When EA first revealed SSX: Deadly Descents, fans of the series were left scratching their heads wondering where their beloved snowboarding series had gone. For a franchise that is known for bright-colored outfits, vibrant characters, and, of course, the impossible tricks, it seemed as though EA was going for a more "serious" approach. If you haven't been following the developer diaries that we've been posting here, you should be happy to know that not only did EA drop the subtitle "Deadly Descents" but the developers are also working on relaunching the franchise by sticking to what it does best--crazy tricks and high-speed racing. Creative director Todd Batty gave a presentation at a recent EA Sports event in San Francisco to not only go over what SSX is known for, but to also go into detail about the new Survival mode, which is what we saw in the initial announcement trailer.
The Deadly Descents trailer that was released at the end of last year only represented one-third of SSX's gameplay. In the presentation, Batty introduced the three pillars of gameplay and described them as "Race It," "Trick It," and "Survive It." He then went on to give a high-level overview of what the team was aiming for in the new game. We didn't get to see any actual gameplay outside of a test bed (because they just got out of preproduction a month ago), so it looks like our first real look at the game is going to come at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June. The next part of the presentation briefly went over the fact that racing is one of the foundations of the game and the series, as well as the new game's online multiplayer and "social elements." More details on what that entails will have to wait, but Batty did go into some detail about the new physics. For the developer diary on the new physics, you can see that here.
SSX was never about realism, and even though the graphics are taking a more realistic approach--thanks to the advancement in technology--the gameplay will not. Like previous games, the physics will be overly exaggerated, so you'll once again be able to soar off of snow-covered cliffs without any worries, do as many flips as it takes to make you sick, and still manage to land board first. Batty talked about how the previous SSX games kept you confined with artificial boundaries as you made your way down the cold mountain, and he emphasized that fact with a few video clips from SSX3. No matter how much you pushed against a side wall on the track or how much momentum you gained, you'd be dragged back onto the main strip. In the new SSX, as long as you have the momentum, you can launch yourself into the air in any direction and traverse any part of the mountain--no boundaries. The developers put together some clips using the same terrain from SSX3 to demonstrate this, so you can see the snowboarder gather speed and basically do a full loop from the right side of a half pipe and land on the left. This is supposed to work off any surface regardless of the geometry; as long as you have the speed, you have the freedom to go where your board takes you. On the mountain, this lets you vault yourself onto other ledges and areas that you would otherwise miss if you kept to the ground. Not only that, but you'll also be able to get some big air from virtually anywhere as long as you've got the speed (and a big drop) to do the most death-defying tricks. We're incredibly curious to see the amount of freedom that this will allow and can't wait to see how it plays out.
The darker, grittier scenes from the initial trailer and screenshots represented what would be the Survival mode where the goal is make your way safely down a treacherous mountain while battling the elements. Batty emphasized that it's not about dodging bullets or wielding any kind of weapons. The goal here is to mimic what's going on in the real world of boardercross, where extreme sports enthusiasts risk their necks traversing some of the most dangerous peaks in the world. The danger here, however, is Mother Nature, which can include and is not limited to snowstorms, avalanches, fog, and rock slides. The only thing that is being tracked as you blaze down the icy slopes is your speed and elevation. You'll have access to a wing suit (think of flying squirrels), an ice axe, and potentially other gear. Batty described it as, "Think of what Borderlands did for guns; we're going to try to do the same thing with gear." As seen in the trailer, the helicopter acted as our guide and our ticket to access other unexplored portions of the mountain. In the presentation, we saw how a snowboarder could leap off of a conveniently placed ramp and cling onto the rails of a hovering helicopter. Fear of heights is not an option.
The locations are going to be based on real-world mountains, and Batty mentioned that the goal is to create an extreme experience for players, taking them to vistas that they would likely never see. You can enjoy a sunset at the top of Mount Everest or hang out along the jagged peaks of Mont Blanc. To create this experience, EA Canada downloaded all of NASA's data of the topography of the planet, so the foundations of all the mountain ranges are drawn from real terrain. To make things interesting and more viable in the SSX world, however, layers have been added and runs have been molded. So you'll be able to do more tricks and find alternative paths.
Batty also talked about how the initial SSX had eight levels and SSX3 only had the illusion of an open mountain when it really wasn't open. He wants this game to be big, so he initially proposed 300 levels, thinking that the number always ends up shrinking throughout the development cycle anyway. Even so, 300 is a lofty number. What it has is 18 major mountain ranges that include 70 open mountains with multiple drop points in each. There's supposed to be somewhere between 200 and 300 drop points so that you'll get a different experience, depending on where you start. The fact that you can now virtually go anywhere will make each run unique.
The final point that Batty touched on was the characters, and only Elise has been confirmed so far. The rest is up to the fans. A Facebook page has been set up to get fans to vote for characters they want to see return. We're assuming the major players will be back, like Mac and Zoe, and new faces will be added to the roster. Even though the characters and the environments have a new look, it seems like the developers are sticking to the familiar arcade-y gameplay we all know and love. We'll be getting more updates in the near future, so stay tuned for more details. SSX is currently scheduled to be released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in January 2012.