Track: Demented Mans Track
Type: Drag & Freestyle
Metalicagod has been around mtm for quite a while now and has been known predominently as an accomplished truck builder, having about a dozen in his portfolio. Been known until now, that is. For the expo, Met has bravely taken up the challenge to test the waters on the other side of the addon world, and Demented Mans Track (race and freestyle) are his track making debut, which we sincerely hope he'll follow up with yet more to come.
Being a 'truck' maker coming at 'track' making, Met brings an interesting set of skills to the process. Or let's say unique compared to a typical rookie who packs neither knowledge or experience, whereas Met is already very familiar with the mtm game and with bin modeling in general. (It's also kind of interesting to note that more truck builders braved track making than the other way around). Anyway, what this situation seems to have yielded is that Demented Mans Track presents us with a number of issues that are not the usual rookie errors and yet are problems that stem from inexperience in the realm of track making. This is not a criticism, not by any means, since the goal of the expo was to challenge makers, and to draw out potential new builders. To that end, then, Metalicagod has done an admirable job. That said, there are issues, however, and we'll try to cover them one by one so Met, and any other new maker reading this, can benefit from the information we'll try to make clear.
To begin, then, we'll talk about the course. Since this is a drag-style track, we should note that drags are a type of track that caters to fans of the sport of monster truck racing, designed to simulate the racing styles of the real monsters. Being a drag race, this means races are between two trucks pitted against one another, but since the mtm2 game doesn't accommodate this sort of event, drags, like cnr and rnr, are user run events whose rules are predetermined by the participants. This usually involves a <i>judge</i> who will give the signal to "go!" and who will position him/herself at the finish line in order to determine a winner. A judge can also act as timer, and even as host in a tourney. These tracks have no checkpoints so that racers are not repeatedly taken back to the multiplayer room in the game at the conclusion of each heat, but can run race after race within the same session. Despite these differences from conventional tracks, drags have much in common with circuits and rallies just the same, and which we'll address in due course.
Keeping this in mind Demented Mans Track is situated inside a large stadium with a perfectly flat dirt floor, and there are white lines drawn on the dirt to mark the limits of a squared off course, defining a simple <a href="http://cownap.com/~tracks/P2003/anotherdementedtrackbymetalicagod.jpg" target="_blank">figure-eight type of circuit</a>. The race begins with all the trucks parked in a pit area and players proceed out onto the field of battle. We assume the finish line, just as with circuits, marks the start position. During a race, you stay in your lane, follow the course around, and hopefully return to the finish before your opponent. It is here, however, we meet our first problem. Given that there are no checkpoints, and that this is a large track, racers are put on their honor not to cheat, or hedge the lines a little bit, to get the advantage on their rival. To help deal with this, Met has opted to enclose each lane with barriers so racers "can't" get out of their lane. The problem, though, is he's used <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman1a.jpg" target="_blank">invisible walls</a> for this task. And we must say that if there's one thing racers and draggers agree upon, it's that invisible walls are the most frustrating thing to encounter in a race. Even if Met has placed them in the track with reasonable precision, racers cannot tell where they begin or where they end, they don't know how near or far they are to them, and getting taken out of a race because you've come into contact with something you can't see is enough to drive some people over the edge. In short, nothing spoils a race faster than invisible obstacles. That is not to say barriers cannot be used to seperate lanes. Rather, hay bales (either like in c98 or the ones painted with sponser logos), concrete guard rails (like those made by Sir James), flag type restrainers (like in MomentumX), or even a string of collidable poles can do the job without the frustration of invisibility. Anyway, a second problem with the course is at the crossover portion of the figure eight. As you approach the underpass, the <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman1b.jpg" target="_blank">support piller</a> is directly in the center of your lane, thus forcing you to <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman1c.jpg" target="_blank">swerve around</a> where you'll have more fun with the invisible barriers. And finally, coming back around, you come to the crossover part again where there's an abrupt forty-five degree on-ramp you're 'supposed' to drive up and over, but which, despite all the effort to hold you to your lane you can drive around, and on toward the finish line.
Now in defense of these invisible object boxes, they do, yes they do, have their application. There's no real knack for knowing when and where to use them; that comes with experience, and even with some personal perference. But make no mistake, they are a very necessary part of our game, especially when dealing with the collision properties of models. We'll give two examples. First, is for ramps that allow you to drive over objects, such as the semi trucks in Demented Mans Track. In this case, Met has the right idea, tho it could benefit from some tightening up. The problem, albeit minor, is that he hasn't kept the rectangular box, or cuboid, shape of all models in mind, and which has forced him to place the ramp too far in front of the trucks - giving the impression you're <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman2a.jpg" target="_blank">driving on air</a>. The trouble is the semis have been left as collidable objects, which means that, no matter what they look like, they are cube-shaped in the game, and so the parts above the hood and cab are solid. To counter this, Met just placed the ramp far enough away to make the passage over possible. But what should have been done was make the trucks no-collide, then <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman2b.jpg" target="_blank">move the ramps</a> to a more realistic distance so it appears you're driving over the trucks themselves rather than the invisible ramp. Of course, making the truck models no-collide means drivers will be able to fall into them, so they would need to be fitted with appropriately sized object boxes to round out the job. The second example is the speed limit sign on the freestyle track, which Met has unwittingly left as collidable so that trucks <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman6a.jpg" target="_blank">cannot drive through</a> it. In this situation, he should have used invisible boxes but hasn't. The fix is easy, however. Set the banner to no collide, then <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman6b.gif" target="_blank">fit the posts with object boxes</a> so the trucks can drive through where they should, and are stopped where they shouldn't (ie, the posts).
