The lights are on
After seeing the rise and fall of the skateboarding game genre, Tony Hawk hopes his latest HD title can reinvigorate the hungry fanbase.
After unsuccessful attempts with Tony Hawk Ride and Tony Hawk Shred, Activision is going back to the start with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, which offers a collection of levels from the first two titles completely reworked with new textures and graphics. The game is being offered digitally through Xbox Live and PlayStation Network later this year.
During an interview with Tony at the Game Developers Conference this week, we asked him his thoughts on the industry, game reviewers, and where skateboard games are going.
Game Informer: What is the current state of skateboarding games right now?
Tony Hawk: It’s a bit diluted. Not just because of the titles but because of all the devices. There are so many ways to get games now. It’s still alive and well. There’s definitely still a lot of interest and skating and technology keeps evolving. It’ll be here to stay in some form.
Where do you see the skateboarding games evolving? It seems we’re at the end of this console cycle. There will be more powerful hardware coming soon. Where can you go?
I think it’s more the size of the landscapes and the graphics. I like our control scheme that we’ve had since day one. If anything, a way to branch out of there would be to do more motion-based controls. I think it would be better to keep it open as an option so you can do one or the other in the same game. No one has really done that properly.
As much as I want to make an emulated skateboarding game, if we only use motion controls, we’ll lose a lot of fans.
When did you start to have conversations with Activision about doing a HD game?
I had this idea to make this type of game in the year we had off between titles to make Tony Hawk: Ride. Activision was so used to making one title a year. It was a little bit ambitious of me to think we could get it out that quickly knowing now just how much it takes to make an HD game. I brought it to Activision and they said they didn’t have the resources to make that in time.
Doing Ride, that project got rushed because it took us half the time to figure out the peripheral, which we thought would have been the easier part. Ride was rushed, and Shred was what I wanted Ride to be, but by the time Shred came out peripherals were fading away, so it was bad timing.
Even so, I’m still proud of it. I wish Shred would have come out sooner. Once people started using full-body motion and all this plastic started piling up, that was kind of the end of it. If we had the right timeframe, we could have made it something more critically acclaimed.
Is Tony Hawk HD a test bed for you? I don’t think you’re anticipating major sales for this.
I would like this to be the foundation to build on bringing this type of gameplay back, like later on doing downloadable content with new levels and tricks, etc. To have a franchise game only available as a download is unique in itself and somewhat risky. In that, we can add new content little by little. It doesn’t have to be a major upgrade every time. Is it a test? I’d like to think of it more than that.
If Tony Hawk HD is successful, would it reshape your original plan going forward?
I don’t imagine this game branching out into something of a Kinect-based system. So if we did something down the line that’s more motion-based, it would probably have to be its own project. For the foreseeable future, I want to do the HD game and release levels from Tony Hawk 3 and 4. If we can do that and release brand new levels no one has played, that’s the dream realized.
Is there a point in the Tony Hawk series that you think it started going off the rails from your original vision?
The whole push through each incarnation was new features. Once we went to Proving Ground and were using the flick system where you use both analog sticks to control each foot. I think that’s when we starting going too far with just trying to add new features as opposed to just making new levels and challenges. A lot of people lost interest as soon as we went out of the two-minute challenges.
Do you think having to put out yearly releases tires franchises out?
Yes and no. It was enough time for us because the engine and foundation was set. Neversoft knew skating inside and out. I think by the time we got to Proving Ground, the skate genre was getting diluted and splitting sales. The gaming industry was no longer about 10 to 20 strong titles anymore, it was about two titles -- Call of Duty and Halo.
Electronic Arts challenged your game with the Skate series. But it has already come and gone.
When Skate came out it was right when Proving Ground came out, and it split the sales of our genre in half; almost down the middle. A lot of people were saying it was 3 to 1. I know the numbers and it was down the middle. In a way it cut our business and half and it probably didn’t let EA sell as many as they hoped the first time out.
That being said, [the skate genre] needed a shakeup for sure. That’s a lot of reason it drove me to do something new. I could tell Neversoft was getting tired, too.
How did Tony Hawk: Ride and Shred sell to your expectations?
Ride sold well. Shred was coming off the heels of bad reviews of Ride. That was a hard tide to work against.
You criticized game reviewers for the scores they gave Ride. What do you think about game reviews nowadays?
People already had their opinion set about Ride before it even came out. By and large, I noticed the ones that were giving it bad reviews were the ones that played it for 15 minutes and didn’t go through the tutorial. They just got on and thought they’d be experts at the game because they are “expert gamers.” That was my criticism mostly to them. They didn’t give it a chance.
Do you think the tutorial was maybe a design decision you overlooked?
All those issues were definitely fixed in Shred. We made so many improvements through that process. It’s just that Ride was rushed and Shred was late.
Looking back at all the games you released so far. What is your proudest moment?
There were a few skaters that I wanted in the first game that refused to sign, and every one of them signed up for the second one. In terms of skate industry acceptance, that was my proudest moment because they knew I had skating’s best intentions in mind and keeping the integrity and the first video game did just that.
Another one was I had a group of friends that were all hardcore skaters and as we were developing the first game, I told them you got to chip your PlayStation and I’ll send you the discs so you can play it because you’re not going to believe how good this is. They played it so much they started calling it “the game.” That was huge for me.
Activision is still sticking behind your franchise. What do they talk to you about?
This HD game was something I brought to Activision. It wasn’t them trying to force a Tony Hawk game out. It was me wanting to do this because the fans kept asking for it. My conversations with Bobby Kotick was about really doing this and doing with Robomodo. Beyond that I don’t have much to do with Activision business.
The industry is such a way now that if you don’t have a 90 rated game it's much harder to make money. How often do you think about the industry as a whole?
At this point I’m not doing this for the money. I’m doing it because I want the fans to be happy with these games. I made more money in videogames than I ever dreamed. It changed my life. I want this to be profitable for Activision because I want to keep doing it. That’s the bottom line.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skate HD is coming to Xbox Live and PSN later this year.