HOW PUMP IS DIFFERENT
Pump in a surfing game matters because it creates a reason to score based upon a real world premise. And a reason to score for the player, who hopefully then feels compelled enough to win, is reason enough for a game to exist. Whether that scoring mechanism is ‘good’ or not is subjective, but, there you have it. The game most widely considered the best surfing game ever made to date, is Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer. Kelly Slater is a legend of our sport. At 45, he is still winning on the world tour and therefore he is a freak, a superman, and most fair-minded people would agree his feats stack up against most legends of any sport. His video game was also beautiful to look at on the PS2, Xbox and GameCube and most people would not realize but that to better KSPS visually, even to this day, is still a big challenge. Nevertheless, at the same time it is a game where you can literally put your hands over your eyes, still surf the wave, score, (and in some instances win) with a PS2 game controller in one hand. It’s not hard to imagine that Activision considered that they could simply replicate a Tony Hawk game mechanic in a surfing environment and that this would be enough for their product to succeed in the market. This basic premise of Hawk meets waves, at face value, does seem logical. However, a cardinal rule in sports game development is that you should implement a game mechanic that best suits the sport in question. EA’s Skate is a good example of this. Activision broke this rule and as a result did not capitalize on a great license, a game with fantastic presentation, but ultimately a game that has only limited gameplay scope because it’s essentially THPS’ version of skateboarding on water. It is a game that was accessible to most but lacked depth and as such, KSPS didn’t sell as well as it should or could have.
HOW THE CORE MECHANICS LINK IN WITH REAL SURFING
The simple idea of surfing involves timed moves in sync with the flow of the wave. At its most basic, surfing is a series of spectacular moves performed near the lip of the wave with speed generated from the wave itself. This means that linking moves such as a bottom turns, although important, are not considered the end game in THE SURFER® when performing a trick. We say bottom turns are vital, but we don’t score them and unlike other surfing games, we do not call a bottom turn a “trick.” Rather, a bottom turn is an important linking move between the bottom of the wave and top turn scoring moves. In other words we don’t score linking moves, just actual tricks. Surfing is all about using the power of a wave to score in a flowing fashion. For example, you would simply never see a surfer frenetically performing and scoring (i.e. in gaming terms, multiple button-mashed moves) on any part of the wave – at least if you did, they wouldn’t be winning a real competition any time soon. Surfing as a sport is very much a combination of a surfer’s individual style aesthetic and controlled aggression. We use our physics and scoring mechanic to emphasize this and so the focus for the player is about the position on the wave plus momentum; with both of these facets performed in tandem. The game definitely allows single moves if that is what the player wants to do, but equally, we say that players need to consider increasing their speed on the wave to perform the moves in order to combo in the first instance, and to generate more momentum in order to retain a combo in the second instance. This in turn maximizes scoring potential that then correlates directly to winning. Players will find it tough to win if they cannot master combination moves. This plays into our “easy pick up but hard to master” design ethos – albeit, we acknowledge at the same time that surfing by extension, will (or should not ever) be as easy to pick and play as a skateboarding or snowboarding game – there’s a lot more to surfing and it’s just not that easy to do in real life. Good surfers make it look effortless, but in reality it takes years for most people to become competent surfers. However, by the time a player is able to gain a degree of skill in THE SURFER®, they will have by extension, effectively learned the basics of how to surf.