The Game Reviews: With Stoked, are you aiming to present a more realistic representation of snowboarding, a more arcade experience, or somewhere in between? How does the analog-based control scheme facilitate your intentions? Do you feel the control system is an improvement over other snowboarding games?
Peter Anthony Chiodo ("Tony"): Stoked is a realistic snowboarding game. Stoked is a game about style and finesse so our analog stick-driven controls allow players to trick how they want to off of any feature in the game. The farther or more shallow and the faster or slower you move a thumbstick determines the extent and speed of a specific trick. The player can use the sticks to ride the mountain in a way that really suites individual style and taste.
TGR: It has been stated that each mountain will be extremely large in size. How did you handle maintaining this large a scope? Why do you feel an open-world structure is best suited for Stoked over a more traditional level system? Do you feel sticking with the open-world structure has outweighed any development complications?
Tony: All five mountains in Stoked are huge. In Snowboarding games, traditionally, play space size is traded for run length. All other snowboarding games to date have presented players with a single mountain face or just a single run at a time. This creates an artificial world that also really limits the degree to which you can explore. The more limited the exploration, the more limited the lines you can craft on your board. But there are additional ramifications that need to be considered: the impact on the player to fully experience all that the environment has to offer as an interactive element and the careful balance of play space size with how it is populated with interactive objects. All of these things translate into “character” and if this character is not developed for the play space the game experience for the end user ends up being quite flat. The mountain is really the star attraction. It is the thing you see the most, so you really need to focus a lot of attention on it as a development priority. You want players to say… “hey, that’s cool. I wonder what’s over there, behind that tree…”
A large play space is nothing more than a big space if there isn’t much to do in it. We have worked very hard to ensure that there are not only a lot of trick features but a lot of different game play challenges to tackle all over the mountain. I was giving a demo in November and the person to whom I was presenting made the comment “I really love that you can finish a challenge, ride around for a few seconds, and then there is another, unique, fresh challenge to play right there. Stoked features both a large play space with a lot of things to do AND long runs so you have the freedom to do what you want, anywhere you want, as long as you want, based on the current conditions.
The biggest challenge in developing an open world structure is making sure everything fits in memory and that the game is smooth. This took a fair amount of work, but we have achieved this and have layered in features like dynamic time of day and dynamic weather that makes each game play session unique.
TGR: How has the newest Stoked benefitted from any design or development lessons learned from making the previous Stoked Rider games?
Tony: Our developer has a lot of experience making snowboarding games so they had a long list of game play and technical goals to achieve. Independent of our developer’s experience I have been involved with several snowboarding games dating back to 1994. Most recently I was involved with Amped 2 for the original Xbox. Our media partner Absinthe Films also had a lot of great ideas based on their real world experiences making some of the best snowboarding films available. We all sat down together, compared our ideas and experiences, and came up with a series of key things that became Stoked.
TGR: What was the design impetus for splitting gameplay styles into Stylish and Hucker? Do players choose a style for good or are they able to switch mid-game?
Tony: I think we have a long line of great trick-based games to thank for some of the initial design inspiration. Some trick games of the past have been focused on button mashing; do as many tricks as you can and really go for the largest score you can while others (and these are fewer in number) have focused more on doing a perfect, smooth trick. Quality VS quantity. The more we thought about it the more we realized how each of these things really offers a unique experience that influences everything from how you approach a trick feature to how you sit and hold the controller. Players generally tend to gravitate to one play style or another and it takes a bit of play time to find which style feels more natural to you. There is no concept of a right or wrong way to play but there is the concept of playing in a way that is most comfortable to you and letting you exploit that in a way that makes you feel like the experience is personalized for you from controls to rewards.
TGR: Real mountains. Real boarders. Real sponsors. What led Stoked to be set in reality over a fictional or fantastical setting? Was the team able to visit any of the game’s mountains to study them or do video and photoshoots?
Tony: We wanted to make sure that we made a snowboarding game that looked like and felt like a snowboarding movie. Because of this it was natural to pursue sponsors, professional riders, music performance artists, etc that complemented this goal. The development team had access to a lot of mountain data (photographs, video clips, and terrain data specifically). We had a lot of recommendations and feedback on our mountains from our licensing partners based on what they encounter every day. Our development partner is also staffed with many passionate snowboarders so they also had a lot of personal experience (including travel) from which to draw inspiration.
TGR: Can you tell us about the Style Crafting system? As I understand it, the tricks, scoring, and even animations adjust to the player’s playstyle. What is the Style Crafting system exactly, and why does it benefit the overall gameplay?
