Perhaps it's the heat, or the mental strain of having to work within earshot of man-size speakers blasting out pop songs for a break-dancing stage show, but United Front's Dan Sochan uses the word "accessible" in his answers to virtually every one of my questions. As well he should, because as we discovered at E3, ModNation Racers is a game where you can roll your own Nurburgring or Donut Plains within minutes of picking up the pad. The good news at gamescom is that you can also be more precise than that.
Free placement mode may not be the focus of our initial presentation, but it's handy to know it's there, allowing you to distribute individual trees, houses, camels and patches of long grass to suit your fastidious goal. Free placement gets mentioned when I attempt to put a tower on top of a giant phallic rock emplacement at the centre of my track. You can do that, says Sochan, but you need to do it by hand. Sochan also confirms, in answer to my attempt to place a camel on top of a minaret, that you can stack certain objects. Although not camels.
ModNation Racers may be about making your own tracks, but it's also about making your own racer and a little car for him to drive around, and a whistle-stop tour of the options for both reveal impressive depth. Using an interface similar to LittleBigPlanet's Pop-It, you can texture your budding vinyl-toy Schumacher with a range of motifs, or compose your own with a custom palette, and then choose from a range of mouths, noses, ears, hairstyles (head and face), clothes and decals. As with LBP, we're in happy, quirky territory, and the result of a few shouted suggestions is a little chap with a ginger Santa beard, pink devil horns and a centurion helmet, with some fancy night-vision goggles to round things off.
Decals are also new for gamescom, and have been designed by a proper graphic artist, according to Sochan. You can apply them to different body parts and then transform, colour, skew and flip them, add rust effects, letter or numbers and generally muck about. You can have over 100 layers of decals. You can do pretty much all of the above for your car, too, and it doesn't have to be a standard kart - you can have sports cars, trucks, tuners, classics, dune buggies and various others. We're professionals in a hurry, so we just pick something random and move onto the track editor.
Building your own racetrack is also simple, although the similarity of the ring menus used to move between modes is a little disorientating to begin with. Once you're set, you can haul the terrain skywards or drop it down below ground level - creating lakes and rivers once it descends low enough - to sculpt the basic terrain, before hopping in your little steamroller and drawing racetrack onto the result. There's a meter at the bottom summarising track complexity, mirroring a similar feature in LBP, but there's also a mini-map top-down layout of your circuit as it stands, with a greyed-in area connecting where you are back to the start/finish line if you haven't got there yet. The grey area is the game's suggested route and the one you'll have if you hit the auto-complete button.
You can increase or decrease the width, gradient and elevation of the track, and handling banks and different levels of terrain is easy - there's even a toggle to snap the track to the appropriate terrain height or to go along at sea level regardless, with the latter option forcing the game to resolve problems, like track disappearing into the mountain, when you finish editing. It works elegantly enough, and once you're happy you can jump in and drive around - the game even fills in basic barriers around the track and gives you some AI opponents to race against for testing purposes.