Tips from Slick714

The Art of Drag Track Making
(an interview with RobbyH14)

Slick714, also known as "Slickster," is a very talented and courteous track and truck maker. He currently has the most downloaded drag track on KC's MTM2 Place (Monster Jam -Las Vegas- World Finals ll, a replica) and has many other successful tracks and trucks. Slick was kind enough to sit down and answer my questions on drag track making.
- RH

MTMG : What is the most important aspect of drag track making?

Slick : To take your time. Mentally cut the track into different sections, and do each one at a time. It doesn't matter if it's sections of the track, or sections of the entire piece. For example, first, do the stadium, then textures, then models, then ramps, then details. Don't overdo things on a big area, do them separately, and take your time on each thing.

MTMG : What is the first thing you consider when making a drag track?

Slick : To observe the actual track. I have to consider every object, every ramp, every texture, and other details before deciding or making a drag track. I make sure each and every object or texture can be made without too much trouble, because one misconception can ruin the whole idea. If everything can be made properly, I lay out the design in my head. I try to picture what the final product will look like.

MTMG : What is the main difference between making drag and freestyle tracks?

Slick : Racing drags have limits. Freestyle does not have limits. Racing is strictly hills and cars. It will not have that many ramps. Race drags are all about who can get from Point A to Point B in the quickest time possible without going out of bounds. Freestyle is a different story. Freestyle is where everything is hittable from different angles. Poles, signs, and hay are moveable. There are no boundaries to the possibilities. Big air is needed here, unlike in racing. Increase the ramps, increase the obstacles, increase the air. Like I said, there are no limits.

MTMG : What would be a "beginner's project" for drag track making?

Slick : Start off small, whether it's a custom or a replica. Do something related to Thunder Nationals, or a small arena. This is so you can test your skills out before you try something bigger. These venues have fewer cars and smaller obstacles than normal events, so you can at least see if you can achieve those decently. Don't overwork yourself on your first track. Start off small, and then gradually work your way up the hill.

MTMG : What do you think should always be in a drag track?

Slick : A crowd of some sort. I've seen a few drag tracks that have not had any stands, stadiums, or crowds of ANY sort. It really takes away from what the track is. It gives a sense of emptiness when driving around. A crowd, however only a texture, gives the sense of someone watching, and it is definitely recommended in a drag track no matter what.

MTMG : For stadium layouts, how exactly do you get the walls and crowd as accurate as possible?

Slick : For most stadiums, you want to use a model instead of terrain. A model has the capability of being round in corners, unlike grid squares. For my Sam Boyd Stadium, I did use grid squares because it is a simple layout stadium (on the inside, anyway). If it would still look realistic by using terrain instead of a model, by all means do it, because it will definitely cut down on some lag. The crowd is just a texture on 'sloped' terrain, giving the appearance of a crowd sitting in a stadium section. Same thing goes for models. A crowd texture is pasted to one of the multiple sections of a stadium. It has an incline, and therefore gives the appearance of a crowd watching.

EDITOR'S NOTE. By "sloped terrain," Slick is referring to raising the altitude of the square to make it taller. To do this, select the Edit terrain button in Traxx (first button of four on the far left side, the green hill picture) and then pointing your mouse cursor over the area you would like to edit the altitude of. From there, press the S key to raise the terrain, or the X key to lower it.

MTMG : How do you decide how large to make your track? For example, as measured in traxx grid squares.

Slick : First off, it depends on whether the track is a replica or a custom design. If it's custom, then anything from 6-7 (arena size) to 20 (stadium size) squares should work. Width should be smaller, but there are some exceptions, such as baseball stadiums. A replica is very different. Watching a video, or looking at pictures helps a lot. Remember, a truck length is 15-20 feet. A Traxx grid square is 32 feet in width and length. Use this information when configuring the stadium size from a picture or video. My World Finals 3 is about 10 squares wide and at least 15 long (in the stadium section). Sam Boyd Stadium is not the biggest stadium. 20 squares would probably be Superdome size, and 12-14 would be Metrodome size.

MTMG : What is the most important thing to remember when placing textures on a drag track?

