TrackMania Nations Forever
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FPS e-sports have always struggled to reach the same levels of popularity as RTS and MOBAs - something that Nadeo are hoping to change with ShootMania. Designed for competitive play from the ground up, the French developers are aiming to create a new model for the FPS e-sport to suit players and spectators alike.

As with Trackmania, ShootMania will be driven by the community. Maps, skins and even game modes will all be designed, built and tested by players. Not only does this create a pretty much infinite map pool but it also gives players the opportunity to streamline the game into something more fun. If a map or game mode is too one-sided, then it can be tweaked and edited to create a more balanced experience. Most dedicated servers also run a simple map rating system which allows the very best to rise to the top.

The most popular game mode for competitive play is currently ‘Elite’. In this 3v3 mode, one attacker wields an instakill railgun where three defenders carry rocket launchers.

But there's a twist. Nadeo have included a block in the map editor that automatically equips a railgun to any defending player standing on the piece. Istead of jumping, space activates a zoom. This enables map makers to create powerful sniper nests for defenders. Similarly, when a player enters a tunnel, their weapon is gets switched to the 'Nucleus' which fires a small glowing blob of mass very slowly. It can stick to walls for a limited time and will detonate when an enemy is within a certain radius. These features put an emphasis on positioning and will separate the professionals from the amateurs.

But back to the Elite mode. The attacker has three hit points and has to either kill all the defending team or activate the flag by standing on it for one second. However, the flag is only available for capture after 45 seconds have passed, and even then it’s only active for a further 15 seconds - so timing is crucial. One of the main problems with watching a competitive FPS is that it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of all the players, and as a result most of the action can happen off-screen. This is why Duel is the most popular mode for Quake Live tournaments - you’re always going to see every frag when it’s just two players battling it out. The sole attacker in ShootMania’s Elite mode works in the same way.

Joust is the equivalent of Quake Live’s Duel mode. Normally taking place on a small map, both players have limited ammunition with which to hit the opponent a certain number of times. To gather ammo, the player must touch the opponent’s flag. It doesn’t have quite the same tactical depth as a QL duel, but it can create some very tense moments.

In Royal mode, up to 32 players start in separate spawn locations on the outskirts of a large circular map. Each player has recharging rocket ammo, two hit points, and respawns are disabled. The aim is to be the last player standing. There is also a flag in the center of the map which, once activated, will unleash a giant electrified dome completely enclosing the map. This gradually decreases in size shrinking the battlefield until it’s only a few meters wide. Frequently, two players are left dancing around the pole trying to bluff each other into guessing which way they’ll go.

Even in the obligatory deathmatch mode, Nadeo have managed to up the stakes by allowing up to 255 players on a single server. Although technically possible, Nadeo international product manager Edouard Beauchemin says that “it is unrealistic to reach such a high number, given the bandwidth required”. I’ve been playing on an 80 player server throughout the past week and it has surprisingly little lag, given that you can be trying to dodge up to 320 rockets at once. They are still improving the net code throughout the beta - so hopefully higher numbers will be reached with time.

Like TrackMania, Nadeo have developed ShootMania to be incredibly simple to control - just WASD for movement and space for jumping and sprinting. If space is held whilst airborne, you glide and can land much further away than you would normally. Gliding and sprinting both degrade your energy bar, however, which takes several seconds to recharge. The movement system is very fluid, and can even feel a bit like Tribes Ascend when you’re gliding across a map.

Competitive Quake Live wasn’t just popular for the pixel-perfect aim of its players. Part of the spectacle was the perfectly timed rocket-jumps and plasma wall-jumps that allowed players to circumnavigate entire maps in moments. ShootMania currently has very little leeway for mechanics like this. Although rocket jumping is possible to an extent, there isn’t enough benefit gained from doing so. However, ShootMania has only been in beta for a week - and as more and more professional FPS players move over, it’s only a matter of time before movement exploits are discovered.

