The waiting game
June 07, 2010
ModNation Racers belongs in the Seinfeld universe. It would fit in nicely with the "re-gifter," the "close-talker," the "low-talker," and the "anti-dentite." For, you see, Modnation Racers - an otherwise perfectly wonderful kart racer - is a slow-loader. And, like Jerry's beautiful dinner date with "man hands," that single disturbing trait is impossible to ignore.
I wrote about ModNation Racers back in April, having played the beta, and I registered my excitement about the game's powerful content creation tools and their potential to encourage even casual players to build cool stuff. Now that I've played the released version of the game, I can happily report that MNR makes good on those promises. It successfully advances Little Big Planet's "Play, Create, Share" formula with an astonishingly user-friendly toolkit for designing borderline fair-use characters, karts, and tracks.
If you're itching to race through a charming Alpine village as Mr. Peanut driving Batman's 1966 Batmobile, this is your game. Just don't get in a hurry. Here's why.
On the day the game was released, I loaded ModNation Racers from my PS3's XMB and was immediately greeted with a prompt informing me the game required a software update. No big deal. The update was only 30MB and installed in less than 2 minutes.
This was followed by a a one-time install to the console's hard drive, which required 7-and-a-half minutes to complete. Again, I thought, no problem. A hard drive install will save time in the long run by cutting load times and limiting reads from the game disc.
By the time the game was installed to the hard drive and the unskippable opening credits finished, I had waited 9 minutes and 54 seconds to play the game. After responding to a "push any button prompt," I waited another 31 seconds before arriving at Modspot, the game's central hub.
Choosing "Career Mode," I was presented with a 2-minute, 43-second cutscene (skippable) with studio announcers and an introductory story scene. Once complete, a loading screen appeared with a 'percentage-loaded' counter. The track required another 52 seconds to load.
At this point, I'd been waiting nearly 12 minutes (and that's if I skipped the story-mode cutscene entirely) to begin racing. After the race ended, the game required another 20 seconds to return me to the main hub. Choosing a single-player race took a bit less time than career-mode: 44 seconds to load the track. Subsequent tracks required between 45 seconds and a minute to load.
Getting to the content creation tools takes less time: 12 seconds - which is still too long, but relative to MNR's other load times, feels positively snappy - but exiting the modding area and returning to the hub requires another 25-30 seconds every time.
I know less than nothing about how games manage what they do under the hood, but it's hard for me to understand how the folks at United Front Games or Sony San Diego could sign off on a game - a racing game for goodness' sake - that repeatedly subjects the player to such fun-killing load times throughout a typical play session. I'm guessing it had something to do with meeting a deadline.
If I didn't hold MNR in such high regard for the many things it does well, I suppose long loads wouldn't get under my skin so much. But I fear that unless UFG optimizes the game, and does it soon, the persistent annoyance of waiting will overshadow all the other joys ModNation Racers brings.