There are countless examples of things I did in videogames which I never did on real life: I never saved a princess, I never piloted a plane, I never killed anybody, I never skated, I never managed an amusement’s park, I never saved the World, etc. There are, however, some games which suppressed the reality so perfectly that I felt like I was REALLY doing some of these things. One of them was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Yes, it is true I never physically skated. But it is also true that one of the things I remember from the time I put my hands on this game was going to all this locations with my board, and doing a lot of cool moves while listening to some amazing music. It does not matter if it was on the Dreamcast: I was a hell of a skater when I was younger.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the first game of a Franchise still active these days. It was initially released to Playstation in 1999, getting versions to Dreamcast, Nintendo 64 and N-Gage the next year. This skateboarding videogame was acclaimed by critics and players everywhere. This was not by luck: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is an excellent game. If I had to choose the best game (or at least my personal favorite, more fun) I played on Dreamcast, this would be it! Absolutely. All genres included!
I first played Tony Hawk’s in my sister’s Dreamcast (now mine). We did not owe the game, however, making it one of those items I bought on eBay exclusively to my collection. But that’s ok though, this is one of those games I like to keep around, so that I can return from time to time to my old skating spots.
How I got it
As I said, I never knew how to skate. For a while, still a little kid and for countless times, I asked my parents for a board. My parents somehow didn’t believe my physical skills, apparently, and never gave me one. Well, you can’t have it all (nobody likes spoiled brats), but for long it was “the one toy that got away” (later I had in-line skates and never cared for them a lot, so probably my parents were right). I never thought about skateboarding anymore. Anyway, the fact is that when I first got my hands on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, I wasn’t all that excited.
And then I tried it…
Do you know the first time you play a beat’em up, and you start touching buttons, and your character starts making all this amazing moves? Well, I remember starting this game, choosing the first skater (Tony Hawk – who I didn’t know), the first board, and watching them appear in the warehouse. Then, after a “look around” to realize the only way from the starting point was down through the windows, it took few seconds before I started making all these outstanding tricks on the half-pipe. It was as simple as that: easy to play. Later (a lot later) I found the really outstanding tricks the game hid. It was not so simple anymore: hard to master.
I dedicated a lot of time to this game. This was probably the phase of my life I spent more hours in my little sister’s room. Fortunately the girl could sleep with the game’s music on. As for me, well, my sister could be screaming or playing with friends or whatever: while playing this game, there was no outside world.
While researching for this article, I found out I never played the last level. I can’t remember why. Was I not as good as I thought? Or was I simply so occupied replaying my favorite locations that I really didn’t care for unlocking new ones? Not sure. But trying the final level seems like a good excuse to look for my old “virtual board”.
And for those of you thinking that I was a bad brother and never let my sister play, I must say you’re wrong. Not only did she play, but I also taught her what I knew about skating. She was a 9/10 years old “girly girl” who had left her Barbies not long ago, but boy, could she skate! The legacy carried on!
(Actually she never got the passion for videogames from me, but it was a good last sentence for this section).
Condition and Description
I bought the game on eBay. The box his kind of fucked-up, I must tell you (even though the bastard seller published it “as new”). Not everybody takes good care of their games…
Skaters are cool. They’re so cool that they continued to be cool even after Avril Lavigne made some shitty song about one. It’s hard for coolness to survive to an Avril Lavigne’s song. But skater’s coolness did. David Perry is also cool. But he’s a game designer, not a skater (at least not that I know of). He has a 40-questions questionnaire (link) used to evaluate game ideas. One of the questions refers as positive the fact that a game makes you look cool to your peers by playing it. That’s what happens with this game (along with other characteristics which I will point later): skaters are so cool that you are cool (but not as cool) simply by controlling one in your console. And a lot of people wanted to be cool while playing a great game, and that’s what made Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater such a big hit worldwide.