Players already familiar with the TrackMania level editor will instantly recognise the interface used in ShootMania. The simple block-based interface allows incredible maps to be made simply and efficiently. What’s even more exciting is the idea of players influencing tournaments via map creation. With so many tiles and blocks, every map can be finely tuned to be perfectly balanced for a particular game mode. When asked about map-pools for tournaments, Beauchemin says that “ will publish official map packs that are ‘ready to be used’ for competitive modes. However, if organisers and players are organising their own tournaments, it is quite common that they will select the best maps in their opinion. Some might come from our official map pack, some might have been created by themselves or by the community.”

There are already plans to expand ShootMania beyond Storm. Last week, at Brighton’s Rezzed convention, Nadeo announced that they are planning another two games which will each bring different environments and features to the series. Several rumours have been circulating that the second title will be set in a snowy environment and be called Cryo. Beauchemin downplays the rumour. “Somebody from Nadeo mentioned that it could be ShootMania's next game, but he was misinformed. It is nothing concrete at the moment.”

Despite still being in beta, ShootMania tournaments have been popping up all over the place. The Cyberathlete Summit in Paris last month allocated over €8000 in prize money to the game. Winners Team Colwn are led by Alessandro ‘Stermy’ Avallone, an Italian pro gamer who has been playing competitive Quake for over a decade.

As a Quake player, why have you chosen to move to ShootMania?

At the moment I’m still planning to play both games, and as a matter of fact we are trying to attend Quakecon next month. ShootMania just got into beta stage and it’s already quite fun to play with a competitive team and has potential to become big, with many tournaments and events already taking place in different countries and as a professional gamer you always have to be ready for something like this. I remember back in 2004 when Painkiller came out, I was exactly in the same position as I am now. I was playing Quake III Arena but practicing tons of Painkiller because it was being used at ESWC 2004. Right after that the CPL picked it up and slowly became huge.

It’s also nice to finally be back practicing constantly and looking forward to events each month. I really missed competing regularly and ShootMania at the moment is delivering that, which is great.

Do you think that Nadeo were right to simplify the FPS to such an extent?

I have to agree that it is a bit too much simplified, but that’s the general direction games have nowadays since they probably want it more accessible to the casual gamers. Simplified doesn’t necessarily mean worse compared to others, quality is better than quantity.

Which game mode is best for spectators?

Only the Elite mode is suited for competitive play at the moment.

Are there any issues currently affecting ShootMania’s chances as a competitive e-sport?

I think it`s too early to judge. The Elite mode is fun - I have played two live tournaments so far with my team against the current best ShootMania players in the world and I have to say it was a great experience and we enjoyed the tournaments. Game wise, it still needs polishing and some important features and fixes and I wouldn’t go into details because I’m sure the developers are aware of the community requests and they keep releasing updates every second day, which is great.

The learning curve might not be as high as it should, limiting the pro-player experience and skill in the long run. This could also go the other way around, since more and more teams will be able to compete for the 1st place, creating strong and exciting tournaments. After the summer we can have a better idea overall.

Can you see ShootMania being a part of tournaments like the IEM (Intel Extreme Masters) and Dreamhack?

I think so yeah. Servers are always full at the moment and a lot of people are enjoying the game. We have seen a lot of teams forming and there are full online tournaments popping up every week. The game definitely has potential. I love FPS and I just hope we can see them back in the big leagues.
TrackMania Nations Forever

I played the original TrackMania not so much to death, but to the point where it was six feet under and the flowers had gone mouldy. In a way I’m not surprised by how little I’ve played its latest incarnation, TrackMania 2: Canyon. It’s the same jolly good physics-defying racing as the first, complete with the absurd track designs. But, for me at least, it just feels a bit too similar to the original.

This new video has piqued my interest, though. It reminds me of the thing that makes TrackMania great, other than the fact that you can drive upside-down: the community. I spent many a night up until 2am in that “just one more race” mentality, racing a hotchpotch of strangers on un-completable tracks. Once, I was racing three Swedish people on a track that simply consisted of a three-foot diameter tube and nothing else. We were all so determined to finish that we failed to see the futility of attempting to keep a racing car on a surface that it didn’t fit on in the first place.

