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When the EA Black Box-developed Skate was first announced, the game was anything but a sure thing. But notably, last holiday season's iteration eclipsed the sales of the most recent iteration of the Tony Hawk series, the reigning champion of all extreme sports game -- that which had outlasted all comers, including Electronic Arts, during the genre's boom in the late '90s to early 2000s.
How did this happen? The result, according to EA executive producer Scott Blackwood, is built on a group of developers passionate and knowledgeable about the sport, allowed to prototype and experiment -- building the game from the ground up under the instruction that there was no established formula for the genre.
Here, Blackwood outlines that process, as well as detailing the motivational tactics used to improve the game for its second iteration, Skate 2, which is due very early next year (rival Activision didn't release a Tony Hawk title this holiday season, and hasn't announced a new version of its franchise just yet.)
Blackwood also describes the process by which the team has defined what elements of its technological solutions must be built from the ground up and which can be brought in from outside -- a prioritization process absolutely crucial to delivering the game on time and on budget.
You had a lot of success with the first game. You took the crown away from Tony Hawk, to a certain extent. Was that what you were expecting, or what kind of reception were you anticipating? Because you came out with a very different kind of game.
Scott Blackwood: It would be hard to say that you would expect to do that. We didn't go in with that expectation. It wasn't really the spirit with which we started Skate. A lot of us were skaters, and we had the opportunity to get into something different. We had a vision for a totally different way of doing a skateboarding game, but there were a lot of risks involved.
We didn't want to copy Tony Hawk. We didn't want to waste one or two years of our lives just recreating something that, for what it was, had pretty much been perfected already. There were a lot of risks, and it was going in a different direction, and we were stoked that it paid off. So I don't know about crown this-or-that.
I just hope that it is the beginning of a rejuvenation of the category of the genre, because action sports games are just fun. We wanted to make a game that was fun and represented skateboarding in a different way. We just freshened up the category a little bit. It just felt like it needed a new injection. We didn't go into it as corporately competitive as people maybe think. We just had an idea, and thankfully we had the support of a company to go through with it.
You said that people on the team were actually into skateboarding, so is this like a natural kind of percolating idea that had been going around the studio, or something that you'd been discussing while you were working on other projects?
SB: I know that the idea of doing the skateboarding game had been around, and there were some different approaches to how we might try to get into that category. Obviously, we had a lot of success with SSX -- an amazing game, and I loved it.
And yet, I think that approach -- which is a more super-arcadey, good times, get your hands on it -- wasn't necessarily the way to approach getting into skateboarding, because that had been done.
We thought about it a lot, and a few of us just started this. It was really a grassroots thing. A bunch of guys who were passionate about doing a skateboarding game and doing something different and who skated... getting the go-ahead to go in a different direction, which at the time was pretty cool.
In terms of the way the design was... was it something that someone in the studio had been thinking about in the back of their mind for a long time, or was it actually more iterative? How was it born?
SB: Basically, the idea of approaching that skateboarding genre had been around for a while.
Sure, but the way you did it, specifically.
SB: At the time, we didn't feel like we necessarily had the right way to get into the genre. When I got together with some of the guys who'd been thinking about it -- Chris and Jay had both been skating for like 30 years -- and were dying to make a skateboarding game. We wiped the slate clean.
I just said, "Guys, pretend that nobody had ever made a skateboarding game before. What would we do?" and just started with philosophies. "Okay, let's see if we can keep it real." That's fine, but it's not fine if it's boring. We built up from there. "Okay, if we keep it real, can we innovate on the controls, the cameras, and the physics?" We just built it out like nothing else had ever existed.