Vans SK8: Pool Service brings a full 3D environment for gamers to perform a wealth of tricks inside while riding on their skateboard. The graphics are undoubtedly impressive, as can be seen in the official trailer. Now that the game has been released and gamers have had time to play through it, we talked with Fuel Games to shed some light on the development process and share the word on future updates.
No DPad: For those that have not played Vans Sk8: Pool Service, can you tell us a bit about what it features and what gamers can expect?
Fuel Games: Vans Sk8: Pool Service, in its purest form, is a realistic pool skateboarding arcade game. Players can choose from two of Vans’ premier sponsored riders, Bucky Lasek and Omar Hassan. Choose a board and a set of wheels from a variety of styles, then hit the pool and compete in a wide range of Events. New events are unlocked as you complete various achievements in the game ranging from very simple, like landing a 360, to very challenging such as nailing every trick in a single 90 second run.
ND: What differentiates it from other skateboarding games?
FG: We think the biggest differentiator is that this is one of the first true action-sports/trick based skateboarding games available for the iPhone. It was built from the ground up to work with the design, features and limitations of the iPhone. This isn’t an existing title that was ported over to the platform, it’s truly native for the device, and we’ve spent a lot of time making sure that we’re taking full advantage of the hardware.
When Vans came on board and added their culture to the game, we knew we were delivering an authentic experience for skate and gaming fans alike.
ND: You have developed a skating game for a platform without any physical buttons. What kind of challenges did the control scheme pose? Were there any other schemes you had considered before choosing the final one?
FG: We probably spent more time working with and tweaking the controls than anything else during development. From the start we knew that we didn’t want to put in “fake” buttons on the screen, we wanted to make this game work fluidly without needing to use that. In fact one of the reasons we’re so excited about the iPhone is that it gives us these types of opportunities to create wholly new ways to interact with games. Nobody’s done this before so we get to experiment and find new things that work. The big challenge here is providing a lot of nuanced controls to perform different tricks, but doing it in a way that feels natural to the player. In the end, the swipe system works pretty well but we tried a lot of things to get there.
The two main focuses for controls were navigation – essentially how you move around the pool, and tricks – what you do to pull off tricks. For navigation, some of our earliest prototypes had more of a steering mechanic, where you tilt left to turn left based on where the skater is going, along with various manner of camera follow systems. We found this worked well for experienced gamers, but novice users got very confused very fast, so we moved to the current fixed camera and made the tilt controls “global” in that tilting up or left always moves you in that direction regardless of how the skater is facing.
For tricks, a swipe mechanic was something we thought of very early, but we had played around with tapping (which works great, but leaves very little room for variation) and spent a lot of time on the timing of swipes. For a couple weeks we had it so that swipes were done while you were still in the pool and tricks were combos, so you had to do up, up, left to do a trick, and that trick would trigger once you got into the air. The combo swipes were good, but you felt like you lost a bit of control and basically had to watch the game play itself when you got into the air.
ND: The game runs smoothly in 3D on a limited mobile device. What part of the game was the hardest to get running at a consistent framerate? Were there sacrifices on features you had to make in order for the game to run well?
FG: Optimizing the 3D world, characters and animations was the biggest thing we had to do. The iPhone is really powerful for a mobile phone but it’s nowhere near the quality of your PC so we had to be very careful in our geometry optimization. We’re really happy with how the environment came out and think it looks great. The characters are also great, but we’d love to put even more detail into those guys so you could really see how great Bucky and Omar can look.
Overall I wouldn’t say we had to make many sacrifices, though every platform has design limitations and our job is to find the best way to present the game while working within those limitations.
ND: Pool Service adds replayability to the single track by having quite a few different challenges to be unlocked. Were there any events outside of the included ten that did not make the cut?
FG: I think we started with 15-20 high-level event ideas and narrowed it down to the 10 that you see now. Some of those sounded good on paper and just weren’t very much fun to play, and others just needed more time and polish to make it in. Who knows, maybe some of them will get added in a future update!
ND: Looking forwards, can fans expect any updates? Any thoughts on expansions, or new areas?
FG: Absolutely. We’re currently working on a bug-fix update that will resolve a few things that slipped through, and will tweak the way some of the controls get calibrated. A few people have had troubles with that, so this build should fix things up for them. Beyond that, we’re actively talking internally and with Vans to figure out the best things to focus on for future updates. Obviously high on everyone’s list is adding new environments to skate in and that’s something we’d love to do, but aren’t quite ready to talk about yet
We have a copy of Vans SK8: Pool Service to give away to a lucky reader! Check out our twitter feed at http://twitter.com/nodpad and retweet our contest post to have a chance to win! The winner will be chosen from participants at random.