It’s been a little over a year and a half since we last checked in with creā-ture studios’ Marc-andré Houde discussing the upcoming skateboarding game, Project: Session, and since then a lot has happened. So we caught up with Houde to discuss the last year and a half, and what the future brings for the game.
For those of you following the project, you’ll already know a number of things. The studio has managed to secure part of the funding for the game, they’ve renamed the game from Project: Session to simply, Session, and they’ve been doing some motion capture for the game. However this has all happened within the last couple of months. So what exactly has been going on since we last spoke?
“A lot of things have happened actually in the past year,” Houde told us. “The last time we spoke we were still part time on the project and it was becoming difficult to find the right funding and all that stuff. So this was mostly the reason why we decided to tone down on the social media just to reduce the impact that people had. We had people asking about updates and stuff like that and we were unable to give any news about the project. But earlier this year we secured the first part of funding for the project so we’re finally hired a small team with a few freelancers and started to work full time on Session, so since then a lot of things are moving.
“We’ve now moved engine. Last time we spoke we were using Unity for the prototype and I think it did an okay job, but visually it was really hard to maintain the art direction I was targeting and the framerate. So we decided to move to Unreal Engine to help us achieve this.
“Because of this we had to restart the whole thing, for sure there was stuff we managed to recover from the transition of the game engine but yeah, a big chunk got lost and it’s kind of good thing. We’ve re-written the whole physics engine. We were unable to get anything displaying so my partner decided to redo the whole physic thing, and it’s really impressive. He decided to say “fuck off” to the physics of Unreal and started to code his own, so it’s pretty cool. It gives us exactly what we want and what we need,” Houde revealed.
“We’ve also went and mo cap as you probably saw so yeah many things have changed, it moves like crazy right now. I’m actually not sleeping that much.”
Over the past year and a half a lot has happened in the video gaming world, especially when it comes to skateboarding video games. Earlier this year True Skate launched a Kickstarter, which may have taken some of the wind out of the team’s sales. What’s more, there were several rumours that EA Games was working on another Skate title.
This of course put pressure on the team, but Houde looked at this competition as a good thing.
“Competition is good, it makes you like, wake up when you tend to work in cruise control mode, it’s always good to know that there’s someone somewhere who’s going to try to do something like you, so it keeps you alert and keeps you want to do even better and work harder, but Skate 4, I don’t know, we’re tackling the skateboarding game a different way than Skate was,” Houde said.
On the topic of the Skate series, many are looking at Session as a spiritual successor to EA’s franchise, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the team at creā-ture studios want their community to understand that these are big shoes to fill.
“People want everything, and we’re going to try to bring everything, but just one feature at a time.”
“The project is a really ambitious one, it’s always a bit scary when you do something like this because we’re trying to fill a void with really high expectations. People are hoping for a new Skate game but in reality what they kind of expect is Skate 4. And when I say that, I mean people are expecting we come up with the same bag of features that Skate 3 has which has a legacy of five years of development and iteration. So this is a really big challenge for us.
“The way we want to do it is that we’re going to put out the first version, it’s going to be quite lean but at least the mechanics and the experiences are going to be strong, and from there we’re going to do this community thing where people can vote on what they would like first and stuff like this so this is a strategy we’re trying to do in order to end up with the project that people want because if we were to do Skate 4 today, I think the team would probably collapse because it’s too big. People want everything, and we’re going to try to bring everything, but just one feature at a time.”
As for the game itself, Houde explained that they’re trying to make more of a skateboarding culture game as opposed to solely a skateboarding game. They want to capture how skaters interact, support each other, and share their experiences, lines, and tricks online all while channelling the vibe that various parts of the Skate series offered.
