We're not sure what Ubisoft is feeding its developers over in Montreal, but these days its largest studio appears intent on supersizing every title it turns its hand to. Given the investment, and subsequent return - notwithstanding the game's polarised reception - on the tech driving Assassin's Creed, you can hardly blame the publisher for feeding the code into the Exploit-O-Matic 3000 to see what might wriggle out the other end.
Prince of Persia, as we've seen, picks up the open-world reins where Altair dropped them so he could hold down block and press the light attack button over and over again for 20 hours. That's a no-brainer; less obvious, perhaps, is the use of the Assassin's engine to power Ubisoft's first entry into extreme sports gaming with Shaun White Snowboarding.
But on reflection it makes persuasive sense. More than anything, what the guts of Assassin's give you is scale: and when you're being booted out of a chopper and onto a frigid peak on a crystal-clear morning, it's really just the thing.
Art director Scott Mitchell certainly appreciates the assistance. "We can blend 16 animations at once which is a huge help; being able to have wide open, big spaces was really helpful for the mountains," he says. "We weren't sure we'd be able to pull that off, but we've been able to achieve some big results." That's two 'big's and a 'huge', and we've only asked one question.
The scale is the most immediately impressive thing on seeing the game running on PS3 and 360 - and, just as it is with its technical predecessor, it's more than simple visual trickery: everywhere you can see in Shaun White Snowboarding is playable. If you can't ride there, you can whip off your board and trudge through the snow on foot, or hitch a ride in a helicopter.
That's where the comparisons end. Where Prince of Persia and Assassin's Creed belong to a long and distinguished tradition of internally produced action-adventures, the only footsteps in the snow the Shaun White team have as reference have been left by others: Amped, 1080, SSX.
This is unfamiliar terrain for Ubisoft, then, on two important counts: one, the company has never previously attempted extreme sports; two, nor has it a great deal of experience in juggling both the inherent opportunities and restrictions that come with handling licensed talent.
The last publisher to have a serious tilt at breaking into extreme sports was EA. It's superb Skate took on and bested the grand old duke of extreme sports gaming, Tony Hawk, rewriting large chunks of the rule book in the process, and sending a bruised Neversoft back to the drawing board. It can be done.
With Activision having secured the longterm services of the biggest name in skateboarding (and, to be absolutely fair, playing a major part in raising awareness of Hawk beyond skating circles), the pressure on EA to be more radical in its approach was arguably greater. Either way, with no 'name' dominating snowboard gaming, Ubisoft sees potential for 'doing a Tony' on the white stuff, while its approach to the gaming experience is one of evolution not revolution.
"It's tough because we don't know exactly what to do - we've never really been here before," concedes Mitchell. "Thankfully a lot of people on the team are really hardcore snowboarders, so the basic information we have by default.
"Building a great snowboarding game, let alone any sports game for Ubisoft, is brand new to us, so we're trying come out of the gate running and make a great base as fast as possible, but keep it accessible."
As such, then, Shaun White Snowboarding is unlikely to deliver that scales-from-the-eyes sensation you felt the first time you picked up Skate. The control system speaks a language that will be immediately comprehensible to veterans of the other big-game boarders, although Shaun White leans more heavily toward the frostbitten realism of Amped than the party pyrotechnics of SSX. Ubisoft sees its title carefully plotting a path somewhere in-between.
"Everything that's come out in the past has been close to snowboarding or gone completely arcade, and we're looking for something that sits nicely in the middle and appeals to both crowds," Mitchell explains.
The free and open nature of the environments is reflected in the team's relaxed approach to progression. From the very start of the game, whatever your skill level, every area is ridable - just as it would be in real life.
"Anyone can pick up the controller, relax and just ride," says Mitchell. "Everything is open, everything is unlocked - you don't have to unlock a mountain to get to the next one. If you want to go ride a peak of the mountain, you can go there right away."
Players can therefore pick and choose routes and challenges across the vast expanses of the game's four mountains as they go. So Ubisoft has come up with a novel wheeze to reflect your improving skills and achievements over time.
"You start the game as an amateur and your arms move around a lot more,your riding is less stylised," Mitchell states. "As you get hold of the controls and get the hang of it, you start landing properly and learning more advanced tricks like axis rotations and that sort of thing.
"Then eventually as you start to win competitions, you win new sets of animations - you're going to see a visual progression as you move on." Unsurprisingly, your ultimate goal is develop the exact technique of ol' Whitey himself.
On the evidence of the E3 build we see, the team is playing it safe with the trick system and just making sure it gets the basics nailed so it can concentrate of ensnaring gamers with its more adventurous elements.
