Moments: Seeing Tony Hawk For The First Time

by Matt Helgeson on Apr 04, 2013 at 06:00 AM

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is remembered as a classic, but it wasn't always so. Back in 1999, it was an unknown game from an unheralded PlayStation developer in a genre that many thought could never be successful. I still recall the first time I saw it.

The events of my career at Game Informer have grown a bit hazy over the years, but I was either an unpaid intern at that time or had just been given a full-time position as an associate editor. In either case, the Game Informer "offices" back then were an odd-shaped room of about 15 feet long crammed to the ceiling with all the editors, piles of video games and promotional materials, and forests of empty Coke cans. Because we all shared the same space, every time a new game came in the office, all the editors could easily check it out.

The day that Tony Hawk arrived, no one was particularly excited about that game. While that might seem like heresy now, you have to remember the times. Skateboarding games hadn't been a hot property in gaming for years; you'd have to go back to old-school titles like Skate or Die!, 720°, and the boarding portion of the ancient California Games to find decent skateboarding games.

From our perspective, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was a licensed game developed by second-tier studio, Neversoft, which was best known (if it was known at all) for a middling PlayStation game called Apocalypse that featured goofy voiceovers from action star Bruce Willis.

Reiner usually checked out the new games in those days, and he dutifully booted up the game to get a feel for it. This early version of the game contained the now-iconic first level (Warehouse), and it didn't take long for us to see that Neversoft had created something special. This was video game skateboarding the likes of which we hadn't seen before.

As Reiner began to grasp the complex, fighting-game style combos and learn the grinding lines, a crowd began to gather around his desk. While it was hardly a simulation of real skateboarding, the superhuman feats he was able to perform had us all transfixed. Our attitude of indifference had changed to one of eagerness; we were soon asking Reiner if we could grab the controller and have a run.

To this day, it's hard to remember a game that had this kind of impact in the office. For the next few years, Tony Hawk (and it's excellent early sequels, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and 3) became a staple of our outside-the-office gaming. I still remember the apartment I had in the Uptown neighborhood in Minneapolis where I spent countless hours trying to perfect half pipe tricks and grind lines.

This surprise title made such an impact on us that it won a spot on the cover of Game Informer. Reiner made the gutsy decision to pull our originally planned cover in favor of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. I'll let him tell that story:

"With editor-in-chief Andy McNamara gone on a trip to attend the PlayStation 2's unveiling in Japan, and no means of communicating with him at the time, I decided to pull the planned Pokémon Yellow cover story in favor of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. We only had a day to make the change and I had to act fast. I thought for sure I was going to get fired for changing the cover without telling Andy, but on the day he arrived back in the office, he said I made the right call. Like all of the editors who fell in love with the game, once Andy saw Pro Skater, he knew this game was destined to be a classic."