EA Sports revisits its roots with SSX reboot
Before he worked as a producer of video games for Electronic Arts, Steve Rechtschaffner made extreme-sports videos. In 1991, he was at Blackcomb working on Greg Stump’s World of Extremes TV series for Fox, and the production was short one episode. Necessity, it’s been said, is the mother of invention, and Rechtschaffner used the opportunity to evolve an idea that had been percolating for years.
In an interview with the Georgia Straight last April, Rechtschaffner explained he and Stump had met growing up while skiing the slopes in Vermont. “We used to play a game called rollerball where we’d try and run each other off the run into the woods,” he said on his mobile phone from Vancouver.
But that spring of 1991 there were a lot of snowboarders on Blackcomb, so he morphed rollerball into something he called boardercross. The boarders were not impressed, calling the idea “stupid” and “lame”.
“The very first time we ran six people down the course at the same time, I knew there was something there,” Rechtschaffner recalled. “They got to the bottom, they were all laughing, they were all high-fiving each other.”
Boardercross has evolved into snowboard cross, an Olympic sport. But Rechtschaffner said it was even more fun turning the competition into a video game. In 1994, he moved to Vancouver to work at EA Canada. The original SSX game was developed for the PlayStation 2 and released in the fall of 2000. “In the beginning, we were actually building it fairly realistic,” Rechtschaffner said. “It got to the point where we realized it would be more fun to take it over the top. The idea was how do we make it plausible but fantastic.”
The resulting game launched the EA Sports BIG brand of extreme, exaggerated sports games. The design paradigm, according to Rechtschaffner, imagined there were no limitations on the athletes or the budget of the events. “It was based on realistic physics,” he said, “but you’re racing through a city or you’re carrying over a 100-foot gap or you’re doing a triple flip.” At the time, nobody believed those tricks were possible.
When Rechtschaffner attended the snowboard events at Vancouver’s Winter Olympics, he was stunned. “I looked at all the lights and the size of the pipe and the tricks the guys were doing, and I went, ‘Holy crap, this is SSX.’ ”