Interview with Mike McCartney on Skate It for NDS and Wii
After the sublime experience that was Skate on 360 and PS3, it's great to see EA hitting other platforms with a skating experience tailored to their strengths - namely, the Wii's motion controls and the DS' touch screen. We got in touch with Mike McCartney, the Line Producer on Skate It to get a few more details. While the interview is primarily about the Wii version, there are a few tidbits for Nintendo DS owners in there too.
IGN AU: What has become of San Vanelona? How different is the city than it was in Skate?
Mike McCartney: Skate It's story begins shortly after the events of the original Skate game. A series of comical and somewhat tragic disasters have hit the city and all of your favourite locations from San Van have been re-invented giving them an all new feel, with new lines and areas to discover.
IGN AU: Have you had to reduce its size or introduce load times between areas now that you're on Wii?
Mike McCartney: Developing for the Wii is definitely different than developing for other HD consoles (X360 and PS3). Skate It is a new game designed specifically for the Wii and NDS, maximizing on the unique engine and controls of each platform. We're very excited about what we've accomplished with the hardware. The gameplay design is different from the original Skate, but we'll get into more of those details later on.
IGN AU: How much of the setting is 'design by necessity'? I.e. it made sense to remove pedestrians and vehicles to free up processing power, and thus the concept for the ghost city/skater's paradise was born.
Mike McCartney: Honestly, the disaster concept was initially just a cool story idea that we really got excited about. When we were initially discussing this idea it just felt like a really interesting way to allow us to keep San Vanelona in the game but present it in a fresh way.
IGN AU: Skate was revolutionary in terms of its controls, and Skate It looks like it will be a very natural step forward for those mechanics. We know how the basic trick mechanics work, but how about for slightly more complex tricks like 360 flips and the like?
Mike McCartney: As you might have seen in some of the videos we have put out for the game the core philosophy with the Wii version of Skate It is that the Wii-Mote is your skateboard. That means whatever you do with the Wii-Mote should be echoed to some extent with your skater's board. For example, lifting your Wii-Mote up in the air performs an Ollie; twisting and lifting your Wii-Mote in either direction performs Kick Flips and Heel Flips; and finally rotating your Wii-Mote in half or full circles in either direction performs Pop Shuv-Its. The more complex tricks are combinations of these core motions. So if you know the basics it's a very gradual and logical progression to learn something like a 360 Flip which is just twisting the Wii-Mote and then performing a full 360 degree rotation. All of the other more complex tricks are just various combinations of twisting, rotating and lifting in various directions.
On the NDS version we always knew that we wanted to utilize the stylus and touch pad to give the gamer total control over their skateboard. On the top screen is your skater and the level you're skating in. On the bottom screen is your skateboard. A simple swipe of the stylus from the bottom to the top of your skateboard performs an Ollie. A swipe from the bottom to the top diagonally will perform either a Kick Flip or a Heel Flip. Finally quarter circle swipes in either direction from the bottom of the board will perform a Shuv-it or Front Side Shuv-it. To perform more complex moves it's as simple as knowing those basic gestures but prefacing them with a small swipe from off the skateboard to on the skateboard.
IGN AU: How easy has it been to come up with a natural-feeling set of motions for the tricks?
Mike McCartney: Working with the Nintendo Wii and its motion controls, we knew that the success of our game would be dependent on the control scheme. We actually invested about 3 months of pre-production strictly on exploring control schemes. We didn't want to make the game unless we felt we could deliver on the controls. Our initial designs were honestly pretty "ambitious". We used a lot of gestures that were quite complex or that required quite a bit of physicality. Not surprisingly, we started to realise by the 3rd or 4th iteration that simple gestures work best on Wii, and that you need to keep things very "un-physical" if you expect people to perform the gestures often. It sounds really obvious, but I'm very glad we had the opportunity to try out various designs before we settled on our current design.
The current design was born out of a statement that someone on our team made one day during a meeting. "The Wii Remote Is Your Skateboard" made such perfect sense to us that we had the entire trick set designed in about 2 or 3 days. The concept is really simple, mirror the motion of the skateboard during the tricks on the Wii Remote.
IGN AU: Have you had input from any pro skaters in terms of control or feel?
Mike McCartney: We're lucky on Skate and Skate It as we have a bunch of lifelong skateboarders on the team so we always have that authenticity check when we need it. For Skate It we had these skateboarders try out the controls and provide feedback as we tuned and refined the design. We are also extremely lucky that we have great relationships with our pro skaters. Rob Dyrdek and Danny Way have both played the game and gave us some great feedback on how to improve things.
IGN AU: We really loved the structure of Skate - the way the objectives worked and the fact that the game focused on skating, as opposed to gimmicky platforming on a skateboard. Will you be offering something similar in Skate It?
Mike McCartney: Absolutely! The Skate franchise is all about delivering an authentic skateboarding experience. You'll see this in Skate It with our great physics based skating engine, intuitive and fluid controls and a deep and rewarding career progression.
IGN AU: How do you think the game's visuals compare with Skate?
Mike McCartney: Both the NDS and the Wii versions of Skate It are really their own games and with that in mind they both have their own looks. With the Wii version we felt that we had a little more flexibility to stylize things in particular we wanted to make the skateable objects in each of the levels a little more obvious. With the NDS version we wanted to make a kick ass looking NDS game with full 3D graphics and I think you'll agree it's one of the best looking NDS games out there.
IGN AU: What was the rationale behind going with the colour coding for the ledges, ramps and rails in the game?
Mike McCartney: When we started developing for the Nintendo platforms we were very excited as it gave us license to stylize the game in a way that is additive to overall gameplay, but also uniquely Nintendo. As you've noticed in Skate It, we've used colours to help make skateable areas more visible to the gamer. In the original Skate we found at times curbs or ledges would creep up on us and cause us to bail unexpectedly. So what we're going for on the Wii version is making sure nothing in the world creeps up on the game in that way.
IGN AU: How will Balance Board compatibility work? Do you think that's going to be the ultimate way to play it?
Mike McCartney: We're really excited about the Balance Board in Skate It! At the core you can carve by leaning left and right on the board. Performing manuals are done by leaning forward and backward on the board. I'm really happy to say that it doesn't end there. You can perform all 30 tricks from the original Skate as well by applying varying degrees of pressure to the board in various locations on the board. You can also play the game with the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. So there's really three great control options, Balance Board, Wii remote only or Wii remote and Nunchuck. All three ways are fun for different reasons.
Right now my favourite way to play is with the Wii Remote on its own, but the Balance Board is quickly becoming a favourite among the team. At the end of the day we wanted to make sure we left it up to the gamer to choose how they want to play the game, and with three great ways to play I think we've succeeded.
IGN AU: We'd love to see this game go online - is that something you're planning?
Mike McCartney: Our main goal for Skate It has been to bring authentic skateboarding to the Nintendo consoles. With respect to the Wii, our focus remains the core gameplay experience, so we do not have plans for online at this time.
For the NDS version we are supporting Wi-Fi multiplayer as well as single and multi card gameplay.