The game was released in 1999 for Playstation, and in 2000 for Nintendo 64, Dreamcast and N-Gage. There was also a version running on Gameboy Color, obviously nothing like the ones running on more powerful machines. This skateboarding game was acclaimed by the critics, originating a successful franchise still being published today, and spanning all platforms that appeared meanwhile.
In this game, the player controls a skater, exploring different locations, performing grinds, aerials and flips, which give different points when executed correctly. The points associated with a trick are related with the time the move is maintained, the degrees rotated, the number of tricks performed in sequence and the amount of times the trick has been used (the more you use a trick, the less it’s worth). Every time the player successfully executes a move, a special bar grows. Once full, the player can execute “signature moves”, which give more points than normal ones. When the player falls, this bar is reset to empty, and the move being executed gives no points.
There are three game modes, single player: “Career”, “Single Session” and “Free Skate”. In “Single Session” and “Free Skate”, the player has the opportunity to play the levels unlocked in career mode with a time count (2 minutes’ run) or without time constraints. There are also three multiplayer modes: “Graffiti”, “Trick Attack” and “Horse”.
In “Career Mode”, the player must obtain different objectives in six levels (symbolized as tapes). Two tapes are obtained by beating some pre-defined score, one tape is hidden (hence, must be found), one is obtained by collecting the letters forming the word SKATE (spread around the level) and one tape involves “doing something to 5 some things” (like “grind five picnic tables” at school). There are also three levels which are competitions, where you’re scored by a judge, and must obtain bronze, silver or gold medals. The player unlocks levels by getting the minimal tapes required (not necessarily getting all from all the previous levels). A player can only advance from a “competition level” after getting a medal.
The game’s sound, both regarding sound-effects and music (but mostly music) also got acclaimed by the critics and players. The (mostly) punk songs chosen proved right for most players, and are memorable until today (even if the tracks were not complete, because of storage limitations in the disc format), also contributing for the game’s success. The complete franchise originated revenue of more than 1 billion dollars. And to show the impact this game had on the players, it matters to say that a HD version which re-releases levels from the first two games of the series, released in 2012, sold 120k units on the first week only.
Unique and Notorious
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is a Great game. Its sales worldwide show exactly that. Next, I will introduce the characteristics that made this game THE game which set the trends not only for skateboarding games, but for all extreme-sports simulation, and made it fun, exciting and addictive.
Learn to skate in one minute – The game puts you in action in no time. That’s a good way to get your attention. When you start playing, even if you don’t like skateboarding, even if you never played any skateboarding game, even if you’re not with great expectations, you’ll be making skate tricks in no time. And enjoying it. That’s probably the greatest thing in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater: the game is so well designed that it hooks you simply for what it is – the first GREAT skateboarding game. When you have a great game, that’s all you need! The game designer’s knew that!
Controls – Associated with the previous, by allowing it to happen, are the game’s controls. A really well designed control schema makes it extremely easy to control your skater… while you stay in the “easy tricks area”. But when you try to make more complex moves, and specially combos, you really need skills (like in real life). And you acquire those skills naturally, with practice. The controls are so well designed that putting together a nice sequence becomes “natural” and you start reacting to level elements as they appear, without thinking. Just amazing.
Flow – “Flow” is a complex psychology term used to (simplifying it) describe the mental state of somebody completely focused on an activity, fully involved by it and enjoying it. In games, the ability to allow the flow state originates the motivation somebody has to play a game, and is something every game designer should consider.
Freedom – This is not amazing nor original, but I would simply like to express here the fact that you don’t need to get ALL tapes in one level to unlock the next, letting you choose “freely” which level to play in order to unlock the next one, is an excellent decision. It saves the player from the frustration of the last, really hard tape.
Soundtrack – There’s not a lot to say here: this game made me listen to punk even without me knowing I liked it so much. Before GTA III, this was the game with the best soundtrack, in my opinion. An example of how a well-chosen soundtrack helps to get the player completely immersed in the game. Not sure of how much the music was responsible for the “adrenaline pump” I felt every time I played this game, but I’m pretty sure it was not ignorable.