We'll get onto those in a second, but first let's give you an outline of the control scheme: on 360 (the version we play), left stick is for body control; right stick for feet (enabling manual slides and shifts); right trigger is knee control. In mid-air the right stick is used to move the board around, with all the various tricks and grabs accessed in combination with the left trigger. Jumping off your board and going for a stroll requires noting more than a press of Y - and while Ubi is tight-lipped on the details, there will be rewards for the indefatigable off-piste explorer.
So far, so straightforward. So what happened to all that thinking big? Well, connect a console up the Internet and Ubisoft claims the standard extreme sports experience will be transformed into a persistently populated game world where the traditional distinction between single- and multiplayer melts away.
Whichever mountain you're riding, and regardless whether you're playing solo through the career mode, or challenging chums, spare spots on the slopes will be filled by other human players doing their own thing, just like you.
"We really wanted to get across the idea of the community as it's really important in snowboarding," says Mitchell. "Everybody snowboards with their crew; you'll have a group of friends that you always go out with. It's essentially a large lobby, being able to bring all of your friends where you are, participate in a competition, film one another going down the hill and upload the videos to the website. It's important to have it seamless."
Recording and sharing videos online has proved a tremendous boon in other extreme sports titles, so should cater well to the show-offs assuming the interface is slick enough. If you're offline, AI riders will take over, but we admit to be rather taken with the idea of capering around a mountain, checking out the crazy skills of the best real boarders, while sneering at the shambling calamities of amateurs. As we would on real slopes, in fact.
Sadly, this is not something the team is currently showing off. Instead we get to grips with a single mountain in offline single-player. Heli-lifted to the summit, we can either follow our fellow AI boarder's descent, or just do as we please. The scale and the draw distance, as we've said, are superb.
If you've ever been high up a snow-encrusted mountain on a clear day, you'll know exactly how energising it is to gaze around at the landscape below - and Shaun White Snowboarding does as good a job as we can remember seeing of conveying that sense of the epic. But to those familiar with the breathtaking views from the highest points of Assassin's Creed, this is to be expected.
It bears up less well at this stage when you examine the details; frequently objects appear out of nowhere, particularly trees towards the bottom of the course, and some of the textures are bland and indistinct. The fidelity of the pre-stage cutscene is also worryingly low, although that's surely something that will be upped before release.
We love the camera. There are five set positions to choose from, but it's wonderfully dynamic, intelligently zooming out when you approach a ramp or slope to give you a glorious, widescreen eye-full of your imminent giant leap. There's also a first-person view thrown in or good measure.
Control-wise, the basics are solid and responsive, and within a few minutes we're already achieving some vaguely competent rail grinds and mid-air posturing in amongst the agonising plunges into the icy abyss. There is a very real sense of freedom on the mountain, its varied topography providing all manner of challenges and opportunities.
It's hard to appreciate any subtlety and nuance that may lie within the trick system on what amounts to a very brief playtest. It's clear the game does lean more towards the studied realism of Amped, which is no bad thing. Our biggest issue at this point is with the speed.
Even hurtling down the steepest parts of the mountain, leaning forward as hard as we can, it never quite delivers that sense of exhilaration, that electrifying surge of adrenaline that is the drug of downhill racing. To us, it just feels too cautious, too sedate at present, more Sunday drive than Ski Sunday.
Maybe we're clamouring for the arcade experience the team is consciously avoiding; but we still feel that even a slight boost could make a huge difference to the sense of thrill, danger and excitement we want to feel when we're belting through such eye-poppingly vast environments.
Wii owners necessarily cannot share in the Assassin's engine love-in, so Nintendo's system, as is often the case, gets a unique version with a slightly younger, more casual skew on it. The big draw is Balance Board support, which lets you literally ape the actions of a snowboarder.
After a brief demo we get a couple of runs at this. Our on-screen boarder responds convincingly to our movements. Standing sideways on, leaning forwards and backwards steers, while left and right equate to accelerate and brake. Tricks are accessed through a combination of the Wiimote buttons and the leg pump to elevate you in the first place - performed in exactly the same manner as the ski jump mini-game in Wii Fit.
It's good fun and the instant appeal and accessibility it will have for families is obvious. Whether it can transcend novelty sufficiently to sustain a full price product is another question, of course, and one only extended play will answer. On Wii Shaun White is fully playable either with Balance Board or Wiimote, with slight differences to level design and difficulty to accommodate the differing demands - although board and remote can tackle each other in multiplayer.
Balancing the gameplay is the team's biggest headache here, we're told. And we confess to being a little concerned that, for a game designed originally for the Wiimote (with a post-Wii Fit rewrite to accommodate the Balance Board), we are not allowed to play it with one at this point.
So, with Shaun White Snowboarding, the big task of building a new brand from scratch has at least one big idea, in the player-populated pistes, that should make it one to watch for those clamouring for a new generation snowboarding hero to worship. We're all for thinking big; just so long as someone's keeping an eye on the details.
Shaun White Snowboarding is due to release on PS3, 360, PC and Wii this winter.