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Trackmania 2: Canyon In-Depth Hands-On Preview

Trackmania2: Canyon

Trackmania2 is written as Trackmania squared (Trackmania x Trackmania) because it is being touted as the strongest Trackmania game to date. However this mathematical notation causes havoc with the formatting so we have to refer to it as Trackmania 2: Canyon!

Trackmania origins

While we don’t wish to bore you with a history lesson before we get to the juicy stuff, to understand the logic behind Trackmania 2: Canyon it is useful to recap on the progress of the Trackmania series. If you are familiar with the concepts of Trackmania then please feel free to skip to the next section!

The original Trackmania was first released in 2003 and featured a mix of three racing environments called Desert, Rally and Snow. Each environment featured different visual styles and unique car handling properties. The first Trackmania also introduced the innovative track editor – tracks are built using a variety of ‘blocks’, which range from the start and finishing lines to an assortment of corners, straights and scenery items. Trackmania isn’t afraid to be bold and favourably strays away from realism with high speed boosters and huge loops and jumps. The editor was relatively easy to pick-up and anyone could build a simple track within minutes, while creative minds could fabricate more complex and unique tracks. In 2004 the original Trackmania benefited from a free update called ‘Power Up!’ which added new blocks and some needed polish.

Desert Environment

Above: the Desert environment first seen in the original Trackmania.

Crucially tracks are never more than 100kb in size - an important consideration when you think about internet speeds at the time – so tracks could easily be shared via email or discs (even the floppy variant!). Within months however a community run website - http://www.tm-exchange.com/ - was founded as a place for players across the globe to upload their own tracks and download, comment and award each other’s creations. Next in 2005 came Trackmania: Sunrise which further improved the graphics engine and contained three new environments: Island, Coast and Bay. Car skins could be edited and imported into the game and from this spawned a new community website - http://www.trackmania-carpark.com/ - a place for players to share their 2D and 3D custom car models. Trackmania: Original was re-released using the updated engine in 2005 and Trackmania Sunrise was also later treated to a free update called Trackmania Sunrise: eXtreme.

Trackmania Nations was the next big step for the series in 2006 and is still completely free to download and play today. Nations featured a new environment called Stadium which formed the perfect platform for the e-sports competition ESWC. Trackmania United was also released in 2006/07 and collated all the previous games while adding new features such as a rankings system and in-game peer-to-peer networking. A ‘Forever’ update was made freely available for both Nations and United in 2008 which didn’t add a lot of new content, but instead refined the games and allowed Nations and United players to race together on the same Stadium servers. Tutorials for Trackmania however were scarce so in 2008 another new community website - http://news.mania-creative.com/ - was created to help solve this problem. A final free update for United, called ‘Star Edition’, was released in 2009 and predominately featured a 147 track campaign created by the community.

Stadium Environment

Above: the Stadium environment, first seen in Trackmania Nations.

For more information on Trackmania Nations Forever, you can read our review, here.

Or for more information on Trackmania United Forever Star Edition, read our seperate review, here.

Throughout its lifetime Trackmania has remained about one thing: nailing every corner, bend and jump to improve track times by microseconds. However, the long lasting success of Trackmania is down to two things: firstly Nadeo, who despite being a small 15-person team, have constantly improved on the same successful principle to create a solid foundation, while secondly a dedicated community has continued to expand and create their own wide range of custom content to tailor the games to their own tastes. While Trackmania has always had this huge fan base and nearly 10 million registrations (albeit mostly free Nation accounts), and despite being critically successful, Trackmania has never hit the big-time limelight. Nadeo were acquired by large French publisher Ubisoft in 2009 and have big ambitions for the next few years, including three separate games, each of a different genre.

Shootmania will be a first-person shooter, Questmania a role-playing game and the first title shaping up for release is racing sequel Trackmania 2: Canyon.

Trackmania2: Canyon

“Finally, tell me something I don’t already know!” we hear you cry, or perhaps not if you skipped the last few paragraphs. We had some pretty good initial in-depth chats with the developer and got some hands-on time with their new game while at E3 last month. Trackmania2: Canyon is a further refinement of the Trackmania progression but the new features are significant. However, the way in which Nadeo are going to release Trackmania2, and indeed their other two titles, Shootmania and Questmania, is akin to that of episodic gaming. The game engine will be the same for the three games so Trackmania 2: Canyon will provide a good first indication of what kind of quality we can expect.

