Friday, April 20


This fall, Electronics Arts is publishing a new ip for the 360 and PS3. This game is Skate. Skate is in development at Vancouver by EA Black Box, developer of Need for Speed Underground and Need for Speed Carbon. Activision's Tony Hawk games have been the only truly sucessful skating games for the past several years. The only other contenders regardless of their sucess were Disney's Extreme Skating and Go! Go! Hypergrind! EA has finally realized this gap of competition in the skating genre and is creating what looks to be a fairly worthy contender to the throne. The comparisons stop there though, as Skate differs from Tony Hawk in most every way. The game's title, as a matter of fact, is representative of Skate's gameplay, it is a shift in focus to the roots of skating.

Skate has completely mo-capped animations

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series are obviously skating games but aren't exactly simulation. Like the Burnout series, Tony Hawk falls into the arcade-type category. EA's Skate, meanwhile, attempts to simulate the skating experience as closely as possible. Black Box is attempting to achieve this in a number of ways. A primary method is the attempt to emulate the emotions felt by skaters. There are two very important emotions skaters thrive off of, these are a sense of being humbled, and the feeling of accomplishment. Black Box is emulating these emotions through what else but the controls and physics engine.

Many EA games from the past few years share a common feature, what EA dubs “All-Analog Control.” Tiger Woods has it, Fight Night has it, NHL on 360 has it, even Def Jam has some analog input. Well, Black Box has adopted this control scheme for Skate now too, and you know what, it appears to work very well for what EA is trying to accomplish with the game. In general, the left analog stick controls your skater's body, the right controls your feet. Here is what Gabe Graziani at GameSpy describes the controls:

If you want to do an ollie (the industry standard for getting air), you just hold back on the right analog stick and then quickly punch it forward. The right analog stick is an analog, so to speak, of your feet, so by pulling the stick backward, you shift your weight to the back of the board in preparation for an ollie. Then when you flick the stick forward, your skater will pop the board up with his back foot and slide his front foot forward to execute an honest-to-goodness ollie, just like a real skater would. . .these are not just canned animations, but actual physics calculations being done in real time

As Graziani says, the left analog stick controls the foot work. Also, since it is an analog stick, it allows for analog input. Flicking quickly will do a short ollie, whereas holding down then flicking will ollie higher and further. Ollie's are obviously not the only move in a skater's repertoire. Kick, heel, toe flips, and others, are also handled with the right analog stick. When beginning an ollie, push the right stick to the left or right a bit to move the skater's foot to that corner of the board. Flicking the stick back to the right direction will then begin a more complicated ollie. Holding the stick when pushing up, instead of flicking by letting go, will cause the board to spin, allowing the player pull-off a kick flip, for example.

Everything in Skate is within the realms of possibility. Even that.

The left stick controls skaters' movement, essentially by shifting their body weight. But unlike Tony Hawk, players will have to actually push their board to build up momentum. This is done by pressing A or X. The A button pushes with the right foot, the X button pushes with the left. Rapidly tapping the button will get you nowhere, however. As Graziani puts it, a rhythmic series of long button pushes is need to really gain speed. The B button will slam the skater's foot down, allowing him or her to break. But if players are holding the left stick either left or right, and then hold the B button, the skater will skid and switch the board into the opposite direction.

Pushing forward on the left stick causes the skater to crouch, giving greater precision over the board. Tony Hawk forces players to push a button to grind, Skate does not. Players can grind simply by ollieing up to a rail, ledge or step. The approach to the rail is the most important. Along with the left analog stick, the approach will dictate if and how you grind. One the skater is grinding, the left analog stick will balance him or her, and the right stick will perform tricks.

When I was your age, we had to Skate to school with no trucks, uphill both ways.

Manuals are also analog based. Simply tilt the right stick up or down to manual on the front or back wheels. Grabs are performed with the shoulder buttons. The right and left triggers grab the board with the skater's right and left hands, respectively. When in the air, the left stick can be held left or right to rotate the board, for sick 1080's and the like.

One final note is that the skater and board will automatically readjust to match the ground. So player's will not have to worry about landing, similar to how snow boarding games work. For example, when players ollie into a bowl, the skater will automatically push forward on the board to meet the angle of the ground.

All of these controlled are physics based. The analog sticks will shift the board and the skater's body and feet based on how long, far and hard the stick is pushed. Every gaming editor who's tested the game says its harder then Tony Hawk, and indeed its control scheme is harder to immediately master than many games, which is a good thing. But thats the point. Once again Black Box is trying to simulate real-life skating in a video game, and guess what, skating is hard. Executive producer of Skate, Scott Blackwood had the following to say in an interview with IGN:

We're aware that we're running that fine line between realism and what works best for a video game but from what we've seen so far everyone seems to be "getting it." One example - we've heard time and time again that the un-natural hyperdrive speed of other skate games has made the monumental feats of real skateboarding seem trivial, so one of the biggest things for us was to create a groundbreaking physics engine that would allow us to really sell the 'feel' of skating to a non-skater. The first time you hit a gnarly grind or succumb to physics by bombing a big hill, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Tony Hawk had an arcade feel, and that's part of the point. You can do things in games that you can't do in real life. Or is it? That is the beauty of game design and indeed any art form. Freedom. Designer's and developer's can choose to make a game any way they like. Video games are a diverse art, just like paintings. You have Picasso, but you also have Davinci.

This what happens to people after they've been mo-capped, they become ridicuslously realistic looking in-game avatars. Stop mo-cap, save people. This message brought to you by Jack T.

Back to the emotion the game is trying to tap into. Blackwood spoke on that as well.

One of the biggest limitations in reality is the fear and danger of injury. There is an absence of any real fear in the game that let's you take 100 tries at a trick with maybe only one successful landing. There are risks and injuries in the game, but it wouldn't be fun if they resulted in 'game over' or if the game was locked for weeks due to an injury. So we will see many attempts at crazy tricks and successful results where in reality nobody ever would have tried it.

Skating can certainly be frightening. But you can't exactly break players' ankles when they fail a kick flip. Furthermore, skating is all about failing and experimentation, and trying the same stunt again and again until you succeed. This is what Black Box wants players to feel with Skate. Players will learn the control basics, then roll out on the pavement to just have fun exploring their board. And really, I think this is an awesome idea for a game. It brings back the trail-and-error gameplay that resides in so many arcade games from twenty odd years ago. And won't it feel great when you pull off that 900?

The last thing I wanted to talk about was another feature of Skate that differs so greatly from Tony Hawk. And that is character progression. In Tony Hawk, characters would upgrade stat points through purchase, or through actually performing the move, depending on the game. Skate has none of this. Its not about the character. The character is an avatar. The character is you, the player. Just as people get better at real skating through practice, players gets better at Skate skating by tricking their hearts out. There is no character progression, the character's ability will remain static the entire game. It is the player who will improve upon his or her skill. I think this is awesome, really. Again Skate hearkens back to arcade games of yore.

GameSpy Preview
Gamespot Preview
IGN Preview
IGN Interview
1up Preview
Team Xbox Preview

Images From:
The Gamer's Gallery

Their is also a gameplay video available that I will be embedding as soon as the site allows. Check it out here.

Push It
How do you feel about the gameplay and emotive concept behind Skate versus Tony Hawk's proven skating game design?

P.S. The Gamers Gallery is a really fantastic new site that features watermark-free screenshots of games. Their screen gallery is small, but they are building momentum quickly.

No comments:

Post a Comment