Skate 2 Developer Q&A - Online Multiplayer and Content Sharing
Producer Brian Lindley tells us all about Skate 2's online side, including the game that inspired them and how to best share your wipeout videos.
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Skateboarding may not be a team sport, but it's certainly not all about keeping to yourself. To get the most out of Skate 2, you'll want to head online and check out all of the various multiplayer and community features that the EA Black Box development team has been working on. Producer Brian Lindley has been kind enough to answer some of our questions on that exact subject.
GameSpot: Let's start with Skate 2's online multiplayer. The big focus in that area seems to be the idea of freeskate activities, or spontaneous challenges that a group of players can pull up anywhere they want while freeskating online. We've talked to a few members of Black Box about Burnout Paradise being an inspiration for this feature. What sort of process is it, going from "Hey, that's a cool idea" to actually working it into the game? What are the big similarities and differences players should expect to see between the two implementations?
Brian Lindley: To this day, free-skate remains one of our most popular online modes from the original Skate, so with Skate 2 we really wanted to expand on it and give the player more to do in this mode. We were very impressed with what Criterion was doing with Burnout Paradise online, so we took some inspiration from their Freeburn Challenges and came up with our own take on the idea, Freeskate Activities. It can be a pretty involved process getting a new mode built into the game, so before anything went in, we spent a lot of time brainstorming and playing freeskate ourselves to test out various ideas for different types of activities. From there, we picked our favorite types, wrote more detailed designs, [and] iterated on those designs with feedback from the team. With the paper design out of the way, our designers and engineers began working on building the mode into the game. Once the mode itself was functional, our designers got to work building activities throughout the world.
I think a big similarity between Freeskate Activities and Freeburn Challenges is their social nature and reliance on player cooperation. To complete all of the activities, every player will need to contribute, which really can come from players at any skill level. A key difference I would say is that in Skate 2, Freeskate Activities are completely optional and not host-managed, so any player in the session can propose an activity and only needs one other person to join in for the activity to start. If a player doesn't feel like joining an activity, they can simply decline or ignore the activity proposal and continue skating. Once the other skaters finish their activity, everyone in the freeskate session will be back skating together again.
GS: Most of the focus on Skate had to do with its innovative control scheme, but the game was also fairly revolutionary for a console title in the way it let players record media and upload it to the official Web site to share with others. Moving on to the sequel, you've obviously had some time to decide what you liked and didn't like about this system. Can you describe for us what the general process has been like, deciding how to go about improving the content-sharing process?
BL: The process was fairly straightforward. Before we went into development on Skate 2, we spent a lot of time reviewing our wish lists for fixes/improvements and melding that together with the feedback from the Skate community. A lot of customers were frustrated with trying to get skate.reel and our Web site to function properly for them, so it was clear we needed to make improving that user experience a top priority in Skate 2.
To achieve that goal, we went back to the drawing board and rebuilt our server back end and the skate.reel Web site itself. With this new foundation, we've been able to build out numerous improvements to the system, including a simplified registration process, streamlined navigation of the skate.reel gallery, and expanded player Web profiles. Beyond that, we've also added some needed convenience features like a direct download link for videos/photos, the ability to embed clips into external Web pages, and a URL field for quick copy/pasting of skate.reel links.
On the game side, we've abandoned our "slot-based" upload system from the original Skate, so players are no longer restricted to a maximum of three clips for uploading, but can instead upload a total of 90 seconds of footage using as many clips as they like. Given the above, we believe the process and experience of sharing content has been vastly improved with Skate 2.
GS: Let's talk about the two main hubs for users to share their creations, which are the skate.reel Web site and the game itself. What type of work have you done in the way videos are rated, featured, and shared to make it so that the cream rises to the top and the best stuff is easiest to find?
BL: One of the coolest additions to skate.reel is the ability to add tags the content you are uploading. Whenever a player uploads a video or photo, they are prompted to add some tags to their content. The tags range from things like "Hall of Meat," "Realistic Line," "Funny" or "Grind," et cetera. For players that want to see the realistic skating vids, crazy wipeouts or whatever, they can search against these tags on our Web site to see the best and brightest in those categories.
On the skate.reel gallery, players can quickly view and sort content that is highest-rated, most popular, most recent to get quick access to "cream at the top" so to speak. We also make a point to keep the highest-rated videos and photos at the forefront of the in-game skate.reel screens, so you can get quick access to the best and most creative skate.reel content at the press of a button. Lastly, we've added a "featured" section to the skate.reel Web site where our dev and community teams handpick videos and photos that will appear on the skate.reel homepage gallery. Chances are pretty good [that] if a piece of content is worthy of attention, it will be front and center in all of the various access points of skate.reel.