Trackmania2: Canyon

So let us talk about the first game, Trackmania 2: Canyon and its features. As you can see from the screenshots it comes as no surprise that the racing environment itself is a canyon with high rocky cliffs and an American style car, all of which bears a resemblance to the original Desert environment. Despite this similarity the graphics engine has come a long way since then and the key improvement is in the lighting effects. The way light reacts and shadows are cast is beautiful and overall the visual effects are superb. Not only can the game look very pretty but the engine should be designed so that lower specification computers can run the game thanks to a range of graphical settings.

The other reason why Trackmania 2: Canyon is eye-catching is down to the track building blocks, which fit more seamlessly on track and range from sweeping concrete banked corners to swooping corkscrews sections that neatly embed into rock faces. The track editor is set-out in a similar way to the previous Trackmania games, so an inexperienced player can start building right away with the simple editor while a returning Trackmania player will immediately feel at home with the advanced editor - it will just take a bit of time to grasp the new block hierarchy. There are however some welcome new features and improvements to the editor so let’s look at those next.

Trackmania2: Canyon

The four moods of a track – sunrise, sunset, day and night - can be changed after a track has been started and shadow effects can be cast just before publishing the track so that loading times are reduced when other players come to drive the track. A saving grace for many is the new ability to select an area of blocks and then position them elsewhere – a life saver should you reach the edge of the map building area (which remains 32 x 32 blocks in size), and this block moving process looks as easy as copying and pasting in a Word document. The Mediatracker - a tool for creating a cinematic introduction and in-game graphics to a track – returns and is slicker than before, with the ability to capture and add ghost replays from within the Mediatracker. It will also be easier to place the car on a track when wanting to test the layout.

There has been talk of a block editor and importer however this feature won’t be available at first launch, if at all. The reason given was because it could prove confusing for players having to deal with and understand new block pieces, especially since Trackmania involves racing a vast number of different maps in a short period of time. It is possible that custom scenery blocks could be a possibility in the future, and of course the community have proved themselves as an inventive bunch, but for now the developers are keen on seeing how the all important vanilla blocks fit-in first. In any case there is already a lot of potential to create and race a wide range of different tracks. For starters the most advanced track builders will be able to make the most of the potential on tap with the new ‘Maniascript’ function.

Trackmania2: Canyon

Maniascript is a new in-game tool that is essentially a scripting language for Trackmania. Many could be scared off by the thought of a scripting language, but like a lot of things in Trackmania, Maniascript will be player driven: written scripts can be saved into a library which can be accessed and used by other players. An example script written by Nadeo was a Solitaire card game that could be played when activated by a trigger on-track. This is a simple example, and although Maniascript may be better suited for later Nadeo games Shootmania and Questmania, the potential here is still quite exciting. Especially when considering what legendary track builder Crusard has already built using the old Trackmania editor - a track built with remarkable objectives, an authentic movie style introduction and jets, anyone?

Overall the new map editor is likely to appeal to a wide range of players. Some will just want to race and nothing else and there will be some who just want to build tracks for those to race. Either way the track editor is so varied, from the very basics of placing a start and finish line with some checkpoints in between, all the way right up to scripting levels, that anyone can create a track with their own personal touch and then have players race it instantly worldwide.

Trackmania2: Canyon

So far we’ve had a lot of talk about how tracks are made and the near infinite possibilities that lay within, but what is the actual driving like in Trackmania 2: Canyon? People, including us, have understandably tried to compare the Canyon environment to those previously seen in Trackmania. While the visual style is definitely comparable to the Desert environment (but far more varied and better looking), the handling of the car – which looks quite like the Ford Mustang – feels completely unique. Yes comparisons can be made to the Island, Bay and Coast environments - Canyon does after all combine driving at high speeds with gravity-defying wall rides and drifting. However, when we started to drive a few tracks those comparisons were soon thrown out of the window as despite our years of experience the handling model took some getting used to and will take longer to fully master.

