How to build a platform track

written by Alcator

Have you tried the Platform mode in TMU(F)? Quite difficult, right? Even with unlimited amount of time and the knowledge that each section is passable from the last CP, there are sections where you just stare in plain disbelief at the seemingly impossible task ahead. Such as when you were getting faster and faster, finally facing a sequence of about a dozen air CPs that you were supposed to fly through in one pass…

Most track builders only build race tracks; this is mainly because online servers usually rotate race tracks, so building something else automatically lessens the chance of your track becoming known.

How to build a good platform track?

Let’s start with the basic “rules” of platform mode. Although some of them may be violated a bit, it would be better to respect them.

  1. The track must be finishable from any CP respawn. No exceptions.
  2. After respawning in a CP, the respawning player should be able to pass the next segment by going forward – no backtracking should be required, although an alternate route may be available for a particularly fast jump etc.
  3. Your author score must be “0 penalty points”; the gold medal should be set to 0 as well, with 3 penalty points for silver and 10 penalty poins for bronze. That’s the setting for official platform tracks, and it should be followed in custom tracks as well. Don’t make the limits harder just because you built an “easier” platform tracks – those are needed too!

OK, that would be the basic concepts, but what to build to make the track challenging as a platform track?

There are several “themes” for this as well:

Engine killers – the #1 tool of platform track builders, the engine killer forces the player to pass the next area with a car that keeps getting slower and slower. This means that wall scratches, sliding and braking may result in halt, and a respawn. In combination with the other themes, this seriously increases the challenge.

Technical corners – forcing the player to find the optimum path around corners, especially in combination with an engine killer, is also very common in platform tracks.

The right speed – a thing that is very difficult in trackmania to achieve is keeping a particular speed. Unless you are using foot pedals, you are either gaining or losing speed, which means it’s nearly impossible to travel at one exact speed. The above mentioned jump through a series of air CPs required that the speed of the car fall into a narrow range – cars that were faster crashed into the upper parts of the CPs, while slower cars didn’t make the whole jump. In combination with a long jump through a narrow spot, such as a “hole” in the wall, forcing the player to try and get the right speed may be very challenging.

Dirt – dirt, the loved/hated alternate ground for Stadium, can be very tricky. Not only do the formula cars oversteer and slide on it, but it is also known to randomly bounce, flip or slow down the cars when they land on it. Which means a slight difference in speed, jump angle or airbraking moment may have a huge impact on whether you make it through the next section or not.

High speed – similar to full-speed tracks, by making a section of the track mandatorily fullspeed (meaning: either the player drives it fullspeed, or he won’t make the final jump etc.), you can increase the challenge a lot. Please always verify that the section is playable by keyboarders as well – there were cases of Coast tracks with high speed turns that were only doable by steering wheel users (coastal car slides if you turn at full speed).

Downstairs! – by forcing the player to perform “non-driving” things, such as walking the car “down the stairs” (a set of descending platforms), you can increase the challenge, because such tasks are uncommon (rare) and it may take the player some tries to truly grasp the concepts of airbraking, spin-drops etc.

Security by obscurity – I’ve borrowed this term from computer security, where hiding (obscuring) information about the programming language or operating system you are using can make it harder to crack. Likewise, if you obscure an obstacle the player will only have a limited time to react to it. In combination with an engine killer, this may be deadly (the player’s car cannot continue after crashing into the obstacle). The christmas trees on Stadium, heaps of rocks or cargo containers on Desert, or all those decorations available for Island – they can all be used very effectively to obscure the situation.

Tire them down! – make the track longer. It’s always harder to stay 100% focused for 2 minutes than it is to stay focused for 30 seconds. This is especially good for making the gold medal (0 penalty points) harder to reach – players are more likely to make a mistake after a long race.

The MT madness – nothing throws a player out of ballance more than if you suddenly switch the view to some unusual angle. If used with caution, this may increase the challenge without frustrating the player. Of course, if you choose an angle that makes it impossible to guess distances or steer properly, they will hate you!

What other tips for making challenging platform tracks do you know? Share them in the discussion!

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3 Responses to How to build a platform track

  1. Retodon8 says:

    Good article!
    I never even realized there are official retry amounts for the silver and bronze medal.

    One small thing though; you mention that “Unless you are using foot pedals, you are either gaining or losing speed”.
    However, the game’s driving is still binary, so analogue foot pedals round to either on or off.
    Maybe if you’d find the point where the change happens you could theoretically alternate quicker than you could with keyboard, but you wouldn’t be able to truly only give say 50%.

    As for tips…
    As a bit of an extension of your “Security by obscurity”, I think you could use the ManiaTracker to limit the amount of time a driver gets to navigate a particular section.
    Maybe make it maze-like, although that’d be more puzzle than actual platform.
    Still, the thing I like about TM are the occasional deviations from the norm. 🙂

  2. alcator says:

    Retodon, thank you for clarifying about foot pedals, I couldn’t test that myself, so I just assumed, which was wrong in this case.

  3. Learn To Build Websites…

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