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SSX: A Caricature of Extreme Sports

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| Categories: Culture, Gaming, Movies & TV, Older systems, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, [Reviews], [SpeakEasy] | No Comments »

When I was a kid, I was really into Extreme Sports. In elementary school I was doing back flips and spins off the top of those swirling slide things (and, yes, after succeeding quite a few times, I did in fact end up in crutches — no cast though). Later on I continued my dangerously dangerous antics into riding my skateboard down my sloped driveway onto a ramp made of a bendy plank of wood and bricks (using nothing to bind them), right into the side of my house. Repeatedly, almost daily…

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Oh the nostalgia…

I would watch the X-Games on TV, and was even watching when Tony Hawk first did “The 900.” It wasn’t until few years later I learned of the Winter X-Games, and, being a creative kid, I was making paper snowboard figures and cardboard snowboards to spin around with in front of the TV and off the couch. I watched the Disney movies and all kinds of junk. I even forced myself to watch Bluetorch TV despite that guy between shows repeatedly dismembering himself on TV while skateboarding, I knew it was supposed to be funny but… you know, blood and brains.

The takeaway here is for a very long time I was really into Extreme Sports.

Then I discovered how awesome video games were with games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy VIII, X-Games Snowboarding, MTV Snowboarding, Ridge Racer, Vigilante 8, Chrono Cross, and a bunch of other games I got my hands on in no particular order.

Eventually my antics slowed down, I ran out of people to skate with due to moving a lot. And now I don’t do any of it at all, the choice of loving Video Games and Art makes for a dormant lifestyle of my two obsessions…

So about SSX being a caricature?

I’ve been an SSX fan starting with SSX 3 back on the PS2. I poured way too many hours just doing pretty much everything in the game. I later jumped back to SSX Tricky, enjoying that one as well. The most recent title, SSX 2012 as people call it, seemed like a reboot of sorts to some, but I found it a fitting continuation of what SSX is about.

SSX is a very clear caricature of the evolution of extreme sports over the years. I honestly would like to talk about my inspirational theory of how the characters in SSX are from a world where being a superhuman is normal;  But I think the idea of describing SSX as a caricature would make more sense and be a lot easier to explain.

How’d you get the idea?

The first thing that brought the idea into my head was this…

Look at that — if that isn’t straight out of a video game I don’t know what is, but at the end of the day you can say this is destiny. Extreme Sports evolve by constantly doing more insane tricks. They haven’t reached their limit yet, and maybe won’t for some time.

With BMX, there was a time when doing a backflip on a bike was a big deal, then there was doing a double back flip, and then triple. With skateboarding, first there was the ollie, then there was the 540, then the 900, and now you have KID pulling a 1080.

rodneymullenEach time those new tricks become the norm, and people need to step it up each time to stay ahead. All it takes is that one person taking the first step.

Bones Brigade: An Autobiography” is a great movie which talks about the evolution of skateboarding. It features some the most innovative faces of skateboarding — Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen (pictured on the right), Steve Caballero, Lance Mountain, Tommy Guerrero, and Mike McGill — talking about their childhoods and inventing some of the most notable skateboarding tricks like “The Ollie”. Its a great example of how extreme sports can evolve over time.

So how does it all break down?

It’s easy, really: each SSX title shows an evolution of the SSX sport and its riders as professionals.

Ssx2SSX (PS2)

SSX in the first game apparently stood for Snowboard Super Cross. Which seems odd to me, cause I thought it stood for Super Snowboarding eXtreme — because that sounds more awesome.

Anyway, the original title focuses on professional grade snowboarders taking part in a spectator sport. The game, the characters, and the events take places in regulated closed courses from different parts of the world. The tricks are standard grabs and flips for the most part; at most you may see one foot off the board. It’s not to say the tricks were simple, and the courses were certainly intense, but it’s easy to see the game as a baseline professional snowboarding in the context of a game with superheroes and insane people.

It’s worth noting that the inventor of Boardercross, the event the game is based on, was created by the game’s Executive Producer and Creative Director. That event has since become an Olympic Sport.

109141-ssx-tricky-gamecube-screenshot-excellent-a-3x-point-multiplierSSX Tricky (PS2/Gamecube/Xbox)

SSX Tricky was the game that pushed the envelope in terms of the danger the riders were experiencing. It was now the trend to do tricks with their feet entirely off the board.  This was both thanks to how the boards were made, and likely the desire to attract more spectators. The characters were celebrities now, if some of them weren’t already, and they needed to push the envelope.

The events in SSX Tricky were still on regulated closed courses with the exception of the last one, Alaska. It seems for the final event the orchestrators had begun playing with the idea of more open courses and likely did this as an experiment which served as a fitting finale to the season. The courses were getting less safe along with the tricks getting more dangerous. The most notable being “über” tricks, which the riders performed while confident they could pull them off, and “Super übers” being the most dangerous.

Currently modern snowboards present a desire to do one footers and such with snowboards but the design of the boards is limiting. They’d have to unstrap then remain unstrapped until they could stop (I used to see this in the X-Games). It’s not very dynamic. You can guarantee once some genius designs some awesome clip-on/clip-off snowboard, magic will happen.

SSX3 (PS2/Gamecube/Xbox)

SSX3 was the real transition and melding between showing the evolution of the characters and evolution of the sport. Riders were permitted on open mountain as part of SSX and also had more event options much like snowboarding today. The events were Race, Slopestyle, Big Air, Superpipe, or Backcountry. “Super übers” had evolved into more forms, and were now even performed while riding rails.

The events took place on even more dangerous and open courses, including factors like steeper drops, avalanches, and harsher weather conditions. Riders were a lot more exposed to the elements in this season.

At this point the riders were as much into the danger as before, the added danger of the courses had no bearing on how they performed.

The decline…

Now while I didn’t play much of SSX On Tour or Blur, I can basically sum up that this was the beginning of SSX’s downfall. The SSX orchestrators attempted to instil new life into the season with new riders, but the spectators who came to support their favorite riders were left disappointed. Also skiing was a part of SSX for the first time. The seasons were successful but viewership declined.

The SSX events had eventually closed.

While similar events haven’t happened in real snowboarding, you could say media attention for a time was smaller.

macSSX (PS3/Xbox 360)

Until SSX 2012, where in classic fashion veteran SSX rider Zoe Payne decided to gather some of the best SSX riders for a new season. Being something she’s pioneering SSX now stands for Snowboarding, Surfing, and Motocross. Which I guess could be an indication of future potential events.

This new SSX season was pretty much unregulated, these riders didn’t have the sponsorships and money to do the fancy events of before, but they were still the ambitious and professional riders they’ve always been. To revive their sport they needed to tackle uncharted mountains. The aspect of danger needed to be intensified to get people’s attention.

This aspect of the game was  inspired by the movie “The Art of Flight,” an amazing documentary on snowboarders tackling various mountains around the world lead by Travis Rice who makes an appearance in a later patch of the game. This type of riding is one of the most popular aspects of the sport right now. And by far makes the closest comparison between what’s going on in the Snowboarding world, and what’s going on in SSX.

And this doesn’t just apply to Snowboarding…

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“See you Space Cowboy”

Almost every extreme sport seems to go through the stages of regulation or intensified danger. One example is Wingsuit Flying which has gone through the phases of people wanting to get closer and closer to the ground which is pretty much instant death if they mess up.

It’s clear that eventually we’ll have a world of super heroes willing to go snowboarding, jump to wingsuit across a crevice, pull a bad ass trick, then land on the other side at full speed like it was nothing.

And meanwhile I’ll be sitting here by my computer; drawing, writing, and playing video games…