“I like to think that what we try to do with Session is more than a skateboarding game it’s more of a skateboarding culture game so we’re trying to bring every aspect of the sport and the lifestyle. It’s not only the tricks, but also the way that people share those tricks on the Internet, how they play with their friends, how they skate, and all these things, and I think we’re still like, de-rooting from how Skate 3 was kind of going. Skate 1 has a really authentic vibe of skateboarding culture, and the second one it felt more complete, the art direction was more defined, and Skate 3 was a sort of surprise, a lot more arcade-y than the first, except they added the Hardcore Mode. But to me, I felt like the Hardcore Mode was like they’d turned off some switches here and there and toned down the physics to have something more realistic, but I think it should have been more,” he explained.
“So this is pretty much what we’re trying to do with Session. We’re kind of branching around Skate 2 and try to do something more hardcore and simulation driven.”
As for the game itself, Houde shared some really interesting ideas as to how they’ll be handling the game world, introducing new spots and locations a bit at a time. At first the game may only contain a handful of unique spots, but as it grows, so will the city all of which will be based on feedback from the players as well as in-game stats as to what spots work, and what doesn’t.
“We really like the idea of creating this core city concept. Like, right now we’re working on a section of New York, and the way we’d like to bring it is kind of a different way. We’re giving a small portion of the city and, I would say every month, every two months, people will get an extension of that city. We’re not just shipping a map, we’re expanding it and we’ll tweak it with some features, with some mechanics we have, and other ways to see where people really like to skate in a map, where they don’t, what kind of tricks they’re doing. So with all these metrics it would help us kind of adjust the map and fix where it’s not fun, and repeat the same kind of recipe throughout the whole map.
“I always like to look at real life, like where you show up in a place and then there’s tons of construction sites, panels, and blockers, so it’s probably something we’re going to do in the game. Sometimes you’ll get an update and you’ll go to the end of the street and you’ll see construction panels and signs, just to say that we’re working on that section and to come back later and in the next update those signs might be out and you’ll have a new section or something like this.”
One of the biggest questions we had to ask Houde was what’s happening with the game in terms of crowdfunding the project? Last time we spoke the team had plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign however as fans will probably know by now that this never happened. On the reddit FAQ page, there it still talk of a campaign, so we decided to try and clear things up a little.
“Early Access makes sense and logical for us to go in that direction”
“Kickstarter is going to be a really good option for the people to tell us what they really want and this is how we see it. With the budget we have right now, we can do a first version, that’s for sure. But it’s not going to be a fully-fledged version with every feature we’d love to ship, so yeah we’re definitely considering Early Access or Kickstarter, because I think that it’s a game that would work really well with the concept of Early Access. It’s not like we’re going to spoil the story or anything that’s going to ruin the experience when the game is released, I think it’s a good concept to go there, gather information, share with the community, and update and fix stuff.
“Early Access makes sense and logical for us to go in that direction, but we don’t want to screw things because we also know a crappy Early Access product can kill the project, especially if the game is not fun. If it’s too buggy, to empty, or anything, we have to consider that there’s a portion of people that, even if they jump into Early Access experience, they’re expecting a close-to-finished product. So if we’re not coming up with something that kind of looks like this, it might go totally the opposite way and kill the project.”
“These are all avenues that we’re considering, I think with a Kickstarter, we don’t want to fund the whole thing, I think it’s more a way of just making a better version, or securing some key features that are still in danger right now with the budget we have. So Kickstarter would be a really good way for people to suggest ideas, it could become a stretch goal, and if we achieve this at least everyone would know that it would become a feature.”
“At the end, you’re going to have the game without the Kickstarter, that’s for sure, but it might not be what it could have been with the crowdfunding support. Right now we’re waiting to make sure that we can offer a demo. I don’t want to come up with a campaign just with video, I really want the people to give it a shot and feel the game, see its potential before pledging, I think it’s super important. We just want to make a really honest Kickstarter campaign, no bullshit, nothing.”
So is there going to be a Kickstarter campaign? We’re still unsure, Houde was obviously hesitant to say whether there would be or not, which is understandable given the criticism they’ve previously received around making and breaking plans.
On the topic of community, Session has an incredibly active one. All of the responses on Facebook and Instagram, as well as the various posts on Reddit can attest to that. However Houde has learned a lot about dealing with the community over the past year and a half, though it’s still pretty tough. One thing that Houde finds humbling, yet difficult to handle are fans willing to offer their services for free.
