Hands On: Maniaplanet

Mr Griliopoulos has been to see Nadeo’s Maniaplanet announcements. He’s come away scratching his beard in puzzlement.

We’re at a ManiaPlanet announcement. But what’s going on? I was told by Ubisoft that I was here to see the announcement of two new games. During the first half of head honcho of Nadeo-inside-Ubisoft, Florent Castelnerac, demo we’re introduced to TrackMania: Stunters and TrackMania: Raid. Stunters is a stunt-based TrackMania spin, emphasising tricks. Raid is a huge rallying game, tracing the routes of continent-spanning real world races, like the Dakar to Paris rally raid. Confusing… Wait, I’m a doofus! These are user-made. They’re mods players have created during the ManiaPlanet beta.

Strangely, though, they’re given the same prominence on the ManiaPlanet library interface and during the presentation as Nadeo’s own TrackMania: Canyon and ShootMania: Storm. The two new games we’re here to see are TrackMania: Stadium and TrackMania: Valley. It’s a little confusing.

Anyway, here it is: Stadium is ye olde TrackMania: Nations levels, updated to work with Maniaplanet. I played it and I can’t honestly see the difference from the 2006 game, save for using the TrackMania 2 engine and for demonstrating how much worse I’ve got at racing games since Carmageddon. Valley, meanwhile, is a new environment for TrackMania 2. Castelnerac tells us it’s a rallying game, where cornering involves braking early rather than drifting so I’m not clear about how this differs from Canyon, except in its skin. “Some people say we’re making a car racing game for the first time with Valley,” Castelnerac says. “We want to make the operating system for racing games,” he epigrams.

I’m afraid this is what I got from these presentations: the lack of difference between ManiaPlanet’s mods and the real new games, save for some new assets. I’m not sure that’s what we were meant to take away from the demos, but so it goes.

Confused at this strategy, I ask Castelnerac if worries him that the user-made titles will eat away at sales of their main titles like Valley; “The user-made title is a child of an environment that we made,” he responds. “People need to acquire this environment, this game, to access this user-made title.” Ah, so these new TrackManias are more like asset packs for the modding community? “Like DOTA coming out of Warcraft III, we are trying to recreate the conditions for it to happen every day… we are providing the seeds of new genres. Racing, shooting… and inside racing there is rally-style, speed-racing… I see our games as the instruments and players do the jazz, the style. We are providing the instruments to players to create their own opera; we’re at the invention level more than the composer level.”

That modding ethos applies to both TrackMania and ShootMania. I’m not going into ShootMania in depth here – Brendan alone has already blarneyed enough about it for several lifetimes. Save to say that the hands-on gameplay is fast and frantic, with a similar freedom of movement to Tribes or Unreal Tournament.

One thing Brendy didn’t mention last time was the huge selection of game modes, from the expected Deathmatch and TDM, to weirder and weirder ones. Brace yourself for an EXTREMELY FAST SUMMARY in 5, 4, 3… Time Attack is a non-violent foot race. Royal is a King of the Hill mode with a rapidly-shrinking play area. Joust is a 1v1 duel with very limited ammo. Elite is a 1v3 mode, where one man has a railgun and three hitpoints. Heroes is a VIP mode, where one attacker is designated as the only person who can capture the flag. Siege is a complicated point capture mode, where the attackers gradually get tougher. Beta 2 also will introduce two new modes: Victory, a melee mode which gives a new random objective every thirty seconds such as ‘longest shot’, ‘highest jump’ or ‘most kills’; and Fortress, a time attack siege mode, with spawn points that can be captured.

Castelnerac also demonstrated and told us about some new movement techniques which will arrive with ShootMania Beta 2, tied into certain of the landscape blocks, that give the game an Unreal Tournament 2003 feeling of high mobility: there are hooks to grapple onto and swing from, castle walls that allow for wall-jumping, railgun jumps that behave like pole vaults, rockets that shoot down other rockets, grass that dampens the noise of your footsteps, pools of water that drain all your stamina, bunkers that change your gun into a mine-launcher and your run into a sprint, and metallic platforms that give you a railgun and a zoom instead of a jump. Oh, and you can glide in mid-air too, like a Crouching Tiger escapee.

However, the player’s own level customisations can change the incentives as significantly, to such a degree that you can upload these as full games (though they’re really just mods) onto the ManiaPlanet server, which is where Stunter and Raid came from; you can alter the maps, obviously, but also the starting conditions of health, armour, and weapon-recharge rate, as well as the levelling structure. For more fine detail editing, you can pop up a limited coding console that allows you to edit game elements completely on the fly.