Levels – Never went to a skate park in my life. Not even sure if there is any “real” skate park in Portugal. But if there is, they should be built based on the game’s levels. A LOT of attention to details, and clearly MANY hours of testing make this game’s locations really enjoyable to play in. After you finish some maneuver, there is always another level element waiting for you, allowing you to make combo moves for as long as your skills let you. Also, the variety of the levels makes them feel different. They are not only distinguishable because of their location: they also play differently.
Balance Arcade/Simulation – Skating is hard, I suppose. At least it sure looks like it. Imagine if the game was really simulating a skate run: would you be willing to spend all the time needed until you could really do some amazing tricks? Probably not. Other thing which could work as a turn off is physics: Goddammit laws of attraction, which do not allow us to jump 100 meters. This game is well designed enough to make skating easy enough for everyone to enjoy, and the physics’ laws “relaxed” enough to increase the spectacularity, without losing the feeling that you are, indeed, controlling a real skateboard, in a real skatepark, in the real planet earth.
Longevity – This game does not have that many levels, and they are not that big. However, you just want to play it again and again, without it getting old. Why? Because you see yourself getting better, learning new moves (they were unlocked, you just didn’t have the skills before) and wanting to test them in places you have already been before, even if you already got all the tapes in that level. Also, hidden places in the level work as a way for you to explore them again and again. As it reads in one of the references to this text, this game is really amazing in the ratio money/hours of fun.
Scoring – Repeated moves give fewer points. This makes you learn the complete “arsenal” to be good. I know this is not some design decision, but still works as a good way to tell you that players should be motivated (and sometimes obliged) to try the complete potential of the game. This happens here.
Tapes – A negative one: tapes. Not the existence of a “to do list” on each level, but the existence of gigantic, flying tapes. And also, the letters that form the word “SKATE”. I remember from my game design classes from a problem that my teachers explained: imagine you’re making a in-your face “realistic” war game. You want to leave some ammo to the player, somewhere in the jungle. If you put the ammo with realistic look, the player can pass around it without knowing it is there. If you put BIG ammo, filled with lights around, the player will find it easily, but the suspension of disbelief will be lost. This is what I feel with the game’s tapes and ‘SKATE’. It’s not that big of a deal, but it feels, I don’t know… weird.
Formal Elements (as defined by T. Fullerton)
layers: Mostly 1 player, with 3 “head-to-head” modes for 2 players.
Objective: Perform grinds, aerials and flips to get points, before the time runs out. On the “Career” mode, get the five tapes on each level, allowing unlocking more levels. On the competition levels, get one medal to unlock more levels.
Procedures: The player can control the skater all over the level, gain speed, jump, and perform grinds, aerials and flips to get points. The player can also execute featured moves.
Distinctive Rules: Every time the player successfully completes a trick, it gets points and its “special bar” increases. Once full, the player may execute a featured trick, which gives more points than a normal one. When a player falls while doing a trick, its special bar gets reset to empty, and the trick gives no points. Repeating a move gives lesser points to the player. On the competition levels, the player gets no points, but instead a final punctuation (0 to 10) given by the judges). The player gets 5 tapes per level (non-competitions), related to 5 objectives. The player needs a given number of tapes to unlock levels and equipment. A player do not need to get all tapes from all previous levels to unlock a new one.
Resources: Time. Tapes. “Special bar”. Points.
Conflict: Trying to get the increasingly harder tapes, and medals, according to the level.
Boundaries: Each level has an area where the player can skate, with physical boundaries. Other than that, only mechanics’ laws limit the player’s movement.
Outcome: To each “run”, the player’s outcome is related with the number of points and tapes obtained. On each trick, the player can land successful or not. There are infinite tries on each level.
Name: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Company: Neversoft (original Playstation version) ported to Dreamcast by Treyarch.
Game Designer: Aaron Cammarata, Chris Rausch
Fullerton, Tracy, Game Design Workshop, 2nd Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. Morgan Kaufmann, February 2008.