Anyway, it’s a lovely, cheery video, complete with a kid playing the game (They seem to have negated the magenta cockskins for that particular bit), someone swearing at the game, some re-skinned rocks, some toilets racing through the game and, as testament to just how rock-solid TrackMania’s physics engine is, a shot of 1,000 cars attempting the same track. It ends with quite possibly the best home-made racing car rig on the planet.

So, this weekend, I might boot up TrackMania: Canyons and see what’s going on. While sitting in a pram.
TrackMania Nations Forever
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After all this time, still nothing compares to that opening sprint. One car, purring on the starting block, becomes a swarm of 20 when the countdown hits zero. Latticed tyre tracks. Wheels clipping through bumpers clipping through bonnets. A turn is coming: easy left into easy right, then an exit into a suicidal drop. Three degrees off and you’ll fluff the angle for the jump at the end. But you’ve trained for this – and so, as the others make their mistakes, you glide dead-bang into the tunnel. Into the mouth of a mountain.

Come to mention it, nothing really compares to the middle of a TrackMania race, either, when everyone’s thinking that, yes, this is the lap they get it right. Or indeed the end, when some naughty terrain ensures that no one crosses the finish line forwards, horizontal, or at the same altitude as their windscreen.

If you’ve played the series before, you’ll know this isn’t quite how it works. A typical ‘race’ doesn’t end at the finish, but rather somewhere in the melee of often disastrous, constantly resetting, occasionally awesome time trial attempts. Everyone in a session races with and around one another – through one another – but only ever against the clock. They learn from their own mistakes, and from others that send cars bouncing off the approaching scenery. And, boy, do they bounce.

Playing the game accounts for one third of TrackMania. The other parts are creating (tracks, cars, music, minigames, general Eurotrash oddness) and sharing (via in-game personal storefronts, forums, YouTube, wherever). It’s been this way for eight years now, and the numbers involved are massive. Today, however, the one that really matters is the creating.

What does it mean when a game that’s been updated plenty of times already decides to call itself a sequel? If you ask Nadeo, it means the start of a new adventure. Season two, episode one. TrackMania 2: Canyon includes just a single terrain type, a single car/handling model, and a single ‘pure’ racing mode. No platforms or puzzles. No cities, islands, or stadium. The changes are seemingly few, but in a game of degrees and milliseconds they can feel huge.

The handling is no longer that of a toy racer. The new car is heavier, throatier, and it drifts big-time. Unlike the first game’s vehicles, it has no air-brake. That means greater surrender to the science that kicks in when, after all that panicked steering, you finally hit a jump. The tracks feel more natural, the cars animal. Is it better? Try ‘different’, like Stunt Car Racer meets Daytona.

The Canyon, for a place made of pluggable building blocks, is magnificent. A Scalextric of the gods: bored into mountains, soaring over lakes, twisting against rhyme, reason, and gravity beneath a Segablue sky. And the light: baked into the rock, lost in the cracks, gluing it all together and bringing it to life. It’s a static environment, too, which means that it’s all precalculated by the track editor. Result: you don’t need godlike hardware to play it, even in the new splitscreen mode.

As you can tell, I get rather high on TrackMania. It appeals to my inner geek with all its outward-facing technology. If I want to take a screenshot, I can spend hours on the camera angle alone, or on adjusting the replay timeline of every car. Then I can impose – heavens – 100x antialiasing on the scene. I can pretend to know what ‘GPU/CPU synchro’ really means. I can take longer making a movie about driving in circles than it took to make Inception. I can build and paint cars and then make myself some Planets, the game’s new virtual currency. I can build a casino to waste them in, or a bank to lend them to someone else. And a digital bailiff to go smash that person’s fingers? Probably! I can – which is to say I could – script all kinds of marvellous things. If only someone would show me how.

Ah yes, the comedown. Being a ‘community-driven’ game by a studio so small it could barely populate a race, TM2 has no manual. Not quite, anyway. Not yet. Instead it has a wiki, designed to silence the abject what-the-fuckery from newcomers on the forums – but it raises more questions than it answers. Grilled about the lack of documentation, a studio spokesman posted: “No one at Nadeo knows every feature of the game. We are about twenty people, adding sometimes more than five or six features a day (like keyboard shortcuts, buttons, player page options, new dialogue boxes, maniahome...). I don’t know a single thing about the Media Tracker, and nobody else than me knows the whereabouts of the ManiaScript.”

