SSX Is Climbing to the Summit
by Matthew Kato on Apr 13, 2011 at 06:00 AM
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts Canada
Rating: Everyone
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

At the Electronic Arts Season Opener event in San Francisco, SSX creative director Todd Batty talked about the game's past and how it's both present in the new game (which is no longer subtitled Deadly Descents, by the way) and yet being greatly expanded upon for the January 2012 title.

It's been six years since SSX on Tour, and a lot has happened since then in both EA Canada's mind as well as with video games at large. Batty told the crowd that one of the main differences in terms of SSX is that whereas the original SSX had 8 levels and On Tour had 13 tracks, this new SSX will have 200 to 300 runs over 18 major mountain ranges across the globe from the Andes to Everest.

Batty and the team at EA Canada have come up with this impressive number using NASA satellite footage of Earth and a tool the developers at EA Canada call Mountain Man. This tool allowed them to created some spectacular runs (some of which will run into each other and provide different vantage points from which to approach cool parts of the same mountain) that capture the best essence of terrifying, challenging mountain ranges all around the world.

Apart from the sheer number of runs available, the game is also breaking from the past with a new physics model that allows gamers to trick off of all parts of the terrain. This means that there isn't the need for artificial barriers to keep you hemmed in to the trickable portions of the track like in previous games. It also means that half-pipe formations no longer have to be restricted to isolated events (although there still are dedicated half-pipe courses), but can be seamlessly entered and exited as you're tricking down the slopes. Terrain ridges can also act as ramps to launch you into new parts of the level. This new physics model tears down the artificial barriers of previous titles and truly opens up the mountains for you to experience.

As much as SSX presents a new world to fans, Batty told us that basic racing "is still going to be the foundation that I believe this game is based upon." Batty assures SSX fans that the series' core tennets of exaggerated speeds and tricks is still very much at the core of the franchise. It's not a sim. Fans can be comforted by the fact that original characters like Elise will return alongside new racers, and the SSX community will also get to vote for their favorite characters from past titles for inclusion in the game.

Aspects of SSX like races, trick runs, and survival challenges are based on drops through the mountains, and these drop points can intersect each other, so the game isn't static in how it gives you options. Survival is a new aspect to the game, and this is where avalanches, whiteouts, darkness runs, and more come into play. There's even an oxygen challenge where you've got to get down the mountain in a set time before you run out of air.

At the event, Batty showed a brief clip of a dangerous whiteout run atop a foggy ridge. The player was following flares placed along the mountain that came in and out of your sight due to fog and blowing snow. Along the way a helicopter pilot helped with commands and by pointing out dangerous rock formations.

Helicopters are also useful because you can literally jump on and off of them at points to get around levels. Similarly, gear like ice picks and wingsuits can be leveled up and give you access to different areas. We saw a clip of a player bombing a mountain before flying over the edge of a chasm in a wingsuit only to land safely on the other side of the huge drop and continue down the mountain on the other side. Batty says he wants to do for gear "what Borderlands did for guns."

This kind of on-the-fly action is also present in the game's snow model, which reacts to the build up and cascading effect of the snow you're throwing around as you carve your way down the mountain. This can create unscripted avalanches based on the geography and the instability in the terrain.

Don't worry, as such events don't have to be fatal. Like some racing games, SSX is implementing a rewind feature. Batty said that the team is still deciding exactly how to use it in the game, but he said that he thought it would be the kind of feature that was used as a "scouting tool" more than a necessary crutch.

As for multiplayer, Batty was very excited, but he wasn't sharing any details other than to say that it'd be online and that the gear you earn in the single-player would carry over without disrupting the balance of the mode. He called it "the kind of multiplayer that nobody's done yet. I think it's one of the coolest things in our game."

SSX has been gone too long, but developer EA Canada isn't just rushing it back. It's clear that the team has some big goals in mind and is trying to do more than just rely on the name of a fondly remembered franchise.

For more on the new SSX, check out our previous interview with Todd Batty.