Red guys fight blue guys in what may be one of the more ambitious games on the horizon, the goofily named Shootmania. It's a heavily moddable shooter from the people who made DIY racing sensation Trackmania and are even cooking up a modern-day RPG Maker called Questmani.
But Shootmania (technically, Shootmania Storm) is also something else: a potential eSport shooter that omits one problematic thing… guns.
"We wanted to have a game that everybody could watch," the game's poject manager Edouard Beauchemin told me recently during an event held by Shootmania publisher Ubisoft at a Santa Monica hotel. (He confesses that many people on the game's development team at Nadeo are "hardcore Quake and Counter-Strike players.) "We wanted it to be something you could watch with your son without having this feeling like ewww there's more blood and there's some brain cells all over the place... it's not that we're against violence or are against violent games, it's just that for a competitive gaming scene it's actually better to have something where people are not dying, where they've just been eliminated and then the game carries on. Nobody's asking football players to kill each other."
Beauchemin said that many eSports organisers have asked for just this kind of thing, so Shootmania will have its characters shoot energy blasts from their hands. Defeated players will disintegrate as if being programmed out of existence. There's no gore.
Shootmania will have to thrill players in other ways by being a fast and fun multiplayer shooter and by having even more flexibility than the mad Trackmania that up to now boasts one of the most creative community of amateur level designers around.
"When we normally work on a Trackmania title, we sort of foresee a bit what is going to come out of it. Because basically racing is going from point A to point B the fastest way possible. So there's not that many things you can do. They've come out with impossible… but it's still just racing. You have a car with four wheels. We have an FPS with rules, guns, possibilities to script within the map, we don't even know what's going to." Notice he said "guns"? I asked him about that. Force of habit, he told me.
Gamers will be able to make their Shootmania levels and games using "ManiaScript", a mod system also used in Trackmania. Beauchemin described it as working with virtual Lego pieces, plotting levels on a grid and snapping in textures that can be used in any of the Mania games. Using the mod tools, players can also tweak things like the rules, the size of the game teams, the speed of the characters, the number of animations they use in a situation, and even where certain weapons can be used in a multiplayer map. A creator's rules and level will be bundled into a Title Pack and offered as a one-click download for players to install. "It runs like a Skyrim mod," he told me. "You just get into it and you discover what somebody else has made."
The PC-only Shootmania will go into public beta later this year and will release in Europe and America closer to the Christmas season, going for €20 East of the Atlantic or $US25 in the States.
And then, some time in the future… Questmania: "…the same idea. Get a great level editor. Edit your own level. Put in your own quest and share it this way."