SSX – The Rise and Fall of a Snowboarding Icon ~ Design Doc


Back in the early 2000s, most people latched
onto Tony Hawk for their extreme sports fix. But I was more about snowboarding. And what’s the first game you think of when
you think snowboarding? That’s right. Snowboard Kids! But today we’ll talk about SSX. It’s no Snowboard Kids, but it’s still pretty
alright… ATLUS! MAKE A NEW SNOWBOARD KIDS! NO, NOT THAT ONE. The SSX series is iconic – a fantastic blend
of outlandish tracks, personalities, fast-paced arcade racing, and Tony Hawk-style tricks. And as a series, it’s…kinda dead. There hasn’t been any sign of a new SSX title
after the polarizing 2012 reboot. It may be a long time before we have any hope
of EA rekindling SSX. But I think the series is too good to be forgotten. So today, I want to go over SSX Tricky, SSX
3, SSX On Tour, and SSX 2012 to rediscover what made it a beloved series, and how it
faded away. Oh, and here I’ll quick mention the original
SSX and the Wii exclusive SSX Blur. Blur was a weird motion controls experiment
that reused tons of SSX 3 and On Tour content, and didn’t work too well. The original SSX was fine, but Tricky is a
direct upgrade, and where the series first hit its stride. Just play Tricky if you’re going that far
back. So, let’s get tricky. Elise: ‘This is going to be very, very interesting.’ SSX Tricky is famous for its goofy, funky
70s tone mixed in with late 90s extreme sports and as many Run DMC samples as they could
fit. Well, one sample. But it’s everywhere. [TRICK-AY! HUH!] The game is stylish and energetic, with an
over the top cast including red headed disco nerds, thuggish rednecks, unhinged masochists,
adrenaline junkies, and of course who could forget Ansem from Kingdom Hearts 1. Brodi: ‘Ah, synchronicity. Our destiny is intertwined.’ Ansem: ‘The final darkness is nigh!’ Cap it off with Rahzel on the mic as the announcer
and you get a game that’s just oozing with personality. Rahzel: ‘Call your momma in the room and
show her how great you are!’ The characters matter, not just for the personality
they inject into the game, but they have pre-existing relationships with each other. These are more than just part of their backstory. They influence how aggressive the A.I. will
be. You can knock down other characters to quickly
fill your boost meter, but it’s a risk in the long run as they’ll get more aggressive
towards you in later races. Tricky’s track design is filled with personality
too. Crashing through buildings in Mercury City. Treacherous ice caves in Alaska. The pinball layout and circuit structure of
Tokyo Megaplex. Each of the 10 tracks have a distinct feel,
which I love. SSX Tricky, and really the series in general
focuses its gameplay on impossible tricks and HUGE AIR. This is where the “Uber Trick System”
comes into play. Landing tricks does more than just rack up
points. The more complicated the trick, the more boost
you build. Filling the boost meter to the top grants
time limited access to the series trademark Uber tricks where your character becomes a
snowboard wizard. The tricks are risky and take time to perform
but with each uber you land, you’re rewarded with tons of points and boost meter. Performing 6 uber tricks in the same run will
grant infinite boost for the rest of the course. Tying boost to these uber tricks is an elegant
way to make sure the trick system is not just for trick events – it’s still an important
part of the game’s race events. It rewards taking risks, gives a reason to
learn the course and plan your run, and the graphical and audio treatment make it just
viscerally satisfying to land all these impossible tricks back to back to back. I loooove Tricky, but there was still room
to improve. The board handling is fine, but not that precise. Grinding on rails is tougher than it should
be with some awkward hit detection. The game isn’t set up to let you land a
SPECIFIC trick that easily, which is only really a problem in the Trickbook challenges
that unlock costumes and the best board in the game. Uber tricks are also a little awkward because
of how the controls overlap with the grab trick modifiers, which puts a weird limit
on some of your trick options. But Tricky overall holds up very well for
its age. SSX 3 came out in 2003, two years after the
release of Tricky. While Tricky was a refinement of the original,
SSX 3 was more of a true sequel. The trick system was expanded and refined. They fixed Tricky’s air control problems. The rails got a complete overhaul with rail
based uber tricks and handstands, and they fixed the hit detection. SSX 3 also added nose and tail presses. They make up the core of a new combo system,
which feels lifted right out of Tony Hawk. You store bonus points into a combo counter
as you perform trick after trick without wiping out. You have only a few seconds to keep the combo
going so stringing together air tricks, rail tricks and presses is key to beating trick
challenges this time. The Uber Trick system returns with a few tweaks. There are now 3 tiers of uber. As you land more uber tricks, you’ll unlock
new tiers of tricks that you can perform that run. Land 5 tricks from the 2nd tier and you’ll
get infinite boost for a little while. The uber tricks were also tweaked. Instead of a long animation, ubers act more
like better but slower grabs, racking up more points the longer you hold them. The trick system overhaul was balanced with
the game’s new longer courses in mind. Each course is connected in an open mountain
layout. Instead of going to single events in isolated