GS: It seems like the most popular user videos to come from the first game were nasty wipeouts. Obviously those are entertaining, but we imagine in the back of your minds, after all the work you put into creating such a convincing skateboard simulation, that the more "serious" stuff caught on a little more. As you looked to improve the video editor, was there any sort of focus on giving users the tools to make successfully pulling off a trick more entertaining?
BL: As long as players are having fun playing the game and making videos, we're happy to see crazy wipeouts as well as more "serious" skate videos being made. The wipeout videos are fun and entertaining, but we still are very impressed by the more "realistic" vids our community has put together. Seeing the effort and the skill they've put into crafting their videos or remaking their favorite parts from other skate videos has been fun to watch, and definitely justifies the effort we've put into the simulation side of the gameplay.
As for the original question, we've always wanted to provide a replay editor that could rival the creative freedom the player has with their skating. In Skate 2, we certainly were focused on surpassing the replay editor from the original Skate, and put more control in the hands of the filmers to make great videos. To that end, we essentially scrapped the editor from the first Skate.
In rebuilding the replay editor, we based much of the new functionality on what the tools we had in our own studio. The end result is that the Skate 2 replay editor allows players to manipulate the camera and make the most realistic and creative videos possible. We have three camera options available in the Skate 2 replay editor: follow camera, tripod camera, and game camera. The follow camera is attached to the player, but the player can rotate that camera anywhere around their skater. The tripod camera is a static camera that tracks the skater but can be placed anywhere in the scene. The game camera is simply the replay from the perspective of the gameplay camera. On top of these new cameras, the player can layout their camera and speed changes throughout the clip using the replay editor timeline. With enough time, I'm confident that a player can make even the most basic tricks and lines look really good.
GS: One of the big new features in Skate 2 is the ability to hop off your board and grab objects such as benches and picnic tables and drag them around to make your own little skate spot. Now we know that it's not just for single-player; you can save the arrangements of these objects in the Create a Spot mode and share them online. How does that process work? Do you share your creations in a similar way to user videos?
BL: The Create a Spot process is somewhat similar to video sharing, but there are a few more steps involved. As you know, players can move objects around while in career mode, and if they find a cool setup that they like, they can choose to create a spot out of it. At any time in the career mode, the player can access the Create a Spot editor from the online menu ("back" button on 360, "select" button on PS3). While in the editor, the player can move, scale, and rotate a box that identifies the scored area for their spot. The movable objects placed within and around the scored area are saved with the spot itself and put in place any time the player or someone else plays that created spot. Once the player has defined where the spot will be scored, they have to then set a spawn point and score on the spot before it can be shared online.
From the Create a Spot Browser (in the online menu), the player can access their own spots and download spots from their friends and skate community. Like skate.reel, we have numerous categories for created spots like top rated, friends' spots, most recent, spots you've owned, spots you've made that people owned, and so on. For those with a competitive streak, you can literally spend hours just downloading and trying to own (set the high score) and re-own spots from your friends and the community. We also save a "ghost" line of the highest-scoring line with each spot, so players can see exactly how the owner set the high score and try to beat it. On top of the competitive aspects of Create a Spot, it is a convenient way for players to share their best configuration of movable objects.
GS: One interesting little bonus feature that was recently unveiled is the Skate 2 graphics creator, a Web site where you can make your own custom designs and import them into the game. How did this idea come about? What types of challenges are there in implementing a system that gives players so much freedom to create their own designs?
BL: Skate as a game has always been centered on self-expression, and we really wanted to extend that ideal even further by letting the player add custom-designed graphics to their skater in Skate 2. NBA Live had been running a promotion using a Web-based jersey-creator tool, and we realized that we could utilize a similar application on the Skate Web site but extend it to allow those graphics to be imported directly into the game. Fortunately, we have some extremely smart and talented people on our game and Web teams that figured out how to make the system work, and the Skate 2 Graphics Creator was born!
GS: Finally, are there any plans to support the game's various online features postrelease?
BL: Absolutely. Our community and postlaunch team will be keeping a close eye on things to make sure servers stay up and everything runs smoothly in the hectic days following launch. Also, expect to hear more news on our plans for downloadable content sometime after the game hits stores next week.