Interview | 5/7/2010 at 12:59 PM

Skate 3 Community Day: Interview with Producer Chris Parry

We last spoke with Skate 3 producer Chris "Cuz" Parry at the community day back in November when the game was still in alpha.  Now that the latest Skate title is almost here, we spoke with Cuz again about what's changed since then, what challenges they faced, and why it's all about skating with your friends.

Co-Optimus: So the last time we talked was back in Nov. for the Skate 3 community day, and we were playing an alpha build of the game, and between then and now, what was the biggest thing you’ve seen progress in that time period?

Cuz: I guess the big thing is everything comes together.   You know, at that time everything wasn’t fully realized and wasn’t integrated together.  At that time, the Skate.park feature wasn’t ready.  We were messing around with it, we were still learning the limitations, and the object-dropper didn’t have a full compliment of the objects.  So in terms of what’s happened, regardless of polish and actually building the world – because when we saw you last time the world wasn’t fully built – I think the thing that like literally wasn’t finished, that wasn’t even underway, was the Skate.park, so that’s huge.

Co-Optimus: You mentioned during the introduction this morning that the development team took a different approach to the on-line and single player modes.  Could you tell us a little more about that?

Cuz: So, really, the team and Brian Lindley, the on-line producer… looked at it from the beginning as trying to stop thinking [about it in terms of] on-line versus single player.  It was more just like how can we just – and I know this sounds cliché – but how can we blur the lines?  How does everything feed off each other?  One of the themes that we wanted to go with to broaden our audience was teams, but [we still wanted to] be true to the story.  We always looked at Skate as a trilogy and we knew we wanted to tell this part, which was “you’ve become a legend, now start your own company;” and in a company, you know, the word is “company,” but the reality is you have a team to support that.  So it made sense from the story we wanted to tell, it made sense from the new gameplay and stuff like that.  So… then how does on-line make this seamless transition?  …We started looking at some of the stuff that we did and saying, “how can we make it fun?”  “What things lend themselves naturally to teams?”  Of course, Deathrace and Contest, they’ve already done that, so that makes sense.  But then what are some new modes [that we can add] that, you know, sort of get the competitive juices flowing?  And then, what about those people who aren’t necessarily super competitive, what do they get?  That’s what co-op is…  You know, for a lot of skaters, or a lot of people who play our game even, [the competitive portion] is not why they picked up our game.  They have a little bit different sensibility, and the co-op provides that.  And the cool thing about the co-op, basically if I’m the host, and about to enter into [pretty much] most of our challenges, there’s an option on the menu screen that just says, “do you want to play on-line?”  If I say “yes,” I start a Freeskate session at that spot and then I can invite my friends to it.  It’s just that simple.

Yeah... that hurts

Co-Optimus: And what are you finding as a result of opening up a lot of these challenges to allow players to complete them cooperatively?

Cuz: So… if six of us are playing, say, a photo-challenge, the first person who finishes gets credit for it and all that stuff, but he’s still there to freeskate in the background, and you know, create some background filler, or some antics for the other people.  Again, that allows us to, you know, share, be cooperative.  It also allows, if you wanted, to take the team thing into a funny area, and that’s what we’re finding; teams – like our dev team – are showing off, “hey, check out our photo!”  And they’re all standing in the photo while one guy does some crazy trick.

A model of the new EA Canada offices

Co-Optimus: You and Brian mentioned this before as well, but there are other benefits to completing challenges cooperatively, right?

Cuz: Absolutely. I know on our team we looked at that and we just don’t want [players] to have that feeling like, “I wasted my time, doing a challenge on-line and not getting credit for it.”  You know, sure, playing some single player campaigns in some games in and of itself it’s fun, but for games that have a strong single player and a strong on-line portion, which I think we do, [some games leave you wondering] “why don’t I get credited in both worlds?” [Ed. Note: Fable 2 was mentioned earlier in the day as an example.]  For Skate 3, you know, it’s like… I own a spot and do the progression, but then I go on-line and I do a spot battle at the same place, and it’s like, “why can’t I get credit for that?”  Give me something for it!  So it’s kinda like … It’s a little like Bill Murray when he was talking in “Caddyshack”, “How ‘bout a little sumthin’ for th’ effort?”  You know, he was talking to the Dali Lama and he was like, “Hey, how ‘bout a little sumthin’ for th’ effort?” I always think of that. [laughs]  In Skate we’re trying to give you that credit, ‘cause you did the work.

Co-Optimus: What’s the one new feature with Skate 3 that you’re most excited about?

Cuz: The one I’m most excited about is Object Dropper. The one that I think I’ll be most excited about come May 11 when the game is out will be Skate.park, which is our create-a-park feature.  Right now I’m excited about Object Dropper because I use it, and it’s a way you can really edit the world and make it as fun as you like.  I just saw Josh Kline [Skate 3 community manager] put a dumpster down, drop like 30 beach balls into the dumpster, then jump off of a building into the dumpster and land in the beach balls.  It was hilarious … the balls are flying out and I’m just like, “Really?  I didn’t even think to do that!  I would have skated the dumpster.”  And so like, he looked at it and he had that approach, so for me, [the object dropper feature] is one that [lends itself to] all the fun and creativity.  As long as you have an intrinsic creativity, you’re good.  But I think the one that I’ll be most excited about once the game comes out is Skate.park because I know our community is so smart, so intelligent, and just creative that the stuff that they build we’ll be able to skate for years.

