Back in the late nineties and early 2000s, extreme sports titles were all the rage. Between skateboarding, snowboarding, BMX and surfing, there was an abundance of chances to show off your virtual daredevil moves.
Nintendo even jumped on the trend in 1998 with 1080 Snowboarding, and one of its lead programmers is back on the board again in 2021 with Carve Snowboarding.
We sat down with Giles Goddard to discuss what goes into turning an extreme sports title into a VR title, how much of the '1080 DNA' made it into the game, and the parallels between Nintendo's history of innovation and the advent of virtual reality.
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So, after over two decades, what made Goddard return to the powdered slopes?
"It’s all I know how to make", he tells me.
"Actually, I think there’s a tendency for this type of game to go over the top for the sake of easy thrills. I like games that are simple and intuitive to control but have enough depth to let you spend hours honing your skills to become a better player. I think that’s a lot of what makes a good game."
After such a long gap though, there's still a throughline with 1080.
"Without giving away too many secrets, the fundamental physics model is very similar to 1080 but a lot more refined thanks to faster CPUs etc."
"The control scheme has also obviously been redesigned to make full use of the Oculus Touch controllers and the entire experience is designed for VR of course. We also have a cabin... but no Ricky Winterborn."
"There is a dog that you can pet though," he adds, which I'm sure will satiate a specific corner of the internet.
Of course, pulling off somersaults and the like in a standard, TV-based game is all well and good, but putting players into the goggles of a snowboarding pro and sending them careening down a mountain comes with its own set of challenges.
"Preventing nausea and figuring out a control method that makes the most sense with motion controllers are two big problems to solve with any VR game," Goddard explains.
"You can’t just take a flatscreen game and turn it into VR, you have to rethink it from the ground up."
That means that Carve Snowboarding ends up somewhere between the extremes of being arcade-based and more of a simulation, something Goddard has given the portmanteau of 'Simucade' to.
"I’d say we’re aiming somewhere in the middle. I want the depth of a simulation but the “pick up and go” feel of a 5 minute arcade experience," he notes.
"A simucade if you will, or an arculation.. simularcadation? It’s probably the latter."
Goddard is no stranger to finding unique solutions to problems, though. One of Nintendo's earliest employees from the West, he's worked on Star Fox and Mario projects too.
So, what's changed from then?
"Nintendo and Sony in the early 1990s were driving the cutting edge of what became consumer 3D. Up until that point it was very niche, expensive and boring. It was static CAD apps or massive flight simulators costing millions of dollars," Goddard explains.
"Nowadays 3D is so ubiquitous it’s in everyone’s pockets. You could argue that Oculus are the ones with a big enough vision and the talent (and resources) to take it where it needs to go now. The Quest is by far the biggest step in that direction yet and I’d encourage everyone to at least try it out once!"