Hands On with Tony Hawk

In the middle of a field in Somerset; that’s where I first saw Tony Hawk. He was practising on a vert ramp with the rest of his Birdhouse Crew for a demo they would be doing later at the NASS Festival. They were all good, but he stood out. It wasn’t just the fact that he was pulling the best tricks. And it wasn’t the fact that as he dropped in each time there was a whisper in the crowd saying “That’s Tony Hawk!” and “That’s him in the green t-shirt”. There was an aura about him that just made you stop and stare.

After about half an hour they stopped and handed the ramp over to the first round of competitors who were eagerly waiting in the rafters. As Tony walked past I did consider asking him for a selfie, but I thought that wouldn’t be cool. Besides he had enough attention as it was, with a mixture of kids and their parents asking for photos (I don’t honestly know who was the more excited, the kids or the ones calling themselves “grown-ups”).

A short while later I met up with the PR contact and a couple of other writers. We were told we’d each get 10 minutes with Tony Hawk, which (considering I was expecting more of a press conference) I found amazing. We made our way to a small room in which we found Lizzie Armanto, Kevin Staab, The Birdman and a bunch of crew. That was it. The three of us sat down politely in the corner, making sure our memo recorders were working properly. In the background Tony was complaining about a bug he was struggling a bit with. He was hoping it wouldn’t affect his skating. I was just hoping not to cock up.

As we were deciding who would go first he just came over and sat down with us. I must admit to being a little star struck given that this was someone whom I had first idolised 25 years ago when I first started skating. I was also surprised at just how down-to-earth the guy was. There was no “Look at me” or “The big I AM” about him at all. There he was, a 47 year old man in a t-shirt and shorts, sitting down like you would if you were meeting one of your mates for coffee. All signs of illness were also gone. This was someone who was both very relaxed and very in control.

Talking of being in control, I was pleasantly surprised to hear just how hands on TH was with the development of the game. I mean he’s certainly not a coder, but still it sounds like he wanted to be as hands on as his schedule would allow him to be.

“They [Robomodo] were very good at givng me new builds to play. It’s a nightmare these days. I played/tested as much as my travelling would let me.”

Of course Robomodo were the development team behind Skate, arguably the biggest competitor to the TH franchise. What were his thoughts on Skate compared to Tony Hawk?

“Tony Hawk has always had fantastical elements. I mean I don’t want to learn how to skate in a video game”.

There’s learning to skate and then there’s being inspired by the stuff you see in video games. Some of the tricks you see on the ramps these days are crazy. So what were his thoughts on moderna skating and the role video games has had in developing that.

“Kids are doing tricks that were only possible in video games 15 years ago. That generation grew up seeing the best of the best and thinking that’s the starting point”.

But what about Tony. Did he ever create a trick just to put in the game?

“I had the idea of the Sack Tap and put it in the game and then learned it.”

(For those who don’t know this trick involves jumping off the board in mid flight, grabbing the end of it and then tapping your nuts with the board before landing back on it again safely).

What are the priorities of this game?

“The online elements and building parks. You can create your own park and share it online.”

“You can invite up to 20 players in a level, set your own challenges and make the game yours.”

“We want people to create. It’s got a Minecraft element to it.”

“Character development, selection and customisation was not a priority to us.”

So what character choices do we have?

“I wanted to be diverse in their personality, styles and terrain and the ways people skate.”

“There is a mix of old and new. We have a strong female contingent. We picked people from the best of the best.”

It’s good to hear that TH is embracing a wider audience and skating community, while not forgetting those who help to get it where it is today. In the back of my mind, though, there was still that burning questions though. What about the rumours of poor graphics?

“People are complaining that it’s not ‘photo realistic’ but the thing is the game never was”

I wasn’t convinced by this, although I must admit the retort was amusing. Yes the TH might not have been photo realistic, but if things were as bad as people were saying we would need more convincing than that. It just didn’t seem to be an issue with the big man, and I didn’t know whether I should feel comforted by this or not.

Moving on from this, one of the other cornerstones of the TH series has been the soundtracks for each game. How did he feel about the THPS5 soundtrack?

“It’s hard because you can only fit so many in and there’s a limited budget.”

“PS5 has a good mix of old (really old) punk stuff. Hip hop. Rock metal. It’s heavily influenced by the skate culture.”

Again the mix of old and new. It seems to be a recurring theme. So what about the man himself? Isn’t he a little old to still be skating with all these young kids around?

“I’m proud to be an ambassador. These days it’s more fun in that I still get to be a part of it.”

“I don’t compete against other people I compete against myself. If I can still do the tricks…”

It’s good to hear he still gets as much of a kick out of skating as he used to, even if he’s not competing in the same way. I mean the guy really is in good shape, and to see him doing the tricks he still does on a vert ramp is an amazing sight.

I didn’t see him do a Sack Tap, just for the record.

Enough about skating for one minute. What about his favourite video games as a kid?

When asked he said “Missile Command” got him into the arcades. His all time favourite would be “Marble Madness” as that got him into playing games at home. Thankfully I am old enough to know what e was talking about, even if some of you might be Googling those games right now.

While you’re there you might want to try looking up J-Bird, a game I happily lost hours to when I was a young lad.

Finally, if he had to give up skating woul d he choose BMX (for the ramps) or surfing (for the board)? His answer: “Surfing. There are a lot less injuries in surfing.” I thought he’d go for BMX, but then I haven’t broken as many bones as he has. Theory is one thing, but you cannot beat experience.

Shortly afterwards (yes there was a selfie or two) we were taken across a couple of fields to the GAME stand where we were given access to the new Pro Skater 5 game. This was my first time playing a TH game for a few years and to be honest I would have preferred the privacy of a darkened booth, a chair and a decent set of speakers. Instead I found myself stood in a white tent on a sunny day in Dorset squinting my eyes at a screen I could barely see and hear. All the while I had a group of GAME helpers[?] nosing over my shoulder looking at what I was trying (and mostly failing) to do. It was less than ideal.

That said it didn’t take me too long to remember the controls and I start controlling what my character (TH, who else?) with a greater level of “looking like I knew what I was doing”. The jumps, tricks and grinding all came back to me and I was almost immediately wrapped up in the warmth of nostalgia. I must admit to not being able to pay too much attention to the graphics, but even if they hadn’t recently updated them I still wouldn’t have worried too much. This felt like a proper Tony Hawk game again.

It was a shame I could only play on the tracks they had there. The whole point of this game seems to be the online community element, which I was never going to get a feel for. The park editor interests me a lot and if gamers are willing to give this game just a fraction of the time they’ve given the likes of Trials Evolution, LittleBig Planet or (dare I say it) Minecraft then there’s no reason that element of the game can’t be a success. The unanswered question therefore is if the world is really wants an online skating community or not and (assuming the answer is Yes) if THPS5 gives them the tools to create it.

Let’s hope it’s dope.

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