courses, tracks and events are divided among 3 peaks. Complete race and trick events to eventually
go toe to toe with the ‘boss’ rival of the peak and unlock the next one. Each peak branches out into a handful of tracks. Every track segues into small ‘intermission’
hub areas where you organically choose which event you want to start next. The open mountain is a promising idea. It gives some nice, natural opportunities
for downtime between races, and there are a few fun challenges scattered across the
mountain. It’s especially good on your first few runs
as you’re acclimatizing to the game, but the idea starts to buckle under the weight of
sticking to the open mountain premise. It adds an extra step to starting events,
which gets a bit old before long. The connected mountain also limits what you
can do with the course variety. There’s nothing as creative as the Tokyo Megaplex
to pass through, and it’d be disorienting if there was. The tracks that do exist, to their credit,
are great but I don’t believe they’re on average as memorable as the ones in Tricky. You’ll see lots of standard slopes and harsh
tundras. Even the more distinct city and forest courses
don’t stand out quite as much as the most memorable Tricky courses. You won’t see anything quite like Aloha
Ice Jam for example. Like the tracks, the characters in 3 have
also been toned down a bit. They took out most of the aggression system
– only the predesignated rivals of each peak will ever try to knock you down, usually on
the final run. Knocking the AI down will aggro them in that
event. Don’t worry about it though, the courses are
more spread out, so you’ll hardly see your opponents anyway, and they’ll completely forget
about your shoving match by the next race. The personality and voice lines are still
there but it’s a little more muted than before. Where Tricky is funky and over the top, SSX
3 is cool, laid back and ambient. Taking Rahzel’s place as the announcer this
time is DJ Atomika who provides smoother commentary during intermissions between events. DJ Atomika: ‘We’re back with EA Radio
Big.’ SSX 3 is a fully realized, amazing snowboarding
experience. It brought over the most important parts of
Tricky and refined some of the sketchier bits. It’s probably the best in the series but
it just felt a little more muted than its predecessor. EA might have carved off a few too many edges. Two years after SSX 3 came SSX On Tour, which
brought some important tweaks. And skis, but no one cares about skis. The first change was to the game’s aesthetic. The vibrant funk and cool ambiance is gone
and in its place is a sketchy punk look. These menus filled with trapper keeper doodles
are pretty fun, actually. But the personality disappears when you meet
the cast. The character designs have been greatly toned
down and the characters are only playable in quick play. The main mode is reserved for everyone’s favorite
fountain of personality, a custom avatar! And what’s better than racing as your self-insert
custom avatar? Racing against other randomized avatars! Personality! The old SSX cast will show up in basic title
cards before you face them in easy rival events but they have almost no personality. The old cast is barely any different from
the avatars. The tracks in On Tour have the same open mountain
feel as SSX 3, but with its problems magnified. You ride down mostly standard slopes and back country tracks with small distinct features placed here and there. It’s still cool to run down an entire mountain
but these tracks blend together even worse than last time. The samey courses aren’t helped by the game’s
new rank based progression system. Instead of completing events linearly, On
Tour’s campaign has you climb up a rankings board to become number 1 in the SSX Tour. You complete events and challenges to gain
‘hype’, raise your rank and unlock more events. On paper it’s an interesting new approach to progression, but in practice you’ll play the same courses over and over to try to eke out enough hype
to get to the next tier of events. The difficulty curve ramps up slowly and the
major race and trick events can take a long time to complete. Even with On Tour adding a bit more variety
to the mission types, it still turns into a grind-y slog after a while, which was never
a problem in the previous games. The combos continued their slow evolution
to a Tony Hawk-style system, which now emphasizes bigger combos. Each grab you make bumps up the combo count. Big combo counts now give point bonuses after
reaching certain thresholds. Ubers are now called Monster tricks. Performing Monster tricks triggers a bullet-time
effect, slowing down the world around you and giving you more time to get your landing
right. The slow down mechanic takes a lot of the
risk away from performing uber tricks and it encourages you to mindlessly mash out as
many grabs and ubers as possible and greatly slows down the game’s pacing. Bit by bit, On Tour’s design changes eroded
the series design at the edges. The game isn’t bad by any means, but it
does feel like the black sheep of the series. The forgettable cast, samey courses, safer
uber tricks, and repetitive progression made the series feel like it was losing its identity. On Tour was followed up in 2007 by the half-hearted,
motion control-infested SSX Blur. After that, the series would go quiet for
years. 2008, 2009, nothing. The franchise seemed as good as dead. *silence* Then there was a blip. At the Spike Video Game Awards in 2010 there
was a trailer for a snowboarding game clad in XTREME gritty realism, called SSX Deadly
