SSX, is a cross country snowboarding game. SSX (2012) is the first title in this series since 2007, and the first version on the current generation of consoles. The game forgoes sporting realism in favour of gameplay with 3 goals – Race It, Trick It, Survive It. It's fast, flashy, fun and loud. Gameplay can be a little confusing at first, as there's so much you can do, but that's what the current generation of consoles bring to this version of SSX – more than 150 tracks, spread over 29 real world mountain's, pipelines and even the Great Wall of China.
A great innovation of the game is the opportunity to play online against friends even when they're not online. You can race, log off, and then your friends can try beat your time and route, following an in game ghost trail. You can also jump in and out of courses at any time for global events which can have up to 100,000 at a time, and there's no waiting lobby, no need for everyone to be on at the same time to compete. The credit currency, earned from tricks and doing courses, can be bet against friends, and allows you unlock more gear, which isn't just token skins, but has use to both your style of snowboarding and the environments you're racing on. Some runs involve a lot of trees and obstacles, or high altitude, so you better have good armour or an oxygen mask – if you don't have the gear, the game will give you your odds of survival, and you can ignore the warning, at your peril.
You've said you wanted to get back to the core of the game. Do you think that subsequent iterations of SSX had strayed from that core idea?
Looking at the history of the franchise, when we starting working on this game, we played the hell out of (SSX) Tricky and SSX 3. I consider those to be the pinnacle of the series, both extremely well received, both sold very well. The interesting thing about playing both of those games a lot, is that they're fundamentally different games. SSX tricky is you versus other riders, going down a mount. SSX 3 is you versus the mountain, and there's other riders around you, doing the same thing. In Tricky, they're all super tight courses, catch up logic, and on mountain combat, always trying to knock someone down or stay away from people, and its much more like a driving or racing game, going down a mountain. SSX 3, the mountain's got so big that apart from out of the starting gate, it was every man for themself, and you didn't see a lot of the other riders around. We had to make a decision in early days which one of those two experiences we were going to replicate – the worst thing you can do is try to do both and end up doing neither.
So we looked at it long and hard, and we said that if we did Tricky, it's going to be all about on mountain combat, catchup logic, 8 connected consoles, 3-2-1 online the way you would expect a racing game. If we do the SSX 3 approach, we can do a lot there, it felt like it offering more innovation, big huge mountains with lots of different paths to explore. After a lot of back and forth, we decided we wanted to SSX 3 from a core gameplay point of view, and really mimic that game, but that we wanted to look at a lot of cool things in Tricky, and found as much of that as we could bring in at the same time. And I think we've struck a pretty nice balance.
What is this game about, if it's not “man versus mountain”? You do have the mountain pretty heavily featured with detailed geomapped real world sites.
If you play this game a lot, I think it's you versus the course. When I talk about SSX 3 being “man versus mountain” I mean it's you versus the course. SSX 3 isn't about avalanches and rockslides. Much like Tony Hawk (pro skating series) back in the day, here's a possibility space, what can you do with it. When that's done right, it's one of my favourite forms of gaming, it inspires creativity, self expression, it provides so much depth. I'm about 50 hours into my profile, and I’ve played on 19 out of 154 drops. I've spent 14 hours one day, on one peak, four racetracks, trying to max out our race times using wing suits strategically. I think there's something for everybody in this game. I don't think everybody is going to like everything, but everybody is going to like something a lot. The great thing about a game the size and scope we have built, whatever you find, whatever you enjoy, and like to do, there's a lot of it.
There's a lot going on in the tutorial. Is it a game that's easy to pick up?
I honestly think our tutorials are a little more complicated than they need to be. We always want to make sure we have a way to show and explain something, so if someone wants to play the game at an expert level they have all the information at their fingertips. But we find that most people, by the time they've gone down 3 or 4 runs, are feeling really comfortable and doing really well. Feedback has been that it's pretty easy to pick up and play but difficult to master. One of our taglines in development from early days was “SSX makes awesome easy, but makes Oh My God really hard”. It's not a zero to hero learning curve where you start off and your character can't jump, and he goes slow, and he falls on his head all the time, and eventually if you put in all the time, you become a hero, where you feel like you can do heroic things. In SSX, right out of the box you can do a jump, a triple backflip. But then to find a place where you can do a 540 while doing a handstand on your board, becomes a little trickier.
There's a fairly impressive soundtrack (including DJ Shadow, Two Door Cinema Club, and the Naked and Famous). Do you think we're going to see more songs and soundtracks specifically written for games?
I absolutely think so. For musicians, it's a wonderful way to get exposure. If you get a song in a multi-million selling video game, you'll get a lot of people listening to your music. SSX is one of those games that has a strong heritage of having awesome soundtracks. If you look at the SSX 3 soundtrack (including Felix Da Housecat, Queens of the Stone Age, and N.E.R.D), if we would have had to pay for those artists today, that would have been an extremely costly soundtrack but they were all up and coming artists. There's a lot of really great bands in there that became really huge. We knew we had some big shoes to fill, we're lucky, our audio producer Freddie Ouano, who came over from Fight Night, super talented guy and has his finger on the pulse of music. We even have some custom composed music for this game. Amon Tobin composed some songs for our game. That's a pretty cool thing, and I think music is part of the experience.
What have you got lined up next?
I'm hoping SSX, that this is the beginning of a franchise. EA have been pretty passionate about launching not just one-off games, ship 'em and forget about 'em, but starting franchise When we started this game, we wanted to bring the franchise of SSX back. We started on Xbox 360, PS3. God willing this game is well received, is successful, I would love to spend a long time supporting it with digital content, and follow it up with a sequel, and bring it to other platforms. If a game is successful, the sky's the limit, if it isn't it's going to be an uphill battle. People have embraced it so far.
Has this game made you want to go snowboarding?
Not at all! I'd be terrified now. There's some days I play the game for hours on end, and I'm driving home, and I come over a little hill, I can picture myself jumping off of it! I think if I went snowboarding right now, I’d probably kill myself, as I'd think I was way better than I actually am cause of the game.
SSX is available on PS3 and Xbox 360 March 2nd
- Baz Nugent