Hands-on with What on Earth!, the user generated content-focused racer packing a whole lot of promise

Alien a day's work

Hands-on with What on Earth!, the user generated content-focused racer packing a whole lot of promise
| What on Earth!

LittleBigPlanet has been the king of user generated content since its inception, with no title successfully emulating its popular format on iOS yet.

Last week at Game Connection, part of Paris Games Week, I got to grips with Traplight Games's What on Earth!, which may just be the answer we've been looking for.

The story is simple enough - aliens have been pointing their antennae at earth to pirate TV broadcasts. What have they been watching? Late night Eurosport, it seems.

The little green men have taken a shine to monster car and dirt bike racing, and feel the need to set up their own courses to pull off all the daredevil stunts they've seen on the tube.

This is where you come in. Using very simple touchscreen drawing mechanics alongside drag-and-drop controls for placing items, you can build your own time trial or star-collecting challenge level within minutes.

The level I put together had a mixture of sand, ice, electric, and mud terrains. Sand for grip, ice for slippery slope acceleration, electrified walls for hazards, and mud for digging through to unearth a hidden star and goal post.

You'll level up as you complete and create popular levels, unlocking more environment types and miscellaneous objects until you can build a hulking monstrosity of a stage.

One level I played that sticks in my mind made use of a flexible wooden board. I needed to make use of it to avoid an electrified floor, and had to use my understanding of physics and my vehicle's tire grip to manoeuvre it over to the right spot.

The monster car is easy to get to grips with, using only left and right buttons to accelerate, decelerate and reverse. Meanwhile the dirt bike controls much like a Trials bike, with the added ability of controlling your lean.

Objects range from boost boards to explodable barrels. Each one needs to be unlocked using in-game currency, and comes with its own tutorial showing great examples to inspire you with ideas for your own level designs.

There is no strict, developer-created campaign to speak of - everything outside of the tutorials will be user-generated, self-submitted, and playtested by the players. Difficulty is decided by how many runs it takes to complete a level, while the quality filter relies on user ratings.

Traplight is excited to see how the game pans out the more people play it, hoping it will see players thinking outside the box and coming up with some truly ingenious ideas.

There are plans to customise and expand the game even further according to how the game's audience play, adding scope for new genres by way of new types of controllable characters rather than simply vehicles.

I'm glad to see such enthusiasm from the developers, who seem just as eager as new players to create dastardly difficult levels, and are incredibly eager to shape What on Earth! as its community sees fit.

As What on Earth! will be a free-to-play title, much of its success could depend on how the in-game currency is earnt, spent, and balanced in general. Coins are used to unlock new bits and pieces, while diamonds override timers and the current energy system.

What on Earth! will come to iOS first, supporting iPad 2 / iPhone 4S and upwards. An early version will arrive in Finland soon, with the final version rolling out sometime in early 2015.
Danny Russell
Danny Russell
After spending years in Japan collecting game developers' business cards, Danny has returned to the UK to breed Pokemon. He spends his time championing elusive region-exclusive games while shaking his fist at the whole region-locking thing.