It's a busy time around Z-Axis' offices these days. With three versions of its next-generation Dave Mirra games to complete before the end of November, there's really no time to rest. But despite the perpetual crunch time that has befallen the developer, David Luntz, president and CEO of Z-Axis, took the time out of his hectic schedule to give us the lowdown on the Xbox version of Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2. Luntz is confident in his teams, so much so that he believes that competitors--specifically, Activision's Tony Hawk and Mat Hoffman franchises--will be looking for ways to separate themselves from his company's game, rather than vice versa.
The original Dave Mirra for the PlayStation benefited greatly from being the first BMX game to hit the market. Despite mixed reviews, the game sold over one million copies worldwide. And while Activision just recently released Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX for the PlayStation, Acclaim is already gearing up for Mirra's next-generation debut on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Dave Mirra 2 will likely be the beneficiary of the same first-to-market buyer's rush. But beyond this key advantage, Luntz believes that the Mirra series sets the standards that other BMX games have to live up to. He also feels that it's unfair to compare a BMX game to a skateboarding game. "Mirra 2 will be the first next-generation title available for this genre and has the honor of being a launch title for both [the] Xbox and GameCube. While comparisons are made [between] skateboarding games to BMX games, it's really not especially meaningful or accurate. Yes, they are both trick-based. But that's like comparing a soccer game to a hockey game because they both happen to be team sports where you pass and try to score goals in a net," he stated.
Most sports games are guilty of having superstar endorsees that have little to no input on the final product. But with Dave Mirra 2, nothing could be farther from the truth. Luntz has nothing but praise for Dave Mirra and his crew and appreciates the valuable input they have supplied during the development of the game. "Dave is fantastic to work with, and he's given us a bunch of excellent feedback. We've visited Dave at his home in North Carolina, and he's visited us at our offices. We also worked with him at Woodward (a skate and bike camp in rural Pennsylvania), where he did all the motion capture. A bunch of the other riders, like Ryan Nyquist, Mike Laird, and Joey Garcia, also have visited us and given great feedback, which has been incorporated into the game," he explained.
Bucking yet another trend in sports games, Dave Mirra 2 will include a wealth of new gameplay features. The proquest mode has been completely revamped and serves as the heart and soul of the game. Here, you'll choose from one of 14 real-world riders and 44 licensed bikes and set out to turn the pro circuit on its ear. As you progress through the proquest mode, the 42 licensed sponsors included in the game--such as Adidas, Oakley, and Fox Racing--will approach you for sponsorship.
New tricks are added to your repertoire as you defeat the game's professional riders in competition. Another unique addition is the ability to approach other riders on the course and hold conversations with them. "The other riders in the world will give you challenges to execute in order to earn respect. The more respect you earn, the more things are opened up for you [such as] levels, bikes, sponsors, and Easter eggs. Riders will offer a slew of different types of challenges from basic trick, grind, and transfer goals to more complex challenges that have you interacting with flying helicopters, vehicles, and moving terrain," Luntz explained. For those who enjoy a more laid-back atmosphere, the session mode lets you choose one of the game's 10 courses and lets you try to accumulate as many points as possible before a timer expires. The free-ride mode will be a great benefit to those who are learning the ins and outs of the game: You're able to explore any of the game's levels with no regard for time or score.
Dave Mirra 2 will also feature a healthy amount of customization. The create-a-rider option lets you sculpt a rider in any manner you see fit, set abilities in eight categories, choose trick modifiers, and then import him or her into the proquest mode. Z-Axis is especially proud of the park editor. It lets you make multiple layers of terrain in seconds with an easy-to-use terrain tool. Rails may be placed virtually anywhere, and lighting may be adjusted to highlight specific portions of the course. Additionally, you can choose a theme for each created level that allows your rider to interact with a number of animate objects. "If you choose the highway theme, you have a road with active cars driving across the grid. You can then build ramps around the highway, jumping over and interacting with the vehicles. The train-yard theme has moving trains in the editor and so on. This is a revolutionary feature, and it really brings the player's creations to life. You will even be able to make your own Woodward level. We'll also have secret editor pieces, which you earn while playing the proquest portion of the game," Luntz explained.
