Like Tony Hawk before him, professional snowboarder Shaun White is moving from the boards to the controller with Shaun White Snowboarding, an extreme sports game Ubisoft will release on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and PC this holiday season. But for every great snowboarding game we've played (SSX, 1080 Snowboarding) there's been one that's wiped out on the slopes (SSX Blur, 1080 Avalanche). So how will Shaun, and the game's developers at Ubisoft Montreal (Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell), keep this from being total yard sale? We recently spoke to Louis Lamarche, the producer on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC versions, to get the lowdown on this (hopefully) cool game.
Crispy Gamer: Obviously, given the name, Snowboarding is a snowboarding game. But is it more of a snowboard racing game, a snowboard tricks game, a snowboard sim, a snowboard arcade game, or what?
Louis Lamarche: We're calling it a snowboarding lifestyle game, in that it's about snowboarding as a whole. So it's not just about competition, racing, or tricking, but also the idea of using and exploring the mountain as your playground.
Crispy Gamer: If someone just wants to play it as a racing game, or as a trick contest, can they?
Lamarche: Yes, totally. We'll have about 90 specific competitions and activities set up within the levels, but the mountains are open, so you can, for example, set two points on a mountain, and you and I can race from one to the other, with both of us deciding how we want to get there. And you can do that with racing or tricking, it's what we call "custom activities." We also have seamless multiplayer, so it's easy to set something like this up.
Crispy Gamer: So how long would it take to race from the top of the mountain to the bottom?
Lamarche: Right now, depending on which board you use, it takes about 10 minutes.
Crispy Gamer: How many mountains are there in the game?
Crispy Gamer: Are they real mountains?
Lamarche: The names of the mountains are real but the topography is aimed at maximum fun rather than realism. So while we have Park City, Utah, it doesn't look anything like the real Park City.
Crispy Gamer: Are there plans to add a fifth or even a sixth mountain later on?
Lamarche: It's a possibility, and because it is, we structured the game's engine to support the additions, but as for a specific plan, no, not yet.
Crispy Gamer: There have been a number of snowboarding games over the years. Is there one you feel this one is most akin to?
Lamarche: I would've said yes before, when the game was more structured -- here's a course, here's another course -- but we switched some things around, and made the mountains more open, so now my answer would be no.
Crispy Gamer: Now correct me if I'm wrong, but you don't actually play as Shaun, do you?
Crispy Gamer: That's a little risky. Some people buying this game are going to want to play as Shaun. Why did you decide to do that?
Lamarche: Well, the first reason was because of the seamless multiplayer. We don't want everybody to look like Shaun, or to play like Shaun. Though the more you play the game, the more reputation points you gain through experience, you can become like Shaun.
Though we're also not saying you'll never be able to play as Shaun.
Crispy Gamer: So you might be able to unlock him at some point?
Lamarche: Yes, you might. Though you won't be able to play as him in multiplayer because then you'd just be able to dominate everyone. It wouldn't be fair.
Crispy Gamer: Now this kind of poses some existential issues, but what about the idea of an all-Shaun multiplayer mode?
Lamarche: You suggested that the last time we spoke, and we're actually thinking about it.
Crispy Gamer: Speaking of multiplayer, how many people can compete at the same time?
Lamarche: It depends on the event. Some will be four, others will be 16. But if, for example, there are only two of us, and we enter a four-person event, the artificial intelligence will take over the other two characters.
Crispy Gamer: So besides posing for the cover photo, and taking home a paycheck, how else has Shaun been involved in the game's development?
Lamarche: From the beginning, the lifestyle experience really comes from Shaun. Like he said to us, "People know me for competing in the half-pipe and slope style, but that's not what snowboarding is. Snowboarding is going to Alaska, the open mountains, with your friends, doing what you want." So that led us to have the huge, open mountains we have in the game.
Crispy Gamer: Did you guys motion-capture him at all for the game?
Lamarche: It's funny, because the technology available for outside mo-capping is just off, and cleaning up the data would've been really hard, so instead we just filmed Shaun for two days from every single angle.
Crispy Gamer: Was there anything he suggested for the game that just wouldn't have worked?
Lamarche: Oh yeah, that happened multiple times. And I could give you examples, but they'd have to be off-the-record.
Crispy Gamer: Finally, Shaun's nickname is "The Flying Tomato." Will the game include a cheat code that will change his character into a giant tomato?
Lamarche: Ha! I love it. Right now, no. He actually hates that nickname, though, so he'd probably kill us.