When EA debuted its new SSX game at the Spike Video Game awards, fans began to fear that the series was straying from its roots – that it was taking on a more realistic, darker edge. In truth, developer EA Canada is taking everything that made the original SSX snowboarding titles great and shaping it into something that will be relevant in today’s market. SSX (now the game’s official title) features a global playing field of at least 70 mountains for players to race down, and will boast significant upgrades to the series’ trick and upgrade systems. We talked with creative director, Todd Batty, who melted away any fears we might have had regarding the franchise’s long-awaited return.

It seems like SSX has been on the shelf of awhile, and the last few titles didn’t perform as expected. Why bring the series back now?

SSX is a franchise that fans have been calling out for, for years and years now. I can’t think of a press announcement where EA has talked about announcing a new game that doesn’t have hundreds of posts under it going, “OMG, I hope it’s SSX.” We’ve always thought that the series had a fanbase out there that still had affinity with the franchise and we’ve always thought that it was a really strong, wholly owned IP by EA Sports. There have been attempts to revive SSX over the years; different teams have put together different pitches for what a new SSX could be, but it just never felt like any of these proposals knew how to reboot SSX and make it relevant to today’s market.

When you guys debuted the SSX trailer at the Spike Video Game Awards it seemed like you might be moving away from the bright colors and crazy arcade feel of the early titles in favor of a more realistic tone. Is this true?

No, absolutely not. Our core statement from day one has been, “survive it, race it, trick it.” And in that, we have designed three major types of gameplay. One being Deadly Descent, which is all about survival gameplay. It’s a new addition to the franchise. But I’ve always thought racing was the core of SSX, and we didn’t want to go away from that, so we’re going to have Speed Descent events, and of course we’ll have tricks in our Tricky Descent events. We wanted to make sure we hit the over-the-top arcadey gameplay in all of these different gameplay modes. We decided to lead with the new Deadly Descent gameplay in that trailer, but all of the classic SSX style will be there, too.

Can you go into a little more depth about how the Deadly Descent mode will work?

We thought SSX had two types of racing before: racing and trick events. We wanted to expand on the universe of SSX. We wanted to look at how we could bring the mountain alive in a way that the mountain was putting forth a challenge for the player. If you look at past SSXs you had huge chasms that you could jump, but we wanted to do other things like that. SSX 3 kind of had an avalanche, but we thought we could do that a thousand times better with the new systems. We have an amazing avalanche design. So we’ll have more things like avalanches and rockslides, and falling stalactites. In Deadly Descent the challenge will be just making it to the bottom alive.

It sounds like you guys are branching out and covering more mountain ranges than SSX titles of the past. How big is the game going to be?

If you look at past SSX titles, the tracks you ride down are far from realistic runs. We manipulate them and pile cities on top of them to make them over the top and arcadey, and we absolutely wanted to stick to that principle, but we wanted to give people the amount of content that mega hits like Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto deliver. So in the early days we started sourcing topography data for the entire planet earth. Our main menu is a 3D model of the planet with 18 different mountain ranges highlighted across the globe: everything from Alaska, to Antarctica, to Siberia, The Calanques Mountains, the Andes, The Alps, Kilimanjaro, Mount Fuji. We’re taking you all over the planet.

We’re a little challenged with how many levels we can put on the disc, honestly, but we’re thinking it will be somewhere in the vicinity of 70 mountains. By comparison, SSX 3 had one. The hub works kind of like Google Earth. You can spin the globe around and pick a mountain range you like then zoom in on that and pick a mountain you like from there, then you get to race down the crazy arcade courses that we’ve built on top of real-life mountains. You could stand on the summit of Mount Everest and look around 4,000 miles in any direction. You can see the view from the rooftop of the world. So imagine if a slopestyle team had a billion dollars to concoct a giant SSX style track experience on top of the largest mountain in the world. That’s what we’ve done in the game, but we’ve done it all over the world.