It’s been a while coming but SSX is most certainly back in business and thankfully it won’t be long before we get to hurtle down the slopes with everyone’s favourite over the top snowboarder all over again.
TGL caught up with SSX producer Sean Smillie to talk about NASA technology, characters and why staying true to this classic franchise is one of the most important things with this new game.
Here we go:
Sean Smillie: The idea of bringing SSX back has been floating around EA for a very long time. It’s really popular around EA. I’m a big fan too and I’ve been working on the franchise since SSX3. So there’s always been talk of bringing it back but with development on any game you have to make sure you choose the right time, have some money lined up and have the right team. But what happened with this new SSX was the technology was right with the PS3 and the 360. That and we had the right people available, there are a couple of guys on the team here who were really passionate and really pushed the idea of a new SSX hard internally. And the other really big thing was we wanted to test the water a little bit. We saw that hardcore fans really wanted a new SSX but we really wanted to see if other gamers wanted it too. Everything felt right so we decided to pull the trigger and just run with it.
TGL: Can you tell us a little bit about the different gameplay modes on offer and the technology behind it?
SS: Well there’s two main points with the gameplay. One is that there are three pillars to the gameplay. “Race It” and “Trick It” are the first two and they both really appeal to the old school hardcore SSX fans because the previous games were all about racing and tricking. But what we’ve done is we’ve added a new third pillar of gameplay called “Survive It” and that’s got avalanches and crazy stuff like that. “Survive It” actually appeals more to action adventure gamers and also intrigues people because it’s not just all about the racing and the tricking. So we put that out there and the old fans are really thrilled that “Trick It” is in there and new fans are really into the “Survive It” option.
Then there’s the NASA data. It’s interesting because the data is actually available to the public so we took it and what we did was we created some procedural software called “Mountain-Man”. What you do is you take the data and you filter through “Mountain-Man” and what that does is it gives us the foundation for mountains and allows us to recreate some of the most iconic mountains in the world. It allows us to build these mountains and then our level designers jump in there to start hand crafting individual tracks. We use the term “SSX-ifiying” things, that’s when they start making crazy half pipes and jumps and stuff like that. The cool thing about utilising NASA and “Mountain-Man” is that we can build multiple giant mountains. Whereas SSX 3 had one with three peaks, now we have multiple mountains and multiple ranges and this technology has really allowed us to create this new size and scale.
TGL: You’ve mentioned that you’ve assembled the right team to build SSX; this is something that really comes across in the development blogs that have been released online. How important is it to this particular project that you have enthusiasm and creative energy coming from every possible angle?
SS: It’s huge. We were so surprised by the response to those blogs. People were just so super excited to see concept art on the walls. People were excited about what was on our desks! But it makes sense because if you’re a video game fan and buy games, you will want to see how these developers work and want to be able to see how these games are made. There’s a huge amount of excitement surrounding what characters are in the game and that’s a big part of my area in the game.
TGL: You’re obviously introducing a steady stream of new ideas and new concepts, but is it hard to create a balance between new ideas and a level of familiarity that older SSX fans will expect from the game?
SS: Yes. First thing is that you have to introduce new concepts. We have a few people on the team who have worked on SSX in the past (I’m one of them) and a lot of new people. It creates a nice balance of people like me who want to keep core staples of the SSX franchise in there and new people who ask us “have you ever thought about this?” So that actually works really well. But it’s a huge challenge and a huge undertaking in reinventing the characters because the fans are very outspoken. Next week I’m going to Comic Con and I will be revealing all the characters. I wrote an SSX comic book and I’m going to be giving away 10,000 copies of it and I’m going to be talking to the fans about the characters so that’s going to be very interesting.
TGL: The fans really care about the SSX universe….
SS: They really do. I’m going to get a chance to meet some of the fans and I’m going to tell them that I care about these characters too. I’ve done two SSX games and I wrote all the bios for the characters before so I’ve spent a ton of time researching them and building a creative bible with reference images and things like that. So as much as people care about the characters they are playing as, I care equally when it comes to these characters I create.
SS: It sort of has to do with the three pillars of gameplay I’ve always mentioned. With Deadly Descents, we were trying to get across that we had something new and different to do in SSX. I think the messaging was misguided. With Deadly Descents it sort of focused on “Survive It”, but what it didn’t do was reassure people that yes, we are still doing race and trick too. The other parts of the game weren’t being represented properly, so we dropped Deadly Descents and just went with SSX.
TGL: Any plans for a demo in the run up to launch?
SS: Yeah, there are plans. But I haven’t been told when that’s going to happen.
TGL: Now that the lid has been lifted on new platforms like the Playstation Vita and the Wii U, is there anything to be said for eventually bringing SSX over to another piece of hardware apart from PS3 and 360?
SS: One of the things is that we’ve been working on SSX for quite a while. It’s a pretty big game. There are 9 major regions and 10 characters and a lot more stuff in there. So as a development team we decided to build the game for PS3 and 360 and if people want to discuss doing other stuff with it then that’s cool but were focusing on those two for now. A lot of the new stuff that’s comes out was announced when we were heavy into development so the timing is a little off. But if you look at the game that we’ve built, there’s a lot of opportunity in there. Right now though, we’re just concentrating on Xbox 360 and PS3.
SSX will hit Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 in early 2012