OlliOlli World brings the superlative skate series into vivid 3D
How Roll7 is bringing a modern great into a whole new world of colour.
OlliOlli, it's an absolute delight to say, is back. Developer Roll7's superlative skate series is making its return with OlliOlli World, coming to Switch, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and PC this winter courtesy of publisher Private Division. From what we saw in today's Nintendo Direct Indie Showcase, it boasts all the spark and flair I've come to associate with the studio most recently behind 2018's Laser League.
It's certainly a bigger, bolder game than anything Roll7's attempted before, and the most obvious first point of order is how it brings the series into lavish 3D, and into a fully-realised, fuzzy-edged Adventure Time-esque world of pastel colours and wholesome character. Radland - as OlliOlli World's setting is known - looks like the sort of place you'd happily poke around for hours on end, which gets to this sequel's other bit of business.
"The other pillar of OlliOlli World [alongside the move to 3D] is how can we make it more welcoming," says Roll7's creative director John Ribbins. "Can we make it as rewarding to play at a high level when it comes to chasing scores, but also can we make it something my mum could play as well? Like if I gave her the controller, could she actually get through some of the levels and enjoy it?"
Well, can she?
"My mum has no interest in playing video games," says John. "Sorry, I shouldn't use that example..."
I've yet to play OlliOlli World myself yet so can't say too much about whether it's been successful in that regard, but it's certainly succeeded in capturing my attention in the same way the original OlliOlli prototype did back in 2013. Back then it was all about the precision, and how quick it was to usher you into the zone with its score attack and the landing mechanic that was key to it all.
"The thing that was always crucial to capture with that original prototype was a more distinct feeling of flow," says Roll7 founder and director Simon Bennett. "OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2 are awesome games but there's things in the physics that we always wanted to do that we were never able to make work. There were ramps that we wanted to put in, huge launches and angles that were impossible when we were essentially doing pixel art. The big challenge for me was can we make this all feel really satisfying to play?"
The idea for a 3D OlliOlli is one that's been kicking about at the studio for a while, you gather, but the concept only really gelled thanks to another unassociated prototype. "John had this idea for Street League Skateboarding," says Simon. "It would have almost been a mobile thing where you skate backwards and forwards on a short run. That idea of being able to go back on yourself with quarter pipes, and split routes - there was this eureka moment. And this is what makes OlliOlli World - it's not just A to B from left to right, you get to the end and that's it. We have looping paths, we can have split paths and a tonne of different routes, we can have paths that are locked unless you do whatever - it brings it from being like a platformer that goes from left to right into this wholly separate thing."
It opens up a world of possibility hinted at in the trailer - there might be people to stop and chat to, sidequests to gather or whole new paths to unlock, taking OlliOlli from a simple point to point sports game into something else entirely. How exactly do you maintain the immediacy, and the ability to put players almost immediately into flow state, when moving from 2D to 3D?
"It's made of crack cocaine now," deadpans John. "Actually, one of the things we've tried to do is change the mindset of punishing you when you do something wrong to one where it's more like, when you do the right thing we're going to reward you a lot. And when you don't do it, right, it's not gonna be terrible. Before if you did the wrong thing, we're gonna slow you down, we're gonna give you a crappy animation, we'll kill your score. Basically you're going to fail not long after that, because of the way the levels were made.
"Obviously the whole argument of flow state is you're doing something challenging, right?" John continues. "But I think the other argument is that a lot of people never reached flow state playing previous OlliOlli games, because it was just too difficult. Some of the punishment that makes it unplayable for some people doesn't actually impact good players whatsoever. You'll lose your score as a good player if you don't get a perfect landing, but as a good player you're probably never going to get a sloppy landing because you've got the timing down. If we took that out, it doesn't really have an effect on the high level players because they're still just trying to do all of the tricks and snap their analogue stick in half."
It means at the heart of OlliOlli World is still something that should be familiar from the old 2D games. "There's no animation priority still," says John. "The temptation is to make everything super smooth, and that kills some of the immediacy of the game. And - this is still something I'm sure will continue to be the biggest challenge for the team - but maintaining that readability that we had in 2D, it's something that we are absolutely striving for, and it is a bigger challenge in 3D than in the previous games.
To keep things accessible, the landing mechanic that marked the first game out is intact only this time it's there as a reward mechanic rather than one that punishes you. It's that sort of welcoming attitude that's set at the fundamentals of the experience, and of course it's something reflected in the visuals too. "We always wanted it to be illustrative, harkening back to Jet Set Radio," says John. "Our starting point, initially was that we wanted to make a game that looks like a comic book."
One of the people who's helped bring that home has a CV that might seem at odds with OlliOlli World's aesthetic. "We were very lucky to get Paul Abbott, who was the lead artist on Alien: Isolation," says Simon. "He wanted to work from home, and he wanted to do something really colourful and wacky. We offered him the opportunity to build a shed in his garden, and create something that just looks out of this world. For him it's moving away from probably some of the more darker stuff like Alien: Isolation - which is beautiful and amazing - but for him it's this opportunity to do something that's incredibly unique."
"Last year was a really serious and scary year," says John. "Lots of people had scary things going on. It's been great to work on a game where the world is colourful and the characters are stupid." It's kind of great to know we're getting an all-new OlliOlli this year, too. The world feels that little bit brighter already.