So we build our own ShootMania mod. ShootMania: Badger (named after yours truly by Cara-chan because “Dan’s like a friendly badger”) is built around a new map with a series of high and low paths funnelling players from many spawn points towards a tiny metal podium. Everyone starts with two health points, super-fast weapon recharge, and the Nucleus weapon – a timed mine-launcher. If they stand on the podium, they get access to a sniper rifle / railgun but can no longer jump (making them a sitting duck for long-range mine shots).

Badger also has custom box-art, custom videos, and a custom advert on the ManiaPlanet intranet. All the tools for these are quick and easy to use, especially the video editor – the whole thing, including map-making, took us around an hour. The only thing we find we can’t implement is player levelling, another new feature. We wanted players to level down, getting weaker and slower, as they killed more enemies – turning the best of the best into sluggish glass cannons – but we seem to be using an earlier version of the ShootMania beta which doesn’t allow it.

Once it’s done, distributing your mod is easier than making a Walker-healing joke. You can buy ads space on ManiaPlanet using your Planets (though we still weren’t quite clear where you got these from, it was emphasised that they were a free currency) which link to user websites within ManiaPlanet, built using HTML or WordPress. This includes review and news sites. “We don’t want a system of rating, like Metacritic.” says Castelnerac. “If you do ranking you end up with the popular stuff, which is the most accessible… and boring. A single ranking is not what we’re looking for. It’s like the RockPaperShotgun approach. This website can say ‘we played with DayZ and it’s cool.’ It’s like the real world.”

The focus on ManiaPlanet is a little disconcerting, Nadeo obviously see this as a gaming platform in its own right. Given the rabid loyalty of their fans, that might work, but the hopes they have for how the platform will combine Facebook, Steam, ModDB, ManiaPlanet-only media and an advertising network, whilst using the in-game Planets currency, seems hugely ambitious for something that’s really hosting just two repeatedly-reskinned games. Or, rather three, if you count the poorly-hidden, unannounced, QuestMania.

The announcements for QuestMania are definitely in the Ubisoft marketing schedule, probably for an announcement way after ShootMania and its inevitable sequel-expansions are out. “We talk about it but never really talk about it” Castelnerac says, before proceeding to talk about it. “It started years ago, with ShootMania years ago. Playing TrackMania, a player would see a loading screen, every half hour, with ShootMania or QuestMania. We say nothing to the community. We started on the project in 2008, the first time we played a shooter in Nadeo was 2006, so it’s really a long project.” The only other details I can find are mentions in the code of the ShootMania modding tools for singleplayer missions.

Castelnerac’s other big aim with ManiaPlanet is to turn all eSports spectators into competitors – he wants all of us to move up a triangle (which he draws on a touch screen for us).

You see, he thinks that eSports is the future. He wants ManiaPlanet and ShootMania to pull free players into n00b-only modes first, then have matchmaking for the more hardcore, then user-made tournaments for the next level. (There’s an efficient, albeit unsexy competition management tool built into ManiaPlanet, which allows players to set entry fees (in Planets), schedule matches, create a round structure, specify maps and modes, and so on. Looking at it reminds me I need to play more Blood Bowl.) The top tier of ManiaPlanet’s eSports will be official Nadeo-run competitions, with official rankings like tennis for the top players.

Of course, as Eve Online, DOTA and Heroes of Newerth have shown us, you have to protect your n00bs or they don’t want to stick around. Castelnerac admits that he himself is “still insulted in Starcraft. To be efficient in DOTA 2 these days, then you’d better take lessons before you start playing.”. But he feels that a critical mass of new players, siphoned off into n00b-friendly modes, is the way to get them in. “CTF is an invite to insult the N00b”.

Castelnerac declares that “2013 is going to be the year of ManiaPlanet.” Which is confusing, because my Chinese calendar tells me that it’s the Year of the Snake. I’ll let Castelnerac sort it out with the Chinese and the snakes. I’m betting he’ll have them all playing ShootMania before the year is out.

Shootmania: Storm will be out on the 23rd January 2013. TrackMania: Stadium and TrackMania: Valley will be out shortly after that. They’re not talking about not talking about not talking about QuestMania.


  1. rockman29 says:

    Hmmm… that is disconcerting… I was hoping this was just a preview of a Nadeo game named Maniaplanet.

