When Riders Republic launches on February 25, some of the most popular National Parks in the United States will become playgrounds for outdoor sports, including biking, snowboarding, skiing, and wing-suiting. The team at Ubisoft Annecy is focused on making sure they get the feel of every sport right, along with accurate depictions of each park. They’re also hard at work making sure Riders Republic is as much a social game as it is a sports game. We spoke with Arnaud Ragot, director at Ubisoft Annecy, to talk about creating a massive game that treats small human interactions with just as much importance as its big action moments.
How did the team develop the idea for Riders Republic?
Arnaud Ragot: With all the experience we got from Steep with outdoor action sports and this huge open world, we were wondering what's next. Working with the community, and working with all the learnings, it was clear that we had three goals: The first was to expand the sport experience, and look for the best sports to represent the experience. Obviously, we thought about skiing and snowboarding, and mountain biking was a clear addition we wanted to make.
The second goal was to answer the question, where do we go? We wanted to look for the ultimate place for outdoor action sports, and when we thought about it, the choice was clear. So, we’re going to the to the US, to the National Parks – the home of the most iconic competitions, memorable stories, and most spectacular action.
And finally, the last part of it, we think sports are something we share with people. They generate a lot of fun when you are playing with your friends, so we wanted to push this idea further, and try to go beyond just your friends by bringing the whole community into the experience. That's why we pushed a lot to create this social world. We wanted to make sure players will have a lot of opportunities to have fun with their friends or with the people they meet in the community.
Will you continue to seek community feedback for Riders Republic?
AR: The team and I are really committed to making sure the community is heard. We really value the feedback we get from players, as it helps us in shaping the next stages of the game. Riders Republic is something that will evolve over time and we want to work with the community hand-in-hand to make sure we make the right decisions for the game.
What research went into building the US National Parks for the game? How do you adapt them to make sure they’re fun to traverse when you’re getting from point A to point B?
AR: Riders Republic is a way for us to bring players to places that sometimes aren’t accessible to everyone. The U.S. National Parks are among the most enjoyable places in the world to visit and we wanted to make sure that when players are there in-game, it feels like they’re really there. How do we approach that? We have a concept team –made up of people from the world team and people from the art team – who were sent on an exploration trip discovering places, the mood, ambiance, the people, the iconic vistas, the stories, etc. We started with a lot of references from the places, working with athletes and researchers to make sure we can gather as many references as possible to be a truly immersive experience. Then, we used technology that allows us to create terrain based on GPS data from the National Parks.
Obviously, we are a video game, so we have tweaks and stuff to make sure we can develop the perfect action scenes for the different sports. But the foundation of it is to make sure we can bring players to places where they really feel like they’ve been there afterward.
How difficult is it for the team to create this huge playground with all these different sports while simultaneously making sure that the sports are fun within each of those playgrounds?
AR: Each sport is unique. Each sport has its own specificities, its own skill requirements, its own kind of fun. It can be challenging, but we have experts for each sport on the team, and we work with athletes, so we make sure we treat every sport with the same level of care, detail, and knowledge. So we hope we can create something really exciting, whether it’s on snow, dirt, or in the air.
We are also trying to make sure we give each sport its unique gameplay and challenges, so it’s like each experience is a video game by itself. Each sport is a unique, rich, and deep experience for players.
Tell us a little bit about Mass Starts, and how the idea to put over 50 players in one race came to be included in Riders Republic.
AR: When we decided to go all-in on the social experience, we said, “OK, how many players can we put in here? We got more than 50 players and decided to go downhill together, and it was such a blast. It was such a “wow” moment, and one of those things you haven’t seen in many games before. Then we had to look for an activity based on this massive social experiment, and actually there are already some real-world examples. There are ski and mountain-bike competitions where there are hundreds of riders starting from the same position, racing downhill with lot of speed in order to be first in the end. We took this inspiration and we worked from that, but it was such a fun and memorable experience.
In that way, is the core experience in Riders Republic that there’s always someone who wants to ride with you, and there’s always someone who may want to compete against you?
AR: For me, the social experience in a video game is something that creates stories. It creates unique moments that no developer can plan for. We wanted to have that because we truly believe that the combination of sports, the location, the freedom you have in the location, and all the interaction and activities we offer for the multiplayer experience could generate a lot of stories to share with your friends. We, as the developers, have already witnessed some really exciting moments, but I truly believe that the player will create their own stories. We’re really excited to see them.
Can you elaborate on the idea of social hubs that are included in Riders Republic?
AR: Basically, every session will start in the hub and be filled with players. You can meet your friends, group together, and then plan or start your session together. We have animations and emotes for a basic form of communication with people you meet in the world. But when you’re all together you can easily invite a player to a remote location, so you can teleport to each other and create some super-cool moments. For example, imagine you’re in the wingsuit and you invite a friend to join you, and they’re suddenly in the air following you. The goal for us is to make sure players play together, and when they play together, they have fun together. Also, we try to provide them with a lot of interaction and a lot of activities to do together. We try to start all of this in the social hub, because it’s the center of the community.
We saw the T-Rex costume in the trailer; not only is a T-Rex costume never not funny, but it highlights some of the customization in Riders Republic. Can you elaborate on that?
AR: Customization is a really strong element in the game, and Riders Republic is a universe where we want players to feel welcome. That’s why we offer a lot of customization options so players can show up the way they want. We designed Riders Republic so people can really show off what they want to be, and what they want to express.
Riders Republic will be available on current and next-generation consoles, but the next-generation version will be running at 60 frames per second. Why was that an important benchmark for the team?
AR: We are making a sports game, and a sports game is defined by its depth and its accuracy. With all the experience we had, we knew going for 60 frames per second is the best way to show all these subtle details and highlight these sharp controls for the player, so they can master the depth of the game. Sixty frames per second was key for making sure we could deliver the most refined gameplay possible.
Riders Republic is coming to Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, and PC via the Ubisoft Store, the UPLAY+, and the Epic Games Store on February 25, 2021.
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