Steep was born as a labor of love by a team that wanted to give you the feeling that you’re in the Alps flying down a mountain in a wingsuit.
Ubisoft’s Annecy studio is in the French Alps, and the team has been biding its time, waiting to build the mountains around them in the most realistic way possible in a video game. Then the team got its hands on the Ghost Recon: Wildlands game engine, and it built the mountains behind its extreme winter sports video game, Steep.
I tried out the game at a preview event at GoPro’s headquarters in San Mateo, Calif., and I loved how it captured the feeling of speeding down the mountain on skis, snowboards, parachutes, and wingsuits. Afterward, I interviewed Arnaud Ragot, the game director for Steep. We talked about reproducing places like Mont Blanc and making the game more exciting and scarier than real-life winter sports.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview. The game debuts on December 2 on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The early beta access takes place November 10 to 14, and the open beta will be November 18 to 21.
GamesBeat: It’s an interesting experience. How did you start thinking about this?
Arnaud Ragot: We’re at Ubisoft Annecy, so we’re up in the French Alps. It’s part of our life — skiing, snowboarding, mountain sports. It was just about waiting for a good opportunity to create Steep. At some point we had the technology and the team together. We saw a new trend around action sports, so decided to jump in.
GamesBeat: What sort of technology were you waiting for?
Ragot: We’re using the Ghost Recon Wildlands engine. It helps as far as capturing the details of the terrain. We wanted to make mountains that feel like the Alps, so you feel like you’re in that particular place.
GamesBeat: It feels like you almost mapped it out with a drone. It’s just like the real world.
Ragot: We did a lot of investigation to understand things like the geological layers. We wanted to make sure it feels like the Alps. It’s not an exact re-creation, though, because we also wanted to make sure it was a fun place to play.
GamesBeat: Every single place you go, it seems like there’s a line to slide down.
Ragot: We’re using a new procedural generation technology. We make sure the big shapes of the terrain, like Mont Blanc, feel like we want them to, and then we define rules to generate the mountain procedurally.
GamesBeat: How do you then create the fun part of it, the game, once the terrain is there?
Ragot: What’s fun for us is we’re inspired by what we see outside. We’re roaming around the mountain and someone says, “Oh, you see this line? That would be a great challenge.” Creating the content is inspired by those places, trying to find the perfect challenge on every face of the mountains.
GamesBeat: Are there any aspects of the experience up in the mountains that you deliberately left out?
Ragot: We wanted to keep players focused on the sport. Flying up in a helicopter or something like that could definitely be part of the fantasy, but it’s not that much fun. We let players go wherever they want easily from a drop zone using any of the sports. That’s what we wanted to focus on.
GamesBeat: Are some of the paths available to do any of the four sports? Are certain ones geared toward, say, a snowboarder?
Ragot: When it comes to challenges, they’re designed for specific sports. But the free-roaming lets you go wherever you want using any of the sports, and you can even change sports on the fly. You can start by doing a wingsuit line, then land and switch to skis and keep on going.
GamesBeat: When you earn points, do you unlock anything as a result of that progress?
Ragot: Completing activities, getting medals, or even progressing on the leaderboard will give you experience points. Those points increase your reputation, which is how the progression system works. As you increase your reputation you get access to new and different content.
GamesBeat: You’ve got sharing enabled in the game. What do you expect people to share?
Ragot: It depends on what you personally want to create. You might make videos of your best crashes. Or it could be very skilled performances, or maybe you just saw a really amazing place you want to share with your friends. But you can share basically anything you want.
GamesBeat: You did the deal with GoPro to integrate that feature into the game. What was that like?
Ragot: What was really important for us — when we started creating Steep, a big inspiration was all these super-cool videos people share online with their GoPro cameras. We wanted to offer players the same opportunity to do that in the game. When we were working with GoPro, we wanted to get the details right – how it sounds, how it looks – but also the spirit around that community, the different things people do with it. We wanted to speak directly to that GoPro generation.
GamesBeat: You also consulted a lot of professional athletes. What have they contributed?
Ragot: That’s been a really cool part of the production. We’re all skiers and snowboarders ourselves, so we know a lot about those sports, but at some point we reach a limit as far as knowledge and experience. Talking with the athletes, working with them — they bring their experience to the game. They help us nail the fine details that make a difference. For instance, they helped us understand that the trick rotation speed on the snowboard wasn’t working. We were able to tweak that and make it much better.
Also, of course, we’ve never practiced with wingsuits ourselves, so working with wingsuiters helped us understand how it feels and sounds and looks. That was important to capturing that experience.
GamesBeat: Do they really try to fly as close to the ground as possible?
Ragot: Some of them, yeah! It’s like what you see. People have captured all kinds of things on video and we want to make sure players can do all that in the game. We’ve made some changes, of course, like when you crash into a gate….
GamesBeat: I suppose you had to put a disclaimer on all this.
Ragot: Oh, yeah, we have a disclaimer at the beginning. Don’t try any of this at home.
GamesBeat: As far as how much you want to direct the players, did you consider having any kind of narrative?
Ragot: No, the freedom to do what you want when you want is key for us. We don’t want players to get lost in the game, certainly, which is why we have activities with a predefined starting position. But then it’s up to you to decide what you want to do. You can focus on a specific sport or explore the world with free roaming. It’s up to you to decide. There’s no central path to it.
GamesBeat: How many different runs or lines are there?
Ragot: We have hundreds of challenges, so that alone adds up to many hours of activities. Since we’re using the same tools to generate a challenge as we to do generate a ride, we can take that trail from a ride and turn it into a challenge. We’ve been playing the game a lot during production, obviously, and when we achieve some feat that’s particularly cool, we can turn that into a challenge. That’s why we’ve had the opportunity to create so many challenges in the game.
GamesBeat: Do you know how many hours people could play?
Ragot: Not yet, but it will definitely take a long time to play through all the content we’ve created. From there it’s still all about creativity and freedom. You can’t really put a number of hours on that.
GamesBeat: Since this was inspired so closely by a real place, do you have any integration with real-world events?
Ragot: After the game releases, we want to build a community and entertain them. Synchronizing with live events are definitely something we’d like to do, doing something to share with the community. We see a lot of opportunities out there to explore.
GamesBeat: What are some of the most memorable run videos you’ve already seen?
Ragot: We haven’t seen that many yet, but we’re excited for Early Access and the open beta coming this month. Now we get to really see what players can do with the game. I’m curious to see what they come up with.