As our stoniest winter sports enthusiasts, snowboarders are rarely in a hurry. On the slopes, though, speed is everything. It’s a lesson designers at EA Canada took to heart as they built the revival of snowboarding franchise SSX, out next month. Everything about the game—from its total epicness to its full-on gnarliness, bro—got a serious velocity boost thanks to the Aster Global Digital Elevation Map, a joint satellite project between NASA and Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In 2009, the project released digital data from 1.3 million high-resolution stereo pair images of Earth’s surface into the public domain.
EA Canada downloaded the Aster data into its proprietary level-building tool, Mountain Man. The tool then let designers conjure a three-dimensional model of K2 at lightning speed by merely inputting the peak’s latitude and longitude: The system could render more than 100,000 polygons in a jaw-dropping 28 seconds. “We knew we were onto something huge,” says Todd Batty, the game’s creative director. The innovation shrank the team’s track-building time from a year to a month, freeing designers to transform the world’s iconic mountain ranges—from the Alps to the Himalayas—into trick parks.
Riders will now be able to helicopter-drop onto the icy heights of Kilimanjaro, grind off the Great Wall of China, descend Everest, deploy a wing suit, and race in real time against 100,000 other players around the world—all set against a backdrop that’s as realistic as anything on Google Earth. Powder enthusiasts will find their hunger for speed and air well sated; any other recreationally induced cravings can probably be handled for them by Domino’s.