After the release of SSX alongside the PlayStation 2's launch, EA quickly realized that it had something special in its hands with the Big line. Combining over-the-top arcade action with similarly over-the-top character designs, SSX was paving the way, according to EA, for a line of games similar in spirit and presentation. Freekstyle is the first such game to be announced by the publisher. Taking SSX's concept and running with it, the game puts you in control of a group of wild freestyle motocross riders as they race through a set of insane courses, pulling all sorts of stunts along the way. The game features a control scheme similar to what you saw in SSX, and its structure is largely the same. We took some time to speak with the team at EA and Page 44 Studios, the game's San Francisco-based developer, about the project. Special thanks to Todd Arnold for fielding our questions!
GameSpot: Can you talk a bit about the game's history; for example, how it was conceived and how it evolved into what it is?
Todd Arnold: Freekstyle was born out of our desire to create an EA Sports Big motocross game. We'd been working on EA Sports Supercross for the PS2 for several months when we changed direction. With Supercross, we knew that taking an EA Sports Big approach to the design would be best (rather than a pure EA Sports approach), so we emphasized tricks right from the start. By E3 of 2001, we had a really cool demo that showed off some great tricks, an easy-to-ride bike, and great graphics. At that point, we knew we'd be on to something even bigger if we shifted entirely away from pure supercross racing. Freekstyle is the result of that shift.
GS: The games in EA's Big line have been hugely popular and successful. What would you attribute this to? And how does Freekstyle mesh with this?
TA: Three key reasons: quality of gameplay, accessibility of gameplay, and overall high-quality production values. Both NBA Street and SSX display these qualities, and every effort is being made by the development team to capture these qualities in Freekstyle. Gameplay depth is important as well, but only after you have a game that looks cool enough to try and is accessible enough to jump into and have some fun right away.
GS: There's a certain style of presentation that characterizes all of the Big games, from the interface, right down to the character designs. How fully does Freekstyle incorporate this?
TA: One of the ideas with EA Sports Big games is to have the new games in the line be familiar to fans of the earlier games. For example, if you know how to pull off tricks in SSX and NBA Street, you'll have an easy time pulling off tricks in Freekstyle. Also, the way that players build up their character's attributes over time will be familiar. But Freekstyle also has plenty of new twists to keep the old fans interested and make some new fans as well.
GS: Can you talk a bit about the characters? What are their identities? How much input did the real-world riders have in the development of their onscreen personas?
TA: The difference between the characters in SSX and those in Freekstyle is that Freekstyle's characters are actually real-life motocross stars. Mike Metzger and Brian Deegan are two of the guys who invented the sport of freestyle motocross, and Freekstyle is the only game you'll see them in. Leeann Tweeden is in the game too--she's a former Miss Supercross and a current Frederick's of Hollywood model.
GS: What about the trick system? Does it work similarly to SSX's? Where did the inspiration for the animations come from?
TA: As I mentioned earlier, there are similarities between Freekstyle's trick system and SSX's. For example, combinations of R1, R2, L1, and L2 will trigger different tricks. But the coolest thing about SSX's tricks isn't what grab you perform, but how many flips and rotations (and trick combinations) you can do before landing. That part of SSX's trick system is completely different in Freekstyle, and it's one of the coolest parts of the game. Unfortunately, it's one of the surprises I can't reveal quite yet since it's never been done in a motocross game before.
GS: The tracks we've seen are pretty off-the-wall. Can you talk about the different designs? What was the inspiration for these?
TA: As soon as we began designing Freekstyle, we knew we wanted to avoid all the traditional venues for motocross. After all, the coolest part of the supercross game we'd been making was this level where you jump your bike over a two-story house. From there, every track idea got even crazier, but we were careful not to lose sight of the fact that Freekstyle is a racing game at its heart. Visually speaking, our art director, John Bell, came up with the ideas for most of the outrageous scenery in the game.
GS: What about the game modes? What sorts of things should players expect to see?
TA: Single race, freestyle (compete just for trick points), freeride (explore and practice all you want), and a huge circuit mode that guides you through a sequence of trick-induced races on every track in the game.
GS: Graphically, what would you like to say about the game? How long has the engine been in existence? What sorts of effects and overall performance can players expect from it?
TA: As Supercross was being redesigned to become Freekstyle, much of the team was focusing on one challenge: create the best-looking graphics available in a video game. The team met this challenge head-on, and the game now speaks for itself. In particular, Freekstyle has some of the best special effects (for example, fire, smoke, dirt spray, etc.) of any game out there. Many of the custom tools used to make Freekstyle have existed in one form or another at EA for several years, but the graphic renderer was rewritten for the PS2 just last year. Everything you see in screenshots runs at a constant 60 frames per second.
GS: What about the AI riders? How will they behave toward the player? Will there be rivalries and friendships that manifest on the track?
TA: Different characters will taunt you as you play the game, and beating an AI rider who has taunted you is the basis for unlocking characters in Freekstyle. But we didn't take this as far as SSX: Tricky did with its friend-foe interactions.
GS: What will the game feature in terms of licensed content? Any gear for the riders or music for the soundtrack?
TA: Other than the riders themselves and part of our soundtrack, Freekstyle includes very little licensed content. Some of the gear is authentic, but for the most part we took every opportunity to be as original as possible.
GS: Any chance of seeing it on platforms other than the PS2?
TA: We have nothing to announce at this time.
GS: Finally, is there anything you want to add?
TA: Just this: Freekstyle is the result of a lot of hard work by an incredibly talented and dedicated development team at EA and Page 44 Studios. We hope everyone has as much fun playing it as we had making it. Thanks.
GS: Thanks for your time, Todd!