TrackMania Wii – Hands On and Interview
When we were invited across to interview Firebrand Games we were lucky enough to be given a Wii’mote, placed in front of a screen and see an early build of the game run and Mark Greenshields (CEO), Pete Shea (Creative Director) and Dan Fletcher (Producer) were on hand to answer some questions too.
Mark started saying “The feedback we’ve been getting from the early views of TrackMania Wii has been good although we don’t know how it will review”. Dan noted with a smile that they were “cautiously optimistic”.
In fact talking about the new product created a buzz around the room as all three wanted to input as much as possible without breaking any embargoes.
Mark started by mentioning that it was, “mind numbingly fast” whilst Dan told us, “Whilst it will definitely be true to the PC version in terms of how it plays we’ve developed it so the people who like the PC version will love the Wii version as much if not more”.
“This isn’t a cut down version of the PC game. It’s anything but”, added Mark before Pete mentioned, “We’ve got motion control, four player split screen and there is nothing that the PC has this doesn’t offer.” “It just offers more and is more accessible to the Wii user”, Mark finalised.
So what about development then? What were the issues the team encountered developing for the Wii?
Dan spoke first, “The initial issues of getting the motion control running were relatively simple. We put a lot of time into researching where it felt right and coding the sensitivity curves and when angles of turn equal actual turn in the game. We give our designers the tools they need to be able to tweak things straight away so the coders create a tool set so the designers can change the values, like steering parameters, easily.
Pete noted, “One of the first things with motion control is how do people hold the Wii controllers. Given the differing way people hold the controller you immediately have two different axis’s to try to interpret. We had to create some quite clever code to look at the motion and try to work out exactly the intention there.”
Solving problems like this are everyday issues and there are many specialist forums that they can discuss problems they encounter with other developers. Of course as Dan pointed out, “Ultimately Nintendo give you a lot of the things to make it work but the thing we need to do as developers is work out how to do it really well, make it feel intuitive and make it feel really nice. Bad motion control feels very twitchy so the difficulty is to find the real hands on use of the motion controller to make a real drivable game.”
This is all well and good but as they say proof of the pudding is in the eating and to be honest the Wii has not been known for its more precise driving controls, something the often tricky TrackMania requires. This doesn’t mean that developers haven’t beaten this problem though as was shown by the excellent F1 2009.
Firebrand Games have stepped up and possibly exceeded that mark though. Revving the engine at the start line you feel the speed as the car launches from the line as well as a beautiful sensitivity in the controls maintaining the balance between karting and a game that requires more dedicated control. A slight turn of the Wii’mote corresponding perfectly to the direction change you can see on the screen.
It looks good too with all the aspects you’d expect to find in the PC lovingly realised here on screen. Everything looks clean and pristine, there are plenty of tracks and that attention to detail that made even this early version very addictive. The guys from Firebrand explained where additions and improvements were to be made but really this was already an impressive “puzzle” racer.
They’ve add vast arrays of tracks too as well as the usual unlockables found on previous versions and all this is tied together with very simple yet gorgeous loading screens.
This isn’t all though and a simplified track editor is also there to create your own complexities to bamboozle your friends. In fact the ease of creation and the size of development available as well as a versatile interface makes developing these tracks something that can be done in minutes with friends and then raced for hours.
TrackMania Wii is looking awesome, running smoothly and controlling well and given the development time remaining from our opportunity to play it should be a popular title for the console and another feather in the cap of Firebrand.
If you want to know more about how Firebrand Games got here then you should read our article about them here.