ESPN X-Games Snowboarding Preview

A new snowboarding game on a new system, namely the PlayStation2, is one way for developers to implement and combine rapid improvement in a genre or series with innovation - that's what we're hoping for from Konami's recently announced PlayStation2 snowboarding game, ESPN X Games Snowboarding.

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Snowboarding games appear about as frequently as new moons and like new moons, most of the games go unnoticed. A few, however, leave their mark as great gaming experiences, such as 1080 Snowboarding on the N64 and X Games Pro Boarder on the PlayStation. And likewise these games make most of us pretty optimistic that another good one in a sea of mediocre product is still possible. A new snowboarding game on a new system, namely the PlayStation2, is one way for developers to implement and combine rapid improvement in a genre or series with innovation - that's what we're hoping for from Konami's recently announced PlayStation2 snowboarding game, ESPN X Games Snowboarding.

Konami is certainly no stranger to the sports video game, having long since cut its teeth in the genre. We picked up the current details from Konami's ESPN brand manager, Craig Howe, who told us the differences between making a snowboarding game and making any other sports title. "Attitude and approach toward competition. Snowboarding isn't always about who can get to the bottom the fastest or who can pull off the best trick. It's about doing something completely different than what anyone else has done. If you win, great, if you don't, people will be asking you what buttons you used to pull off that sick air."

With the ESPN license under its belt, Konami is holding on to attitude firsthand, and it plans to integrate the ESPN look and feel into the game. Because there is already an X Games snowboarding title on the market, we asked Howe how Konami's game will differ and if the games would share a likeness. "There are absolutely no similarities between X Games Pro Boarder and X Games Snowboarding," said Howe. "X Games Snowboarding is made by a completely different development team on a brand-new hardware platform. In fact, the only similarity between the two titles is the inclusion of authentic riders, snowboarding gear, and licensed music. First and foremost, the graphics will be revolutionary.

"People will undoubtedly be blown away by how amazing this game looks, having strong gameplay is really the key to a game's longevity. The team is really working hard on creating a diverse gameplay design that will be both smooth and intuitive to all levels of gamers and snowboarding fans alike. Above all, the development team has really tried to create a title that caters to the personality of snowboarding, as well as the attitude of the X Games. There will be certain times that gamers want to rip down the mountain and beat everyone else, and there will be other times that they just want to cruise around and check out the massive amount of terrain that has been designed in the game. Giving gamers an option to do what they want to do will really help set this game apart from the competition."

ESPN X Games Snowboarding will be based on ESPN's Winter X Games, and Konami is building the title from the ground up, with an entirely new game engine that the company built when it first started working on PlayStation2 games. While Konami is not releasing multiplayer information just yet, Howe told us that the events will take place "on a massive virtual mountain of seemingly endless terrain designed specifically for this game."

He continued to tell us more about how the actual events will be scored. "The scoring model for the X Games events is based on the actual scoring system used in the X Games. There are ways to keep score in free-ride mode, but that mode is more about what you can discover when you ride the entire mountain.... There are some great surprises." Besides the open mountain course, Howe told us the game will have night boarding modes as well. "The big-air competition is based in a night setting, and there will be night options for other events as well."Howe told us that the game's controls are structured to match the game design. You will be able to adjust the controls depending on your riding style and knowledge of the sport. The overall objective is to let you do more with the controls as your skill set increases and you become more familiar with the game. He continued to tell us how your ability to customize the controls to your riding style and/or your knowledge of the sport will lend to the game's learning curve. "The learning curve is really dependent upon how you approach playing the game. The game is deep enough that it will take time to master and easy enough to play that you will be instantly addicted," said Howe.

Besides the gameplay mechanics and play modes, the actual pro boarders associated with a snowboarding title can add a lot to the game - at least in terms of giving it street cred. Konami hasn't mentioned which of the pros will grace ESPN X Games Snowboarding at this point; however, Howe agrees that product licensing and brand identification is important to a game such as ESPN XGS. "In a lifestyle sport like snowboarding, product licenses add a great deal of credibility," said Howe. "All sports games are aspirational. When you play as a professional snowboarder you want to wear exactly what that rider wears. Not having authentic snowboarding gear in a game is almost like designing a football game where players aren't wearing helmets.... Something is just missing."

Konami sounds as if it wants nothing to be missing from ESPN XGS. We asked Howe what he thinks past snowboarding games might have skipped that ESPN XGS plans to implement? "To some extent, snowboarding games have been designed with a racing element as a key component. In order to stay in tune with the authenticity of the sport, we're really trying to tap into snowboarding's creativity. Allowing gamers to create new tricks, design new jumps, or get bigger air is something that we're moving toward to make the game a little more innovative than what's been done before," said Howe. Konami hasn't finalized many of the game's details at this point, such as who from ESPN will do the actual commentary, how many boarders will be able to go head-to-head at the same time, how many courses or boarders will actually be available, and if and how the company plans to take advantage of the PlayStation2's online capability. And because the soundtrack is key to any snowboarding game, we asked Howe about the band choices for the title. " a bit too early to go into detail. I can tell you that there will be a comprehensive game soundtrack featuring a diverse list of big-name artists." Fair enough. We'll have more on Konami's ESPN X Games Snowboarding before the company releases the game in November.

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