Ahead of Session: Skate Sim’s full-release on PlayStation 5, we spoke with creā-ture Studios game producer Jeffrey Spicer about bringing players an authentic experience for newcomers and hardcore skating fans alike.
Session: Skate Sim has had a long road to its full 1.0 release this week on September 22, 2022. Beginning life as a Kickstarter project, Session has evolved considerably since its 2015 beginnings.
With genre figureheads such as EA’s skate. and Activision’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater series mostly missing for years, avid skating fans have been crying out for a worthy successor to lead the genre back to its former glory.
Montreal based creā-ture Studios are up to the task, with a team of only nine developers making it possible. Game producer Jeffrey Spicer spoke with Dexerto to give us an insight into Session’s origins, its passionate community and how the game is breathing new life back into the genre.
The game has spent considerable time in early access, but for Spicer, nailing Session’s original primary goal was key: “The idea of Session came from an ex member of our studio, one of the founders. Marc-Andre’s essentially had the idea to take what had been introduced to change the dynamic of skate games and say ‘hey, we have two feet, we have two sticks’.
Let the left be the left and the right be the right. It kind of took that change in gameplay to the next level and really allowed you to really open up the complexity of skateboarding.”
Initial comparisons to the game may illicit something reminiscent of EA’s skate., though Session is very much a “sim” rather than a “game” according to Spicer.
It’s this focus that has enabled the game to succeed in the realms of realism: “We are very much a simulator[…] We also wanted to take a step away from arcade games to really make something with a lot more longevity, something that would resonate more with a core skate fan base.”
Rather than use pre-determined animations, Session is completely physics based. Every rotation, pop and adjustment is down to the player. This does present a learning curve, which may seem daunting at first: “The ability or what we call player agency that we give the player, was something that was core to us, that we didn’t want to sacrifice.
We definitely do have a steep learning curve. The way we managed it was primarily to keep the core gameplay our focus, but understand how we could help the transition into it. It’s weird, you don’t want to introduce a player to a game that they’re not gonna play.”
The philosophy to aid players in their first steps uses “piecemeal” strategy, Spicer explained. Players can take Session at their own pace without any penalties for it, as “you can start the game and have access to anything and everything. We don’t gate everything. We just let you play and have fun.”
Managing the balance presents other challenges too, as Spicer said “we didn’t wanna sacrifice the essence of the complexity and the reality of skateboarding, just to ‘gamify’ it.”
Competitors like Skater XL have appeared on the scene over the years, with a similar premise. “It’s a catalyst. It’s something that shows that we are going in the right direction, as we knew we were. You know mimicry is the greatest form of flattery.
It’s one thing to be, you know, mimicked or copied. But it’s another to stay true to your vision and to see it out. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Any game needs a sturdy community beneath and Spicer recognizes the importance of keeping fans involved within Session’s journey. Since the game’s inception “one of the things that we did early days to make sure we retained that was, we worked with our community on Discord. Ever since the Kickstarter days, we’ve had an active core community that has been open and provided feedback for us.
We tweaked it to be the optimal skate experience and not ‘gamify’ it. To not over oversimplify it[…]it’s a very fine line. Using a community and also just our own experience with how difficult skating could be.”
This connection to community even drives the game’s customization options too. “Skating is about anyone and everyone, men, women, or if you don’t wanna be assigned a gender. Any color, any size, it doesn’t matter. That was something early days that we felt we needed to embrace and support.”
Mastering Session’s mechanics isn’t the only element that the studio needed to perfect either. Every skating gaming lives and dies on its locales, which Session has a bountiful amount of. While eagle-eyed skaters will recognize many of the game’s spots, this doesn’t take away from players who aren’t in the know. Each of them are full of unique opportunities to explore.
Spicer’s history in the sport alongside his dev team has been used to enhance the map: “One of the important parts that for us as skaters is learning, not learning is adapting. How you see the world. As opposed to just what it was meant to be and seeing it, how you could skate it.
We’re nine guys, total, and two of us don’t even make data. So those huge cities were made by a team of two or three artists. We tried to replicate the real-world locations while taking minor artistic liberties, in terms of navigation, so you aren’t skating for 10 minutes to get from spot to spot.”
To bring the game’s world to life, Spicer clarified that they “identified key locations, both either in skate history or in skate films that we wanted to recreate where players could then push the boundaries.”
“My favorite spot is the China banks map. It’s gonna be released on the 22nd. I start at the top of the hill, come down front tail out to fakey, switch, heel, flip a crack, and then, you know, front side, 180 over a bump to bar and it’s just it’s butter. I love it.”
Session’s visuals can’t survive without impeccable sound design, an element that has been expanded upon towards the game’s full release: “Sound design is a very complicated discipline[…] it’s something that we knew, especially for the skate element was critical. When I hear a pop or I hear the sound of someone rolling down the road, I know right away.
We have actually overhauled that and brought in a new sound designer with over 15 years experience. So it’s gonna improve even more from what you’re aware of.”
To accompany the game’s improved audio, players can also vibe to handpicked songs from labels such as Red Robin. Spicer explained that the team “went with some smaller, but perfectly aligned” artists to make Session’s “chill” vibes standout.
The game has been available on Xbox consoles and PC for some time, but September 22 is a huge day for Session players. Leaping onto the PlayStation 4 and 5 respectively, the dev team are already considering what the future holds for the game. “We definitely have post-launch plans that are actually already in production,” Spicer said on the game’s next steps.
“We’ll be sharing those after the launch. We really wanna, you know, hit the street hard with the day one plan[…] continue listening to the players and the feedback as we continue to add content and features.”
Though Spicer wouldn’t reveal whether any multiplayer plans are in the works, the ethos to getting content right is all in the name of upholding Session’s standards: “We don’t wanna just continue to provide content and not engage. Engagement in our community is critical to our success, not just in the quality of the game, but also much like in skating. When I saw Chris Hale do something, I was like, you can do that.”
However, changes to the game’s skating styles could be on the cards as feedback is taken onboard. “Street skating and vert skating are two disciplines of skating. The era that we are kind of an homage to, the nineties wasn’t necessarily big for vert skating. It was still, there was still some big skaters.
We had to decide early on, do we wanna focus and optimize his skating street skating? Or do we wanna try to stretch it and include more, but sacrifice the overall quality?”
Spicer is aware that players are keen to see other variations included, but it could be some time before it happens. “There is a fanbase that wants to see it […] It’s definitely in the reckoning for postlaunch, but we’ll wait and see what kind of world opportunities we could provide for it.”
Session: Skate Sim is available on PlayStation consoles on September 22, 2022.