games. How you judge a perfect arcade racer? It’s hard to sign this point as a negative one for the game, but it’s a grim reminder of what it’s worth considering developing when you start developing a game: a perfect game for a niche is still a game for a niche. Would the game be better if there were robots instead of cars? Would it be the same game? Talking about unavoidable sentences, the game is playable only with a controller, so that niche of gamers needs to have a controller, but that niche of a niche, now have a really good game to play.

MINUS: Now it’s time for a true negative aspect of the game: the client. Do the experience of being stuck in Uplay “connecting“ somewhere when I first launch the game hurt my experience? Yes. The game (stadium 2) being recognized as a virus for opening too many connections hurt the game? Yes. The lack of an in-game options menu hurt the game? Yes. And off we go surrounding the game with literal obstacles as the menu fails (read as: selecting the wrong option as the input get, purposefully or not, delayed), the interface resize at runtime, the game exit fullscreen mode, the rumble for the controller get stuck (seriously?), the audio clues plays at the wrong time and, just to avoid making a point on it’s own: the camera's problems. It’s somehow surprising that the game works so consistently, and weird, because when it comes to interfaces/client/menus, you are allowed to fail if you try to innovate, any other result is just a big question mark left wondering: “Who developed this game?“. Don’t put barriers to the game, don’t tell to the player: “There is puzzle mode too“, gamify the experience of learning about that mode and let the player skip it if necessary, just get to the game as soon as possible. This is a whole other discussion on itself, let’s just say this game would be at the core of that discussion. All these problems creep into the player mind, making easier to leave.

All the cited problems point in the same direction: the game as its own corner in the so-called “development hell“. The first version of the game came out in 2003, from that moment a stream of iteration cleaned the core mechanics but the game was never delivered in a package good enough to create a solid community. Through the year, it was possible to see the developer trying to surround the game in a deep experience, one that was just slightly out of reach, maybe for budget issues or a rushed release, and as the newer game came out, they were always there, just a step behind. I would share their satisfaction if they will finally be able to release the game in a proper, cohesive, shape.