Giles Goddard: From 1080º to Carve Snowboarding, from N64 to Oculus Quest
We talk to the man who programmed Star Fox or Mario 64's face and who today is bringing his board to the VR realm with a vibe from the 90's.
At the age of 19, Giles Goddard joined Nintendo in Kyoto as their very first Western developer. Back then, when it still competed in the power race, the company was entering a new era of 3D polygonal games with the Nintendo 64, and the hand of the English programmer proved to be quite useful in games such as Super Mario 64 or Star Fox 64, both led by none other than Shigeru Miyamoto, and becoming instant classics that showcased what console and developer could do.
But beyond the company's most beloved franchises, there were a couple of extreme sports games where Nintendo did what, normally, Nintendidn't, therefore conquering arcade fans with beautifully smooth experiences. One was Wave Race 64. The other one was 1080º Snowboarding, and Goddard was at its heart.
Fast-forward twenty-something years, Goddard remains in the Japanese city and still loves winter sports and Nintendo, but has spent most of that time as the CEO of Vitei Backroom indie studio (now Chuhai Labs), which after dealing with giants, submarines, and tanks on Nintendo platforms, is now back with its trademark style for the spiritual successor to 1080º, Carve Snowboarding, which releases today in VR on Oculus Quest for further immersion.
Here's Gamereactor's interview with the programmer and CEO.
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★ Gamereactor: So, first of all, what I'm more curious about is, how do you control your snowboard in VR? Do you offer different control methods? And how do you perform the tricks? Have you considered external peripherals to act as board controllers?
Giles Goddard: In Carve Snowboarding the players control the board by standing (or sitting) similar to how they would with real snowboarding, i.e. With their side facing along the board and their arms either side of them to help with balance. It's basically their hands that are controlling the orientation of the board so when they rotate the board rotates with them.
To jump you pull your hands upwards, the faster you do it the higher you'll jump. Then while you're in the air you can grab any part of the board with either hand using the grip trigger on the Touch controllers.
We've tried various other ways of controlling the board such as attaching sensors to your legs etc. but while it seems something that would work it's extremely tiring and actually makes it very hard to control the board.
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"We're definitely going with that 90s vibe with a lot of the styling (...) It's kind of a nod to 1080 but mostly it's about that era in general we like"
★ What can you tell us in terms of stages and/or environments? And, can we play together with friends?
We have 6 courses and a log cabin for your home base / chill out area. The courses start off lower down on the mountain and get gradually harder and steeper the higher up you go. As you complete objectives on each course the next higher up course opens up with the goal being to reach the top of the mountain.
★ How do you make the most of Oculus Quest 2's graphical capabilities? And, considering that it now is easier than ever to play PCVR wirelessly thanks to the Oculus Air Link feature, is Carve also releasing as a Rift game with enhanced visuals?
While the Oculus Quest is an extremely capable device given its size and weight you still have to be very careful about how much you're drawing in a frame and the amount of textures being used etc. So we did spend a lot of time optimising the game to make sure that it runs smoothly. We have a Rift S version with enhanced visuals in the works, yes!
★ There seems to be customization options aplenty. How do you unlock/collect those items? Are there any social features in place for us to show off?
Hidden away among the courses we have items such as new snowboards, gloves and tapes that you can pick up by snowboarding through them. Then back at the cabin you can see all of them items you've picked up so far. Each snowboard you pick up will have different characteristics such as better powder or trick handling etc. and each tape collected gives you a new set of music tracks that you can build into custom mix tapes.
★ The cassette in the video feels to me like a nod to the 90's vibes, which is when 1080º Snowboarding was released. Is the whole game reminiscent of that decade? What can you tell us about the indie bands partaking in the soundtrack?
Yes we're definitely going with that 90s vibe with a lot of the styling and merchandise (check out our awesome Yetee store page, by the way). It's kind of a nod to 1080 but mostly it's about that era in general we like. We wanted to do something different with the music and make it a big part of the game, so we have a huge collection of tracks in the game covering most styles of music. We also teamed up with some really cool local indie bands.
★ Where can fans of 1080º identify the spirit of the original in this game? And, vice-versa, are you doing something now you couldn't do back then?
All of the controls and the trick system is completely rethought and designed from the ground up for VR but it will feel quite familiar to a lot of players. Whether it's the feeling of the various snow types or the level of control you have over the board, I think 1080 fans will identify the spirit of the original game yes.
★ With Carve Snowboarding, the recent Steep and the return of games like Tony Hawk's, and despite SSX's absence, do you think there's more and more interest in extreme sports video games nowadays than say in the past 10 years?
I think done right there may be a resurgence yes! It's definitely a genre that has been neglected recently and I would love to see more games get released!
★ With Super Mario 64 re-releasing last year as part of 3D All-Stars and of the series' 35th Anniversary, many of us took the chance to play through it once again. It will always be remembered for its innovative worlds and mechanics in terms of 3D platformers, but it also had its good share of programming tricks, as it's been well documented. From a pure technical standpoint, what do you find more amazing about Super Mario 64 24 years later? Do you think it could've worked in 16:9 given the design constraints? And do you still play around with the iconic Mario face on the welcome screen?
I haven't played it in years actually, I'm hoping to play 3D All Stars when I get some time though! I think the way they managed to pull off the feel of the 2D Mario games in 3D is the most amazing thing about the game. I don't see why it wouldn't work in 16:9 although I think it would have lost some resolution doing that.
★ I'm a huge fan of Star Fox, and as many Nintendo fans, we're always looking forward to its triumphant return. However, how do you personally think that comeback should be? It seems that, ever since the N64 entry became an instant classic, it's been hard for Nintendo to come up with a proper modern take, considering that the brilliant 3DS game is a remaster and that PlatinumGames' Wii U version was tricky to control for some. But with so many recent space shooters being successful and redefining the genre (Everspace, Elite: Dangerous...) and with new formats such as VR adding further immersion, which one would you choose?
A VR Star Fox game would be an interesting thing to try! I'd also love to see or make a modern take of the original using updated graphics and physics etc. I think some sequels like Zero tried to do something too different or detached from what made the original so much fun. So I think it would be possible to reboot the franchise and make a true sequel, but whether there's enough of an audience to make it worthwhile for whoever's funding it, is a different problem.
Carve Snowboarding is now available on the Oculus Quest Store at €19.99. As confirmed by Goddard, it'll also release on the Oculus Rift Store.