There's always a lot of talk when it comes to snowboarding video games, but it's been a little while since we last got to try one out - and certainly since next-gen consoles came into play they've been thin on the ground...
Not so this winter, however. And last week we managed to get our hands on an early Beta of Ubisoft's Steep to give it a go. More on that later, but for now here's what we found out when we talked to Ubisoft Annecy Creative Director Igor Manceau about one of the biggest open world mountain video games to date.
Hi Igor, nice to meet you. So we've been playing Steep today and we're really enjoying it so far. How are things your end now that people are starting to test the game?
Yea so we're actually running the early access Beta, and we've got lots of people playing it already - and so far we've got pretty good feedback so we're really happy.
And what's your favourite aspect to the game, personally?
My favourite part I will say is the ability to define my own line. Paragliding in, landing somewhere on a peak, and then deciding to switch to wingsuit, crashing or landing correctly and then moving on on skis/snowboard and just enjoying the exploration. Even though I also like from time to time to get into competition as well - with colleagues and friends etc. on a specific challenge. The ability to switch between those two ways of playing the game is really the reason that I like it.
What about the four sports in the game, which is your favourite to play? Obviously we're biased...
Well it's tough to say really, I like the different sports for different reasons. So when I want to get in the mood where I just enjoy the flow and the view, and the peaceful moments, I really like paragliding, and getting close to the peaks to benefit from the uplift.
Then, I'm a snowboarder/skier, so I really like that you can use the mountain as a playground and try and be creative with it.
Ok, and how long did Steep take to make?
So it's now a bit more than two and a half years, close to three years.
And has there been a big team involved?
Bigger and bigger. Ubisoft Annecy is kind of a small studio within Ubisoft Galaxy, it's a 150 person studio, and now we have a few more than 100 people working on the project at its peak - but it was more of a limited team at some points. At the studio we've got some very senior people and a very experienced team that previously worked more on specific online parts of Assassins Creed, The Division etc.
But you presumably got some professional riders in too to advise on the project?
Yea, sure. So first of all we're in Annecy and we can see the mountains from the studio, so we do ride a lot ourselves, and then a lot of the biggest companies in snow sports are based in this region, so we got those guys involved quite early on in the process too - and then we worked with athletes too of course to make it more authentic.
"The mountain is potentially the biggest character in our game, but that doesn't mean that freestyle isn't important"
But on that note we don't consider our game as being a simulation, that's not the premise. We wanted it to feel authentic, and the input that we got from the riders/paragliders/wingsuiters was really helpful for us to try and give the feel that we wanted to achieve.
And the last example of that maybe is that we did do motion capture for tricks for instance, and we did that with the French freestyle team, who were very good, talented people.
Which snowboarders did you have helping you out?
Well we've got Sami Luebke as a partner, Xavier De Le Rue and his brother, they'll be visiting us next week to give it a try - and just so you know we've also got access to some of Red Bull's assets.
Oh yea, like the Ultra Natural?
Yea, we've also announced a partnership recently with the Freeride World Tour, and in the live stage of the game we'll have that competition replicated, with the same selection phase for both ski and snowboard. And based on how popular they are we'll try and offer specific events on a weekly basis, in freestyle, slopestyle and more freeride too.
Yea 'cos it feels like a bit more of a freeride focussed game...
Well we've got a focus on riding in the mountains - the mountain is potentially the biggest character in our game, but that doesn't mean that freestyle isn't important for us.
We've got I believe 15 freestyle snowparks in the game to play in, without counting the four Ultra Natural zones and big air spots and so on. So we've got a lot of freestyle elements - but yea we haven't introduced rails yet.
We do have halfpipes, Mont Blanc isn't in the Beta but that has a really long half pipe and then we'll actually be releasing as a free update, a new mountain range with Denali (Alaska) for you to ride, and we'll disclose some new elements there also at some point.
So it's expanding as you go?
Exactly. The live aspect of the game is something that we really want to push further. It's something that we've done in games like Rainbow 6 or for instance The Crew, giving a lot of live support to enrich the game and make the experience even better. That's a way of working that we'd like to keep doing, because we learn from the players as they play our games, and then we push what they ask for, when we can, of course...
And what about the control scheme? There's been a lot of demand in skateboarding ganes for that EA Skate style feeling...
On the tricks side, yea we liked a lot of those Skate features, for the authenticity and the depth of the system, and it really inspired us on many aspects. But on the other end there's a lot of players coming from games like SSX, which is much more straightforward. So we were more into the Skate approach where you do have to work a bit to send tricks and control them, but you do have many layers on which you can try and learn.
"Many people are asking for VR for the game, and we'll of course look at it and see if we can do something with that"
The twist that we had over Skate was that we wanted it to be accessible enough in the sense where if you do release everything, you will land correctly. We've got kind of an automatic landing approach, where if you release things you should be ok.
It's more when you try to do more stuff that it becomes eventually trickier, and I would say that once you've got the timing of when you have to release a jump, that it becomes easier, and then it's up to you to add grabs in different places and tweaks to make it more personal.
And if you look at what's happened in the snowparks or Ultra Natural for instance, you've got huge scores already, so people are really getting into the depths of the system.
And in gaming terms, what do you think Steep does that other games haven't done before it?
I think the open world aspect as well as the ability for gamers to set each other challenges based on possibilities that they have seen in the game.
It's not necessarily what comes up when you first start playing, and you do the Story, which I hope people will enjoy as a good starting point, but when they discover the freedom I think it will be really cool to see players to imagine their own lines in the zones.
And I know there's the GoPro view for the snowboarding/skiing, is the Virtual Reality route something you're thinking of going down?
Many people are asking for VR for that game, and we'll of course look at it and see if we can do something with that that works as a good experience. And of course it makes sense - even from day one at E3 we had people asking about that, and we think it would be very cool, but I have nothing specific to announce so far.
Ok cool well I think that's about it from me, but that you for taking the time to chat.
You can play Steep's Open Beta this weekend (18/11 - 21/11) with the full game out 02/12 - find out more here.