A Session with crea-ture Studios

We sat down with the developer for a long chat about their skateboarding game.

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Session, an upcoming skateboarding game from crea-ture Studios dubbed the 'spiritual successor' to EA's Skate franchise by many, recently hit its Kickstarter goal, and so we caught up with the two main men on the project, Marc-Andre Houde and Vincent Da Silva, to hear their thoughts on the game, and where the motivation for the game came from.

So the first thing we've got to ask is, you've recently hit your Kickstarter goal, how does that feel for you guys?

MAH: It's great. It's really cool actually. We were hoping that it would happen like this, but I think there's a part of us that was surprised. We're really excited, you know. There's always this question that comes back [as to] why there's no skateboarding games out there, is there a reason? So when you launch a Kickstarter campaign there's a lot of bad vibes also on Kickstarter recently, so yeah, that brings questions and makes asking ourselves: "Will it work? Will it be a success? Will it be just buried?" But [...] feedback is so good, people really like the game. Yeah, they're [having] a hard time getting used to the controls at the beginning, but as soon as they get used to it, they seem to really love it, and understand why we did these kinds of decisions, so yeah it's really cool.

We've got to ask with the controls though - why was that change with the right stick and then left stick upwards made? What was your motive behind making that decision?

MAH: Actually the main reason why we did this is simply because, to us, it was making more sense as a skateboarder. Skateboarding is something that happens with both your feet, so it was kind of making sense for us to use both sticks. To us it was bringing you a lot closer to what the skateboarding feel is, because you can really play with the sticks the same way you would with your feet, and the triggers were also making sense because when you skate you're banking one side and another, and so that was making sense to use the triggers, because you can control really well with, to us, a wider range of precision with the triggers, banking, and aligning yourself with the obstacles.

Session's control scheme differs from Skate in major ways.

It sounds like an obvious question, but are you guys Skate fans?

MAH: Yeah we are, and I think you can feel it in the game right now. I've always loved the Skate franchise, especially because they were bringing this realism to the table a lot more than everyone else did in the past, and finally this was something I think people were begging for for so long. I loved the Tony Hawk franchise, I think it's been probably one of the strongest entries for skateboarding games, but as soon as Skate came in it changed and reshuffled everything to kind of show people that you can have fun without having to jump like 40 feet in the air over electric rails or anything.

On the Kickstarter page you say you guys are inspired by the nineties, the noughties era - the 'golden era' of skating. How does that come across in the game?

MAH: Right now I think the biggest thing that comes across is, we don't feel it that much in the Kickstarter demo because it was mostly there to give you a chance to try the controls and see where we're going with this crazy idea, but I think we're going to feel it a lot more when we get to the early access with the Broken Banks, and how much effort we're putting into having this street vibe, this street skateboarding vibe, to it.

At first, you know, we were like a lot more of the nineties, 2000s. We even had at some point been thinking four-by-three, having this SD feel of camera, like VX1000 from Sony, and things like that, but at some point it was kind of hurting the concept. I think at some point you have to evolve and understand the fact that things are now HD, and that makes sense, so we kind of took this portion and made it more inside the filmer mode feature that we have, so you'll be able to really edit the way you are using camera settings. If you want to go SD, four-by-three, old school then you'll have the opportunity, but there won't be something hard-stamped in the game.

And what has the response been to the Kickstarter demo?

MAH: I would say the response is extremely positive, unless you were expecting Skate 4. If people expect Skate 4, and I think that as good as it is for us, you know, we're happy that people talk about it, that a lot of people are excited about the game, but there's also a big portion of them who were expecting Skate 4, who were expecting that we'd do a copycat of Skate with a new city or more goofiness. We're inspired by Skate, we love the Skate franchise, we love Skate 1, Skate 2, and we feel that Session could almost branch from those two and become its own entity in terms of 'spiritual successor' [laughs].

