The Pro Skater franchise has been down for a long time, but not out. In the 14 years since Project 8—the last relevant game in the series, which debuted to moderate success in 2006—scrappier, more low-to-the-ground skating sims have dominated the industry, winning the admiration of players looking for an “authentic” experience, and ultimately making the punk rock Tony Hawk games seem, well, mainstream.
Tony Hawk doesn’t really see it that way, though. “I believe that our series is the one that sort of started the whole idea that skating should be a genre,” Hawk explained when I asked him about the bounty of skateboarding video games that have accumulated in Pro Skater’s absence. “I think that the fact that there’s so many games coming out right now just shows what a void there was.”
And if there was ever a void for skateboarding games, today it’s been officially filled, because Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2 has finally arrived. It’s a silky smooth remaster project of the first two Pro Skater games, complete with 4K graphics, online support, and a soundtrack that draws together most of the greatest punk rock, ska, and early 2000s hip hop songs from the series’ history (Primus, Goldfinger, Dead Kennedys, you name it). Man, it is good. I don’t know how many hours I’ve already played, and I’m still surprised that this thing exists. It really is the rare case of a remaster project that feels both backward-gazing and vital, a game that proves that some things just never get old.
That’s really what’s made Tony Hawk such an enduring presence in pop culture, isn’t it? The man falls down and gets up for a living. Bailing is just a part of his job. So while the Pro Skater series might have had some awfully painful low points (god, remember the skateboard-shaped controller from Tony Hawk: Ride?), it should really come as no surprise that this remaster project is nearly flawless. But it is a surprise. After more than a decade’s absence from a now-crowded genre that it single-handedly created, Tony Hawk is the best skateboarding game in the world again. I did not see this coming.
I got the chance to speak with Hawk a day before the remaster’s release, and he gave me his thoughts on the skater genre, as well as clarity on some Pro Skater mysteries that’ve puzzled me over the years—like what Bam Margera’s role was in the series, how a narrative Story Mode found its way into Pro Skater with the Underground games, and whether or not Eric Sparrow (gaming’s most diabolical villain) is still out there, being a narcissistic piece of shit to amateur skaters in New Jersey.
ESQ: I love the remaster. It really feels true to the vision of the early games. How big a part of the project were you this time around, compared to the other sequels?
TH: I was heavily involved. I didn’t have to worry too much about the mechanics, because all of it was borrowed or ported from the original games, so it was more just nuances of tricks, and how they should look now that they’re all in high resolution. Mostly, my input was with the newer skaters and with the music.
ESQ: The skating scene has changed a lot through the years. I’ve been playing Skater XL recently; Skate 4 is on the horizon. What do you think about these more realistic games, as compared to the superhero skateboarding thing that your series made so popular?
TH: I think that the fact that there’s so many games coming out right now just shows what a void there was on the marketplace for the last five years or so. In terms of what type of gameplay you have, I believe that our series is the one that sort of started the whole idea that skating could be a genre of game, and so there’s always room for more. Obviously, if your goal is to make a game that is more realistic, then that’s awesome. That doesn’t necessarily compete with our mechanic.
I’ve always enjoyed the fact that you can pick up THPS and immediately start doing tricks. There is not a steep learning curve, and if you want to go into more fantasy tricks, you have the ability to do so. And why not? As a skater, I know the challenges of real skating, and I enjoy our type of gameplay, where you can ride the power lines and things like that.
ESQ: After Pro Skater 4, the series started becoming a lot more story-driven, and this game seems to be a return to the earlier days. Was there any talk in the conception of these remasters to do a story mode in this game?
TH: We explored different options, but we just kept coming back to: Let’s do [Pro Skater 1 and 2] with the same maps, with the same trick selection and the same roster, because that is what people are asking for. It was really the answer to the fans’ requests.
ESQ: Bam Margera became a big part of the Pro Skater DNA. In games like Underground 2, it seemed like the world of Jackass was starting to merge with the reckless quality in the Tony Hawk games. Bam is not in this game, but can you talk a little bit about his influence in this franchise?
TH: Bam was a great addition to the series, especially when we started going into different challenges and story modes and leaning a little bit into the Jackass vibes. I loved it. Like you said, he wasn’t in the first two games, so this is representative of those. If we get to do more, I’m sure those discussions will take place. I love Bam. He’s iconic.
ESQ: Do you have a personal favorite Pro Skater game?
TH: I get asked that a lot, and I think [Pro Skater 2], I keep going back to it, because that’s the one that really set us up as a franchise and the one that people like to refer to with the music and with the maps.
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ESQ: I actually really love American Wasteland. The game was meaningful to me, because it was a time when all my friends were getting back into skating after being away from it for a while. It seemed like a risky choice for you guys, going back to the old school quality after Underground 1 and 2. What was going on in development back then with American Wasteland?
TH: Well, we were exploring story modes and whatnot, and then with American Wasteland, it was more echoing back to the original series and the original challenges, and also opening up building your own world, so to speak. It’s funny you say that, because I was actually just on a call recently where the writer was a hardcore fan of the first few games and started saying, “Once we got into American Wasteland, it was sort of losing its way.” I said, “I beg to differ, because there’s a whole generation of people where that was their entry point, and that’s the one they remember with the most fondness.” I love that game. I thought it was super cool.
ESQ: I wanted to ask you about some of the recurring characters, like Officer Dick and Private Carrera and Eric Sparrow. I always thought of Eric Sparrow as one of the most diabolical villains in gaming history. Will we be seeing any of these characters show up again now that you’re back?
TH: Let’s just say one of them. And it’s a big surprise as to who is actually behind the costume.
ESQ: Oh, great. Do you have any idea what Eric Sparrow is doing these days?
TH: Yeah, I don’t know. I think he’s still stuck in the digital realm, kind of like Wreck It, Ralph. We’ll see if he emerges or not.
ESQ: Do you have any idea what the future of the Pro Skater series looks like?
TH: I don’t. I hope we get to do more. I would love to do more remasters, but we’re just seeing how this one goes first.
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