JC Pelletier on Shaun White Wii
Jean-Christophe Pelletier, game designer on Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip, has been working on this Balance Board-bating take on the extreme sport for nearly two years now - and despite the Wii's casual audience, he seems keen to make the most realistic and fun snowboarding title possible, irrespective of the system's technical weaknesses. We sat down for a chat about the new game, and the inspiration provided by White himself.
How long have you been developing Shaun White for the Wii?
We've been developing for a year and a half, roughly.
Did you plan on delivering a Wii version as a result of the Balance Board, and what this adds to the gameplay?
We were going to bring it out on the Wii regardless, because when we began production we didn't know the Balance Board would be coming out, so we started building it for the Wiimote. So we did all the basic work, all the controls and stuff, on the Wiimote, which is good because when the Wii Balance Board came out we started working on that and really focussing on it. Now the game is as fun to play on the Wiimote as it is on the Balance Board. Both are complete experiences.
So... what was your reaction when you first heard about the Balance Board?
Whoa! We said, "we've got to work on this". It was meant for us. Everybody said the same, even the people on the forums, you know, they said you need to do skateboarding and snowboarding games. So we knew it was necessary.
So the arrival of the balance board was a surprise?
Yes! Yes it was.... we didn't know it was coming out. But then as soon as we heard about it, well...
So it wasn't the same as the LucasArts - Nintendo situation arising from the announcement of the Wii's MotionPlus, which would of course have made The Force Unleashed somewhat better on the console...
No no no. It wasn't quite the same... we actually had time to get it, to play around with it, and Nintendo helped get things working. We had time!
What are Shaun's thoughts on the Balance Board?
Oh, well, for him he was involved he was involved from the beginning and he wanted us to get the right feel for snowboarding, and show a certain respect for the sport. We've got the essence... so for him, once he knew we had the Balance Board, I think we managed to get the real feel. Obviously you're not snowboarding, but the movements you're doing correspond pretty closely to what you'd actually do on a real board. When you're playing you forget its the Balance Board, you're just riding, forward, back, toes, heels, etc. So Shaun was happy we could get that up and work with it.
Visually, does the Wii version of the game use the Assassin's Creed engine (like the 360 / PS3 version)?
It doesn't, its a different engine...
Did you build it yourselves?
Yes, its an engine we already had in house, and we adapted it to the game.
Was it a challenge developing the game for a platform not exactly blessed with the mightiest technological prowess?
Well, yes, making a game is always a challenge because you want to push, get the most out of the machine. Since the Wii team was built specifically for Wii projects, everybody was ready to develop for the Wii. So, right away we adapted, worked out what the Wii was good for and built towards that. So, graphically, we chose a style that is realistic in its showing... but has style. You know, its edgy, and we felt that it was adapted for what the Wii could do. But it also provides a good snowboard feeling. Its a stylisation of real snowboarding references... we're very happy with the result.
Is the Wii powerful enough to do attractive looking games?
Yeah, I think so! You just need to be creative, and think of ways to do it.
Art becomes more important?
Exactly... yes, that's it. You need to be even more mindful of what you're building. Its not about polygon-pushing. You've really got to think.
So, would the perfect snowboarding game be a combination of, say, the PS3 alongside the controllers of the Wii?
Well, I don't know. I'm not sure its perfect. To me, I think the visuals of the Wii fit well with the gameplay we wanted to create. A very light-feeling, joking around... you know, in this game you're on a road trip, having fun, adventures, I'm not sure hyper realism would have served the feeling we wanted to create. So, no, its not necessarily the thing we wanted. We were very happy with what we have. The feeling is good, but its very light-hearted... we're happy with that.
Is there an in-game store?
No. Well, as I say the game is built around a road-trip theme. You start with two characters, and as it's a road trip you need a vehicle. So you start off with van and two characters, then Shaun White calls you up and says 'hey man, meet me here'. So you try to meet him but circumstances go wrong. You move through the mountains, the regions, meeting new people who will join your crew, and your vehicle grows too. You end up with a bus, and you have more choices! In this game you don't choose one character to be your alter-ego on the screen, you choose your rider on a per-slope basis. You also choose a character who will follow you as a camera man. There will be interaction; feedback. What's interesting is that the better you control your rider, the more you impress the camera man, and the higher his respect meter will go. If you you get to a certain point, the camera man can give you special powers, like the ability to do a special jump, slow time, get more points.
So, the customisation comes from meeting new riders, choosing your camera man, selecting your rider... you know, getting the right team for the slope. So if its a race, you might choose the camera man who gives you a speed boost, or if its a trick map, then you'll get the trip guy, etc.
So, is the reward system based around this?
Yes, yes it, so each character has their own personality, their own codes, visuals, its very interesting. You can unlock Shaun at one point, he's a very good rider, you get to play with him... but that's not the end of the game - you get some time with him. That's a fun reward.
How do you make the game accessible for non-hardcore Wii players?
Well, so right from the beginning we wanted to make sure that getting into the game is very quick. So we don't have too much choosing. The controls are also quite simple and intuitive. We spent a lot of time focus testing, getting snowboarders and non-snowboarders the chance to try it out. So we try to make sure everyone can get a feel for it. We also make sure that once you play the game you can get better at it, like a real sport, like snowboarding. As you practice more, you get better at controls... so its pretty accessible. The simple controls are important, you don't have to think about it. But mixed together, the different factors still play a part - but once you learn, you can get better.
Could the technology you've developed for the Balance Board be used for other sports games? Skateboarding, perhaps?
You could do a skateboard game. The work we've done on the Balance Board has created the right feel, but with modification, yeah, sure, you could do that. You could make a couple of games with that, no problem.
Any multiplayer plans?
Yes! There is. The multiplayer is off-line on Shaun White Wii - so you have three modes. A co-op storyline, with 2, 3 or 4 players. Then there's competitive classic, which supports up to four players. There are camera men, too, of course, and you can get powers to put off the other racers. This is very exciting. Then we also wanted to make sure that players without the Balance Board could have fun, so we have a hot seat mode, and people try to beat each other's efforts. The last one standing is the winner.
How do you enhance snowboarding 'cool' credentials with music and the like?
Well, like I said, Shaun White has been there since the beginning to make sure we're true to the sport. So, we've a lot of cool music, which you can actually unlock as you progress. You start off with just a few songs, but as you get better you can choose from more, to listen to while riding.
We're all snowboarders, and we know everyone rides with their iPods, so we wanted to create that feeling. You play the game, and you can remove the talking, and you're riding, it feels really great - its all about the ride, if you want it to be.
How big the are the runs in SW on the Wii?
It is smaller than the other next-gen version, but we've tried to concentrate the gameplay within intense, concentrated areas. Instant action. So, we wanted to make sure the slopes are clear. There are choices, but the route is always obvious. The gameplay is intense, there's no waiting around...
Is there open-world sense?
In a sense? Yes, yes it is. We've made sure this is the right kind of game for the players who will like it.
When is the game due out?
It'll be out by Christmas. The same time on all-formats.
Thanks for your time!