In a quick developer-led demo at a pre-E3 event, we got to see how Ubisoft aims to accomplish its goal. As Shaun skateboarded around the grayed-out city of New Harmony, he (or the player's custom skater) can spread "influence" around, and turn a place oppressed by the evil skateboard-hating Ministry into a world full of colorful half-pipes and rails, custom-designed by the player in real time. The premise is interesting, but will it work?
Unfortunately, I didn't get to play the game hands-on, and with a skateboarding game that's the key. Moves have to feel right, which is why the old Tony Hawk series was so popular and why Skate's dual stick gestures are currently ruling the roost. So until we get a chance to actually play the game, we won't yet have a verdict on whether Shaun White Skateboarding pulls an Armadillo or falls flat on its face.
But I did get to see the game's "shaping" mechanic in action. As you skate around the world, color returns to the streets, and in certain places you can grind right off a rail into midair, drawing a colorful pipe as you go. You can lead that pipe anywhere you want in the level (though the length is limited), so you can raise it up to reach higher parts of the world, or spread it out to connect trick lines together. You can draw or redraw a pipe at any time, and once it's drawn, that pipe works like any other grinding surface in the world.
"We wanted to teach the player how skateboarders see opportunities for tricks in the world around them," an Ubisoft representative told us. There are also ramps throughout the game that can be "shaped" up or down to reach hidden areas, and halfpipes can be created right out of the ground. The skater will also be able to shape the world in other ways, too -- one part of the demo had Shawn doing a long trick across a Ministry building, which then collapsed in on itself, leaving a multi-level skate park in its wake.
The "shaping" mechanic will play in the game's "hundred-plus challenges," with some goals requiring you to time-attack a certain area (requiring the world to be shaped for speed), and some asking you to reach hidden items or create a high-scoring line. You'll progress by slowly opening up the world piece by piece, though I only got to see one small open area during the demo.
I was also told that "there will be multiplayer," but when I asked if players might be able to show off their creations in some way, the representative remained cryptic and only added that such an idea "sounds good."
It's far too early to tell whether Shaun White can match wheels with Tony Hawk and Coach Frank in the skating genre. The shaping mechanic does make for an interesting idea, but we'll have to wait and see how the game plays at E3 next month.