How did Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater slam so hard?
You’ve seen the state of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, right? What a shit show.
If you’ve only been playing games for the past five years or so you’re probably wondering what all these old farts are banging on about when they talk about how good Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater used to be.
As hard as it is to understand now, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater used to be one of the freshest, original, hardcore, cool-as-fuck video games on the planet. It inspired a whole genre of imitators, scored millions of dollars for Activision, helped reinvigorated the shambolic sport of skateboarding and made bands overnight. If your t-shirt/name/music wasn’t associated with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, you were a nobody.
But looking back from 2015 any highs seem a long way off. Now the name is well and truly soiled. Let’s look at a potted history of the series to see how it all went tits up.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, developed by Neversoft, is released in 1999. It’s a damn fine little Skateboarding game with a great soundtrack featuring, gosh, real punk bands. Tony Hawk and his buddies are motion captured. You score points for performing tricks in 2 minute runs. There’s multiplayer splitscreen. That’s pretty cool!
There’s also a freeskate mode, where you just tear up the level. Freedom! It’s not the first extreme sports game, but it’s a damn sight better than Thrasher: Skate & Destroy. The Dreamcast and Xbox versions are ported by a little studio call Treyarch. Gamespot and IGN award it scores in the 90s. It’s a game you didn’t know you wanted, you get it, and it’s great.
Top of the world
Gamers are hungry for a sequel and Neversoft does not disappoint, pumping up everything you loved about the first game and refining the trick system. The soundtrack expands to include hip-hop and all the rad real-world skate brands want a piece of it.
As well as adding legendary skaters like Steve Caballero (the guy your Half Cabs are named after) and Rodney Mullen, you can now create your own skater. Make him fat or thin and it affects your speed, air and other stats. You can also build your own skatepark and save it. This game isn’t just inspired by skate culture, it’s giving something back.
Copiers gon’ copy
By the time Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is out and THPS4 is on the way, there’s a whole genre of extreme sports imitators on the scene. Most of them are stinkers; Jonny Moseley Mad Trix (who?), Gravity Games Bike: Street, Vert, Dirt (wha?) ESPN X Games: Skateboarding (nah). Only EA’s SSX gives it a run for its money, but is different enough due to a focus on racing and speed. There’s no denying that every publisher wants a piece of the extreme sports pie.
Activision goes bigger with 02
Not to be out done, in 2001 Activision starts its own extreme sports label, 02. It pulls in Mat Hoffman Pro BMX and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, as well as Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder, Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer and Wakeboarding Unleashed featuring Shaun Murray. The last one might sound like a pisstake, but it was a rock solid game. They all were. But the market is getting saturated by 2003, and no amount of partnerships with Quicksilver, Vans or DC Shoes is going to protect it from a crash.
Jackass puts Tony in the Poo Cocktail
By now Activision has signed Tony Hawk to a contract that won’t expire until 2015. THPS 4 was okay but criticised for being too hard and ideas are clearly running dry. Alongside the rise of THPS is MTV’s Jackass TV show, in which semi and pro extreme sports jokers spray each other with mace. They also get shaken around in a portaloo full of shit and taser each other. You know, normal Saturday night boys-on-the-town stuff. The two meet in Tony Hawk’s Underground in 2003.
It introduces shopping carts, cars, climbing and the ability to get off your skateboard. Why on earth would you want to do that? The levels are massive and there is a bewildering amount of customisation. It’s good, but the extra stuff feels tacked on. The sequel is enough for us all to realise anything other than a riding a skateboard around a massive level is novelty.
The Wasteland wilderness years
The next three games in yearly succession are American Wasteland, Project 8 and Proving Ground. American Wasteland (2005) is way too easy and although it promised one massive level, was really nothing of the sort. Project 8 (2006) took away online multiplayer on PlayStation but added a pretty cool “nail the trick” mode. Proving Ground (2007), well, no one really cared by this point, because…
EA’s Skate takes the crown
While Tony was going through the motions, EA’s Black Box studio was busy crafting a different take on skateboarding. As simple as it’s name, Skate ignored the cute finger tricks and ridiculous scenarios of THPS and relied instead on physics.
Mimicking natural movement, the “flick it” trick system using analogue sticks was a refreshing revelation. Coupled with human joint modelling and a down to earth goal – get sponsored – the game was a big hit. Skate 2 inevitably followed and Skate 3 was a buggy mess but still enduring. Activision decided that to get Tony Hawk back on top it would need to jump the shark entirely…
Games with plastic peripherals were booming in the late noughties thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, so some marketing clown decided that what Tony Hawk games really needed was a pretend skateboard with Tony Hawk’s Ride (2009).
Equipped with infrared sensors or gyroscopes or some shit, it didn’t work. You fell off easily, it looked daft and the game was poorly made by Robomodo. Still, it didn’t stop sequel, Shred, coming out in 2010. Shred sold less than 3,000 copies in the US on its opening week and that was it: the series was put on hold.
In 2012 the first two games got a makeover by Robomodo and re-released on Xbox 360 and PS3. They were okay, but the dream had long been over. Originator Neversoft, which hadn’t worked on a THPS game since 2007, merged with Infinity Ward and then closed for good in 2014.
A little side-scrolling 2D game called OillOlli came out that same year and reminded us all that there was still fun to be had with skateboarding if developers approached it differently. But we all thought we’d never hear from Hawk again.
The resurrection and undignified death
Holy shit, in 2015 Activision announced a new Tony Hawk game, and what’s more, it was using the old Pro Skater name. Surely this would be a return to former glory? Uh-oh, Robomodo’s name is on the box.
We knew something was wrong when it wasn’t on display at E3 or Gamescom. Even the developer’s early footage looked awful. And then here we are today, with a game that is truly an abomination. It’s a humiliating end to a series that once earned millions, helped blaze a trail for a grass roots sport and establish a genuine subculture as part of the mainstream.
Tony Hawk is still the biggest name in skateboarding, an internationally respected business man, driven charity fundraiser and ambassador for the sport. The contract with Activision is over, but there’s no reason why he couldn’t sign up with another publisher. Or maybe it’s time for another name to step up as the face of skating games. Nah, honestly, he’s still skating, so why should he stop now?