So yeah, feedback is really good, and we've already seen like thousands of videos of people doing some crazy cool stuff with it, but there's also this... I think it's kind of a vocal minority right now that people don't get used to the triggers and would like to have Skate 3 controls. Well, we didn't make Skate 3, so we don't feel it really makes sense to make this because it would kind of like go against everything we're trying to build. We had this vision of making this really cool and really realistic skateboarding experience, so making a control scheme like Skate would just probably mean something like 'we're not going to be able to do any better, so let's just do what Skate did'.

And it's not to diss the game or anything. We have a lot of respect to what [EA] Black Box did, and we owe them a portion of this game because it's been really inspiring for us, but we feel its time to move on and bring the skateboarding experience somewhere else.

Feedback from the Kickstarter demo in the prison has been positive.

With the Kickstarter you say that authenticity is important. How do you make sure the game is as authentic as possible to the real skateboarding experience?

MAH: Controls are definitely a big part. I think it has a big impact. Everyone who's skated in the past or enjoys the sport and understands the kind of physics side of things, like weight transfer, footwork, and everything, gets the point of using the two sticks.

So this is the first part. The second part is really... we're trying to take out everything that doesn't stick to the skateboarding culture, and the first one was to take out the scoring system. So we decided to just go against this because we felt it was not making sense for a skateboarding game that claims to be authentic asking people to just do the highest line score or anything, so we thought that by taking this out it would bring the experience closer by just giving this opportunity for people to do what they want rather than just getting the highest score. And so far it seems to work. People get really excited and they're working on one thing specific, because this is pretty much what they imagine in their head and they feel like they should try this, and yeah, this is skateboarding. There's no real [score] but when you go out in the streets and then you start skating, you're not doing this to impress anyone and be the best or anything, it's just to have fun and skate and push yourself, so it's one of those things.

How important is the day and night cycle for you?

MAH: I think it was really important because we wanted to create this feel of this game being kind of a sandbox toy - there's no real goal other than doing tricks and sharing with your friends, you know, and I've been skating for more than 25 years and I would say that probably the best sessions I ever had were during night. The city wasn't as crowded, it was easier to sneak into some non-skateable spots, there were no security guards or anything, so I was always having a blast and I always liked this nightlife feel when you're in a city and you skate at night, you know, the colour and everything; it adds so much more to the experience.

So yeah, we felt like it was making sense to add this day/night cycle thing. Lots of people were hoping we could have it as well, so we were really hoping we'd be able to skate every time, everywhere, and have this variation [with regards to] filming. You know, like sometimes you can literally put some spotlights, bring a generator near a stairset, and do grinds and have a night part in your movies.

The day and night cycle is important to Session.

Can you tell us a bit more about the visuals in general?

MAH: Yeah, for sure; we're going really realistic. We're not like a big, big, big company, so we have our own limitations, but the good thing is we managed to gather a quite cool [list] of connections that we can work with and help us achieve a really quality-looking game. Definitely Unreal is helping too, but in terms of art direction, yeah, we wanted to be, as we were talking a bit earlier, inspired by this street vibe. We want this game to feel really authentic in a way that, you know, when you're watching a skateboarding movie, it has this sense of grittiness or trashiness. This is something we want to keep - no clean cities, spots that you're not meant to skate, but you have to figure out how to find new spots and do some really creative stuff.

We want to keep this vibe. We know that doesn't make sense, because people right now [in the demo] are playing skate parks, so it kind of goes against this line that I'm trying to explain, but once we get into the city we want to have this feeling of the player to be in a real-life city that is not necessarily meant to skate. It's going to be fun, but you're going to have to be creative to find your spots and do some really original things, other than just jumping from one rail to another rail to another rail to a quarter pipe in between two streets - that doesn't make sense.

We don't know yet if we're going to be going as far as putting skate blocks and security guards. If we go with features like this I think it needs to add to the experience [rather than] trying to restrain it and just be painful for no particular reason. We like to design things in order that they are adding up rather than just being another feature in a big sea of random features.