“[Working with the community] is difficult, I would probably say that this is the most difficult part of having a project out in the public this early. There’s a lot of ideas, a lot of really good ideas and sometimes there’s people sending us ideas, tons of emails, messages on Facebook. I’m trying to reply to them all but it’s really difficult, but I’m still trying. But there are some really cool guys out there they send us their demo; ‘hey, I’m doing 3D models I can do it for free and stuff like this, I can help out’, and we have been refusing all those offers, not because it’s not good, but because it’s not respectful.
“When people are offering their help for free, it’s not respectful to accept it easily like this, and take profit of that support, because no. I went to school, I learned 3D models, I worked hard to learn what I have today, and this knowledge is worth something, so when I’m working somewhere and people are like ‘you shouldn’t think about money, because you should do it for passion’, I think it’s not fair for the artist to always put this on passion and pay the cheap card. So that’s why I’m refusing. If I cannot give you money to help, I’d rather refuse because you should be paid to do that.
“So yeah, it’s difficult. You have to respect and gather all those ideas by sticking to the vision you have as a whole. Yeah, it’s our game, but we’re not only doing it for ourselves we’re doing it for the people who like skateboarding and like to play skateboarding games, so we have to consider all of those ideas.”
“Luckily so far people are pretty much in-line with the concept we have”
That being said, the community have been a rock for the development team as their support and ideas have been pretty much in-line with the game that they’re working to create.
“Luckily so far people are pretty much in-line with the concept we have. Sometimes we have some big debates about the scoring system, some people want it, others do not. I just think that there will be some sort of rewards system, they just won’t be points. People will have ways to tell the others the trick was cool, and this is how it’ll work. Like tapping your skateboard on the ground, this is really what we want to leverage, this method of sharing a scoring system. If you put a video on YouTube, your scoring system is the views, thumbs up, this is the reward you’ll get.”
Another huge thing that’s been taking place is of course the motion capture. Here, the development team met up with a local skater Julien Gagnon who, despite some slight hiccups, managed to provide some incredible motion capture work, something that the team are, even today, getting into the game.
“Motion capture went really well. We have a really cool skatepark and board shop here, it’s called The Spin. So we reached out to them because we were looking for a really skilled skater, and they introduced us to Julien Gagnon who I’d never heard of before, and it was a risk to get him on board. Funny story, we met the guy and turns out he was a hardcore gamer, played Skate 3 a lot, and he was telling me what he was doing in the game and I was impressed. He was really excited to be on board, so we plan to meet up at the skatepark for rehearsal and he had the perfect skateboarder attitude we were looking for.
“We had this appointment at 10am on the Saturday morning, and we get there, 10:30, 11:00, and Julien isn’t there, we’re like ‘what the fuck?’. His phone is shut down, no where to reach him and we’re pissed and surprised at the same time. He looked so excited, we were unsure what was wrong. Turns out he’d gone to this bar in Montreal which has a mini-ramp in it and got totally wasted and woke up somewhere, but he was still keen to do this. During rehearsals he was totally hungover and he showed up at the skatepark and started doing some crazy tricks like a 360 flip feeble and stuff like this, and he was smelling like booze like crazy, it was insane.
“[During mo-cap] The kid was super skilled, super consistent. And we have this kind of good old ‘fuck all’ thing in the game, we’re not official, we’re not super professional, it’s a skate game it should feel like this. So we had this guy, we went to one of the biggest facilities in Quebec for Mo Cap, super hi-tech, we’ve done some 3D prototyping, and then we did a full-week of motion capture, and this guy was insane. He was there with this flat bar and we asked him whether he could every variation of a Smith grind or Crooked grind, and he just did it, back to back, no bailing, nothing. I think he landed, like 2000 tricks in two days. It was insane.”
