Welcome back to our next feature for the CRYENGINE Indie Dev Fund! Today we're featuring a project many of you may be familiar with, SNOW, the product of seven-man team Poppermost Productions. This thrilling snowsports simulator will have you feeling the wind in your face as you tear down fantastically rendered mountainsides and visit real-life locations, all brought to life with the power of CRYENGINE. Increase your skill, learn new moves, upgrade your gear, and even create your own levels!
Welcome back to our next feature for the CRYENGINE Indie Dev Fund! To find out more about SNOW, we sat down with Alexander Bergendahl to get more insight into what makes SNOW such a compelling game.
Could you give me an eagle-eyed view of SNOW? What are some of the elements you believe make it so popular?
SNOW is the first free-to-play, open world, winter sports game. We give players a massive, hand crafted (not procedurally generated!) world to explore on skis, snowboard or snowmobile. In SNOW we give you the tools you need to enjoy the game however you want. If you’re competitive you can spend your time trying to earn gold medal in Events or complete the dozens of Challenges across the mountains and levels. Or, if you’re looking for something peaceful to relax with at the end of the day you can simply ride around the mountain alone or online with friends and strangers and find new areas of the mountain. Finally, if you’re creative you can use our Replay Manager to film your line, tricks or the beautiful landscapes and create amazing edits, like this!
Finally, SNOW boasts a huge number of partnerships with some of the biggest athletes, brands, events and trendsetters in the sports, which we believe sets us apart from our competition. We have a catalogue of nearly 1,000 items from the biggest brands in the world, specific levels designed around some of the biggest events in the world, and the support of brands like Red Bull to further prove that the entire winter sports world is behind SNOW.
It's safe to say there's never been a winter sports game quite like SNOW. Can you tell us a little about some of the unique challenges you faced in development, and how you overcame them?
Totally – we designed SNOW because there has never been a game like it before. I loved winter sports games growing up, but every time a new one was released I would eventually be let down by it. Most of them lacked the authenticity and real passion behind the sports. They also didn’t appreciate the mountain fully and take advantage of all the natural beauty and man-made features found across real mountain ranges. After playing EA’s Skate I saw what was possible and knew that we could do something similar for the winter sports world.
Unfortunately, making the game as three, or even seven as we are now, has not been easy. Building an authentic sports game with next-gen graphics sets the bar extremely high, and we have to live up to those expectations. This has meant that some features have had to be put on hold until we can return to them in the future when we have more time and resources. For example, we would love to simulate powder better by sinking you into the terrain and creating the sense of snow depth. Very early on in development we made the decision that this would have to wait as we needed to focus on actual gameplay features. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to return to it in the future and find a solution.
What inspired you to pursue SNOW as a project?
It’s simple – we love sports! The environments, athleticism, creativity, and style are all amazing and have gone completely ignored in games these days. As the business-end of the company I saw this as an opportunity to redefine the genre and create a new and lasting brand.
"I saw this as an opportunity to redefine the genre and create a new and lasting brand"
Can you tell us about any future plans you have for SNOW as far as features are concerned? Anything players can look forward to in the new update?
One of the features we’re most looking forward to releasing in our next big update (0.9.0) is the Level Editor. This feature will open up the mountain even more and let players express themselves in completely new ways. The Level Editor will allow players to purchase props (jumps, rails, etc.) and place them wherever they want on the mountain. We’re really excited to see how our community uses this new feature to change the mountain and the environments we have created for them.
We’ve also added two entirely new areas to Sialia, our open world mountain. The first area is called Northpaw Glacier. The glacier is long and narrow with massive ice formations sticking out of the snow that create a winding route down the mountain. You’ll have plenty to explore between the caves, crevasses and some fun secrets! The second new area is an industrial area that features some slightly more urban elements, like stair sets, drops, and step-ups. Finally, we have a brand new level that we haven’t told anyone about, coming out at the same time as the PlayStation 4 launch. We’ve been working on this level all year with one of our new partners and can’t wait to announce it soon!
The use of real-world companies and their gear is a fantastic element you've incorporated into SNOW. Can you tell us a little about the process you underwent to license these products? Any tips for aspiring game devs who might do the same?
Having the support of the biggest brands, athletes, events and trend setters in the sports means a huge amount to us and pushes SNOW to a new level in terms of authenticity. These partnerships give us legitimacy, authenticity and increase our reach to the entire winter sports community. Before we partnered with any brands I actually went to the athletes first. I was lucky enough to get an introduction to a manager of a few pro skiers and struck a partnership with them. This made going after the brands a lot easier as some of their athletes had already partnered with us. Once we got the first few brands and started having something to show for it the rest came a lot easier. We now have over two dozen partnerships, which is totally crazy and awesome!
My best advice to anyone trying to do something similar would be to ask your local network for any introductions or “ins” that you might have. Getting an introduction is a thousand times better than cold calling, though sometimes those have to be made as well. Make sure you have a solid sales pitch and good looking documentation that shows off your work professionally.