Before leaving off this invisible barrier topic entirely, we want to talk about modeling in general. Specifically, we'll focus on the car-van-block pyramid, but the principles we hope to cover can be applied to all models in all tracks, not just Demented Freestyle. Anyway, at first, we had some trouble climbing the pyramid and discovered this due to <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman4a.jpg" target="_blank">misaligned object ramps</a> of the same type we mentioned previously in regard to the semis - tho this time the problem was side to side as much as distance from the model. Then, once we did get on top, we found we fell back through <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman4b.jpg" target="_blank">to the ground</a>. The first impression was that the red block model had been set to no collide and/or an object model should have been placed over the top to prevent falling through. But closer inspection finds that this is a single, complex model as opposed to a collection of models built up lego style to form the pyramid. In fact, many of the track props are <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman4c.gif" target="_blank">complex models</a>. This, in itself, is not a problem (and often times combining models can be a benefit) but it does begin to explain why we're having such a time of things with object boxes. The first thing a track maker needs to understand about models is that in the game <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman4e.gif" target="_blank">all models are square</a>. The visible shape and size have no bearing on the matter. In the game, models are cuboid in shape. And it's this "bounding box" the trucks collide with. Trucks do not run into the faces and vertices of a model, but this bounding box. So, when making track models, putting them in a track, deciding which type to set them as, what weight and collision properties, where to place posts and ramps, you must keep this bounding box in mind. That's what the trucks react with. As a result, it is often more efficient to build models in pieces rather than as assemblies. The pit in Demented Mans Track is a good example. The concrete wall around the pit is one model, then in the track it's set to no collide and outfitted with three object boxes to prevent trucks from driving through. Whereas if it was constructed as one straight wall, it could be put in the track three times (once for each side) and left as collidable, thus eliminating the need for object boxes entirely. The same thing could be done for the overpass (which might have been better suited for ground boxes). For the pyramid, a combination of all these things would get best results. The red block set to collide with the cars around it set to no collide with ramps over them. Of course, this method "may" increase the total number of models the track uses, and maybe even increase the number of instances of each model, but given <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman4d.gif" target="_blank">Demented's statisics</a> (which are well short of all limits), there is plenty of room for this kind of playing around. True, breaking models down into parts means more alignment work in traxx, but the same applies to all models (for example, the grandstands <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman7b.jpg" target="_blank">good</a> and <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman7a.jpg" target="_blank">bad</a>) but overall the time and patience reap big dividends.
Finally, at the risk of driving anybody to suicide with more model talk, aside from one <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman5.jpg" target="_blank">crush truck</a> with missing faces, the models themselves are all well done. They are all low vertex, highly functional models that look and do exactly as they're intended to do, and they are perfectly suited to a full room of racers for online play.
Whew! Two more notes and we're done. First is that extended courses have not been set. We understand that drag tracks do not have checkpoints. We understand that it's very rare to get a computer raceable drag track. We know that the computer trucks can't complete laps even if you try to set them. We're aware of all the things that make drag tracks different from conventional circuits and rallies. That said, you must set extended courses anyway. They don't necessarily need to follow your drag course, and in fact they don't even have to be "inside" the arena (if that's something you don't want), but extended courses serve more purpose than just giving the computer drivers something to follow. They control the camera angles, the blimp, and the helicopter. Without the extended courses, several camera angles don't exist and some "may" place you underwater (we're not kidding you), the blimp is not functional, and the helicopter will drop you at the (0,0) coordinate in the mtm2 world (with little chance of finding your way back to, and less chance of getting back in, the arena. This is a lesson for all new track makers: extended courses need to be defined, in all types of tracks, to make your track fully functional.
And finally, some file tech. There is a bug between traxx and windows related to file extensions and that can cause an <a href="http://mtm2.com/~mtmg/errors.cgi?e=57" target="_blank">unable to get lnth of</a> error in the game, and an <a href="http://mtm2.com/~mtmg/errors.cgi?e=56" target="_blank">Error loading model(s)</a> error in traxx. Fortunately, Demented Mans Track(s) do not produce these messages but it must be said the potential exists as the file extensions have been cropped off the file names in the <a href="http://mtm2.com/~forum/images/dementedman8.gif" target="_blank">traxx models box</a>. To head off such problems in future, anybody using traxx needs to uncheck the "hide file extensions for known file types" checkbox in <a href="http://cownap.com/~mtmg/folderoptions.shtml" target="_blank">folder options</a>.
And finally finally, yes, we're almost done, track and file names need to be unique. MTM2 reads through all the pod files mounted in your pod.ini file and will load the first file it finds with the name it's looking for. Therefore, when using a name like "boxcar.bin" you're as likely to see somebody's train as you are the overpass in this track. Also, track names are restricted to the first eight characters of the track's name. In this case, any track name that begins with the word "freestyle" will conflict with Demented's freestyle, so which ever track is mounted higher in the pod.ini list will be the only track to run in the game. In the case of files as in the case of track names, there's only one solution. Use unique names. Always. You can find a few workarounds for track names <a href="http://forum.mtm2.com/viewtopic.php?t=1199" target="_blank">here</a>.
In the end then, inexperience is the only hold up on this track. Sure, there are a couple object box issues and model alignment concerns but the models themselves are well done, and the track as a whole has been created by a guy who until the expo has focused his attention on trucks. The track is low vert enough to be used online but leagues may pass it over due to the invisible walls and ramp problems. Still, we give Metalicagod a big Bravo! and a couple of well dones for venturing into unknown territory. Goodness knows it's not easy but we understand he's a fast study, so we're confident in saying all of the mtm community look forward to what he comes up with next. With the first one behind him, we're sure the next will be a dandy. Way to go, Met, and welcome to mtm track making.