Trackmania 2: Canyon

In fact, our very own journalist Evilgiraffeman was playing Trackmania 2: Canyon while colleague POBmaestro talked with Nadeo developer Edouard Beauchemin (aka MrBob). When we played the Canyon environment together at the end, the skills Evilgiraffeman had learnt were put to good use as POBmaestro was edged out and beaten, while MrBob simply trumped the times set by everyone. This shows the varied learning curve and how practice makes perfect in Trackmania. Every corner and wall-ride in a track has to be tackled slightly differently, so an experienced player will be able to judge the speed and positioning of the car better and faster than a newer player. Be under no illusion however: Trackmania 2: Canyon is still going to be as frustrating as ever; in fact, a journalist next to us lost his temper and stormed off after frequently crashing in an attempt to set the fastest time.

When a player crashes or misses the optimal driving line they can instantly restart back at the start line, but this rapid process of repeating a track, although addictive, builds the frustration. Perhaps a way to vent anger is with the new damage to cars, which hasn’t been seen since the very first Trackmania. As ever cars can only make contact with the surroundings and not other cars, and damage is only superficial, designed to make the player feel more in touch with their car and track while not affecting car performance. Car customisation has been extended to include the damage so that crumple points and damage effects can now be edited.

Trackmania2: Canyon

The uses of Coppers, the previous in-game currency, should remain largely the same, but are now called ‘Planets’. There could be some variations in how Planets work but any finer details are still under development. Nonetheless they will no doubt be collected by logging in, winning competitions, lotteries and the like, and can be spent on setting official times in the solo mode or in-game advertising. There is more of a focus on creating groups in Trackmania 2 so that players can more easily interact and compare race times with smaller groups, and replay ghosts from within these groups can even appear on track. This is in addition to the usual regional, national and worldwide rankings to compete in the solo campaign.

We asked Nadeo what solo modes we can expect to see in Trackmania 2, to which Nadeo replied:

“We're looking at the Race solo game mode only for a start. Our will is to try to find time to create a platform campaign during autumn, after the launch. It is more a matter of having fun with the community, because looking at traffic stats showed us that more than 55% of the in-game time is spent on online mode, 30% on the solo race, and less than a percent for each other solo mode. Obviously, Stunts, Platform and Puzzle aren't played much. We therefore decided to focus on a great racing campaign, and improve the experience with connected solo (groups). We hope players will appreciate Race mode more, since it is what they like the most.”

This decision will no doubt upset a few players, especially those who feature in the top 10 of the puzzle, platform and stunt rankings, but the statistics speak for themselves. Unfortunately with limited resources it is impossible to please everyone and the most used components should be treated as the priority.

Trackmania2: Canyon

The online multiplayer is also similar to previous Trackmania games, with the inclusion of online rankings and time attack, rounds and team modes, but the big addition is ‘Manialive’. Players who know of ASECO will be familiar with Manialive, which is essentially an integrated way of having a library of plug-ins, such as records and lotteries, to use on multiplayer servers. It’s not clear how e-sports will be incorporated into Trackmania 2 at this time, but Nadeo haven’t forgotten about it and have previously said “we are always looking after competition because that's what action multiplayer games are often about at the highest level.“.

Trackmania2: Canyon

Everything is sounding rosy so far, but we do have one concern. The first two Trackmania games were released with three environments each, so are players going to lose interest in playing with just one? True, Trackmania Nations only has one, but remember arguably that game remains popular because it is a strong competitive environment and is also free. We put our concerns to MrBob, who doesn’t see this as a major problem, since players can only play one environment at a time anyway. Again a valid point, but on Trackmania United servers, players can quickly alternate between tracks in different environments to freshen gameplay. There are players who only play one environment in United, for example there are many dedicated Coast servers, but we just hope that in the short term – at least until more environments are released – Canyon proves to be the strongest and most popular environment yet.

