Amped 2 Q&A
We speak with members of the Amped 2 development team.
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Microsoft announced today that Amped 2 is currently in development for the Xbox, and that it will add a host of new features to the series. Among these new features is Xbox Live support, including an online ranking system and head-to-head play so players from around the world can battle it out on the slopes. The development team has also made improvements to the series' trick system and the visual style for Amped 2, specifically in the animation and look of the characters. We had a chance to speak with Brennar Adams and Nate Larson of the Amped 2 development team at Microsoft Game Studios to get a better idea of what they have in store for this sequel.
GameSpot: When did the development team decide to start working on a sequel?
Microsoft Game Studios: It was about six months before we finished the original game. We've always anticipated doing a sequel. You know with game development there are always some things you can't get in the first version, so we always had plans for the next version. Actually, we started planning for Amped 2 six months into development of the original game, and we planned on the two-year release gap because we knew exactly what we wanted to change with the engine in order to take everything up an entire notch. In a way, we got rid of a bunch of stuff we had planned for Amped and made it a lot better.
GS: What were some of the things that didn't make it into the original game but will appear in Amped 2?
MGS: Well, more career depth is one of the things, as well as the quality of the characters on the artistic side, and the quality of the levels. The animation is also much better. The way the animation was done in the original Amped [didn't leave enough room for artistic control, so that has changed for Amped 2]. We also had things like sponsorship challenges and media challenges, but they were very shallow, so we planned on all these other levels of challenges, but with the scope we just weren't able to do it.
With Amped 2 we have three media challenges, so instead of just going down a course and performing a trick in front of a red icon, now we have specific still photographers placed on the mountain and you have perform a trick right in front of them that you can later view in a portfolio. Then there are sequence challenges, where you have to go through a series of six hoops while grinding a rail or while on a half-pipe to get all six shots, and then you can see that whole sequence later on--sequence shots are pretty popular in snowboarding magazines. There's also a demo reel option where you can go down the slope and ride as if you were filming a video.
Another big thing was the implementation of Xbox Live. We wanted to give Amped 2 a more worldwide feel. Obviously, the original Amped was unproven, so when we started we couldn't afford to go everywhere in the world we wanted to go, but Amped 2 includes a lot of those places, and Amped 3 will have even more. So Amped 2 is really about taking your fame worldwide, so you can go online and play against riders all over the world, whether it's in six- or eight-man team challenges or competing to own the mountain and trying to get your sponsor as the lead sponsor on that mountain. Or you can just compete in challenges to get your score up on the ladder, so that you can become a virtual superstar.
GS: How difficult was it to implement Xbox Live functionality?
MGS: It's not that difficult. Obviously, anything you haven't done before, there's going to be a learning curve. We have a couple of cool things in the works, but [we can't talk about them yet].
GS: As far as the new courses are concerned, how does the development team go about constructing them?
MGS: It's a really tough process. Someone has to go out and travel to all these resorts, ride top to bottom on every run, capture it on video, and take pictures [laughs]. We get digital terrain information and we use a digital model that's very similar to what we've used in other games, so we start with that and then our level builders use a combination of video and photos. A lot of work goes into re-creating the resorts. Today, one of the things we're doing is trying to get all the features of Bear Mountain while we're here--especially for the Vans Triple Crown.
We would like to have the Vans Triple Crown in the game, so we're taking pictures of where all the features and banners are placed so we can re-create it. Another thing we can do is get an aerial shot of the resort, so when we have our 3D terrain we can superimpose the aerial shot right on top of that to see that everything is placed correctly and that everything is to scale. We want to make it so that someone who has been to those resorts will recognize it in the game and that it will bring back memories of the fun they've had there. Even people who haven't been to these resorts will be able to play the game and get a good idea of the runs and where they are in the actual resort when they visit.
GS: What other sort of visual improvements are being made for Amped 2?
MGS: The 3D panoramas are a big thing--they make the world a lot bigger. We have bump-mapped characters, moving clouds that cast shadows on the terrain, and new particle effects. But, really, the characters look so much better with their facial animation--we spent a lot of time improving the look of the characters. All the features cast shadows on the terrain, which we couldn't really do in Amped because of engine limitations. We have a lot more animation in the environments--there are more people in the environment, as well as [different vehicles] driving around. We really tried to make it a living environment. There are also some cool specular effects on the chairlift and on the towers.
GS: Can you talk about some of the new things being implemented into the trick system?
MGS: Yeah, we've got a couple of new things, like the butter system, which is used to tie combo tricks together like in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. There are also new lip tricks like hand plants and stalls, as well as a whole new family of tricks that we can't really talk about right now.
GS: Is the development team planning to use the same general control scheme?
MGS: We're going to be doing a couple of different control schemes. One of them will be the more traditional one, which I call the "Tony Hawk." So the player can select from three different control schemes, but we have all the grabs on the right stick now instead of on the buttons, because the buttons got a little confusing. You can also modify grabs with the triggers. One more cool thing in the default control scheme is that the balance is on the stick, so you can do various things while you're grinding rails. There are also some new discreet rail tricks. Basically, some of the pro snowboarders came in and said, "Look, you get on the rails and it just doesn't exactly look like that. You need to come up with a solution to make the tricks look more accurate." So we've put a lot of control back in the hands of the artists.
We are getting a lot of professional input. We have a pro in there on a weekly basis consulting with people so the game is accurately created as far as real-world snowboarding is concerned. We're not trying to say that it's a simulation, but it represents a hyperrealistic version of snowboarding. We're not trying to limit people so they can't do certain things.
GS: How far along is the game now?
MGS: We've been in development for about a year now. We're focusing on finishing up the levels. We have some cool things that we're doing in the levels, and we still have a lot of animation left, but I think our character work is pretty good. Just basically polishing up the game and wrapping up all the content.
GS: Thanks for your time.