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The History of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater: Ollies, Grabs, and Grinds
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The History of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater: Ollies, Grabs, and Grinds

March 10, 2009 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next
 

[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[1], 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.


[1] 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. 


Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Comments


Bill Loguidice
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You can check out additional images/captions that didn't make it into the article by going to the online chapter's bonus images page, here: http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/2334 . You'll also find over 100 other bonus images not found in the book itself or in the online bonus chapters.

Jonathan Teske
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I'm surprised you didn't mention any of the GBA ports by Vicarious Visions. They developed a great new isometric engine that was ahead of its time and particularly amazing considering how much power they were able to draw from the GBA. THPS 2 and 3 on the GBA were among my favorites in the series. I hope Activision can bring the magic back and breathe some new life into this series.

Bill Loguidice
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Thanks for the addition, Jonathan. Since these bonus chapters were originally meant to be included in the book, they can't by their nature be comprehensive. In fact, many of the games in the book and in the online bonus chapters on Gamasutra can fill up entire books by themselves. The goal of these bonus chapters not found in the book, as with the book itself, is to inform the reader as completely as possible in the space allotted. Hopefully they arm readers with all they need to know to further educate themselves on the subject in an informed manner if they so choose. It's supposed to be entertaining and as complete as possible without bogging the reader down in encyclopedic-like minutia. Places online like "Planet Tony Hawk" are a great source for further reading as it specifically relates to the Tony Hawk franchise, if not extreme or alternative sports gaming in general like the chapter speaks to.

Joshua Dallman
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Nice article, but there is one glaring error or omission.



"It wasn't until later in the development process that Tony Hawk was signed on and the game took on the name we all know."



I read an interview with Tony Hawk by a skateboarding magazine some 5 years ago where he said that the idea for doing a skateboarding game was his, and that he went around to the various video game companies pitching the idea and they laughed him off. He remembers one big brand-name company (was it Atari?) whose president laughed him out of the meeting and said, quote, "There is no market for a skateboarding video game." That's a famous quote and I'm disappointed to not see it and that piece of history here, in what is a history of the series. It's possible they had started THPS1 before he got on board, but it's important to note that he wasn't simply tacking his name onto an existing game, he had the idea and was trying to pitch the game on his own. This is also the reason why he's had such creative control and input over the series. I'd love if you could find the reference and update/post it here.

Bill Loguidice
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Thanks, Joshua. By all means dig up that information. Based on our research, as the article states, the game was already under development when Tony Hawk became involved. After Hawk's involvement, the production was taken to the next level. I think there are three key takeaways here, that the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was aided by: 1 - Usable full 3D, 2 - Motion Capture, 3 - Tony Hawk's involvement. The first two enabled the immersion and simulation aspects that were missing from earlier 2D action-oriented titles and the third ensured that the authenticity and feel would be just right, coming from no better primary source as an enthusiastic consultant.

Joshua Dallman
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Additionally I remember reading in that same interview (I believe it was Thrasher online but the article has since been removed) that they tried hooking Tony Hawk up to mo-cap for THPS1, but that the results were less than elegant (the uncanny valley of "too much realism"), so they decided to just use them for reference and hand-animate them which they said worked splendidly. Since I was making a similar game at the time, based on that info I decided to use hand-animation rather than mo-cap, so I specifically remember that reference. Your reference said that the mo-cap was abandoned by the second game, but I believe it was abandoned in the first one. I'll do my best to see if I have the interview archived on my hard drive, otherwise it's lost to the Thrasher archives.

Jason Keeney
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Bill is correct that by the time Tony Hawk had his name attached to the game, most of the "soul" of what would become THPS1 had already been put into existence.



Joshua is correct that despite a mo-cap session attended by the videogame press (and it being a bullet point on the back of the box), all of the animations actually used in THPS1 were done by hand.

Bill Loguidice
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Thanks, Jason. Is it also true that the motion captures were used as reference points by the animators?

Jason Keeney
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First off. I think you mean "animator"... singular. :) Noel Hines was the one-and-only.



Motion capture used as a reference? Maybe... I think by the time we had that motion-capture session, the work on animations were well under way. But really, my memory is too fuzzy and I'm probably the wrong person to ask about how much influence the mo-cap ultimately had on the finished work.



The problems with actually using the mo-cap was that it was going to take way too much work to turn the raw data into something useful and, more importantly, it just plain didn't look as good as the hand made stuff (not as dramatic, etc...).

Mick West
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We started prototypes for a skateboarding game in May 1998, at that time Tony was not attached to the project, and the thought was to associate the game with a skateboarding magazine. Nothing was certain though, and Tony Hawk's name was discussed very early on, with Tony Hawk reference material being used in July 98 (according to my emails)



Work began in full in October 1998, by which time Tony Hawk was pretty much the name of the game. Tony's initial involvement was not major though. The mo-cap was done in April 1999, but there was never any expectation that the data would be very useful. Good publicity though. The actual animation was done by hand by Noel using video reference of various skaters - mostly from commercial skate videos. The game was finished in August 1999.

sarah harden
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Old school games are pretty sick, but i feel what's taken the new skateboard video games to another level is the customization aspects from picking your own skateboard, skateboarder and even making custom parks. can't wait for the new stuff coming out. it's even influenced the skate industry. there's a new grip tape company clever grip www.clevergrip.com. They offer customized grip tape. http://Clevergrip.com


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