Slick : I make one texture at a time; however other drag track makers will use Slice60 or other programs. It's all up to you, but I will describe my way. The most important thing to remember is that the textures won't be lined up in the in the game, especially if they have lines or lettering on them of some sort. Yes they will appear connected and clear in Traxx, but the game shows a different perspective. Its all trial and error once again, and remember...Traxx does have mirror and rotate functions for textures, so there is no need to make textures for one side, then mirror them and save them for the other side. In your planning stage, try to count how many ground textures you are gonna use. If it is over 20, please use 64x64 textures instead of 256x256. As I have learned, too many 256x256 textures causes lag on the track. One more thing, do NOT make every texture then insert every one of them on the ground in Traxx. Do sections and see if they line up in the game (which some probably wont). Then go back and fix those. Once those are fixed, move on to another section of the course.

MTMG : What do you look at when placing models in a track?

Slick : Relation to other models and textures. Every model has to be lined up correctly or else the whole idea will look off in a way. Say links in a chain...all have to be connected in some way, and cannot be misplaced, or the track will fall apart. The reason I say this is because of future models. Messing up one model can mislead you for future model placements. Make sure to get everything in the right spot and that the models are the right SIZE. Placement is important, but so is size. As you will probably learn, it is hard to get models the right size in BinEdit, even though size is in feet. Something may look right in Traxx but appear off in the game. Trial and error is very important here.

MTMG : What can you tell us about ramp placement?

Slick : Size does matter. Also, models have a collision box around them, so remember to not just set the ramp right next to the model (such as a car). Make it a little higher, but not too much. 30 should be the MOST rotation you should use on a track. An object should be able to be hit from 4 different sides, but don't push it and add ramps in confined spaces. Remember, 2 ramps are all that's necessary for a set of cars. One for the front and back (in terms of racing course, you hit the front). Side ramps are only necessary if there is enough room and if it will not offset somebody from hitting another object. Freestyle ramps are no different. Depending on pyramid/object size, you may want to use two or three ramps for the different sizes so it looks realistic when climbing up it. Side ramps are rarely used in freestyle, due to object sizes, and it will require bigger space for the car ramps. If there is enough room, then go ahead.

MTMG : What settings would you suggest (in object properties) to start with for ramps to work in the game?

Slick : For a set of cars with a model ramp, about 25 rotation upward (somewhere close to the same steepness of the model ramp), and as wide as a car. The length should be where the top end is just above the car, and the lower end is just below the ground. Different objects require different ramps. Keeping that info in mind, each object should have a ramp that is just as wide as the object itself, and has the top end just above the object, and the lower end just below the ground. The ramp should, once again, not be too steep.

MTMG : All this talk of ramps raises questions of angled object boxes that help a truck drive up the side of an obstacle, and the other more specific ramp property type in traxx (the yellow RAMPs). When and where would you use either?

Slick : A "ramp-set" box should be used on racing jumps, and smaller freestyle objects. Using it on bigger and steeper objects really throws the truck at an unrealistically awkward angle. Remember, you can only use 10, so choose wisely. A regular box ramp should be used on not-so-important jumps, and obviously where you didnt place ramp-set boxes. These should also be used on the big jumps, but use multiple ones so it's not so hard to climb up it.

MTMG : How exactly do you set up your ramps for racing and freestyle (like examples for "beginner's settings" to learn how to set up Traxx ramps in the game)?

Slick : There is no "beginner setting" for ramp making. It just depends on the obstacle. Just don't make it too steep though. Test it out in the game before moving on, releasing, etc.

MTMG : How did you learn to set your ramps up for freestyle objects to work, especially bigger obstacles like your world finals 2 blue Ford trailer/railcar?

Slick : Obviously, one steep ramp will bog the truck down when you hit it. Putting 3 different ramps at 3 different angles, one higher than the other (obviously their ends connected), will gradually raise the truck off the ground, keeping more speed. One steep ramp will not produce as much air as a gradual 3 ramp setup, which will launch the truck into orbit :). But it's all up to the maker, and how big the obstacle is.

MTMG : How do you cut down on lag in your tracks if it becomes a problem?

Slick : Fortunately, it's not as bad as truck making most of the time, however it does happen. First off, see if any models have any unnecessary vertices or faces, and get rid of them. Get rid of any faces that are not seen (like the face on the bottom of a car model). If it is still a problem, make the textures 64x64, instead of 256x256. Sadly, I had to do this to my World Finals 3 because of this very same problem.

MTMG : What do you look for when testing out your tracks?

