Winning over skeptics with impossible stunts.
Standing in front of the room where I was about to be treated to a sneak peak of the new SSX, and given an opportunity to, you know, touch it, I enjoyed a brief conversation with an uber SSX fan. We reminisced the games of old, and waxed poetic about SSX Tricky's flair and unabashed audacity in the face of physics. He admitted to me that he was nervous. He said that the trailers had shown a new direction for the series with too much emphasis on high definition and a Skate-like sense of the physically realistic. We parted ways as we were shuffled inside, but this is partly his story.
SSX is currently in pre-alpha, which is to say that it has a way to go before completion. The hands-off portion of the demonstration showed the breadth and scope of this monster of a snowboarding game. Working with data from NASA the developers created a tool known as Mountain Man, with which they are able to plug in coordinates and the mountain at that location is essentially created for them, in topologically precise detail. The implications of this are mind-blowing. These mountains, some of the largest in the world, heretofore untouchable by your most avid snowboarding enthusiasts are now at our virtual mercy. Forget climbing Everest, I wanna careen to the bottom at impossible speeds.
Our host showed us the great Kilimanjaro, mentioning off-hand that during the design phase he discovered was actually a volcano. The level began with himself and his two AI opponents launching themselves from separate points at the mouth and tunneling inside. The details of the mountains were revised with an abundance of creative liberty to create ramps and tunnels for tricks and speed. The off-rails openness was emphasized by the detours and the missed jumps, making very clear how vast the playable environments were. Deciding against splines in the level creation makes it possible to grind each and every single sharp line you see. Anywhere.
Boarding down this beast of a slope gave the demonstrator ample space to show off the tricks. Physical limitations were eschewed in favor of excessive arcade-like feats of impossibility. The trick meter filled up quickly and the tricks doubled in ridiculous awesomeness. Also, when your trick meter is full, if you stomp a landing you deform your environment, slowing down any poor sap who sought to follow you. The level ended with fan-favorite Kaori flying off a ramp and into a hovering helicopter. Extreme indeed.
Next in the hands-off demonstration, we were treated to the survival mode Deadly Descent. Here, you are pitted against the elements in your mad rush to the bottom of the mountain. You select your elemental enemy choosing from things like darkness, wind, white-out and snow. Then you do your level best to get to the bottom in one piece.
With a thank you and a smile we were ushered into the hands-on portion of the demo. Here, we were given a chance to play in Tricky mode, racing to the bottom while garnering bonuses for speed and trickery. We were reminded that at pre-alpha the controls were still being modified, but I liked 'em. For those of you that appreciate the immersive control option that Skate added to the genre with the analog rotation control, you can do that. Direction and grab tricks are performed using directional manipulations of both analog sticks. For those of us that miss the face button controls of the extreme sports titles of yore, you can do that too. Though somewhat glitchy at this stage of development, playing SSX felt like the perfect marriage between the way things used to be and the way things are becoming. It'll be available in January.
I'm summing up my preview with my final image leaving the EA booth: My skeptical line partner, flushed with excitement and grinning from ear to ear.