You’ll be seeing a lot of different snowboard video games this fall, but only one will let you play as one of the top-eight riders in the world. Snowboard video-game producer and marketer Radical Entertainment recently signed a deal with Disney Interactive-the software publishing unit of The Walt Disney Company and ESPN-to launch a snowboard game based around the ESPN X-Games. The game, called X-Games Pro Boarder, will be out in October and will be distributed in North America by Buena Vista Home Entertainment in Sony PlayStation or PC formats.
SNOWboarding Business recently traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia for a tour of Radical Entertainment’s game development offices and a sneak preview of the game.
The company, founded in 1991, has 236 employees in Vancouver and another 62 in San Francisco where marketing and some development takes place. The staff is divided into different teams that work independently on the games, with some shared resources such as the 3-D animation unit and music group.
Twenty-six artists and programmers in the four-story Vancouver office make up the development team for Pro Boarder. Initial development time was eighteen months and as soon as the game hits the stores, the programmers will begin working on the second version, due out next fall.
X-Games Pro Boarder is one of three games that Radical Entertainment is launching this fall through the exclusive deal with ESPN and Disney. The other two are National Hockey Night and NBA Tonight. What sets those two apart is the graphics on the screen are almost identical to what you’d see if you were watching the game on ESPN. In the PC versions, the actual ESPN sports ticker will appear real-time through an Internet download while the games are played.
“The success of the ESPN brand illustrates that sports have become an integral part of our culture and have a very broad appeal,” says Radical Chairman and CEO Michael Ribero. “We hope that the combination of the ESPN brand and the ultra-realistic game play that Radical delivers, will expand the interactive sports gaming market by presenting sports fans with the opportunity to transition from television viewers to interactive players.”
That market is huge, says Radical President Rory Armes. “One-hundred-and-fifty-million people know the ESPN brand. There are only ten-million gamers.” The company hopes to take advantage of the huge crossover potentials available between the cable sports network, its new magazine, and the video-game market.
While the X-Games Pro Boarder doesn’t go to such general sports enthusiast’s extremes, it stays true to the flavor of snowboarding. Instead of network announcers, the game will have a sound track of twenty different bands, including Foo Fighters, Lunatic Calm, NOFX, Rancid, and Pennywise, that players can choose to listen to while playing, says Lisa Hudson, product manager for extreme sports at Radical.
The game also lets players choose from eight different riders-Todd Richards, Daniel Franck, Peter Line, Jamie Lynn, Terje Haakonson, Shannon Dunn, Tina Basich, and Morgan LaFonte-sporting their real sponsors’ 1998/99 clothing designs and board graphics. In fact, each character wears four different outfits and players can choose from four different boards per rider to best prepare for conditions.
According to Hudson, each pro worked with the programmers to integrate his or her own style and signature moves into the game and also helped create the 2,013 trick combinations including Rodeo flips, 1440′s, and as many grabs as possible.
“Peter Line keeps calling up with new suggestions after we send him the different versions to try out,” she says. “He’s super excited to be involved and help out.”
There are nine different levels of play that mirror the broadcast presentation of the snowboarding events held during the Winter X-Games. The game also uses proprietary X-Games camera angles that add to a reaalistic boarding experience.
Players can choose to compete in halfpipe, superpipe, boardercross, big air, slopestyle, and freeriding disciplines. In some of the events, the game offers out-of-bounds play. This enables players to take the riders off the beaten path and explore more of the mountain. The PlayStation version allows two people to compete head-to-head, while the PC version can handle up to eight.
The riders who are participating are all getting paychecks from Radical, and have agreed to participate in a number of promotional appearances for the game throughout the season. For their sponsors, the exposure is top notch. In addition to having current board graphics and clothing styles featured, the principle sponsors-including Airwalk, Forum, Four Square, K2, Lib Tech, Morrow, Salomon, Sessions, Sims, Special Blend, and Volcom-will get banners placed in various screens around the game.
“We’re really excited about the game,” says Gorelle Bracelin, Morrow’s marketing director. “What’s different about this game is that it gives consumers access to pro personalities. Plus it’s nice to have the affiliation with ESPN and the X-Games.”
In return for being featured in the game, Radical asked for 5,000-dollars’ worth of product from the companies, to be given away through different promotional events. While the arrangement to pay in product is a little different from most worked out in the industry, Bracelin says it works well. “Because it’s used for promotion, we see it as just another opportunity to get our product out there.”
Each rider will also have a complete fact sheet the game players can access, where additional rider sponsors, such as footwear or eyewear, are listed.
Because of the involvement with ESPN, Radical Entertainment must have the sports network’s final approval for the game and marketing. This caused a slight problem when the ESPN officials didn’t think the big-air jump should feature riders clearing a road gap while cars and trucks were passing by. So the programmers changed the scene and had barricades set up to stop the traffic on the road, allowing the riders to clear the gap without the added dangers.
Hudson and the Radical Entertainment staff are excited about the possibilities of the game. Previous snowboard games have done well, with Cool Boarders selling an estimated 650,000 units and 1080° Snowboarding clearing the half-million mark just this spring alone.
Snowboarding isn’t that much of a stretch for the company. More than half the employees ride, and the company has had a bit of success at hitting the youth market with games such as Wayne’s World, Beavis & Butthead, Independence Day, and Terminator. With the X-Games Pro Boarder, Radical Entertainment might just win a gold medal itself.