Slick : I first look to see if the texture's lines, logos, etc. are all lined up correctly. I know all of them won't be, but it may mean less work on that :). I also see to it that all of the models' colors show up in the way I want them to. As an example, I don't want a red van and a red bus to have a considerably different shade of red. I make sure the stadium is the right size for MTM2 truck standards, and that the models are placed accordingly, and everything shows up correctly. Then, it's back to Traxx for more work.

MTMG : From a drag-makers' point of view, what do you think has made your tracks so successful?

Slick : Personally, I think it has been how realistic they look. It gives a sense of feeling that you are actually at the event. I try to make every detail possible. I think the graphics give away to the MTMers that this is a one-of-a-kind track. It's just a number of different, game play, ramps, details etc. Yeah, I only make one track a year, but it's a track that everyone knows about. It's a track that almost everyone has seen. It's a track that everyone would like to drive around on, and I make the dream possible.

MTMG : What is the most important thing to remember when making a drag racing track?

Slick : To keep it just like that-racing. No ramps for other objects are required, no moveable objects either, or else it will cause havoc in multiplayer. Only one ramp for a set of cars, the side you hit. No ramp is needed on the back side, because it may cause the truck to get "caught" on it in racing. Make sure the lines, starting points, finishing points, and corners are even for both lanes.

MTMG : How about a drag freestyle track?

Slick : Only that-freestyle. Make most of the objects (poles, flags, signs, etc.) moveable. Make every object have a ramp, and a ramp from all sides if it is possible without causing too much trouble when driving around. As they say, racing has rules, freestyle doesn't. Consider that when making them.

MTMG : What do you think should never be in a drag track?

Slick : Nothing should never be in a drag track. This is where custom drags come into play. This is a game, and games give possibilities that aren't available in real life. Of course, replica drags are different. Just stick to what was at the actual event, and you'll be alright. However, you can't say the same thing about customs. That's why they call it custom. It's all up to the maker and whatever he or she wants to do.

MTMG : What things do you use as reference for making a replica drag?

Slick : I use video and pictures all of the time when making a replica drag. No one can really refer to their mind from an event on TV, since they won't remember every single detail. Personal experience is also important. It will give you the vantage point of a crowd member, and shows details that are not always shown in a camera view. This would be important for how inclined the seat sections are, stadium size relative to a monster truck, and stadium details. Sometimes, talking to those members who were at the actual event helps too.

MTMG : If you're building a replica track, how would your design differ from the design of the actual track?

Slick : A good replica track should be almost exact to the actual event. Then lag problems come in when making it. Try to make it look realistic, but use as few vertices as possible in your models. Try to make it feel like you are actually there. Of course, non-moving crowds, wind, lights, etc. all pull away from this. Just basically, make it as close as possible to the actual track, but within the limits that the game has.

MTMG : You spent almost three months making your World Finals 3 replica. In what area did you spend the bulk of your time making that track?

Slick : Getting the stadium right and making it appealing when driving down the course. I want to make it very realistic, and so much that it makes you think that you are actually there. Very few people work on stadiums, domes, etc. these days, and it ruins the image of a good track. For example, someone makes a replica of an Astrodome event. No one has an Astrodome model, so the maker uses a default dome model from MTM1. It ruins the look of the track, since the dome is not even closely related to the actual Astrodome.

MTMG : What is your advice for a first-time replica maker?

Slick : Do NOT try to prove your skills. Even if you have other modeling experience, it takes time and effort to adjust to MTM2. Be patient and develop your skills over a few custom tracks. Do NOT rush tracks either. As other people taught me, it is quality, not quantity that counts. Rushing will develop drags that have no texture alignment (if they are custom textures), no correct model properties, and not very good ramp designs.

MTMG : What was the key lesson that helped you become a better drag maker?

Slick : Quality over quantity. This isn't a race to see who can produce the most drags in a short amount of time. You aren't gonna get any prizes for finishing a track faster than the other guy. Take time on it, look over everything, make sure the ramps work, etc. You might see another drag maker release an awesome track, but don't let it get into your head that you have to release yours as soon as possible. Just wait and take time. Then it will be your turn in the spotlight.

The MTMG would like to thank Slick714 for his time and for sharing his insights with the rest of the mtm2 community.

Interview conducted by RobbyH14

Tracks by Slickster

Tracks by RobbyH14