So yeah, that's pretty much it. We're trying to be really close to real-life as much as we can. We're trying to be as authentic to the real-life locations, like the real legendary spots. You know, we took the Broken Banks for a really good reason. In the nineties this spot was extremely strong, lots of skaters were gathering there, so we went there, we made sure that the spot was as accurate as it could [be], even with the non-skateable areas, and this is something we want to keep doing, so we'll keep scouting New York and make sure that we're having those real life spots as identical in real life as they could [be] in the game, and between those we're going to maybe be a bit more creative on the art side and not fully respect every street and every corner and things like this.

Just to confirm, this is New York this is set in, right?

MAH: Right now this is New York. We have stretch goals to add more cities, and if we reach those stretch goals the community will have the chance to choose which city you want, so if they want like Barcelona or Vancouver or San Francisco or Montreal there will be this drop-down list where people can vote for their own cities.

So the idea is, we're building small hubs and from there we update those hubs (at no cost - we're not planning to sell updates of the cities), and then it keeps going like this. And then we grow, we edit, we change [...] based on the experience of the users, and when we feel would be a good time to skate somewhere else, then we're starting a new hub, and then we keep going like this.

As with other skateboarding games, recording your moves is vital.

So far you've talked about street skating, but is there any vert skating planned, or is that part of the stretch goals?

MAH: Yeah, this is part of the stretch goals simply because we want to do it as well as we're doing the street. It's always been a shame to me that in mostly every skateboarding game, vert always felt less important than street, so features never really fit in the half-pipe. I'm taking Skate for example; you're trying to do a stall on the copping and when you pop out you're mostly landing on that flat. There's no real adaptive physics to those things and this is something we'd like to really nail as well as we can, so we decided to... well, since we wanted to make it as cool as the street, we had to move it to the stretch goals.

But the cool thing is, we've met this guy called Elliot Sloan [...] super cool guy, really grounded, really nice guy. He's doing this vert - he actually just won the X Games a couple months ago - and he's down to work with us, so we need to reach the stretch goals, and if we do so he's going to come to Montreal, we're going to mo-cap the guy in a vert ramp, he's going to do tons of mini ramps. We'll have him like scanned in 3D so he's going to be our first official pro skater available in the game, so it's extremely exciting, and since he's doing lots of mega ramps, skateboarding, he's going to help us do a proper mega ramp experience with the vert package.

Skate had that Hall of Meat [a game mode that saw you try to cause the most damage to your skater], the physics, and we've seen a little bit of that in the Kickstarter demo - when you hit something there's the ragdoll physics. Is that something you're considering?

MAH: Definitely our effort is to make the skateboarding as mint as we can. We know a lot of people are having a lot of fun with the ragdoll, and yeah, sometimes it creates these really funny situations and this is cool, but honestly, we spent maybe like an hour or two with the ragdolls. It was mostly there to help us go to the difficulty of the game, because at first you know we had the triggers and then we were navigating some really complex areas, but the character was not falling, so it was feeling really easy to navigate, so as soon as we started to fall it helped us in design to make sure the spacing of the levels was well done and everything.

But right now, yeah, the guy falls way too easily - this is something we're going to fix, that's for sure. We're going to add a lot of secondary animations, you know, unbalance and everything, so it won't be as much of a pain as it is right now. But to get back to your question, Hall of Meat and everything - Hall of Meat is something that belongs to Thrasher, so if we end up with something like this, whether we close a deal and then we can bring it back at some point, but I'm pretty sure there's tons of legal issues with this, [so] that might be something like another name. We're not closed to the idea, but this is not priority one [laughs]. Once vert and street is going to be awesome and people feel it's really cool, and then we're not struggling to make this game, that might be a cool way to add some funny stuff like this.

The team are focusing on the core skating for now, with extras coming later.