  2. Beernut says:

    I feel a little bad for Nadeo. They’re putting so much energy and effort into this Maniaplanet-thingy, and all I care about is single-player-racing for medals in the Trackmania-games.
    No Multiplayer, no esports, no shooting, no bothering with this currency or any inclination to try ‘Questmania’ once they’re done with that.

    I just want to drive cars in circles until I beat the clock, so I’m looking forward to playing Valley :D

    P.S.: I’m almost certain, that it’s supposed to say “SHOOTMania: Storm” in the last paragraph, and January 2013 :)

    • Zeewolf says:

      Agreed, kinda. The TrackMania games are actually the only games I like to play a little online multiplayer with, because no collisions means I can still focus on myself. But yeah, I do sort of get the feeling that Nadeo have forgotten a fairly big part of what made their games so much fun to play in the first place, with all this focus on e-sport et.c.

      I mean, I love TrackMania, but for me it’s pretty clear that e-sport is not the future for me. The thing about sport is that it’s for the young. That’s true for pretty much any sport, kinda sorta depending on how you define “young”. Now, I’ve bought every single Nadeo game since TrackMania came out. That in itself is a pretty clear indication that I’m slowly but steadily moving out of the e-sport age bracket, because it’s been 10 years. If Nadeo wants me to continue buying their games, they need to remember that. I’m getting old, and I’m not about to do pretend-sports with a bunch of 14 year olds who’ll beat me without even trying.

      • Snakejuice says:

        I agree with all your post except your last sentence. Why do you feel the need to call e-sports “pretend-sports”, are you actually convinced people involved in e-sports are just pretending to compete with eachother?

      • plainandsimple says:

        I got ten bucks I’m older than you, play less than you, and still kick your ass. Many older people play games these days, the only thing that holds people back is their lackluster attitude, much like you display here.

        Moreso, TM saw the most success when it was having ESWC tournaments. Meaning, Nadeo is not new to esports and saw their greatest influx of players because of it.

        Likewise, they have had one retail release since TMU six years ago. I don’t know what your on about with your “annually”. But you obviously don’t have a clue and come to troll with your uninformed opinion.

        • Zeewolf says:

          “Likewise, they have had one retail release since TMU six years ago. I don’t know what your on about with your “annually”. But you obviously don’t have a clue and come to troll with your uninformed opinion.”

          I never said the word “annually”. If you’re going to flame me, can you please flame me for things I said and not things you’ve made up?

          I’ve bought: TrackMania (UK), TrackMania (nordic retail, w. PowerUp), TrackMania Sunrise, TrackMania United, TrackMania 2. I’ve also bought one Virtual Skipper game that was released after TrackMania. I’ve also downloaded every ad-supported iteration of TrackMania Nations, and bought TrackMania DS (which was by another dev, but I’m sure they got something for it). And I was one of the “handful” of people outside of France who downloaded the original TrackMania BetaDemo, and spread the word about it online. So you can take your hostility and accusations of trolling and stuff it somewhere.

  3. FakeAssName says:

    For all the whining / doubt flavored through this article, RPS sure likes to write about day-z.

    Probably would be a good idea to talk to Bohemia about effect Modding has on the profitability of the base product, then come back and rethink this article … from a consumer perspective, a f2p / b2p game where 90% of the content is user generated instead of some fucking treadmill and the cash shop is just selling tournament buy in chips, that sounds like absolute gold to me.

    • Snargelfargen says:

      I got the impression that Dan was simply bewildered by the multitude of similiarly named games, as well as having difficulty discerning what was or wasn’t a mod, and whether it required a purchase of the original game or not.

      From this consumer’s perspective at least, the (apparent) plethora of mania games is a little offputting.

    • HothMonster says:

      If 90% of the content is user generated than 70% of the content is likely to be giant penises.

      • FakeAssName says:

        I personally find myself 60% more inclined to duck behind a cock shaped tree and ramp off giant breasts than deal with more recycled content in an annually release “sequel”.

        besides, if 70% is cocks and titties that still leaves 30% that isn’t and at least 5% of that will probably be quite good.

  4. wodin says:

    I want them to to add racing against other cars in Trackmania SP games not just a ghost of your quickest run..thats all I want..

    This maniaplanet thingy..first I’ve heard of it..seems like it’s something the real hardcore fans all love and think will be huge yet they are the only ones who know about or care about it.

    Seems they are pouring investment into something that doesn’t sound particular interesting. Though I’m not into e sports..so maybe e sporters (is that right?) think it is and are all excited about it.

