Breaking through a rectangular glass window and bombing a hill into a warehouse filled with half pipes and handrails while “Superman” by Goldfinger blasts through your television screen is a sequence etched into the minds of plenty of kids and teens who grew up in the late ‘90s. For a lot of people, just that sentence alone might be enough to bring memories flooding back of the hours spent playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with their buddies growing up, collecting yellow “S-K-A-T-E” letters, and finding the secret tape on each level.
Debuted in 1999, the game bearing Hawk’s name was the beginning of one of the most iconic franchises in the history of video games that has sold billions of copies to date and brought skateboarding to the mainstream in a way it never was before. Installments in more recent years caused the series to sputter out, but everyone loves some nostalgia, and plenty have been yearning for a new THPS game to satisfy their appetitie. Today, publisher Activison and developer Vicarious Visions, the same company responsible for 2017’s acclaimed Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy remaster, hope to bring millions back to that time and introduce millions more to it with the launch of the remastered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 video game.
"I was working on a fundraiser for the [Tony Hawk Foundation] and the whole thing was sort of a celebration of THPS as a series and I needed Activision's approval or support to do it. The fans are always asking about doing these remasters, that was kind of it. Once we actually said the word ‘remaster,’ it was all systems go,” Hawk told Complex. “There's been so much technology advancement since then. We're literally four consoles further than we were on the first game. We felt like we could bring something that much more exciting to it.”
With games as beloved as THPS 1 and 2, Vicarious Visions wanted to make sure that these remastered versions were as close to the source material as possible. Having some of the original code from Neversoft in place made the process much more seamless than it was 21 years ago. The attention could be focused on the details. OG fans will immediately recognize the original levels and characters, or be able to jump in to Create-A-Park mode seamlessly. It's meant to be just like the old games, but with a glossy new HD paint job.
“The animators spent trying to capture the nuance of how a skater moves, as opposed to having these really sharp turns that were very arcady back in the day,” says Vicarious Visions studio head Jennifer ONeal. “And we wanted to spend a good bit of time making sure the environments looked lush. If you look at the original games, it's almost like starting with a bit of a blank canvas. I feel like the artists, with the modern technology, were able to create much more interesting spaces to skate in.”
The entire original cast of playable pro skaters like Chad Muska, Kareem Campbell, Bob Burnquist, Jamie Thomas, and of course Hawk himself are all making a return too. But with a twist. All of the skate legends appear as their current age in their 40s and 50s. Back in ‘99, these games helped skateboarding’s mainstream exposure immensely. Many of the skaters, who had core followings among the skate community but much less mainstream appeal, credit the game for helping their careers hit a new peak. It's probably the reason many of them have been able to skate for a living to this day.
“It definitely helped solidify my career. My career was already at a good place, as far as I was concerned. I was very thankful for all that had come together, but the video games etched our names in stone as these household names in skateboarding and put it into millions of households,” says Thomas.
Thomas would end up being playable in the first five installments of the THPS series. He says that added exposure was very helpful in the growth of his company Zero Skateboards, at the time. To this day, he says he still gets stopped by people in the street who tell him that he was their favorite skater to play as in the game.
“I don't know that I ever would have reached that audience hadn't it been for the video games,” says Thomas. “I can still go somewhere and someone will call me out and be like, ‘Man, I played you in the video game. You're my favorite character.’ They don't have a reference of my real skateboarding career. They just know about the Tony Hawk career. It made all the guys in the video game legendary, whether we did something to deserve it or not.”
Vicarious Visions also made sure to bring back all of the iconic levels from the originals as well. From the Warehouse and Downhill Jam in THPS 1 to Philadelphia or School II in THPS 2, they are all here. The soundtrack, another cornerstone of the franchise that has seared songs like “Superman” or “You” by Bad Religion into player’s heads to this day, was also given the proper attention in the remake. With the exception of a few clearance issues, it remains largely identical to the original tracklist. To bring the game into 2020, 37 new songs have also been added from more modern performers like Skepta and Machine Gun Kelly. While Hawk says he always wanted to make the player’s experience as authentic as possible, obsessing over everything from trick names to hand placements, he had no idea the original soundtrack would became such an iconic piece of the puzzle.
“I just thought [the music] was a cool addition. I didn't think it would be something that would become so iconic or one of the highlights of the whole thing,” says Hawk. “So I think it's really cool, but it's also a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of expectations for the soundtrack as well as the gameplay.”
There have also been numerous strides to bring the game into 2020. The biggest example, aside from the much more realistic graphics and online multiplayer, is the inclusion of a new crop of current skaters like Tyshawn Jones, Nyjah Huston, Leo Baker, and Leticia Bufoni. ONeal even recalls Baker telling her that seeing Elissa Steamer in the game was a big inspiration that made them believe they could be a pro skater as a kid. Even Hawk’s son Riley, now a pro himself, is a playable character, something Hawk says he has a great sense of pride in.
"We need to bring up the new skaters and the ones that are going to be pioneering skate culture and tricks in the future. I wouldn't have it any other way," Hawk tells Complex. "And so I feel like we have a really healthy representation from all diverse types of skating, but also walks of life. I'm proud of it. I really, I think our roster is all-time."
Each new skater was able to give input from the outfits they wear to the special tricks they perform. Their various sponsors, Nike SB among one of the more prominent examples, can be used to customize your own created skater’s look too. On the gameplay side, some features not present in the first two games like wall plants and spine transfers make racking up high combos much easier.
“We pour through all of the feedback and the comments of our fans, and we want to make sure that we're hitting all the notes that they feel are important. What helps us though is we are diehard fans as well,” says ONeal. “We have our own selves to please when it comes to this, and our own standards. I think we knew that we had to make sure that we got the feel right. You can immediately just jump into the game and it just feels so familiar to what you remember.”
Skateboarding has grown leaps and bounds since 1999. It’s even an Olympic sport now. And the THPS series played a massive role in that. It’s hard to argue its impact. But as nostalgic as this remastered release is going to be for so many, it has the chance to have the same impact all over again for a whole new young crop of to-be skateboarders too.
“The fact that 20 years later we get to remake the first game is crazy. The idea that anyone even still knows who I am and that I still get to skate for a living is even more absurd. All those things, they're beyond any dream come true,” says Hawk. “The idea that a whole new generation is going to start playing this game who have never played any of the previous series is extra exciting.”