This is the candour people love about Nadeo – even when, as happened recently, a power cut in France made most of the game temporarily unplayable. The angry and confused were then told by its second-line support people, the community elders themselves, that they should wait in silence or discover the rest of the game. Build a car, edit a replay, or toy with the slightly-improved track editor. Which is fine if you’re a veteran, or have a decent grasp on the game’s sprawl of user-developed content.

But what if you don’t? Sure, the track editor is simple in principle, but it can seem anything but when nothing you select or do conjures a tooltip, warning, or log entry of any kind. It gives you the right number of tools and blocks to ‘get it’ quickly, then get inventive and build tracks like the official ones. But it’s far from painless when it fails to identify what you’re trying to do (drive a road through a cliff, maybe), or even hazard a guess. An entire layer of things we take for granted is missing from this toolset, requiring players follow an online paper trail of variously handy tutorials.

Part of the problem is that Nadeo are so active in their community – married to it, effectively – that they think the game is spoken for. A major change as to how official time trials work, for instance – you have to get the gold medal time in practice first, then wait five minutes between attempts – was left a mystery for new players. Also, as with older games in the series, large portions of its ‘interface’ are just jumps to websites and forums. Others might prefer the term: ‘massive bloody holes where the user interface should be’.

Don’t get me wrong: TrackMania 2 is a beautiful, heart-stopping, narcotic racing game. Its readiness to just sit there as operating system furniture, idling in the background before roaring to the fore, is a credit both to its engine and its design. To the PC, no less. Better still is how it has embraced different control schemes – the drift mechanics favour braking with Ctrl, or tweaking the deadzone on a 360 pad – while keeping the playing field level. And, for all that will be said about the changes to the handling, there’s always TrackMania United Forever. The TM community is huge, and no stranger to divided loyalties. Why be frightened of change?

I’ve built tracks and made ‘paks’. I could tell you just what speed of footage creates just what kind of motion blur, and the advantage of using a Hermite-interpolated custom camera. I am a proud TrackManiac. But this game is not for everyone, and I’ll even go one further: after all this time – with the name of one of the world’s biggest publishers splashed across cars and tracks – I’m not sure it’s enough.

Maybe Nadeo have some strange Peter Pan complex. Maybe Ubisoft have some strange ‘what the hell have we gotten ourselves into?’ complex. Whatever the reason, TrackMania should have been ready at launch. Obviously there’s a whole lot more to come, but basics like the interface should have been immaculate, or at the very least presentable. It should have had tutorials, pop-ups, tooltips – the works – springing from every mode and button, not sitting on someone’s esoteric fan site. It should have been bug-free and user-friendly, yet its editors are quirky at best. It should be conquering the world.

Review by Duncan Harris.
TrackMania Nations Forever

Here's some lovely footage of Trackmania 2 shot by some folks on the beta, spotted on RPS. The absurdly smooth driving skills make us think that it might be a well-programmed bot doing the driving in this one. Every turn is nailed with unflinching perfection, which means we're free to coast along and enjoy the gorgeous new environments.

Like the first games, Trackmania 2 will ship with powerful editing tools that will let players create and share new tracks. The first game, TrackMania Nations Forever, is free to download from Steam. The sequel is due out later this year. Check out the official Trackmania 2: Canyon site for more.
TrackMania Nations Forever
Shootmania Thumbnail
Nadeo's International Project Manager, Edouard Beauchemin has shared new Shootmania details with PC Gamer. We fired questions at him before having "one more go" on the upcoming Trackmania Canyons at Ubisoft's Summer Showcase. Three hours later, I left the booth.

Shootmania is an ambitious user-driven sandbox of an FPS. Users will be able to create their own gametypes and maps in a few minutes, similar to how the Trackmania community create their own unique courses. I asked Edouard whether Shootmania will feature some form of persistent levelling system similar to the ones featured in most modern FPSs.

