Crispy Gamer

Tony Hawk Rides the Rails

It was time to rethink the Tony Hawk series. The last two games, according to GameRankings, were no longer scoring in the high 80s. In fact, American Wasteland (which I liked because of its intense story) and Proving Ground (which seemed like the same old, same old) scored 75 percent and 73 percent, respectively.

Activision not only went back to the drawing board for Tony Hawk: Ride, Hawk and Activision also decided to add a cool-looking wireless peripheral to make the experience richer and more real. Hawk demonstrated the add-on and sat down for a one-on-one chat with Crispy Gamer at E3 2009.

Crispy Gamer: What's your first memory of skateboarding?

Tony Hawk: My first memory of skating, well, was not really skating on a skateboard. It was in my driveway. My brother had an old board, and I asked if I could try it. I just went down the driveway. I was yelling at him, "How do I steer this thing?!"

Crispy Gamer: Did you fall off?

Hawk: No. I went straight, all the way to the end of the driveway. Then, I physically picked it up, turned it around, and went back the other way.

Interview: Tony Hawk Rides The Rails

Crispy Gamer: There was no fear.

Hawk: I immediately liked it.

Crispy Gamer: What would you say your biggest accomplishment in the sport has been?

Hawk: I think, in the big picture, it's making a career out of it. It just really wasn't an option or a dream, when I was a kid, that anyone could do this for a living. Specifically, I think a lot of people associate me with landing the first 900 (revolving in the air two and a half times) in the X Games in 1999. That was a huge bonus for me, for sure. I had tried it on and off for 10 years. That put a really high note to the end of my competitive career. Ever since then, I've just been skating all the time at exhibitions and making videogames.

Crispy Gamer: Was it difficult to bring this sport to the masses? Were there obstacles along the way?

Hawk: It wasn't really my goal. But I always realized that there was more to the sport than people were seeing. People were more focused on hairdos and outfits and not the whole act of skating. I think that through not quitting, and skating through really adverse times, and still eking out a living while doing it, taught me a lot about what I wanted to do with my life and how much I really enjoyed skateboarding. I got a few opportunities along the way and really put my heart and soul into them, like videogames. I feel we really represented skating well. The fact that the videogame was good helped to really explode the industry as a whole.

Interview: Tony Hawk Rides The Rails

Crispy Gamer: When you say "adverse," you mean what?

Hawk: Financially and just dealing with a lot of naysayers. People didn't think skating was cool. People didn't think you should be doing it past the age of 18. I just pressed on because I felt like doing it so much. I just couldn't quit. Even if I had to find another job, I was still going to skate.

Crispy Gamer: They really said you were too old?

Hawk: Too old. And that skating was out of date and that there's no future in it.

Crispy Gamer: Looking at it now, it appears it's never going to go out of date.

Hawk: But back then it did. It went out of fashion a few times. But I feel like now there's so much interest and so much excitement. Parents themselves are encouraging their kids to go into skating. It's been a whole shift of perception.

Crispy Gamer: What about your kids?

Hawk: My oldest son is an avid skater. He skates all the time. He's 16. My 10-year-old skates leisurely. My eight-year-old -- sometimes, but not too often. He loves LEGO. [Shrugs] What can I say?

Interview: Tony Hawk Rides The Rails

Crispy Gamer: You're a hero to a lot of kids and adults. Who's your hero?

Hawk: I'd have to say Lance Armstrong. He went through a lot with the cancer. And he came out swinging better than ever.

Crispy Gamer: When you first wanted to do a game, how did you go about it?

Hawk: When I first came up with an idea for a skateboard game, I kind of pitched it around to a few different people, including Midway and Nintendo and a couple of others. There was just no interest. You know, people, if nothing else, just wanted to tell me how it was a bad idea.

Activision heard that I was going around with a game idea, and they called me, saying they were actually working on a game themselves. They said they would love to have my expertise, and have me help direct it and lend my name to it. I saw a sample of what they were doing. It looked so good that I thought, "That's it. This is what I want to do." They really understood it.

Interview: Tony Hawk Rides The Rails

Crispy Gamer: You care a lot about the game music, too. In particular, you're a big punk fan and had Rancid play at your wedding in Fiji.

Hawk: They're my wife's favorite band. I was surprised they agreed, but it was great that they did. Yeah, music is a big part of the game. The bar gets raised with every game. I'm very involved in choosing what goes in.

Crispy Gamer: As far as the games go, is there one most memorable Tony Hawk game moment you can point to?

Hawk: I think in terms more of levels and features that we added to them. One of my favorite all-time levels was Downhill Jam in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2. A lot of [Tony Hawk Ride], especially the L.A. River level, is emulating that because I always thought that was such a great layout. The whole thing about the Downhill Jam level is that it's point A to point B. Not all of our games had levels like that; in fact, very few had. It presented a lot of challenges, a lot of big jumps and a lot of good combo options. We actually ended up naming a game Downhill Jam later on. It worked so well, we couldn't let it go.

Crispy Gamer: Were there any Tony Hawk games that didn't work as well for you?

Hawk: I don't know. I feel like we were on a path with our games and the approach to it and the control schemes -- we couldn't just change it completely for a sequel. It just wouldn't work, because people had gotten used to the control schemes and expected a certain game. I don't think it was that we needed to make it better. I think people just wanted a new control scheme in a different format. The whole button/combo thing -- you can only go so far with it. At some point, it becomes more Mortal Kombat than skating.

Interview: Tony Hawk Rides The Rails

Crispy Gamer: Because you start mashing.

Hawk: Mashing buttons, yeah. And that's when I realized that to give a true, virtual skating experience, we gotta go to a skateboard controller.

Crispy Gamer: Did it bother you that Microsoft displayed another skateboarding game in addition to yours at its E3 press conference?

Hawk: Yeah, I saw that. I wondered, what's going on? It's cool, though. Because I feel you have to have a controller under your feet like we do to have the complete experience.

Crispy Gamer: How long has that controller been in development?

Hawk: Two years. There are various versions of the skateboard lying around, kind of like a graveyard of them.

[Hawk begins a demonstration of the peripheral, which is about 10 feet in front of a huge, big-screen television. Elegantly, he moves left and right, forward and back, making moves that, even with a peripheral, would be hard for me. But he makes it all seem effortless. On-screen, he's riding rails, doing ollies, all sorts of wild things.]

Crispy Gamer: You need a big living room for that.

Hawk: The thing is, it's a lot safer than real skateboarding. So it's a great way for kids to give skating a try to see if they like it -- without the threat of being injured.