Tony: The Style Crafting system encompasses many aspects of the game. Through play the user figures out how they like to play: either as a stylish rider or as a hucker. The more the player rides in one of these styles the more bonuses and unlockable elements that become available for that style. For example, the more you huck tricks, rotational bonuses are given to you allowing you to spin faster. In contrast, the more you perform stylish tricks you will unlock the ability to do tweaked and boned grabs and you’ll see your animations smooth out. There are a lot of other cool stylish rider VS hucker differences that we’ll let you figure out as you play the game. Both sides also have access to a series of signature pro rider moves that are earned after you beat our pro rider challenges. You have to be committed to your style though! If you start hucking tricks as a stylish rider you will start to lose your stylish riding bonuses and start to build up your hucker stats (and vice versa).
The Style Crafting system incorporates more than just Stylish Riding VS Hucker play. As your career develops you will attract sponsors who will give you an invitation to ride for them. If you beat their challenges they will give you a sponsorship offer that you can either accept or decline. As you become sponsored you will gain gear and equipment that define you as a member of a riding team. Your sponsor choices complement your tricking style choices. As a sponsored rider you will be invited to ride in event challenges on behalf of your sponsor and through our unique Battle of the Brands feature you can build buzz for your sponsor by taking the top spot on leaderboards attached to Brand Battleground tagged trick features and runs.
We also wanted players to have a signature sound. You can select a representative “theme song” (or anthem) that will play when you beat a challenge and when you drop out of a helicopter on a mountain to ride it for the first time in a play session. There are around 30 different theme song choices to choose from: reggae to hip hop, Japanese video game-inspired to trance.
TGR: The dynamic weather system looks to be very impressive, including a day/night cycle, real-time shadows, and varying snowfall. Was developing this weather system a struggle or do you feel the team planned sufficiently for the challenge?
Tony: The dynamic time of day and dynamic weather system were examples of two features that our developer and I wanted to have in the game from the very beginning. One rider’s opinion of “perfect day” might be a pounding snowstorm while another’s might be the sun is high in the sky, not a cloud in sight, and a light dusting of powder from the day before. The conditions in which you like to ride are a part of your style. Incredible amounts of time went into planning for and implementing these two features. Our developer had a lot of great ideas on aspects of both the time of day and dynamic weather features and the challenge was to make sure that the weather changed frequently enough (but not too frequently) that you felt like you were seeing different things (per mountain) across an in-game day. This led directly into our time of day system too. We didn’t want an in-game day to be perceived as either too short or too long. After a lot of trial and error we came up with a balanced system that revolves around what we think is the time length for an average game session: one hour. Then the challenge was to set the time zone differences for each mountain as our five mountains, in the real world, are all in a different time (and in some cases a different day) based on their location on the globe. Finally, we wanted to make sure that everyone across Xbox Live had the same weather and time of day settings for multiplayer game sessions (to keep things fair for all players). I’m really excited about what we have built and we have a lot of great ideas for how time of day and weather can be worked into other projects.
TGR: Why was the decision made to develop Stoked exclusively for the Xbox 360?
Tony: The Xbox 360 platform was viewed as the perfect platform for Stoked given the console’s rich graphical capabilities and the strong multiplayer community on Xbox Live. The popularity of the Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE continues to grow, which is exciting to us.
TGR: What is the exact role of Absinthe Films in the development, publishing, or promotion of Stoked?
Tony: Absinthe Films is a key partner in Stoked as a product. Both Destineer and Absinthe continue to promote each other (in and outside of the Stoked product). Destineer is grateful to Absinthe Films for all of their contributions and the incredible number of relationships in the snowboarding industry that they were able to help us develop.
TGR: Are many of the members of the BoingFish team personally into snowboarding? Concerning the feel of snowboarding, did the team devote much time to "getting it right?"
Tony: Virtually the entire team is passionate about snowboarding. Their experiences, along with feedback from our pro rider partners, has helped to capture the sprit and the feel of snowboarding in Stoked.
TGR: Another impressive feature of Stoked is the seamless transition from single-player to online multiplayer. Were there many complications in implementing this system into the game?
Tony: Seamless transition from single-player to online multiplayer was challenging as we needed to merge two game play experiences into one and these different experiences needed to flow in and out of one another without negative impact. We rallied the team around finding the best way to bring players together and how to allow players to create game player experiences “on-the-fly” while riding around. I think we have a good system that is easily accessible for everyone.
TGR: The multiplayer mode, "The Ground is Lava," sounds extremely unique and fun. Where did you get the idea? Which multiplayer mode is played most around the development office?
Tony: There is a lot of snowboarding game experience between our developer and members of our team at Destineer. We came up with a list of fun play mechanics that were easy to understand in “10 seconds or less”. We rapidly prototyped a lot of these ideas in 2007 and 2008 and then selected the game types we thought were the most fun to play. A lot of the guys on the team enjoy riding around together as a group exploring the environment so they can find a great spot to call out a game play challenge. This makes each multiplayer session fresh and new and a great way to show off your new sponsor stuff and your evolving skills.
TGR: Can we expect to see demo in the near future for Xbox Live?
Tony: Everyone is really hard at work right now trying to finish up and game; we hope to have a demo on Xbox LIVE if there is time.