Trackmania2: Canyon

Overall Trackmania 2: Canyon is literally spectacular to look at and play with. The visuals are surprisingly crisp and realistic for a game about cars frequently doing somersaults and the new environment should prove as fun and addictive as ever. It is also easier to use, looks slicker and should prove to be a lot of fun for anyone who likes to either race or just be creative. The episodic style of release is our main short term concern, but hopefully with the bounty of new features and the ever keen community, players should remain hooked at least until Shootmania is released.

Trackmania2: Canyon

Trackmania 2: Canyon, like its predecessor, will rely heavily on the creativity of the community to keep the game going, but Nadeo are providing some powerful tools for them to play with. With this ‘recipe’, as Nadeo like to put it, Trackmania 2: Canyon could well be one of the best racing games in recent times. Whether it can reach the dizzying heights of a title that the mainstream gamer has heard of won’t be known until after the game is released on the PC for digital download in September 2011.

Read more about Shootmania, Questmania and the way in which Trackmania2: Canyon is being released in our Maniaplanet article, here.

Trackmania2 trailers released so far:

 

POBmaestro | 4th July, 2011
Betty_Swallocks's picture
That looks superb.

Do you know if they're going to support wheels this time? I much prefer controlling driving games with a wheel rather than an xBrick controller.
POBmaestro's picture
Quote:
Originally Posted by Betty_Swallocks View Post
Do you know if they're going to support wheels this time? I much prefer controlling driving games with a wheel rather than an xBrick controller.
I don't know but I shall find out for you
evilgiraffeman's picture
Great preview. This turned out to be one of the highlights of E3 for me. It was not only easy to get to grips with but hugely fun and very easy to get hooked on.

Our hands-on time with the game ended up running a little over schedule as neither of us could tear ourselves away from the title. I must admit that we're a little sceptical about the decision to release individual environments, which seems like a move to maximise revenue. Time will tell and the developers have a great relationship with their community.

This was easily the best driving game from E3 as well as one of the most promising of any genre.
Honestly, I don't think you'd gain anything by using a steering wheel. I actually think it would make the game harder and you'd probably destroy the wheel in the process

Great preview, I can't wait for this one to come out.

...I really need to download Nations again, thanks for reminding me
POBmaestro's picture
Quote:
Originally Posted by evilgiraffeman View Post
Great preview. This turned out to be one of the highlights of E3 for me. It was not only easy to get to grips with but hugely fun and very easy to get hooked on.

Our hands-on time with the game ended up running a little over schedule as neither of us could tear ourselves away from the title. I must admit that we're a little sceptical about the decision to release individual environments, which seems like a move to maximise revenue. Time will tell and the developers have a great relationship with their community.

This was easily the best driving game from E3 as well as one of the most promising of any genre.
Hehe yes good times! Nadeo later had this to say to us about the pricing (taken from our Maniaplanet article):

"For a passerby, it is more attractive, with an entry price of 20euros. It is the best business model we could think of, to be easy on players' purses and keep our work efficient. The bottom line for players remains the same: 20euros for a game. We hope it will be seen as fair, regarding the work put in the game”.

I think it's a fair point considering how much re-playability and extra effort Nadeo put into their games with free continued support and updates, just now it's the extra environments that players will have to choose to pay extra for. Off the top of my head I think the only developer better value for money is Valve.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt_3D View Post
Honestly, I don't think you'd gain anything by using a steering wheel. I actually think it would make the game harder and you'd probably destroy the wheel in the process

Great preview, I can't wait for this one to come out.

...I really need to download Nations again, thanks for reminding me
Thanks for your comment! Regarding control input, I think it's a case of personal preference - for me I can only imagine using a game controller nothing else, but for others it's the keyboard, joystick or steering wheel!

Actually thanks for reminding me as well that as Nations is free it is a good way to see what Trackmania is about for real, or to simply go back and race whenever the feeling arises
POBmaestro's picture
Just a small update from what I've found out over the past week:

Trackmania 2: Canyon will have steering wheel, joystick, pad and of course keyboard support.

The Maniaplanet games (i.e. Trackmania 2: Canyon) will be digital download only. Any more details on this are limited until closer to release, but hopefully with Ubisoft as publisher the downloading process shouldn't be too painful for those of us with slow downloading speeds/caps.

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