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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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It's more SSX than MotorStorm.

Black Rock Studio only makes racing games; it has ever since it was formed as Climax Racing Studio back in 2000. You may remember it for MotoGP (on PC and Xbox) and ATV Offroad Fury. But when Disney bought the company in late 2006, both owner and developer decided it was time for a change; to put fun ahead of simulation. Pure, which launches later this year, is the first example of this, and both developer and publisher are crossing their axels that it does the business, despite competition from Sony's MotorStorm Pacific Rift and THQ's Baja.

But, as game director Jason Avent explains, Pure is a little different to those. It's an "off-road trick racing game", where the idea is to go very fast and jump very high. "We're going for fear," he says. "Vertigo's not really the only emotion we're going after. But that's the core, that's what we started with. It's all about speed, height, and near misses." Avent is after that feeling you get when you're at full throttle on a quad-bike heading into a dirt jump that forms your entire horizon, and you can see nothing but sky beyond.

And it's fast. The demo level we're shown gets right to it. There are 16 racers on the screen, and the player's rider is bouncing around and twisting the handlebars to steer (we later sit through a lecture about how the bike and machine are treated as separate objects, which helps), dirt is flying up in his wake and the barren, mountainous environment is convincing enough to bring back memories of bygone holidays. Suddenly he's in the air. The camera pans out and ground disappears, as does the music and audio in favour of a falling-bomb whistling sound. If you've ever jumped off a rooftop in Assassin's Creed, you know the feeling; breathtaking, and still on a small scale relative to perils buried deeper in the game. All the while we sit there gawping at this, however, our demonstrator is doing handstands on his quad-bike.

As you do.

These are just the "A" tricks, but doing these will soon amass enough boost juice to fill the "B" bubble, opening up more stunts. These then give way to "Y" manoeuvres, which are topped only by your signature moves; tricks not rooted in realism like the rest, which involve leaving your bike entirely to perform a bonkers array of gymnastics. As you'll have spotted, these boost bubbles correspond to the buttons you hold on your pad (in our test session's case, the 360 one) to activate a trick, and wiggling the left stick and pressing a shoulder button allows you to tweak or link your moves. The more impressive your trick, the more boost juice you are rewarded with. Repeating stunts meets with diminishing boost returns, and holding the pose for too long leads to crashes, which drain your boost gauge a little or a lot depending on the gravity of your error.

Tricks are not the only things that open up as you gain more boost juice, either; the faster you go, the higher you jump, and the higher you soar, the more alternative routes around the course you'll see and be able to get to. Boost is essential, then, and you will rely on it to win. Avent reckons you'll spend about 60 percent of your time in the air, and when you get good enough you can boost-surf your way around the level. This obviously takes practice, but adds significant longevity as you begin to slowly master it. It also explains the "off-road trick racing" label Avent stamps on the game. "That's really the difference; it's an action sport, an extreme sport more than an off-road racing game. We call it off-road trick racing. It's a little niche; there's not really been anything like it before." So there it is: more SSX than MotorStorm.