    Sometimes I think dev’s should stick to making games and making innovative ones aswell…rather than huge online gaming business ventures..

    • FakeAssName says:

      it’s an alternative concept to the F2P format, I think …

      P2P = you pay for the base game, then pay monthly to log into the game.

      F2P = MMO where you download the game’s client demo-like but buy in game items with real cash instead of a monthly sub.

      this = MMO (or MMO like) where you buy the base game, then buy tokens if you want to get into the tournaments.

      obviously it’s a crap concept VS the normal “buy and play” format, but in comparison to the MMO shit that will never go away it’s kinda a nice idea … who knows if it will work.

      • DerNebel says:

        Actually, ManiaPlanet is simply the platform from which you launch your ——-Mania game. The idea Nadeo is working with, is that if the core game is fun, just fun enough, then ManiaPlanet will allow those players to discover more of the game the bought, to realise how much more of a game they in reality bought, and in this way keep a casual community going while siphoning them into the more hardcore scene.

        For example, a person buying ShootMania Storm will play it for some time and have fun, until he inevitably gets bored with the base game, and that’s when he’s first introduced to the modding scene of the game. And Nadeo’s making sure that there will be a big modding scene, and that this either keeps the person playing or siphons him into the more hardcore aspects of the game. eSports is simply the last step in the model. Like they said, they simply want to make a fun game that contains all the parts necessary to make other, equally interesting experiences.

        So really, it’s not an alternative to F2P, but straight up “buy a game, get a game” with the added fluff of a huge modding scene. The article references rabid fans, well they got those for a reason, not just by chance. Don’t get caught up in all the eSports jazz, eSports always appears when a competitive game gets big enough.

        • FakeAssName says:

          but then there is the issue of the tournament tokens and things get kinda cash shop-ish

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  6. plainandsimple says:

    Maniaplanet is essentially Steam but strictly for Nadeo titles. It has a friends system, news, etc. Forget the crapshoot that is Shootmania. Yes it will be popular in France, everything Nadeo is, but otherwise it will only go so far as they can shove money towards the trend that is calling your game an esports. The hardcore arena shooters have already shunned it as a novice attempt, which quite frankly is all too obvious to those that know what to look for.

    Otherwise, TrackMania is still solid. T2 Stadium is there attempt to bring in freezone players, the current population of free players still dwarfs United and Canyon combined. With all the half-arsed (sorry for being cynical) HD remakes these days, it makes sense to re-release it with some updated graphics (even though it doesn’t really look bad today anyway). Valley is a new content, gotta produce that on some level to stay in business, so it’s par for course, looks nice.

    If Shootmania is any indication, Questmania is going to be rather awful as well. Maniaplanet is quite annoying though, which is strange because Nadeo is typically amazing at menu and UI design. Maniaplanet tends to load slow, the menu for choosing games is clunky, the layout with news/friends etc is uninspired. Not to mention the unquestionable amount of money they are losing by keeping MP titles off of Steam for whatever reason.

    Basically, I think ManiaPlanet as a platform and service is redundant, annoying, and in combination with the crud that is anything other than TM, not helping their success.

  7. Mctittles says:

    Sound like a step in the right direction. However, until this game catches up to the vastness of Track Mania United Forever Star Edition, I’ll play that instead :).

  8. dee says:

    blarneyed enough about it for several lifetimes (link).

    0/10, article ruined, RSS unsubscribed, mother informed

  9. Gnoupi says:

    I’m quite unimpressed by this, so far. Because if Shootmania is any indication, they are falling into the “toolbox to do everything” programming problem.

    Which means that you want to make something which can do so many different things…. that ultimately, the genericity of the whole thing takes most of your programming time, and the actual result is hollow. You have something fully configurable, but at the price of an actual identity, or the feeling that it all fits tightly together.

    The toolbox rather works for Trackmania, because it’s quite restricted (and even, it took them some time to actually get driving models which didn’t feel like steering an hovering soap): the way of driving is established, as well as the “bricks” to build your tracks from.
    But for shootmania… while it might be ok for some, I found it rather floaty and uninvolving. You really have a feeling of manipulating a generic entity with parameters, rather than having a tight shooter experience.

    And that’s the problem with the toolbox, in my opinion. You spend so much time catering to all possible cases, that you don’t really focus on tweaking one to perfection.

    So I’m quite worried that this platform will produce mostly a lot of floaty games without that much identity. But we’ll see.

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  11. flem says:

    This is really interesting. I like to play a little online multiplayer

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