How was Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam originally conceived, and why is it targeted specifically for Nintendo's systems?
Activision did research about what kinds of things people would want to see in a Tony Hawk game and racing received a very strong response. The Wii just seemed like the perfect console for a racing game like this. Specifically because of the Wii remote. People seem to instinctually tilt and “steer" the controller when they play racing games and we thought it would be great to use the motion-sensor capabilities of the Wii remote in that fashion.
Did you research downhill snowboarding games like SSX and 1080 while planning THDJ? How is skating downhill different from skiing or snowboarding downhill, in terms of gameplay?
Oh yeah, we researched them. A lot. We played pretty much every racing game we could, especially those that focused on downhill runs and trick systems. To me, skating downhill feels a lot faster than snowboarding/skiing, which have more of a gliding, floaty feel to them while THDJ has…whatever the opposite of a gliding and floaty feel is. That said, you can still get some major air in THDJ, it just feels different. I have a hard time explaining it without actually having you play the game. And besides that, THDJ focuses a lot more on combat, destruction, grinding and trick lines than any snowboarding/skiing game generally would, partially because it doesn’t take place on a snowboarding/skiing course and partially because we’re just really into combat, destruction, grinding and trick lines.
Are there as many story elements as in the Underground and American Wasteland games?
Our game is pretty much all about racing. There aren’t goals the way they are in THUG and THAW. The closest thing we have are special events where you need to do things like knock over a certain amount of pedestrians on your way down or catch a certain amount of hang time during a race in order to advance, but you’re not skating around and meeting people who give you goals. We do try to give the players a little bit of insight into our skaters through a series of in-game, picture-in-picture interview clips. This is usually to convey some of the rivalries between characters or provide backstory as to why they became downhill skaters. There are about 90 of these clips throughout the game.
How many levels are there? Are there multiple routes per level?
We have 8 different environments that are very large and we’ve broken them up into at least 96 separate events. Each event has a main route but there are plenty of shortcuts players can find.
What is the average length of a race, and how long is the longest race?
Because of the diversity of events, this really can vary. If someone skates very fast, takes every shortcut, doesn’t bail, etc., the shortest race we have takes about 50 seconds while the longest can take 4 minutes.
To what extent can you knock around other racers? Do your tricks affect other racers at all?
You can punch and kick pedestrians walking around, as well as other skaters to knock them off their boards. Doing this is a big part of gameplay. Besides being fun and generally advantageous in a race, knocking people over and breaking things give you speed boosts. As far as tricks go, they don’t affect the other racers directly but tricking also gives you speed boosts, which can often be essential to winning the race.
Are you including the original Downhill Jam level from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series?
You know, we really want to and we’ve been talking about it since the beginning yet so far, it’s not in there. But you never know.
What multiplayer modes will be in THDJ? WiFi online play? Will THDJ be utilizing the online capabilities of the Wii system?
Offline, people can play 2 and 4-player modes, competing in every kind of event we have for the single player. We’re not planning any WiFi or online modes at this time.
Will THDJ use the Wii remote's speaker functionality, and if so, how? Is it very limited by the amount of audio data you can upload to the remote for the speaker?
We would like to but we aren’t sure exactly what sounds we’d want to run through that speaker.
What do the programmers think of the Wii's graphic hardware? Is it as easy to program for as Nintendo claims?
It’s definitely been very easy for us to work with so far. We got everything up and running fast, within a couple of days of getting dev kits. And we haven’t hit any major technical snags either. As far as graphic hardware, we think it’s definitely suitable for the game we’re making. The ability to use bump maps to textures and anti-aliasing effects has made a big difference and the extra memory has allowed us to add more things to the screen - pedestrians, animations, destructibles, etc. – all the stuff that makes the game feel more alive.
Have there been any surprises, in terms of developing for Wii, that the team has come across while working on THDJ?
Not really. We’ve never worked on a launch title before so that has been an interesting and different experience but nothing I would say is super surprising.
Are you worried that players will become fatigued from holding the controller away from their bodies and moving it so much? What about the accessibility of the face buttons when holding the remote horizontally? Have these issues influenced the game's design?
I worried about this when I first heard about the Wii but ever since we received our dev kits, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. Fatigue hasn’t been an issue for anyone on the team. The face buttons are very easy to get to when holding the Wii remote horizontally. It’s very similar to the old-school Nintendo controller. You’ve got your two buttons on the right and both can be comfortably pressed by the right thumb. Then on your left, there’s a D-Pad and another large button, which are both within reach of the left thumb. Early on, we experimented with a ton of different controller configurations and this one just worked the best.
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