Okay, so I'm skipped out on going to the bar because I wanted to represent you GAFfers right and give you some updates.
I'll break things down according to the specific focus of each and every session and presentation we went to yesterday. We will be playing the game today, just to get that out of the way.
Also, please take into account that I am contractually obligated by an NDA not to tell you certain things. (But I will tell you that the juicy bits are really, really exciting. I can't wait for you guys to see/hear some of the stuff we did.) Also, the game is still in pre-alpha, which means stuff I mention here is NOT FINAL. Annnnd, finally, I'm a going from memory here since I was just too excited to be bothered writing anything down.
Post-USTREAM Q+A: Todd and Connor (both of whom you saw on the USTREAM event) both sat down with all of us and answered some of our own questions.
While I can't say what we talked about (but I will say that it was exciting), just hearing Todd and Connor speak candidly about the game, they get it. They've poured two years so far in getting the project greenlit and off the ground, and are spending another 7 months minimum to turn this into an experience you can all be proud of as a series fan. They did their research. They have series vets and team leads returning for this game. They've created some monumental leaps forward in physics simulation too. You can hear they, like all of the team I spoke with today, have a genuine passion for this series. Todd himself cited a love for the golden age of Tony Hawk and big tricks, stuff like that.
Physics Demonstration: This is the area that really sold me on the game. SSX has evolved and the impressive physics engine is my personal selling point. We sat with some of the physics tools leads as Connor demoed an early build for the game, dating back almost 2 years. We listened as they explained they wanted to keep the spirit of the game very much alive, but had a lot of processing power that could be made to make the physics better and more believable.
We then watched a more current build of the game demoed. How you could ride on anything you could see. You could flip yourselves out of crevasses and onto the opposite upper ridge if you had enough momentum. How, in the current build, ice and rock affected your rider's handling. We listened as they explained the painstaking process of completing technical feats other teams within EA balked at -- like grinding anything with a raised edge. (Collision detection is a bitch, yo!) This doesn't sound impressive until you see it and have it explained -- and see the older build (with physics representative of the PS2-era games) running a few feet away. The difference is night and day. Just looking at how the character animates as they carve (with a real centre of mass, centre of gravity, linear momentum, angular momentum, etc.) compared to the older characters who simply pivoted at their hips is stunning. Well, again, I'm pretty psyched about all of this because I can appreciate how much of a technical beast this must've been to slay, so I was blown away.
Then there's the concept of snow that realistically deforms and causes avalanches of differing scales -- all in concert with how the physics simulation receives feedback from the player. Land really hard on an area of loose snow and it is displaced and gravity takes care of the rest. We watched as Connor explained that, even in prototyping, the team was experiencing awesome things like having to jump over avalanches, or in some extreme cases -- ride underneath them through crevasses and ridges as they cut across overhead. Connor stressed he doesn't want SSX to be a scripted experience wherein, "cool things always happen at the same points," and that, "cool things might happen," when and if the player puts themselves in the right situation. After watching the demonstration, I'm very sold on that mantra. Again, I can't wait until you get to see this yourself.
I personally want to give the physics engineers a huge amount of props. What they've done is a huge technical accomplishment.
Animation: The first thing that was awesome was the animator's desk was loaded with skateboard gear (both a longboard and a traditional skateboard) and shows that the right people are working on the right stuff. The animations he showed us were rich with personal style. For instance, a tucked knee instead of just a standard grab adds a longboard/surfing flair to a trick that would've came out slightly vanilla if it wasn't animated by someone who applied their real-life passion to their animations. We got to see some great tricks and Ubers that you will be very, very pleased with. They're very, very, very SSX. So, trick fiends, have no fear: the tricks will look as good, if not better, than you remember.
Level and World Design:
Again, an area I really can't talk about, but I will say that I was very impressed with. (A few certain diehard SSX fans in the audience, one who posts here, were also pretty impressed.) We didn't see any final environments, because, again, the game is far away from being finished, and typically, visual polish is something that comes later on, in addition to optimization.
But, we did get a sense of the design philosophy, which was actually very different (when explained by Dave Taylor, IIRC, the art director) from anything I've ever read. As has been explained before, the team is taking the data from Mountain Man and taking some fairly generous creative liberties. Each mountain might have geographical features of its own unique brand, such as finger column formations, crevasses, ridges, natural half-pipes, and so on. The team is exaggerating certain features (like say, elevation or steepness) in order to properly tailor the experience. Then, on top of that, a mountain might have its own man-made features put in -- but ones that are tailored to inject a fun, but maybe unreal or fantastical experience you'd not see in real life. For instance, if you look at the already revealed Himalayas track we've seen, that's said to represent an abandoned Tibetan monastery that represents the Great Wall of China. But, if you paid attention in grade school, you'd know that the Great Wall doesn't look like that... nor does it run through the Himalayas. Another example is the team's version of Kilimanjaro: in real life there does exist a volcanic crater at the top, but the SSX team went and hollowed Kilimanjaro out with a network of lava veins that crisscross into and around one another, and even out the surface of the mountain and back in again.
And yes, Todd stressed that window dressings for the mountains are coming, but again, much later in development. How they will look, how dense, and to what capacity they'll look like the festival atmosphere of the old SSX games is yet to be known. An interesting note is that, in the PS2/XBOX/GCN-era, billboards and bleachers were used to mask short draw distances; a tool to cover up the technical limitations of the hardware. They were also used to "gate in" riders down a specific path, and one of a small scale limited by the hardware, once again. You'll still see very claustrophobic and focused runs, like the Kilimanjaro tunnels, but they're purposefully implemented this time around for variety's sake.
This was a really interesting presentation just on the fact that the range of themes showcased across the different mountain ranges was like nothing we've seen before. Although the game is going for a realistic feel, the look is still very much one of an exaggerated unreality that would be really fun to shred through. Trust me on this one: you will like the environments. They're unique characters in their own right.
Character and World Fiction:
So, Sean Smillie lead us through this presentation. Listening to him speak about the characters, and his dedication to minute details (such as female hair length, eyebrow angles, and costume design right down to textile elements) really expresses his passion for the characters of SSX. He's done a staggering amount of work on updating returning characters' backstories in accordance with their past appearances.
He spoke on the range of character design styles as he referenced slides of character inspirations going from old SSX character designs, to the Gorillaz, and even real photos of professional snowboarders. In all of this he hopes to follow along the spectrum of "core shredders" (the realistic and believable Mac) to "snowboard superheroes" (like the beautiful and Amazonian Elise) established by past games; all character designs fit somewhere in, or on the ends, of this range. He joked that, back in his snowboarding industry days, he would ride with or see people who dressed like Psymon does in this game.
If you're really into the character backstories, you'll want to keep an eye out for the comics he's writing, following the events of the last game up to this point. You'll see where they change, grow up, and why they will look and act the way they do now.
Well, I hope you appreciated the write up. I'm doing my best to represent NeoGAF, and the guys and girls from MerquryCity.com are doing a great job of expressing honest concerns and feedback. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them within my legal obligations to the NDA!
EDIT: Trying to get names and titles corrected to properly credit SSX team members. I will probably still not get things right, but I want all of the hardworking people on the team to get their names and positions cited properly. I'm trying though, guys!