Ubisoft did not announce many new games at E3 2016, but the one that garnered the most attention was certainly Steep. Springing from nowhere, the open world extreme sports title had an impressive reveal to round off Ubisoft's conference, showing off the massive world in which players can freely explore, race and hurtle into the sides of churches, quick switching between skiing, snowboarding, paragliding and even wingsuiting.
After spending a bit of time zipping around Steep's expansive open world, I sat down to chat with Igor Manceau, creative director on Steep, to see just why the team at Ubisoft Annecy decided to bring back the extreme winter sports genre, and dig a little deeper into the game's mechanics.
IBTimes UK: Why did you and the team decide to create an extreme winter sports title when there has been little action in the genre for a few years now?
Manceau: First of all, because we love the mountains. We live in the mountains and love it there. The second thing is that, within the studio, we got a chance to look at an early demo of the tech we had coming up at that point, and for the first time I got the impression of having huge vistas and the feeling of being in huge places, but being able to see the finer details around you, which gives you the chance to clearly spot opportunities far below you, when you are riding. The third element is that there is a huge trend of people sharing videos on YouTube of snowboarding, skiing, wingsuiting and paragliding, and we thought it was time to come back to that area and bring something fresh to the games industry.
Why have you added in paragliding and wingsuiting, which aren't typical winter sports?
We thought that to come back into the genre we have to bring something really fresh. So first off we came up with the open world, and all the exploration that comes with it. But the switching between ski, snowboard, parachute and wingsuit also adds something else on top of that open world. We needed to come with something bigger than ever to get a chance to come back properly.
How do you make sure that every area of the open world is fun to explore and ride? Surely mountains become very similar after a while?
We have spent a lot of time trying to make sure that the landscape is varied and interesting. If you take into account all the things in the world, you have steepness, then the type of rock, the density of the rock, the snowy aspects of the rock and then you add the trees and so on. You can get a great variety when you mix it all together, because it creates a really different type of experience if you just change one thing. So imagine a race, if it's in a dense pine forest you have no visibility, but if it's in a dead tree forest then you have got visibility. It's totally different, and you can get a huge amount of variety by just playing with things like that. In addition to that there will be man-made snow parks and all kinds of zones, so we can cover all aspects of the riding world.
Having an open world is all well and good, but if you don't have enough things to do people won't stick around. How are you making sure that there will be enough variety in the events to stop this happening?
Starting off you have got different types of races. We can have just a small race in a forest, that is getting as fast as possible to the end and surviving the trees. We can also have one on top of the Mont Blanc, one starting point and one ending point, and the question is how fast can you go down. Here you have to ask what is the best path to find and then it becomes more of a tactical approach, and then you have to execute your line. So that would be a totally different experience to the first one I mentioned. Then you have got checkpoint races, where we force you to path through tricky zones.
With freestyle you have got pretty much every kind of freestyle combination you can imagine, from snowparks, to natural big jumps and big air, and slopes, so freestyle is covered. We also have free ride competitions. Free ride is a kind of contest where we actually assess the player on multiple elements, such as tricks and speed but also navigation, so that gives you the ability to benefit from the terrain, style, and risk.
There is another element that I would like to speak about. They aren't specific events but we have quests. Quests are attached to drop zones, and drop zones are the entry points on the mountain that you discover by exploring. Some drop zones are attached to quests, which are small narrative moments where we explain the world, or we just give you missions specifically attached to an objective in the game. We haven't shown this yet but it adds a lot of depth to it.
Finally, what is your personal favourite part of the game?
My favourite thing to do in the game is actually paragliding onto the top of a mountain, then landing on a peak and switching back to my skis to discover a really extreme cliff face, and finally making my way down that face. I think that moment, when you get to explore and test your skill on the mountain across all of our gameplay options is really exciting and new.
Steep is set to be released this December on PS4, Xbox One and PC.