ESPN X-Games Snowboarding Q&A

We recently got a chance to sit down with ESPN Game's Craig Howe, Brand Manager of ESPN games, to see how Konami's ESPN X-Games Snowboarding is coming along.

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We recently got a chance to sit down with ESPN Game's Craig Howe, Brand Manager of ESPN games, to see how Konami's ESPN X-Games Snowboarding is coming along.

GameSpot: At what stage is the development right now, and how's it going?
Craig Howe: It's coming along really well; I'd say we're really close to hitting what we think is a good alpha. The good news is, some of the pro snowboarders who are involved in the game, like Peter Line and Terje Haakonsen, are actually going to be in Japan prior to the Fourth of July weekend to give their analysis and to evaluate all the tricks. So there's really good stuff happening next month that's going to help the product out immensely.

GS: You mentioned Peter Line and Terje, but who are the other pro boarders you have on staff right now?
CH: Let's see... Peter Line, who was X-Games gold medalist in the Big Air [competition] last year; Terje Haakonsen, who's a snowboarding legend; J.P. Walker; Todd Richards, big-time X-Games medalist, too; Bjorn Leines; Jaime Lynn, Devun Walsh; Kevin Jones; Shannon Dunn; Tina Basich; Barrett Christy; Tara Dakides; Travis Parker; and two more I don't want to list yet. They're both female.

GS: So you have more female snowboarders than in any other boarding game so far, right?
CH: Probably. I think there's a really good balance. I think when you're riding, you always want a variety in who you're riding with.

GS: You haven't said anything yet about the multiplayer modes. CH: One to four in a variety of different events. I think it's going to be a complete game. You can go head to head and make it a party game if you want to or you can just try to conquer the game on your own or in create-a-rider mode, which is a really cool feature as well.

GS: And you can create-a-rider for multiplayer as well? Like you can play your creations against other people's riders?
CH: Well, it has to stay within the city you have. So if I create myself in my game, I can't play against the character that you created in your game. You can only create "x" number of riders.

GS: How many courses will there be?
CH: There are four big events: big air, snowcross, half-pipe, and slopestyle. I think, every bit as cool as the X-Games portion of the game (I mean, it's great to have the authentic events, as that's something no other game can offer, and that's what we're kind of hanging our hat on, but aside from that), we have the six-mile by six-mile mountain, that I've been telling you guys and everyone about because I'm really excited about it. You can just get on your board and ride. There are hidden trails and hidden power-ups, and you can practice your tricks.

GS: With this enormous virtual mountain, what types of terrain features, good and bad for snowboarding, are you incorporating into the game?
CH: The terrain is so diverse. You can go down a cruiser run, which just has a bunch of "airs," like an aerial park; or you can go down the steeps, which is just like the back of a mountain, which you get going at incredibly fast speeds, and you can have some nasty wipeouts. So, it's the most realistic riding simulation as far as being on a mountain that you could possibly get, aside from the competition of the authentic X-Games events.

GS: Will the quality of the snow change in different territories on this mountain?
CH: More by events than by the mountain. I think the vision that the team has of the mountain is going to change over the course of the lifetime of the platform. We're going to start doing some amazing things. But for this version, I think it really varies with the X-Games events. So the half-pipe will be really packed and grim compared to Slopestyle, which will have different areas where the snow's a little different from other parts of the hill. They're definitely putting some variation in that feature.

GS: In your opinion, what do you think is overdone in snowboarding games, and what never gets old, and how can you tie that in to your game?
CH: Well, obviously the air. One of the things the team has done is rework the camera angles. They went out to the X-Games at Mount Snow, Vermont, and saw how these guys from ESPN do their camera angles, and you're going to see some really innovative stuff in how we captured the air that you get. That's what's compelling to me. I think that to gamers in general a lot of the snowboarding games are more like racing games than they are like the integrity of snowboarding, and being a snowboarder myself, I think bringing the experience itself and making you feel like, "Oh my god, I'm this high up in the air and if I crash it's really going to hurt" as opposed to "I've got to get down this mountain as fast as I can and memorize these turns." There's much more to be said for trying to replicate what the sport is really like, and we've really, really concentrated on that.

GS: Any word on the commentary?
CH: You know, the commentary is still being worked on, but it's kind of secondary to making sure the graphics and gameplay are the best they can possibly be. I think what you might see is (the music licensing is coming along really well) so you might see more music and sounds you hear while you're snowboarding than commentary. We might scale that back significantly to almost completely.

GS: Have you selected music or bands yet?
CH: Yes, but I haven't signed the agreements, so I can't really mention them!

GS: Well, to another area of game style then, how important do you think style is to a snowboarding game, whether personal style of the riders or styling of the entire package?
CH: It is so important in this game. The cool thing about what we're doing is that we already have a style and tone and feel for the menus and everything from the X-Games. We've already got a lot of that taken care of, like all the up-front presentation of your score, the presentation of how all the signage kind of looks and feels. But beyond that, having these riders go to Japan and evaluating every single one of their tricks and making it as real as possible, that's the style that we care about the most. I want anyone to be able to pick up this game, from someone who's never snowboarded to someone who snowboards everyday of the winter or as much as they possible can, and to feel like they're actually out there on a mountain. So that, in terms of style, is what's most important to us.

GS: What's your approach to the trick controls, bearing in mind novices and expert gamers?
CH: Every rider who is in the game has personalized his or her trick selection, so when you go up and pull off a big air as Peter Line, you're going to do what he actually does. But above and beyond that, there are so many combinations. When you're in create-a-rider, we've kind of taken variations of all these guys' tricks, and I would say elaborated it, to an extent, because it is a video game, so it's going to feel very, very authentic when you're pulling your jumps and when you're in X-Games mode. But when you're off on the mountain you can really try some crazy things.

GS: Is there a learning curve with the tricks? Tough immediately or intuitive to begin with?
CH: There are some that are fairly intuitive to pull off, and there are others that are going to take a while to perfect. You really want the life span of the game to last, so if you were to pick up this game and be able to pull off all the tricks within the first three, four times you play it, the playability is going to go down. So there are definitely rewards for trying different combinations.

GS: Yet it's intuitive enough for the beginner not to get frustrated?
CH: Exactly.

GS: Any PS2 online plans?
CH: That I don't know at this point in time. In year one, we're really focusing on releasing the best-looking, best-playing snowboarding game and not worrying about online components.

GS: How fast is the game running right now?
CH: Sixty frames per second.

GS: What's your estimated release date?
CH: The launch of the PlayStation 2. We hope to be a launch title.

GS: Thank you, Craig.

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