Descents. After fan backlash, EA retooled Deadly Descents
into a game released in 2012, simply called SSX. It was still supposed to be a reboot, but
not nearly as HARDCORE XTREME as what Deadly Descents was aiming for. The revision emphasized the return of crazy
tricks, big air, a greater emphasis on characters than On Tour, crazy new mechanics like a wingsuit,
and new asynchronous online multiplayer based around time trial and trick ghosts of other
players and special time-limited global events. It seemed like almost everything fans were
asking for. The game was well received by critics and
first impressions were solid. But people fell off this game in a matter
of weeks and it didn’t take much more than a year for the online lobbies to empty out. What happened? The fundamentals of the previous games are
back. Turning is sharp and precise, your acceleration
and speed is high and trick speeds are ridiculous. You recover from grabs so quickly that it’s
rare to wipeout. It feels good. Aesthetically, it’s closer to SSX 3 with
bits of Tricky mixed in. They even brought the sample back, so that’s
like half the work done right there. [TRICK-AY!] The problem is that even though you could
go down and check a box for all the things that you’d want in an SSX game, everything
feels watered down. Characters are a step up from On Tour, but
they still fade into the background. Designs are very grounded and don’t stand
out beyond Eddie’s grody fro and Moby turning into some sorta… scrublord I guess? Opponents are there, but they still don’t
have presence. They’re literally ghosts most of the time. The more open-world track to track feel from
3 is gone, but the course designs don’t take full advantage of this – many of them still
feel very samey. The big new addition of the game is a clear
holdover from that 2010 Deadly Descents trailer: survival elements. Many courses have special conditions like
freezing temperatures, jagged rocks, avalanches, and of course cliffs. These hazards are difficult to survive without
the right gear. The survival mechanics feel like gimmicks,
trying to add another layer to the game but instead they get in the way of the fun you
were trying to have. The survival bits are annoying, but worse
is the course design. The routes are a patchwork of cluttered track
features and DEATH PITS. Literal pits of death. In the other games, falling down a pit or
getting stuck would just respawn you back onto the track with less boost. Here, YOUR RUN ENDS. WHAT. Instead of a player choosing to restart repeatedly
to have a perfect run, you’re forced to do a perfect run. Not just in the survival events. In all the events. There’s a ‘rewind mechanic’ that tries to
cover the problem, but it’s a band-aid on a gaping hole in the design. If you botch a jump and land in a pit, you
have to rewind all the way back to before the jump, back to a point where you can aim
to land somewhere else. The rewind is pretty slow. Pits can appear in front of you without any
warning, which makes the first few runs on a course a terrible trial and error experience. SSX is built on pulling off low consequence,
carefree big air tricks, and all of these death pits directly discourage doing them. SSX 2012 isn’t a bad game, but the survival
mechanics and deadly course design are fatal flaws. They’re the last remains of that original
trailer, but they still don’t fit mechanically with the rest of the series. They’re trying to create a more challenging
game, but in practice they’re just frustrating instead of fun. In a series that’s all about freedom and style
they contradict the very core of the SSX experience. It’s a shame that a remake that otherwise
got so much right kept such a glaring problem. So that brings us to now. It’s been 6 years since the release of the
last SSX game and there doesn’t seem to be one on the horizon. After SSX 3 there was a noticeable decline
in sales. SSX 2012 did a bit better than the previous
couple, but still didn’t sell all that well, so that might just be it. Over the course of a half dozen games, SSX
slowly lost the quirky fun parts that made it so memorable. They were replaced with elements like the
gear unlock system and the grind-y progression that weren’t memorable themselves and made
the games a bit more of a pain to play. They’re all competent games, but the changes
subtly tarnished the experience, and over time made the series slowly lose old fans
and couldn’t attract enough new ones along the way. SSX genericized itself, and faded to white. Today’s episode is sponsored by Massdrop. Massdrop has kindly sent over a pair of Sennheiser
HD58X Jubilee headphones for us to try out. I’ve used Sennheiser headphones for a long
time, and these are now my new favorites. I’ve been using them for a few weeks now
and they’ve become my primary set of headphones, both for gaming sessions and for editing work. These videos take well over a hundred hours
to edit and these headphones have been incredibly comfortable for the entire time. At $150, the HD58X is a more affordable way
to experience high-end audio quality. They’re a light weight, open back design,
which is great for using at home, and their sound mixings are almost identical to $500
headphones. They’re made in Ireland, and they’re built
to last for years. Over 20,000 units have sold, and they keep
selling out, so if you’re curious to see how high-end audio sounds for only $150, click
the link in the description for the HD58X. Thanks again to Massdrop for their support. [Chill vibes outro from Snowboard Kids]

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