Will it be just the sandbox game or will there be a campaign as well?

MAH: There might be a campaign if we reach the story mode stretch goal, which is kind of far, but you know we'd like to, this is something that will probably come up at some point if Session is really like a continual success and we can keep building on the game. We said it a couple of times already - we're not planning to do Session 2, 3, 4 - we want to have this core really well done and then expand on it and just update this one, so people don't feel cheated because they bought Session 2 and it's pretty much the same thing but with a different level and they pay like 80 bucks for it. We're totally against this. We'd rather keep the same core and expand and at some point if we need to do some graphic update because the game is getting old, that's going to be a really cool problem to us, so we'll be happy to fix this.

Can you tell us a bit about the team, who's making it, and how the development process has been so far?

MAH: Yeah, the guy who talks too much is me, Marc-Andre [laughs]. I'm taking care of the animation, of everything creative - well, art and creative mostly. Vince is actually the guy that makes everything work and fun. He's the coder, he's programming everything, he's having lots of pain because of me, because I keep asking him to do some stupid things and make his life miserable.

But honestly it's great, we're doing super cool things. It's just the two of us full-time. We're trying some contracts here and there for now. Most of the time we're working remote and it's working really well. Actually, I'll let him talk, he's there.

VDS: What do you want me to say?

MAH: Who are you? What are you doing?

VDS: I'm Vince. I program. I make it all happen. That's about it.

MAH: [Laughs] Actually it's funny because that's pretty much it actually. I have these stupid ideas and he's the guy who should get all the rewards because he's the [reason] why this game is fun.

How has the Kickstarter process been, and why did you choose Kickstarter in the first place?

MAH: Well I think one of the reasons we went with Kickstarter is, well I think it's pretty much the most renowned crowdfunding source website out there, so it was kind of making sense. Honestly, it's both our first experience with crowdfunding, so we didn't know that much, but we felt it was safer to go with Kickstarter. We've been appealed by Indiegogo, I think it's a really cool platform as well, but with the time we had we felt like it was safer to go with Kickstarter.

Has it been an easy process with the Kickstarter campaign?

MAH: It really went well. For sure there were tons of things that we were unaware of, you know, like the approval process. We've kind of got tricked at some point - we thought it was like an easier process and then we landed that that might have some delays and we started to stress up about this.

When it was time to launch the campaign we wanted to do like 9AM on-point, bang, and then we landed on some additional pages to fill and everything, and it was kind of funny because we were really stressed, like 'what's going on? I wanted to make sure that 9AM it was on' and then we just kept doing those page fixes and small tweaks. So I think it was fine, the page went live like 9.10, something like this, but yeah, we already had this wave of Facebook messages like 'where's the page? where's the page? you said 9AM' like 'oh crap, let's hurry'. It was a funny, stressy moment, but overall I think it's cool. It's always weird because there's so many gifs and images that at some point we felt we could have had some better tools to make a really more fleshed-out campaign, but for the time being I think we're pretty happy with what we did. People seem to be happy.

Pledges were kind of complex. We wish we could have come up with a more easy-to-understand tier hierarchy or something like this, but there's always room to improve when you're doing things like that.

Do you think Session could breed competitions and tournaments?

MAH: We'd love to actually. For sure esport is something we've been talking a lot [about]. We felt that Session is kind of like making sense, and we had this cool idea or hope or vision that we could have some real-life events happening at the same time as virtual events in Session, like big competitions, and we'd love to have all this section of the game. We're not there yet, that's for sure, because I think we need to make sure that the game is really solid when we get to esports, because we cannot afford to have these funky behaviours when you get off the ground or get off a grind and then the guy randomly falls. We need to have a way bigger level of cleanness in terms of production values, but yeah, this is something we'd love to add on later, that's for sure.

Esports could be a part of Session's future.

As a reminder, Session's Kickstarter campaign is still under way, and for our thoughts on the free demo for the game, check out our preview.

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