Did you do that with paper design, or did you start prototyping fast?
SB: We did it on whiteboards and paper, and in fact, the control scheme, we came up with that pretty much on paper. It was a crazy, risky thing to undo eight years of convention in skateboarding and just throw it out the window and say, "No, we're going to do this." Imagine if someone did a driving game and reversed steering and put acceleration on a different [control scheme layout]... it would be crazy. No one would ever do that.
But we really liked it on paper. We worked with our lead programmer at the time, and really, in about two or three days, he built a prototype, and it was great. We actually were up and playing the game -- no rendering, no game, and no animations. But what we did was that we were reading the stick, and we could start to dial in different gestures and motions.
We could put in any different gesture and say, "We're going to call that a kickflip. That's going to be starting in the middle, going down to six o'clock, and then up to one of the sides." And it would spit that out and say, "You did a kickflip." It would measure it based on how accurate you were, and we would rate that from one to five.
So one was like, "Okay, you weren't really accurate, but you sort of did the kickflip." Five was, "You did it perfect." The other one would give you a rating based on the speed with which you did it. So one was like, "You were kind of slow," and five was, "You were fast." So if you could be five and five, you did it fast, and you did it perfectly accurate.
It was funny, it was just a little text-based game with flick-it controls, that turned into us grabbing the controller from each other going, "Oh, I can do better than that." And we dialed in... how we imagined flips, ollies, and inward heels and all that. We were playing the game a year before we ever had to care about graphics. And we learned a lot, too. With prototyping, it's amazing the things you learn. We learned one thing -- we needed to read the controls at 120 hertz, not 60.
SB: If you look at the Xbox 360 or the PS3 controller, there's not a lot of give there. When you go down and up, it's fast -- it's less than a second. Reading at 60 hertz did not give us enough information to build the profile into exactly what you did. So we redid it and were like, "Okay, we need to read it at 120 to get all that information on how fast you were and how accurate you were." Then we built that into the physics, and it was on and on from there.
And then you run at 60 frames per second for the game display.
SB: We are this year [for Skate 2], in rendering. The physics, similar to the controller... we always ran the physics at 60 hertz, because we needed to get the fidelity to match what you were doing with the controller. This year, we put the challenge down to the team and our senior art director that we really wanted 60.
When you can get your rendering matching your physics and running all at 60, it's just a bit of magic. All of a sudden, there's this new feeling. There was some arguing back-and-forth like, "Well, we're going to need to sacrifice visuals, because if you double your framerate, you're taking half of that away from what you're putting into your visuals."
And yet somehow, the team managed to not only hit 60 frames a second, but also made the game look better in every way than it did last year. Which is a cool thing. Putting a constraint like that in front of a team that's as talented and motivated and passionate as the Skate team, they still figured out how to make it look better and hit 60.
It's interesting, because not a lot of people try and hit 60 anymore. Mostly it's 30. But the one genre that tries to consistently hit 60 is fighting games. They're also very fast, command-based games. There's some similarities there, in terms of... not necessarily the output. Obviously, skating around a park is very different. But the way you input precise movement to create very precise movement of a character.
SB: Sure. I love fighting games. I could've paid off a mortgage with the amount of money I put into Street Fighter II back in the day. And yeah, I couldn't imagine playing one at 30 [FPS], with what's out there now.
But it's tough when you become open-world, and you're not just two fighters in a ring. You're in an open world with cars and pedestrians and other AI skaters and an extremely complex physics model, and yet it's still hitting 60 [FPS]. I'm really proud of the team.
There's no world in a fighting game, so that's a major load that comes off. They pump a lot of it back into the character models, but at the same time, there's still a vast difference.
SB: And even our character guys... without hyperbole, I think our characters might be 50 to 100 percent better-looking than they were last time. And in doubling the framerate... putting in a constraint like, "Yes, we value 60 [FPS], because gameplay rules all."
We put that above other things, and somehow, people will find a way. Nobody wants their stuff to not look good, so they think outside the box and come up with new techniques, and it's amazing on the tech side, art side, or whatever. They still figure out, "Okay, we met that constraint, but we're not going to make stuff look worse than last year." There's too much pride there.