December, 2003: With university closing down for the Christmas holidays, I made a detour on my way back North to visit my good friend (and future Midnight Resistance graphic design supremo) minkee. I used to go round a couple of times a year to hang out and play videogames for a week - back when I still had the luxury of long, regular holidays to fritter away - and this time all she could talk about was some new snowboarding game called SSX3.
I didn't care much for snowboarding games. I used to play quite a bit of Cool Boarders 2 on the PlayStation, and I once had an N64-owning girlfriend who would try to sell me on 1080° Snowboarding, but most of my memories were of stiff characters, aggressive pop-in, and awkward handling (BUT I SUPPOSE MOST TEENAGE RELATIONSHIPS ARE LIKE THAT, EH? EHHH?? You can put the GMA in the mail now, thanks)
I wasn't expecting SSX3 to be very different, but once I got used to the controls - by which I mean "stopped pressing the instant restart button by mistake" - it felt much more fluid and open. The courses are broader, with multiple routes down them, and lots of secrets to discover; I even managed to find some new routes just last week, while recording this video. It's also full of lasers and fireworks and a kicking soundtrack that even manages to make the Black-Eyed Peas sound welcome. At its best, it reminds me of those moments in Jet Set Radio where you hit your flow and see beyond all the ramps and rails, visualing a line that arcs from feature to feature which your character seems predestined to glide along. Also there's a really detailed customisation system that lets you buy different clothes and put together your own outfits, which does wonders for helping you to express yourself out on the piste.
We played the game all week - me hammering through the singleplayer mode to get my stats up to her level while she was busy during the day, then racing and doing trick battles in the evening - and when I went home again, I ordered my own copy so I could keep playing. We've both kept going back to it over the years, in spite of all the sequels that have come out since then (in case you're wondering, the most recent one comes close to recapturing the magic, but doesn't quite hit the same highs... although it does add a lot of online features that weren't present back in 2003), and it's firmly cemented its position among my favourite "Winter games".
I am now realising that I still haven't explained the point of the video.
One of SSX3's key features is that the whole game is played out on a single mountain, with three peaks. As you progress through the singleplayer mode and unlock new events, you slowly ascend the mountain - from the gentle, well-mainted courses at the bottom, up through the untamed "backwoods" routes, to the collapsing ice shelves at the summit. As such, once you've unlocked all the different start points, you can drop yourself off in Freeride mode at the top of peak 3 and ride all the way down to the bottom of Peak 1, chaining together a dozen courses into a single, seamless experience.
This video showcases something minkee discovered: If you turn off the music, the arcade sound effects, the commentary from DJ Atomika, mute your character's (often irritating) speech, and disable the HUD, you end up with 30 minutes of lo-fi virtual snowboarding. It's really very relaxing, although I'd also add that I think most of its experiential value comes from the meditative properties of steering your character on their descent, rather than just watching it happen, but hey ho, who are we to question trends in pop media consumption?