SNOW is an ambitious extreme sports sim, coming from a Swedish team with industry experience. They’re making a winter sports game that is “by riders, for riders”, and giving you an entire snow covered mountain to explore. I’m quite excited about the prospect of strapping a plank of wood to my feet and throwing myself down a mountain, so I caught up with developer Alexander Bergendahl to find out more.
Here’s the the latest on Poppermost Productions’s SNOW.
Tell me a bit about how the team came together?
Bergendahl : The majority of us have known each other for about four years now, we’ve worked together in game development in Sweden, and kept in touch with each other, until this opportunity arose to work together. Last year we started planning the development.
What kind of things have you all worked on beforehand?
Overall we’ve all been working at AAA studios, Avalanche, GRIN and then some smaller mobile and social gaming websites and studios. We’ve all got the necessary experience. While we are all experienced game developers, this is an indie project, and some team members are doing this as a side project while holding down full time jobs.
What’s your background in sports, what attracted you to skiing and snowboarding?
We are all massive skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, I spend every winter holiday skiing, and I know the rest of the team try to as well, when they can. At least on my part, I’ve always been fascinated with snowboarding games and skiing games, unfortunately there hasn’t been any skiing games, so it’s really just been snowboarding games. That started with 1080 Snowboarding, which I thought was the first perfect snowboarding game. Once we realised that we had the opportunity to work on something like this, and we realised that there wasn’t something out there right now that is catering to our audience, we combined our passion for it and our skills in game development to make something.
What do you think will make SNOW stand out as a game that has been made by people that are passionate about the sport that it is simulating?
In all art you do what you know, and I’ve skid and snowboarded all my life, so I’m very familiar with it. The feeling of being on snow, and the whole off piste and free riding aspect, being in slightly dangerous areas. I feel like that has real helped us in getting the right idea, and knowing what our audience want. We’ve been doing research online, and when SSX was announced, there was a lot of feedback saying “Why won’t you do something like Skate?”. We saw that, people really do want something that we wanted, so that really motivated us to get things going.
You’re using CryENGINE 3, why was that you engine of choice?
We looked at a lot of engines when we started the project, Unreal obviously was one of the top runners. But CryENGINE, it is known for being able to make massive environments, which is important for a game that we wanted to be as open world and free roaming as possible. We knew this was the crux of the choice. So we contacted Crytek, and they were happy to help out. Especially, I think, because we were trying to do something different with their engine. It was really the ability to do these massive environments that was necessary for us. We are currently using CryENGINE 3’s Free SDK license. Due to licensing costs, we felt it was more lucrative to wait for the Free SDK to be released.
How did you work out a licensing deal, was it fairly easy as a small studio?
Yeah, we contacted them, they wanted to know some specifics about our project. We had some funding, so I think they were keen to make sure we weren’t just a couple of students, they wanted to know that we had experience, and a ball that was rolling already. Once we discussed the specifics, they were happy to help us out in whatever way they could.
You’re going to be selling this as a pre-alpha preorder, what’s the plan there?
So the plan is to sort of do what Mojang and Minecraft have done. Get out an early version, it’s not even pre-alpha, I would say more like first playable. It’s basically the most simple version we have so far, and as we keep developing it and adding more features to it, we’ll just keep updating the executable and releasing patches, so that people can test out the new features that we’re adding. We don’t feel this works for every game, but when it does work for a game, it’s really ideal for developers and for the audience. They can get their hands on features as soon as possible, and we can get feedback as soon as possible, before spending two years working on something that no one actually wanted. We’re also using the free-to-play model so players will have the initial core experience for free.
What kind of feedback will you be looking for from players?
Everything. I’m sure a lot of players will find bugs, terrain issues where they can sneak out and get to an area we didn’t intend them to get to. But also difficulty, and basic gameplay feedback, what they like and don’t like. Then in the future we can start working on things that the audience wants primarily. We can offer them a choice of features, they can tell us which ones they want, and we’ll prioritise that when we’re developing.
What’s the structure of the game?
At first it will be basically just exploration, and just getting to know the mountain. But we’re planning on adding events, we’ve got more than six different event types that will test your skill in navigation, control of the character, tricks, and also combining disciplines. They will all be based around the mountains, and all be hooked up to online leaderboards, which will allow you to complete with the rest of the world.
How much space have we got to play around in?
Right now the mountain is quite substantial. If you have to translate it into real world units, it’s probably about 4,000 metres high, and you can ski down from any point. We noticed with SSX and other console snowboarding games, say you have this free roaming aspect, but you don’t actually even get dropped at the top of the mountain, you always get dropped a couple of metres down, so you’re forced to go in one direction. Whereas we’re putting you at the top, so you can go skiing start riding forwards, you can turn left or right, or you can ski directly behind you, and come down a completely different side of the mountain.
This is a PC exclusive game?
For now, yeah. As we’re developing it, we can only really do this model on PC.
I imagine it’s going to be looking quite pretty, I’ve not seen any sports games using CryENGINE yet.
Yeah, right now we’re working our best to make it look better. A lot of feedback was on the visuals, this is the very early stages of the game, and we’re working very hard to improve the visuals, and we’re going to show people the difference once we’ve improved different aspects of the game. Last week we released a few screenshots that show our some of the improvements we’ve made. There’s a lot of power in the CryENGINE, but it’s still very difficult with a small team to get everything out in one go.
How close to being ready is the first public playable build?
It’s still a bit away, we’re working as much as we can to get this ready as soon as possible. We’re now looking at a January release. Can’t say to much more about the state of it right now, though
Cool, thank you very much.
Head over to snowthegame.com for more details, and be on the look out for that preorder soon.