"Make sure you have a solid sales pitch and good looking documentation that shows off your work professionally"
Also on the subject of real-world products, are the differences purely cosmetic or do they afford real benefits as far as speed, maneuverability, etc? If so, how did you determine these stats?
All of our clothing and equipment are purely cosmetic. We have discussed giving skis different turning and friction values so they handle differently on different types of snow, but worry about how that will affect gameplay and balance. It is vital to us that we stay far away from anything that could be seen as a “pay to win” mechanic.
"It is vital to us [to] stay far away from anything seen as a pay-to-win mechanic"
Can you tell us a little about the level design process for SNOW? Did you model any of the levels after real-world locations?
Sialia is totally fictional, but made up of natural and man-made features you could find on real mountains. We decided early on that we would build a fictional mountain so that we could ensure gameplay was the main focus of the level design. Every cliff, slope and obstacle has been placed with a purpose. Each of Sialia’s dozen areas have a different landmark or key feature that we’ve centered the gameplay environment around. The process that we developed for building Sialia is purely iterative. Our level designer will block out a new area using the CRYENGINE Designer Tools, and then our artists will use that as reference to create assets. The artists then take turns dressing the scene. When they dress the scene they often change the gameplay a bit, which we actually think inspires the level designer with new ideas. This process continues until the area is fully dressed and the gameplay is solid. We then do one last polish pass with lots of small details to make sure the area feels authentic. After we release a new area we often go back and update some of the gameplay features that we feel could be improved based on community feedback.
When we build branded levels with our partners, our goal is to recreate a portion of the mountain as accurately as possible. This means we’re using Google Maps and lots of photo references to figure out the angle of the terrain and the surrounding environment. Meanwhile our artists are rebuilding the courses that we’re sent from the event designers. It’s a lot of fun to see how close we can get the level to the real thing and we constantly challenge ourselves to find even the smallest of details to bring into the game.
What are some of your short and long-term goals for SNOW?
The thing we’re most excited about right now is the upcoming launch on PlayStation 4! We’ve been working all summer preparing the game for a PS4 release, and we’re extremely close now. We can’t wait to announce a launch date and start generating some buzz. This will be the first winter sports game to release on this generation of consoles, making it even more special for us. We have already been working on our next update that we will release some time after the PlayStation 4 launch. 0.9.0 will be a huge update and will include some great features like the aforementioned Level Editor, lots of animation improvements and polish, new mountain areas and events, new levels and some new features and tweaks to our Replay Manager.
From there we plan to work towards a full 1.0 launch this winter. In addition to a whole bunch of polish, we plan to spend a lot of time on making multiplayer a more compelling area of the game to spend time in. We want to make it more reliable, functional and add some more competitive elements to it to give players a reason to spend more time on the mountain together. One day we would like to take everything we’ve learned from building an open world winter sports game and apply it to urban sports, like skateboarding and BMX. There’s a lot of people asking for a Skate 4, and we think we have what it takes to make it!
Can you tell us a little about your development team?
The team at Poppermost consists of two programmers, four artists, and me! We’re a young team with an average age of 27, so we have a lot of fun together working on SNOW. We all have different backgrounds, so we each bring something new to the table. Though we are able to focus and work hard, there’s also lots of laughter at the office! We’ve recently been having fun playing the Battlefield 1 Beta together during our lunch break.
If selected for the CRYENGINE Indie Dev Fund, how will you apply the grant to development of SNOW?
SNOW is an extremely ambitious game for a team of only seven. The size of our team doesn’t impact what we’re able to do, but more importantly how soon and quickly we can do it. If we were fortunate enough to win the Indie Dev Fund grant we would look to hire another programmer so that we could develop several features at once. Between improving old features, developing new features, and bringing SNOW to new platforms we definitely have our hands full. Having another programmer would make all of this a lot easier. We would also like to investigate SNOW as a VR game as well as launch SNOW on Xbox One. Having another programmer would allow us to do this while also maintaining and improving the game with new features and content.
"We would also like to investigate SNOW as a VR game as well as launch on Xbox One"
What motivated you to use CRYENGINE for SNOW? In your opinion, are there any unique features or tools that set it apart from the competition?
When we started working on SNOW in 2012 we knew we needed an engine that could handle the largest levels and give us the most features out of the box to support a game like ours. CRYENGINE was a perfect fit, and thanks to its amazing terrain tools and editor we were able to make a lot of progress fast. These tools are still some of CRYENGINE’s strongest features, and definitely the reason why it’s one of the top engines today.
Any parting thoughts for the CRYENGINE Community?
The CRYENGINE community has always been major supporters of SNOW, which we are eternally grateful for. We’ve been able to get this far thanks to people believing in us, spreading our news amongst their networks and or course, playing the game. Thank you!
That's all for today's feature CryEngineers! Make sure to show your support by checking out the SNOW Indie Dev Fund Page and show your support! Stay tuned for another exciting feature!
-Tracer & Nic