Skateboarding: A Game Genre in Need of an Indie Revival

I miss skateboarding games — specifically, I miss the (good) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. Although in general, the skateboarding game genre seems to have stagnated. You know what that means? It’s the perfect time for an indie revolution.

Lately, I’ve noticed that a lot of the more successful or popular indie games on the market have been reimaginings of old school game franchises and genres. Indie developers have given us great games like Stardew Valley, Cities Skylines, and Undertale, all of which borrow much of their design from familiar and well-loved game series (Harvest Moon, Sim City, and Earthbound, respectively).

You would think that simply tweaking a old, proven formula would be derivative and unexciting for gamers, but in fact it has proven to be quite the opposite in many cases. Indie developers have been knocking it out the park with games like Stardew Valley, Cities Skylines, and Undertale, which have all the same things we loved from those old, familiar game franchises, but are just different enough in all the right ways to make it so much more fun.

The skateboarding game genre is due for a reimagining like this.

Sure, we had the Skate series and OlliOlli, which were both great in their own right, and refreshing takes on the genre, but I have one particular skateboarding franchise in mind that is in dire need of the indie treatment: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS). In my opinion, none of the latest skateboarding games have quite captured the magic of THPS (at least up to Tony Hawk Underground, we can skip everything that came after that…), but it’s quite doable, and about time that it happened.

Here are a few of the key things an indie revival could focus on:

3D Arcade Craziness

thps

One of THPS’s best qualities is that it drops you into a map and lets you start grinding and kickflipping over everything. The fun starts immediately, and this keeps the player energized as they try to complete as many objectives as they can before the clock runs out. But the other key component here is that the player can also freely roam around the entire map, skating their favorite gaps or practicing special tricks.

OlliOlli came the closest in terms of making a skateboarding game that was fast-paced, required quick reflexes, and was simply fun to play, but there was something missing: the free roaming feature.

What an indie reimagining might look like:
Definitely keep the 3D free-roaming aspect, but maybe introduce more adaptive or unpredictable level design. Maps could have certain parts of the environment that are always changing, like shifting rails or traffic. It would have to be subtle enough to not overwhelm players, but imagine if instead of playing the same map to the point of boredom, players got a slightly different experience each time? It could encourage replayability and let players vary up their skating styles — instead of holding that same lip trick and combo-ing for 3 minutes straight on that one rail just so that you can beat the high score and get to the next level.

Tricks, Combos, and Special Moves

Image result for tony hawk's pro skater gameplay

Skateboarding is all about skill and style, and THPS captured this quite well. Players could perform a huge amount of tricks with different button combinations, including flips, grabs, flatground, stalls, and specials. The series’ trick list makes it easy to compare THPS to fighting games. This brought an element of challenge and variety to the game, as players who practiced their combos and timing could rack up high scores in no time, while also using the tricks they enjoyed most.

Skate embraced this aspect of the skateboarding game genre, building the game around precise thumbstick movements and fancy camera angles to emphasize the challenge and cool factor of landing an actual flip trick. However, this meant it could get dull sometimes, as some of the cooler tricks took time to learn or relied on being in the right part of the map to land it. The easy tricks can get boring after a while.

What an indie reimagining might look like:
Players should have a large set of tricks to choose from and a fair difficulty curve, since more complex combos present a challenge and can be fun to strive for. On that note, I’ve never seen a skateboarding game use skill trees or specializations, like in Diablo or Borderlands. What if an indie skateboarding game introduced the skill-building mechanic, like in RPGs, where players could specialize in certain skate styles (i.e. vert, street, etc.) and unlock unique moves like a sextuple kicklip or “the one-handed-naked-juggler” grind (don’t act like you wouldn’t want to see that). Combined with skateboarding’s culture that respects embracing your unique style, this could be a fascinatingly fun game mechanic.

The Music

Image result for tony hawk's pro skater music

This may seem like something too basic to be worth mentioning, but it is so, so important to have a killer music setlist/soundtrack.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 in particular is known for it’s awesome soundtrack

Like I said before, style is a big part of skateboarding, and the style of music can often determine the style of skating. Are you more of a concentrated flatground magician who can make Rodney Mullen look bad? Then maybe you’re more into chill beats or smooth hip hop that lets you focus on your movements and stay in rhythm. Or maybe you’re more of an energetic force of nature, flying across ramps with ballsy flip tricks and grabbing big air, like Mike Vallely. In which case, maybe some loud and fast punk rock is best to keep you pumped up and in the zone. Point is, music is a huge part of skateboarding culture, and thus a huge part of skateboarding games. From a gameplay perspective, the music sets the tone for players, and makes the game that much more immersive.

What an indie reimagining might look like:

The simple answer here would be to go with music that worked in previous games: loud punk rock, catchy hip hop, and maybe even some funk. However, I think a good approach for a creative independent developer to take would be to go with music that embraces the style and energy of skateboarding, but changes things up a bit. After all, skate culture is about going against the grain of normalcy, right? Why not throw some electronic in there? Or even better, what if play style influenced the music? Players that land fast combos or speed through levels get punk rock-y tunes, and those who build up long combos or take their time landing the right trick get cool, chill beats.

These are just a few ideas. What else do you think an indie skateboarding game would need to be a smash hit? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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