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Skating through the intersection of "cute but weird" in OlliOlli World

OlliOlli World is back with a brand new look, revitalizing its visual style and multiplayer modes and adding a universe of new custom character features.

It's been a while since the skateboarding series OlliOlli last rolled into town. The two original games, OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood, were indie darlings of the PlayStation Vita, and have since been re-released many times since their initial debut. But for the past several years, as its development studio Roll7 has focused on other projects (including 2015’s Not A Hero), all has been quiet on the OlliOlli front.

Until today, with the debut of OlliOlli World, a new entry in the series that hits the refresh button on both its visual style and perspective. Shifting away from the blurry pixel-based art of the first two games, this bright, cartoonish new direction embraces both the spirit of the 90s skater subculture and introduces new features that reflect the current gaming climate.

To get some insight into the game's new direction, we spoke with Simon Bennett, the co-studio head at Roll7, who told us all about the philosophy and thought process behind changes made to the series’ look, as well as its new features, including two new co-op modes that reinvent the OlliOlli multiplayer experience. Read on!

Game Developer: Can you tell me about the new 2.5D perspective in OlliOlli World and if or how it opened up new features and forms of gameplay?

Bennett: Absolutely – the new 2.5D perspective has given us the opportunity to branch out in terms of art style, character design, and even tricks options versus the previous 2D OlliOlli titles. The real breakthrough moment was during prototyping, where we were initially working on a separate game which involved looping back and forward through a smaller static skate park. We hit upon the idea to combine this with the OlliOlli levels we’d been working on - and that’s how OlliOlli World was born! The way that our level designers have hit the ground running with this concept is nothing short of spectacular, they’ve really branched out and taken this concept to the next level.

OlliOlli has a strong background, design-wise, in handheld consoles. Can you tell me about any specific changes or design considerations you made for the Nintendo Switch? Was there any overlap, approach-wise, with the series’ origins on the PlayStation Vita?

There weren’t really any special considerations, design-wise, that we needed to make for Switch – our main focus was just ensuring that we could get game run at a silky smooth 60fps. That was a task for our remarkable programming team, and they have delivered! Other than that – the core experience runs same on all platforms, so no, no specific design changes for the Switch.

OlliOlli World marks a major visual shift for the series, pivoting from pixel art to an almost Adventure Time slash Scribblenauts-looking cartoon animation style--what prompted this change in the game’s art direction?

So, as a studio it’s been a while since we made an OlliOlli game, but we actually made Not A Hero more recently - and that had a much more vibrant and quirky visual style which we really wanted to expand upon. After that we did Laser League, which was 3D, and the combination of those ideas came together to feed our creative ambitions for OlliOlli World. Once we had an idea of what we wanted to, our amazing tech art team started working on our NoComply renderer, which forms the backbone of our studio artistic vision moving forward. We wanted to be able to make something that looked totally different to everything we’d done before – and the art team absolutely overdelivered on that front!

This change in visual style is also coming with some pretty robust character customization options. Did you run into any technical or design challenges during the process? What made the team feel as though certain features, like the option to choose your grabs and poses, were an important part of the experience?

We wanted to make a game that reflected the skate culture that we see around us – a diverse culture where self-expression really matters. We also wanted to make a game that welcomed players and made them feel at home in this surreal but ultimately very friendly world we had created. So having as much customization as we could possibly manage was definitely high on our priority list from day one – that’s reflected in clothing, in skin and hair options, in body sliders, and yes, in the customization of the tricks themselves. Obviously, we’d always love to be able to include even more variety in terms of what we offer players, and hopefully in future we’ll be able to work on what we’ve got here and create an even deeper and more inclusive character creator. But we’re pretty pleased with our work so far!

As a former punk-skater kid of the 90s, I have to say, the game’s commitment to the aesthetic is impressive. I almost feel like I’m playing a Santa Cruz video game. What sources of inspiration did you draw on to recreate elements of skating subculture for the character designs in OlliOlli World?

100 per cent, yes, that’s just what we were going for! From my perspective – and I will say, obviously I’m a studio director, not an artist – but for me a key inspiration is definitely all that stuff like the Santa Cruz hand logo, the Spitfire wheels, the Hellboy logo… I think that’s something about the intersection of cute and weird that we really wanted to delve into and riff on in the art style of the game. OlliOlli World feels to me like a world that has exploded directly out of that sort of art.

OlliOlli had featured multiplayer modes before, but in this latest game, there seems to be more of an emphasis on dedicated, World-specific modes that build on and reimagine the fundamentals of the single-player experience. Can you tell us about the decision to move on from couch co-op and what the philosophy was behind the new Gnarvana League and Gnarvana Portal modes?

Frankly, the local couch co-op mode never really took off the way we’d envisioned. With OlliOlli World, we wanted to realize an online mode that built on the ‘Daily Grind’ mode we’d had in OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2 – Gnarvana League comes from that ambition.

We have previously done synchronous multiplayer as a studio, but it didn’t feel right for OlliOlli World, so we opted for the asynchronous multiplayer style which you can now find in League and in Portal’s postcode modes.

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