The first thing you’ll notice when playing Shredders is how real it feels. When riding down its slopes, you don’t turn. You carve. You don’t jump. You pop. In fact, the hot new snowboarding game feels so realistic that its creators say players who snowboard in real life have a way easier time picking it up than those who don’t.
“Boarders really get it immediately,” Dirk Van Welden, one of the game’s designers, told Kotaku in a recent video chat. “They know that they have to throw themselves into a specific jump … and I think you need to understand, or look at extreme sports, to know that that’s important.”
Shredders, which hit Xbox Series X and PC earlier this month as part of the Game Pass library, is the debut of FoamPunch, an independent studio based in Sweden and Belgium. Since launch, Shredders has picked up a reputation as the Skate of snowboarding, a reference to EA’s long-languishing skateboarding series, which bucked the reality-bending sensibilities of behemoths like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater back in the late 2000s. In that sense, Shredders stands poised to spark a similar coup among wintry action sports games, its grounded physics engine standing in stark contrast opposite more arcadey games like Steep or Riders Republic.
“[Players are] so used to doing a rodeo 540º from just standing still, and just using those buttons, that it might feel like a step back,” Van Welden, who said he’s a fan of games like Riders Republic, told Kotaku. “People need to invest time in [the controls]. We knew it in advance, but that’s why we might have direct reactions like, ‘How? The controls are weird!’”
If you had any doubts as to Shredders’ slopestyle bona fides, don’t: Its creators are legit snowboarders. Van Welden has been riding since he was 10. (“I’ve broken a lot of bones,” he said.) Marcus Forsmoo, another designer on Shredders, told Kotaku he’s also an avid snowboarder, though hasn’t had much time to ride since pivoting to independent game development. (Now that the game’s out, he said, “It looks like I’m gonna be able to snowboard again.”)
That knowledge has directly informed how FoamPunch designed the player character, a faceless, nameless snowboarder who moves through Shredders with the grace — and the bottomless trick book — of Travis Rice. To spin more than 360º (one full rotation), you have to pre-wind your arms in the opposite direction. For corked spins (an inversion done in tandem with a rotation), you tuck your shoulder in, much as you would in the real world.
According to Forsmoo, FoamPunch tweaked the physics so as to be based on tricks real-world pros were pulling in real-world competitions. During development, the “snowboard pros were even better, crazier than our game,” Forsmoo said, but that’s since reached a parity.
In my experimentation, I’ve tapped out at spinning 2160º, or what’s known in the freestyle skiing community as a “future spin” — where the calculated tally of your total rotation is a greater number than the current year (i.e., 2160º would count as a future spin for the next 138 years, at which point you’d need to huck a 2340º to count). So far, at least in terms of snowboarding tricks that have been caught on film, no one has spun beyond a 2160º or stomped anything more than a quad flip. But even if I pulled off the mythical quint 23, which seemingly only exists in the practice space of trampoline gyms and the braggadocious cesspool of message boards, Shredders wouldn’t have counted my score.
“We tried not to put any restriction,” Forsmoo said. “But the trick categorizer stops at a certain number of flips.”
Perhaps nothing in Shredders seems more real than the mountain you shred, Frozen Wood, which even sounds like a real mountain (if a distinctly Coloradan one). Van Welden said the base layer of terrain was procedurally generated, but pointed out how it was meticulously populated, by hand, with locations inspired by real-world snowboarding spots.
The “Scary Dairy” spawn point, for instance, is a recreation of Scary Cherry, a backcountry park in Baldface, several hours northeast of Vancouver. The “Corvo” area is directly inspired by a segment seen in the short film “As the Crow Flies,” which showcases pro snowboarders Elias Elhardt (who appears in Shredders) and Gigi Rüf (who does not) carving up backcountry lines around the globe. “Kings,” a collection of massive jumps in the starting area, is based on The Nines, an annual marquee skiing and snowboarding celebration formerly known as Nine Knights. A mission called “No Grab is the New Grab” is a direct corollary to an identically named video starring Sebbe De Buck, a top pro rider from Belgium who’s integral to the mythos behind Shredders (which we’ll get to in a bit).
