Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder Designer Diary #2

In this installment, we talk to Irwin Chen, Activision Japan's Production Coordinator on Shaun Palmer.


Entry #2 - 11/2/01

By Irwin Chen
Production Coordinator, Activision Studio Japan

In the second of our designer diaries for Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder for the PlayStation 2, Production Coordinator Irwin Chen gives us insight into the level design for the game, which features slopes from across North America. Without further ado...

Hello, my name is Irwin Chen, and I'm one of the production coordinators (PC) for Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder working at Activision Studio Japan. In the 2820590first entry of this series, Trey Watkins discussed who Shaun Palmer is and how we captured the man and the image in the game. This time I'm going to talk about some of my experiences working on level design for the big-air trickfest snowboarding bonanza. Like any action sports game, the prevailing challenge is trying to find the ever-elusive balance between fun and realism. It's not a simple task figuring out how to re-create real-world resorts, simulate the thrill of boarding as a pro rider, capture the essence of snowboarding, and provide perpetual fun to players of all skill levels.

Working that trick action.
Working that trick action.

First there were the mountains. With eight real North American locations, from the Aspen Rockies to the indoor extreme-sports paradise of Gotcha Glacier, no one foresaw problems with creating exciting, fun levels. To create a virtual mountain you need, of course, the basics--snow, trees, and rocks. Unfortunately, that's all we had for the first pass at the levels. An initial stumbling block we encountered was that the resorts were too authentic, too true to life. The result was that all the locations appeared basically the same--a monotonous montage of snow, trees, and rocks--which isn't that fun for a trick-based game.

Snowboarding and casinos, a match made in heaven.
Snowboarding and casinos, a match made in heaven.

To differentiate between the resorts and populate the levels with interesting objects to trick off of, we had to conjure up different scenarios for each resort. Thinking up a variety of objects requires, first, that their existence on the side of the mountain is conceivable, and second, that the player can trick off the objects. You can't just throw in a bunch of rails, tabletops, and kickers, or you'll end up with eight levels of essentially the same board park. In SPPS we've identified buildings and objects unique to each resort to capture each location's personality. You'll get to bowl over coffee stands, butter down Aspen's slopes, crash through Snowbird's towering trams holding a rocket air, and even thrash on the slots and tables of Heavenly's casinos.

Anyone for coffee?
Anyone for coffee?

Another challenge was to construct unique locations filled with an assortment of lines of trickable objects that traversed all the way down the peak. On real mountains, the resorts keep obstacles and hazards off the slopes in the best interests of the public. In the game, if there are too few objects, it's a barren cliff face leaving you with nothing to do but go down; if there are too many, it's a cluttered mess of bunched-up trees, misplaced jumps, and tangled rails. Ensuring there were ample opportunities to pull off amazing series of sick tricks was paramount. In addition, maintaining realistic aesthetics and preserving game flow were just as significant. Precise positioning of objects and tabletops was vital to enable players to link gravity-defying rodeo 9s, breathtaking grabs, and insane slides, from the summit to the base. Not only do you drop into a rocky chute at a snowy Snowbird peak pulling off misties and corks as you jam your way down, but if you've got the skills and the reflexes, there are upper lines on the hill awaiting. Slide down soaring lift cables in a 50-50, then launch yourself into a sick palm air, jib bonk the gondola rumbling toward you, and last but not least, pull out an indy nosebone as you crash through a chalet sunroof.

I think you'll be delighted with what we've conjured up. Maintaining realism and keeping it all fun was the key. Smash through a lodge window holding a method donkey kick style, launch yourself over a huge jump into a superman flip, land in a backside 270 board slide revert out, setting off the avalanche control guns--the game is filled with plenty of opportunities to show your skills, Palmer style. Enjoy.

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