It wont. According to Edouard, "A whole experience system could have been implemented into Trackmania, but a game based on skill is more interesting for the people we like to play with. With Shootmania, it's the same thing. It's based on skill. There are no RPG mechanics. We want to make it as pure as possible."

"Trackmania is the purest arcade racing game we could come up with and we hope to do the same with Shootmania – the purest FPS that could come up with."

Shootmania is set to be an instantly gratifying experience: "It's going to be a pure run and gun game. Go through it, bring your friends and shoot! Even for weapons – we limit it to a few so you don't have to think about buying the right weapons at the start of the game. You'll come with a gun in your hand and you'll start shooting. It's got a fun spirit. You're not pretending that you're a sniper from the US army. You're there to enjoy your game."

I asked Edouard if he's nervous about the team's lack of experience in other genres.

"It's the question that everyone is asking. We're asked ourselves first. We've been asking it since 2005 when we started to work on Shootmania. We're extremely pleased with how it looks and plays, and the possibilities you can have in the game."

More on Shootmania, Trackmania 2: Canyons, and the upcoming Questmania soon.
TrackMania Nations Forever
TrackMania 2 Canyons
Nadeo, creators of the Trackmania series, along with the upcoming Shootmania and Questmania title have been speaking to PC Gamer. Edouard Beauchemin is aware of the recent trend in the profitable free-to-play model, but says it's not the best option for the upcoming Trackmania 2: Canyons.

Speaking at Ubisoft's Summer Showcase yesterday, the international project manager said: "Free to play is so fashionable at the moment. People come up to us and are like 'Make Trackmania 2: Canyon's free to play' and we're like 'No - Trackmania Nations. That's completely free-to-play. You don't have to pay at any time. And we're still looking at 700,000 different people playing the game each month.

"We prefer to call Trackmania 2: Canyons “Free to Stay”. You pay at the entrance and then you stay for as many years as you want. Unlimited content you can download for free from anywhere. You only have the in-game currency that you exchange with your friends through the in-game economy.

"The spirit is good because you're not saying “Oh! That person stole my item that I paid one Euro for. Give it back!” It's fun. It's a game. You pay 20 Euro and you enjoy it."

The UK/US pricing for Trackmania has not been annouced yet. €20 converts to £17.54 or $28.29. We'll have more on Trackmania 2: Canyons soon. Until then, take a look these amazing screenshots and read our latest feature.

TrackMania Nations Forever

TrackMania's best courses looked like lumps of concrete spaghetti. They were a mess of gravity defying banks and loops, broken up with ridiculous jumps and a hundred different ways to hurtle to your death. The latest TrackMania 2: Canyon trailer shows that the sequel will be staying true to the bendy madness of the original.

These new screens prove it's going to look outstanding. Get a closer look below.

For more news on TrackMania 2, keep an eye on the newly launched TrackMania 2 website. The game's due out later this year.

TrackMania Nations Forever
Trackmania 2: Canyons Thumbnail
TrackMania's best courses looked like lumps of concrete spaghetti. They were a mess of gravity defying banks and loops, broken up with ridiculous jumps and a hundred different ways to hurtle to your death. The latest TrackMania 2: Canyon trailer shows that the sequel will be staying true to the bendy madness of the original.

These new screens prove it's going to look outstanding. Get a closer look below.

For more news on TrackMania 2, keep an eye on the newly launched TrackMania 2 website. The game's due out later this year.

TrackMania Nations Forever

The sun-bleached canyons, the cars polished to within an inch of their MOTS, the cunning use of the word "Turbo" 47 seconds in. As pointed out by RPS, there's plenty of reasons to get excited for Trackmania 2, even though there's no confirmed release date as yet.

For more on Trackmania 2, read our full preview in issue 227 of PC Gamer UK, on sale May 11.
TrackMania Nations Forever

The sun-bleached canyons, the cars polished to within an inch of their MOTS, the cunning use of the word "Turbo" 47 seconds in. As pointed out by RPS, there's plenty of reasons to get excited for Trackmania 2, even though there's no confirmed release date as yet.

For more on Trackmania 2, read our full preview in issue 227 of PC Gamer UK, on sale May 11.

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