We’re just a few days away from EA’s revival of its long-running snowboarding franchise SSX. It’s been a long time coming, but the thrill of chaining together combos across a massive snowboarding world will certainly be worth it. EA’s spent a great deal of time throwing in a number of challenges, as you can plainly see from the downloadable demo, which is available now for Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
To get a little more information on the game, and get an idea what to expect from this brave new world, we talked with its creative director, Todd Batty, about its development, and what surprises are in store for players when they pick up the final version at the end of the month.
Q: First off, why did it take so long for SSX to make its debut on the 360 and PS3? Were you guys just looking for the right opportunity to "jump" back into the market?
Todd: Development is an interesting thing. Sometimes ideas need technology to catch up to them to really see them come to life. Sometimes the company just feels “this is the way we need to bring the franchise back” and you get the green light to start prototyping and building a game. SSX is a franchise that is close to a lot of people’s hearts at EA, and specifically at EA Canada, we wanted to make sure we brought it back in a big way. We feel with this title, now was the time to do it.
When the project was first introduced, it was under the much more serious SSX: Deadly Descents. At what time did you guys decide to just go back to traditional SSX, and what do you think prompted the change?
Todd: As we got deeper into the dev cycle and continued to build out the overall scope of the game, we felt that Deadly Descents only represented one portion of the experience. Although the deadly descents are an important new element of the game, SSX is about Race It and Trick it at its core. We wanted to make sure our fans understood that.
Deadly Descents is still in there, right? There are some dangerous tracks around the world you can take on, I believe.
Todd: Yup, definitely. There are nine Deadly Descents and each region has its own unique and exciting challenge. For example, the Himalayas feature high altitudes and that Deadly Descent is based around thin air, while Africa's Deadly Descent is based on darkness as you board through the inside of Mount Kilimanjaro. Alaska has an avalanche Deadly Descent that we showed off at E3 and is really cool. The avalanches are generated based on the physics of the movement and force of your riding, and are influenced by the landscape of the terrain. Avalanches are unscripted and can happen at any point during the Deadly Descent. We think that this will be a great new experience for new and old SSX fans and we’re excited to let fans try it out.
Tell us more about the online aspect of SSX. You can challenge the best racing times and see how you can compete, right? Or does it go deeper than that?
Todd: SSX has two Online Modes – Explore and Global Events – as well as RiderNet, a recommendation engine that builds off the success of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit’s Autolog. In Explore, it’s all about playing with friends on your own schedule; we wanted to build an experience that has no lobbies and no waiting. Explore allows you to play asynchronously with your friends by challenging their best scores. Each time you complete a run, your ghost is uploaded to the SSX server and is available for your friends to challenge and vice-versa. RiderNet will guide you to your friends’ challenges and drops, so that if your friend just posted a trick score on Bulldog (a track in the demo for example), RiderNet will send you a notification and with the push of a button you can be whisked to that drop to take your friends on.
Global Events allow you to compete with your friends and people around the world in real time but without the need for lobbies. They are ongoing tournaments happening at drop points across the SSX universe. You don’t have to be there when the event starts or when they finish, you’re able to dip in and out while competing in multiple events. You can also create Custom Global Events that cater to your own specs such as no rewinds, for example. You can choose to invite only your friends, or friends of friends and are able to select either a Race, Trick or Survival event.
RiderNet is at the heart of SSX, it’s constantly recommending new drops, challenges, friends and events for you to interact with so that you’ve always got fresh content to take on.
We checked out the game a few months ago and absolutely loved it. How long did you guys work to make sure the feel for SSX was just right?
Todd: Gameplay is very, very important to us and is at the heart of what an SSX franchise title is all about. We wanted to make sure that you could trick off anything and everything, and we implemented a revolutionary new physics system to do so. We also wanted to make sure the controls were both intuitive and responsive, as well as giving gamers the option of what control scheme to use. You can select a scheme that caters to either dual stick or button-based controls, and you also have the option of using classic controls – which we felt was important to have for fans of past SSX titles. Best of all, all the prompts and tutorials will cater to whatever control scheme you select.
Were there any items in previous games that you feel are a favorite part of this new edition? The characters, perhaps?
Todd: The characters are really important to our fans and we’ve brought back some favorites including Mac, Zoe and Elise, while introducing some new characters. But I’d have to say the wingsuit is probably one of my favorite additions to the game. It adds such a new gameplay dimension to the franchise as you can use the wingsuit in both Race and Trick events, while it also features in the Patagonia Deadly Descent.
Was there anything left out during development that you wish was still in there?
Todd: There were a couple tracks that we were working on near the end of development that I thought would have been really cool, but in the end didn’t make the game. We wanted to ensure all our tracks were finished to a high level of quality and unfortunately due to timing, they had to be cut.
Tell us about the soundtrack. Can we once again pick and choose what we wish to shred to?
Todd: The soundtrack is very deep and features 36 licensed tracks plus 10 tracks composed for the game's Deadly Descents. Artists range from Foster the People to Camo & Krooked and everything in between. You can upload your own custom music for menus and in game. SSX also features an in-game remix tool that will remix tracks (including your custom tracks) according to what you're doing in game. So if you're grinding, the track will scratch or if you catch a huge air, the beat will drop out and come blasting back in as you land.
What do you think is your favorite mountain to race on in the game? Or is there more than one?
Todd: My favorite is definitely Patagonia. As I mentioned, I’m a huge fan of the wingsuit, especially in Race It events. Vengeance, a backcountry track in Patagonia is near the top of my list. It’s very technical to ride, features multiple paths and a ton of gaps you need to soar over with the wingsuit to complete.
What's the most creatively named trick in the game? Is it easy to execute?
Todd: I personally like ‘The Proposal’, it’s a grind that you execute while double-tapping one of the face buttons. It’s essentially, the character kneeling on their board as if they were proposing while they grind across a rail, pipe or tree.
Is there DLC in the works? Or can you tell us yet?
Todd: Can't talk about DLC, sorry…
Finally, if SSX is successful (and we don't see why it wouldn't be), could other "extreme" EA titles make a comeback? How would you feel about a new Sled Storm, for instance?
Todd: We hope this iteration of SSX is the beginning of the franchise and the rebirth of the extreme sports genre.