Co-Optimus: What’s a co-op experience you’ve had, either in the freeskate mode or in the co-op challenges, that you didn’t have just playing the game by yourself?

The Black Box development studios come complete with a DJ table (Bobby Kotick plastic DJ turntable not included)

Cuz: Part of co-op is seeing how other people approach the same challenge.  [If you’re stuck] and if you invite somebody in who’s better than you at skating, [they can help you] figure out what how to complete it. So that’s a, you know, tangible, like, “hey, that helps me.”  But beyond that it’s really sort of the antics that people do.  Again, going back to the photo challenges, I’ve seen some really funny stuff.  And, the cool thing about it is I am also seeing, because we have the Skate.feed feature, the results of other people’s challenges are actually coming through on my load screen.  I’m actually seeing their covers.  And I’m, like, “wow, they’ve got three guys and everybody’s doing something crazy in it,” and then it inspired me to think maybe I should play co-op with my friends and do something crazy like that!  And then another thing that’s really cool is when your friends, people off your friends list, skate through the world as AI skaters.  That’s really cool.  Like, I skate with my homies on Thursday night; like, we get together and we session together each and every Thursday night and I know what their avatars look like… So when I’m playing off-line, and they’re not on-line, and they just go skating by in the world as AI skater?  That’s cool.  Is it super-special?  I don’t know, but to me, it made my world feel like my world.  It felt more real than some random skater in capris and a pink shirt.

Co-Optimus: Speaking of the “buddy AIs,” back in November you were talking a little bit about how the system tracks what your friend does, so if they tend to do a lot of grinds or hippie jumps, then it’s reflected in how they skate in the world.  Were you able to get that working?

Cuz: We couldn’t get that far into like actually tracking the number of, like if they did this kind of grind or this kind of trick, but at least we got the recipe in, and that was something that we were shooting for.  Part of it the subtlety would have been lost, and part of it was that our AI system in tracking, it was hard.  So we didn’t get that one.  Who knows what the future brings, but right now, it’s not in the game.

Black Box's wall of autographed boards

Co-Optimus: So, what’s your favorite area of Port Carverton to skate in?

Cuz: It changes… I am reticent to say it because, you know, I skated the Chan Center, which is where we do our demo, so much… and I was sick of it.  Then I was skating there just yesterday with friends, and the way they approached suddenly made it, “wow, this is my favorite place!”  So it really will depend on the situation and who I’m with.  I’m partial to Downtown because there’s a lot of handrails and I’ve got my favorite bowls there… but then you’ll see somebody’s video clip from the demo of them skating the suburbs and the university and you’re like, “wow, I should go back there.”  Then when you go back there you realize, I just didn’t skate it this way, so for that day it becomes your favorite spot.

Co-Optimus: Now that the game’s done and so close to release, what’s been the biggest challenge in developing this game as opposed to Skate or Skate 2?

Cuz: From a tech side, integrating the on-line to be better and seamless.  Also, the create-a-park feature has a huge range of technical challenges that, from a technical side, that stuff was tough… From a producer level, just letting people know that the game’s not as hard as you think it is, and part of the difficulty or challenge that I think people had was more legacy controls from other games.  But now, after we’ve already done two games, [I think] we’ve sort of become that default control scheme.

Co-Optimus: Is there a specific feature that you wish you had more time for to be able to put in the game, or something that didn’t quite make it that you wish was there?

Cuz: If anything, it would have been pretty small little things.  For me, personally, we have new difficulty modes, which is basically tweaking the physics, and it was always my dream to have sliders for those things, you know, really let people customize it.  For example, “I want no assist on my grinds, I want full auto-pump”… but that’s kind of a like a game geek or skate nerd world. [laughs]  “Would you like more time…?”  Yeah.  Yeah, I would like to build a bigger world, always, but that’s just selfish of me cause I want more places to skate. [laughs]  I don’t know if we’re ever going to get to make another game.  And it’s always like that, you know?  Who knows what the future holds, so if this is the last game, I hope the world is big enough.

Co-Optimus: Any plans for DLC?

Cuz: We cannot officially talk about it, but it would absolutely make sense that there would be DLC.  We’ve done it in the past, and it’s performed fairly well, and, uh… yeah, it’s a great idea. [laughs]  I’ll just say that I’m still working on Skate 3 and the game launches in a week so I must be doing something right.

We'd like to thank Chris again for sitting down with us and answering all our questions, as well as community managers Shirley Chu, Reed Askey, and Josh Kline for inviting us out to the EA Canada studios to check out Skate 3.  Skate 3 hits store shelves next Tuesday, May 11, for the Playstation 3 and XBox 360.