Dave Mirra 2 will include 10 different multiplayer modes for up to two players. Some have carried over from the last game, while others are completely unique. You may even use your created riders in the multiplayer modes. When asked about an online mode, Z-Axis expressed apprehension. "There will not be an online mode in Mirra 2, since broadband won't yet be readily available to gamers who buy the next-gen console systems," Luntz stated.
An extreme-sports game would be nothing without a plethora of tricks, and thanks to the series' trick-modifier feature, Dave Mirra 2 will be packed with more variations than any game before it. In previous installments of Dave Mirra, you were able to modify airs, but this year, grinds, stalls, manuals, and wallrides are all fair game. The manual system has also been reworked so that you may now link tricks together between obstacles for incredible combo scores. "This gives the player the opportunity to master huge combo strings never before obtainable. The trick system incorporates over 1500 tricks not including all the riders' signature tricks. That's over 1000 more tricks than any other extreme-sports game," Luntz proudly exclaimed. With such an open-ended trick system, the combinations are almost limitless. But what about tricks that appeared in last year's game that some thought to be way over the top? Luntz explains: "When Mirra came out, there were certain tricks you could do in the game like a tailwhip backflip that people criticized because they said it was impossible in real life. Well, riders have been playing the game a while now and guess what? They're pulling these so-called 'impossible' tricks off! Dave did a double backflip to win the X-Games, and I saw footage of a guy (don't know his name) who did a tailwhip backflip about a week ago. Insane!"
While we have yet to see Dave Mirra 2 in motion, Luntz has already put any fears to rest. The Xbox and GameCube versions of Dave Mirra 2 will contain 10 levels while the PlayStation 2 version will include just eight. Luntz stated that each area is four times the size of the levels from the original game, and level assets will be cached in the Xbox hard drive to eliminate load times. The announced levels include Woodward, train yards, Galloon Water Park, highway 47, devil's peak, and commercial district. The graphics engine used for Dave Mirra, dubbed the Z-engine, has been written completely from scratch. While hard polygonal numbers are different for each platform that the game is in development for, Luntz stated, "The Z-engine rips through polys faster than the government spends tax dollars." As far as graphical details are concerned, he simply asks that we peer at the screenshots and imagine it all running at a blazing 60 frames per second. "I don't want to give away too many details. But suffice [it] to say, you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll curse like a sailor, and, oh yeah, have lots of fun," he quipped.
Last year's game looked and played fine, minus some draw-in, as well as the fact that riders would magically teleport onto rails and ledges. Z-Axis has already recognized the problem and is working hard to adjust the interpolation so that grinding edges appears more natural. To further immerse the player, vehicle traffic systems such as cars, buses, trains, go-carts, other riders, and golf carts have been added to the terrain. Luntz hopes that this will in turn create living, breathing environments for players to explore. Luntz isn't shy about giving Microsoft some credit for its Xbox hardware, either. "Hats off to Microsoft for making a very developer-friendly platform with plenty of power to push the envelope," he stated.
While the soundtrack has yet to be confirmed, Luntz claims that it will be "one of the best ever compiled for a video game." Even if you're not into the tunes Z-Axis supplies, you can rip your own soundtrack from your CDs to the Xbox hard drive for a customized aural experience.
Dave Mirra 2 has plenty of momentum to build upon after the success of the original and will be the first BMX game on all three next-generation consoles. Perhaps what's most startling about the game is the amount of customization available. You can create your own riders, parks, and soundtrack for a truly personalized experience. Despite the success it's had with the Dave Mirra series in the past, Z-Axis seems committed to upping the ante in every way. Maybe it's because the company is committed to making a better product, or maybe it's to please fans of the series. But Luntz is still gracious: "We want to thank all the gamers out there who have supported the Mirra franchise. We can't wait to see what you do with the sequel!"