[In the latest in a series of Gamasutra-exclusive bonus material originally to be included in Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's new book Vintage Games: An Insider Look at the History of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the Most Influential Games of All Time, the duo presents a history of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, the game that popularized a niche genre and sparked a host of imitators in the early part of this decade.]
Screenshot from Atari's 720 Degrees arcade game.
Extreme sports video games have a long and storied history, culminating with the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in 1999, which ramped the genre to superstar status. As we've seen, nearly every game in this series has predecessors, and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is no different.
Games like 720 Degrees, a 1986 arcade skateboarding game from Atari, and Skate or Die!, a 1987 multiplatform home release from Electronic Arts, made scores of gamers happy, but it was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater that would take the genre successfully into the realm of 3D, offering unparalleled levels of control and fluid motion so critical to such games, in turn spawning a whole slew of me-too products that wanted to outperform and be more extreme than skateboarding icon Tony Hawk himself.
Screenshot from Skate or Die!, Commodore 64 version.
Of course, extreme sports -- also referred to as action or adventure sports -- are not limited to the skateboard. The term can represent any over-the-top or dangerous sporting activity, which is particularly at home in the world of video games.
From the early Olympic sports video games, culminating with Epyx's multiplatform California Games (1987), which featured skateboarding, freestyle footbag, surfing, roller skating, flying disc, and BMX minigames, to the classic NBA Jam (1993) and NFL Blitz (1997) series of highly stylized and simplified arcade sports video games, there has been no shortage of compelling, action-packed alternatives to traditional sports gaming.
What Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, which has now generated $1 billion in sales across the course of the series, added was an extraordinary level of realism to the over-the-top antics that resonated with many players who were turned off by the overly competitive nature of the previous games. By making it about technique over style, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater expanded its audience to far more players than any other game of its type before.
Screenshot from the surfing event in California Games, Commodore 64 version.
Box back for the Sony PlayStation version of Midway's NBA Jam Tournament Edition (1994).
Screenshot from the arcade version of Midway's NFL Blitz (1997), which put a more violent twist on the over-the-top antics of the successful NBA Jam formula.
 Sega's hit Top Skater (aka, Top Skater Sega Skateboarding) arcade game from 1997, which featured a skateboard controller and railings as part of its oversized cabinet, was one of the first 3D skateboarding simulations, but was as much about racing as it was about performing stylish tricks.
Despite the eventual release of mostly mediocre home skateboarding controllers thanks to the popularity of games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Top Skater never received a home port.