Monday, July 31

Interview with Matti Larsson of Zordix on Extreme Sports Games for Switch [ Nintendo Switch eShop ]

Just last week it was announced that Zordix would be bringing both the aquatic racer Aqua Moto Racing Utopia and the snowmobile racer Snow Moto Racing Freedom to the Nintendo Switch. Zordix has been around for a little while and seems to be looking to corner the extreme racing market. I got a chance to talk to Matti Larsson, the CEO at Zordix, about what they have on the way and what their plans are for the future with the Switch!

As a massive fan of the Wave Race series I must say that playing Aqua Moto Racing Utopia I was a bit nervous, wondering if it would be able to live up to the hype I've had in my head wanting to see a new version of it. While not everything about it is the same I was very impressed by how much of the feel is there and that the most crucial aspect, the rough waves that have a major impact on your ability to keep your racing lines, is very much in place. How much of a challenge was it to model the waves, and to get them to behave in a somewhat inconsistent manner so they feel somewhat natural and unpredictable?

ML: It was a huge challenge in the beginning!

We’re combining GPU-based physics with shader programming on the graphics cards for water effects and interactive water simulation. The main waves, including the hight sea ones that makes the game stand out, have a mathematical wave theory foundation. Then 30 different techniques are used together for the water. For instance colouring, transparency, reflections, refractions, splashes, foam, lighting, tiny animated waves and interactive waves spreading and interacting with the watercraft. Even on-screen splashes. And so much more…. It’s crazy looking back at all the advanced implementation.

After many updates, we’ve finally nailed our own great water racing feeling, in perfect timing for the Switch.

The inclusion of the Runabout mode is an interesting one. At first glance there doesn't seem to be a large distinction but in terms of the level of contact and how much more aggressively the races tend to play out, at some cost to nimbleness, it is a nice contrast. Was it included to be more of a brawler mode or I'm just choosing to force my opponents into the buoys because I'm a terrible person?

ML: The Runabout model is the classic model we have in other games in our Aqua Moto Racing series, for instance in Aqua Moto Racing 3D on the 3DS. This is the first time we’re adding a Ski model, actually.

The Ski model was added to create a new racing style of play where you can turn quicker in the sea and in the air. It was also chosen for the new Freestyle game mode, since there are too few games where you can experiment and do fun tricks.

This way we have like three games in one, with different experiences in each Division. Since we got many different watercraft and even unique party game modes and online multiplayer, everyone will find, or eventually unlock, their favourites.

There are some race course included that are highly reminiscent of ones I loved and remember on Wave Race but none feel like copies either. Were some call-outs to Wave Race inevitable and on purpose or is it just when you're setting up a game with courses in waves you're going to have to have some overlap of some kind?

ML: We’re happy to recreate intense feelings from the past for those who remember those great times, but our main goal has been to first make really fun steering models for the watercraft, then as fun and varied tracks as possible in an arcady way. Then the water is such a fun element that makes each race different, and we wanted to explore many different types of waves.

Moving on to Snow Moto Racing Freedom it is a far different title since racing on snow isn't quite as crazy as in the water with waves everywhere. I'm also not accustomed to much to seeing Snowmobile racing as a genre, how has this title been received in general and was I just not aware of a huge snowmobile fanbase?

ML: Haha, well snowmobiling is huge! In the north of Sweden where we live, as well as in northern U.S. and Canada, there’s one snowmobile for every second car registered. In the north, many families have 3-4 snowmobiles. Snowmobile racing has a huge following in the X Games TV-series and we have some World Champions here in Sweden as well. In the south, it’s exotic to play in the snow.

There has been million-selling snowmobile games on consoles earlier, but no new one in about eigth years. All of these factors makes it a gaming niche which suits us perfectly.

There are moments on some of the tracks in Sprint League that, with their very open nature, remind me of playing Motocross Madness back in the day, where you can make some crazy choices on how to get from Point A to Point B. How much effort went into designing these environments you're racing in to encourage experimentation and make viable paths for people who want to take a chance and not take the expected route?

ML: We have deliberately created some exciting points in the landscape to discover, while trying to be true to an ordinary snowy mountain landscape. It’s up to the player to discover their own favourite spots for tricks.

Having seen some of the other developers either struggle to get online implemented at all or who've had to patch the game once or twice post-launch to work out the kinks are you setting your sights on both games launching with online play working? With the wave mechanics in Utopia did that pose any special challenges as well to get it working well, even when the waves are big and choppy? 

ML: Online is always a huge challenge. We already have fantastic technical programmers with 20 years of experience in our team, so the challenge this time will be the social aspects of creating a community around our games. So that you can eSport in them. Or just have a lot of fun with friends.

In Aqua we synchronize all big waves to be the same online as well as in time trial., while the interactive waves are spread through dynamics and physics depending on the players. Skill and persistance always pays off, and there are infinite ways to improve your racing.

You've had a pretty long relationship with Nintendo it seems, having released games for them before. What are your thoughts on now developing for the Switch? Is the ease of development a big improvement over what you've had to do before and overall would you say you've seen any change in Nintendo's approach with the Switch compared to what you've dealt with before?

ML: Yes, I would highly recommend other game developers to dive in with the Nintendo Switch, since it is Nintendo’s most powerfull device yet. Especially for competitive online and multiplayer games that can be enjoyed ”On the go”. Right now is the best time!

So, you've already got 2 extreme sports racing games coming to the Switch, is this the makings of a theme in your overall plan? Are you planning to attack some other racing events off the beaten path? Motocross since Excitebike 64 came out a long time ago? Any chance of Snowboarding since I know of no plans Nintendo has for a 1080 sequel? 

ML: That sounds like a great idea to add more winter games, actually. There is also a part of our franchise series called ”Dirt Moto Racing” with ATV:s where we could perhaps add Dirt Bikes. How about the idea of Excitebike in 3D online with friends, building your own tracks together? First and third person 3D would be a totally different experience than a 2D view from the side. We’re all up for those kind of ideas in expanding our portfolio of games.

In both games there are provisions for performing stunts and in both cases doing them seems to contribute to your boost, encouraging you to go down a risk/reward path and hoping you come out a winner. Is this something you also plan to put in your other titles moving forward as well?

ML: Yes, absolutely! The fun factor will guides us to implement arcade style gadgets combined with simulation of water, snow, dirt, and far out ideas that calls out for new indie forces to implement. Just like Nintendo we are looking for new unique gaming experiences. Sometimes they are achieved by combining features in new surprising ways. We see a lot of potential expanding our existing games with new content as well, to create a world of Moto Racing that can go on forever.

I wanted to thank Matti for taking the time to answer my questions and give us some insights into these upcoming titles. Both are intended for release this year but currently do not have announced dates.