Even the terrain parks — freewheeling segments of the mountain in which the trail is populated by a collection of jumps, boxes, rails, knuckles, kickers, booters, side hits, and other features — were hand-crafted by someone who actually designed parks for a real-world mountain, Van Welden said.
“Some place in Canada,” Van Welden said. “Whistler.”
(Whistler, for those who don’t know, is arguably the capital of winter sports. It was home to the 2010 Winter Olympics, serves a perennial filming location for ski and snowboard films, and is one of the rare world-class ski resorts that offers rideable terrain 11 months out of the year. What Monaco is to Formula 1 racing, Whistler is to snowboarding.)
“You can really tell the difference,” Forsmoo said.
You won’t see the sort of 304.80 m rails that litter games like SSX. Rather, parks feature double-kinks, S-rails, A-frames, and other totally manageable features you could slide in real life. (The longest grind in the world, a record set in 2015, clocked in at just under 84.12 m.) Jumps flow into each other with a natural cadence. I say this as someone who’s spent many a long, cold Saturday hiking a spine transfer, typically on skis but occasionally on a snowboard: The parks of Frozen Wood feel like home.
If Shredders veers into the uncanny valley in any way, it’s, ironically, because of the only part of the game that exists in the real world: the professional riders who make up the majority of its cast. Some critics, including this very website, pointed out the particularly lo-fi nature of the game’s writing, and its delivery. The pro riders, none of whom are professional actors, read their lines with flat affect. In some cases, dialogue sounds as if it was recorded on the side of a mountain, wind and all. None of the riders — some of the best and most prominent snowboarders on the planet, mind you — show their faces, and instead are all covered by a buff, a thick cloth mask meant to protect your face from biting winds and subfreezing temperatures.
Shredders acknowledges all of this up front, through cheekily self-aware dialogue from wunderkind and X Games gold medalist Zeb Powell, who remarks how the devs couldn’t render his face because they blew all their money on “parties and snowmobiles.” Yeah, about that…
“Animating faces can be super uncanny if you don’t have a huge budget. We’re still a small studio,” Van Welden said, but pointed out that limitations resulted in an inadvertent case of realism. “When it’s cold, most people wear a buff anyway. … Unfortunately, [we didn’t blow our money] on parties and snowmobiles.”
Thing is, pros weren’t even part of the initial concept for the game. But that all changed when Sebbe De Buck, a 2018 Winter Olympian and a mainstay on the Winter X Games circuit, played an early build back in 2020.
“Sebbe is a Belgian guy, and our headquarters are in Belgium, and [in development] we were like, ‘Maybe we should get a real pro,’” Van Welden said. “We loved his style, and we just asked him, ‘Can you come by the office and just play it and see if you feel it’s realistic?’ And he was playing it for half an hour, and was like, ‘This is insane, this is so cool. Can I be in it?’”
Of course, an action sports game can’t feature just one pro; that’d be weird. So Sebbe texted a few friends, asked if they’d want to be in the game, too. By the end, a murderer’s row of world-class riders — Zeb Powell, Jaime Anderson, Elias Elhardt, Kevin Backstrom, Jake Blauvelt, Tor Lundström, Marcus Kleveland, Leanne Pelosi, Jill Perkins, Gimbal God, Arthur Longo, and Rene Rinnekangas, and, of course, De Buck himself — signed onboard for Shredders.
The bulk of recording was done remotely, due to production constraints (Shredders was made by a 10-person team on an indie game’s budget) and difficulties surrounding the ongoing pandemic (Van Welden said the team bought mics off Amazon and mailed them to pros alongside recording instructions). So, sure, some of the dialogue may sound silly. To some players, it may even sound phoned-in. But, to me, it’s indicative that Shredders has captured the perhaps most crucial aspect of snowboarding culture: a steadfast refusal to take itself too seriously.
As Van Welden put it, “We just wanted to make a cool game.”
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