Tony Hawk - Getty Images If skateboarding has a name, it's Tony Hawk. An ambassador for his sport for the past two decades, Hawk has overseen its rise from a niche subculture to a major mainstream pastime. And for years, his success has been inextricably linked with the videogames that bear his name.
The latest of them -- Tony Hawk: Shred -- has just hit store shelves in time for the holiday season. Like its predecessor, Tony Hawk: Ride, Shred makes use of the unique skateboard controller designed to bring a new level of realism to the genre. Yahoo! Games caught up with Hawk for a brief Q&A.
Yahoo! Games: Can you talk about how the game has evolved from Ride? It's looking like more of a kid-friendly, arcade kind of vibe?
Tony Hawk: Yeah, in some ways. I think that we're definitely focusing more on the bigger stunts, and the larger-than-life possibilities of the landscapes — jumping giant gaps and grinding over telephone wires, and things like that. So that's definitely more of a kid-friendly approach. But I also believe we have the controls now so much more intuitive, and so much tighter, that the way the game works with the hardware is really amazing. So beyond just doing the big stunts, you can actually maneuver the way you would expect it to maneuver, a one-to-one ratio. And including snowboarding was something I wanted to do because I felt like that board could be so much more than just a skateboard.
YG: Can you talk about your involvement in the game? Were you always consulting at a design level, playtesting to make sure the board was feeling responsive? In what respects were you actively involved?
TH: Throughout the whole process. Mostly my concerns are with trick animations, to be honest — I'm just more detail-oriented like that. I want to make sure the trick looks right, and the way the character moves, and also the challenges, how they play out. And definitely the board — how it maneuvers, and the controls. I would get a build of the game every couple of weeks and play it, and give my feedback.
YG: Is the control significantly different from what it was in Ride? There were some negative responses to Ride, and I wonder if critics were just surprised at how difficult skateboarding is, and now they finally got a controller that replicates that, they were a little taken aback. In light of that, was there any tweaking that was done with how the controller handles in Shred? Is it more forgiving, less forgiving?
TH: I think it's definitely both. The controls are much, much better and much tighter and more intuitive, and even how we navigate the areas is a lot better, so you can actually plan ahead for when you're turning. I think the big problem was, the last time, a lot of people didn't want to start off in what we call Casual Mode, where the steering is done for you. People wanted to come in and just say, "well, I know how to play videogames, so I'm going to just go into Advanced Mode," and that was a pretty steep learning curve from Casual to Advanced. So that was something that I think people shouldn't have assumed that they would know how to control it right away. But the way it is now, is much more in tune with exactly how the board moves, and exactly how it rotates and how it leans. So I don't think those criticisms will arise anymore on this one. It was a brand new idea, and we were up against a lot coming out the gate [with Tony Hawk: Ride].
YG: How transferable are the skills? If you played Ride or Shred and you've gotten used to the controller, is there a lot of that that's applicable if you get on a real skateboard and go out on the sidewalk?
Tony Hawk: Shred - Activision TH: In terms of general balance, yes, but in terms of doing tricks — we made the controls on Ride and Shred very subtle for how you do tricks, just a little bit kick this way and a little bit twist this way. So it didn't have to be — it's not as hard as skateboarding itself. So it's not like you're going to know how to do a kick-flip because you can do it on the board. But I definitely think it could be used as a transitional step for kids who maybe were afraid to get on skateboards before, and then they get on this thing and they realize they do have the balance to do wheelies or manuals or little ollies, and then that will inspire them to try the real thing.
YG: To what extent do skateboarding and snowboarding overlap? Do the skills translate easily, and how does that inform the design of Shred?
TH: In the real world they're very different — there are some skills that cross over, but in terms of how you control the board and how you turn, it's just a much different experience when you get out on the snow and strap your feet onto a board. But with our game, we made the controls somewhat similar, but different enough that it does feel like it's a different sport, especially the way that you rotate, and the way that you do flips and things like that. Because I just didn't think it would be that exciting to have the exact same control set, and then you're just on snow — because it's not a new challenge or anything, it's just a new visual. So the controls are a little bit different.
YG: Do you play games much in your spare time? Any favorites, now or when you were growing up?
TH: I played all through my youth, yes, absolutely, and my kids are avid videogame players, yeah. My 11-year-old is a guitar player and loves Guitar Hero and those kind of games — Guitar Hero and DJ Hero. They've loved all the LEGO games through the years, and they are currently addicted to Halo.
YG: I grew up in the '80s and I remember the very earliest skateboarding games, like 720 Degrees, Skate Or Die — do you remember any of those from when you were a kid?
TH: Yeah, I bought a Commodore 64 so that I could play Skate or Die. And California Games, as well.
YG: Any additional projects down the horizon that you can talk about?
TH: There's always tours in the plans, videos and things like that. Right now I've been working so hard to get the game out and finish my book, it's like, "oh, it's finally all done." Now I have to travel and go talk about them.
YG: Is there anything else about the experience of making Shred, and now that it's finally done, that you're excited about, that you feel this is something that really hasn't been seen in a skateboarding game before, anything that's firing you up?
TH: I love that the controls are so tight now, and they're so intuitive. And I truly feel that it puts you there, it puts you in that position — you physically feel like you're accomplishing something when you do the tricks in the game. You get lost in the experience, so to speak. The big idea for me behind doing a board-based controller is that it can be more than a skateboard, so branching out and including snowboarding is really exciting for me.