Right now it’s fantastic to see that the team are moving forward with the game and are showing real progress. Aside from motion capture, the developer is currently holding some private play tests where a handful of players can get some time with a small portion of the game to not only give their thoughts, but also see how the game plays and whether things need improving. Though as any developer can probably agree to, Houde is suffering with the term “you’re your own worst critic.”
“We’re really stressed right now, we’re doing a lot. I don’t really sleep that much, I’m doing a lot of extra hours to make sure that everything is all right. My partner is always telling me to chill out, reminding me that it’s just a play test, we’re not giving them a demo or the final game, there are bugs, it’s to be expected, but I’m always wanting to fix this, or change that, it’s always like a big struggle for me whenever we show off this game.
“There’s a list of stuff I feel I need to warn people, this is not the game, this is not working, and this is probably the reason why we’re not showing that much… it’s my fault.”
Now the game is nearing some level of completion, at least in the demo sense of the word, we wanted to discuss how much progress the team had made on two pretty big aspects, especially when it comes to skateboarding games: working with brands and what sort of soundtrack we can expect for the game. Houde told us that while they want to work with brands, getting the game at a level where they can really show off what they have is priority one.
“Lots of people were offering their music for free, but I think it’s not fair to take their music for free”
“[Bringing brands on board] is a lot of work, especially for brands. We haven’t met a lot of brands yet, but my expectation is that we need to get a very close-to-final product to start making deals with brand because they’re not game developers, they’re not used to stuff like this so, asking people who are not in the gaming industry or not used to stuff like this and ask them to to ‘imagine’ how it’ll look, is kind of difficult. So you really need to come up with something that’s nearly finished and looks really good, because you don’t have much time. I’m sure it’s going to go well, but we just want to wait until we have something really solid to show them, to show them how their brand is going to look in the game, how it’ll appear, what options we want to bring to promote their brand.
“As for music, there’s a lot of ideas out there, I think since Session is kind of an independent project, and a passion project as well, I think it would be a shame not to support independent music. A couple of months ago we were working on a form where people can submit their song, and from there we’d have a deal with them, we want to do things right, like how I was saying with the 3D models, we want to do the same thing. Lots of people were offering their music for free, but I think it’s not fair to take their music for free, so we want to make sure to do it properly,” Houde explained.
“Ultimately we’d like to have this hybrid of independent music as well as some much bigger tracks and artists that we like, as wide as we like. I’m a big fan of reggae music and hip-hop, and I was playing in a punk bank when I was young so I listen to a wide range of music so I would really like to have this wide range of styles in the game as well.”
Finally, we touched on one of the biggest questions: When can we expect to see this game become a reality, when can we get it in our hands?
“[When the game will launch is] a tricky question, I don’t know if I would answer. I would like to but I would also like to keep a reserve on this. In the past, we’ve pulled the date, we had a lot of exchange with the community and found out that what we’re bringing was not enough, so that’s kind of the reason that the release date exploded, because again it was not supposed to be open world at the beginning it was supposed to be just a few spots here and there, where players would play on those spots and updates would add more. So the whole concept did a big 180.
“Two things I really hate about the game’s industry right now is this fake crunch thing, where people are doing crazy hours, this is something I would like to avoid, just for sanity-wise, and another thing is just to throw dates in the air and keep pushing and pushing and pushing again.
“We started playtests this week, we’re going to do even more, and we’ll probably open the playtest public, so we’re starting to have something good, we’re also starting to look at our calendar to do some kind of trade shows and events and start showing Session. So we definitely want to come up with an answer to the release date question sometime this year, I would say that we’re in a good way to have people giving it a shot, or at least a portion, and we definitely want to show some gameplay and that the game is working, at least by the end of this year, for sure. But the more it goes, the more it tends to be like, a n “early 2018” release date. Nothing official, but we’re at least going to have something playable. It’s super vague, I know.
“We’re definitely going to show some gameplay within the coming months, and we’re trying to hit the release, I would say it’s safer to say next year. I know it’s annoying and kinda cheesy, but we want to have something really solid, and we’d rather wait. We just want to make sure the game feels good.”