For whatever reason, Bobby Burnquist and I have never met but we have a great chemistry. Well perhaps it would be better to say that we work well together since it is mostly physics, imagination and suture that bring us together. Bobby is my favorite player-character in Tony Hawk with whom I developed an instant affinity with due the fact that he wears glasses much like I do. I've never seen him skate anywhere outside of the world that is the continuing Tony Hawk Pro Skater saga, but that doesn't matter much because we're working together in the game. I'm beginning to look at it like a team effort with his skill, my timing; his risk, my planning. The feedback system the interface provides allowed me to quickly develop the language (commands, tricks and combos) and automated responses (gaming instinct) to become a "pr0 sk8tr!" I get the feeling like I'm there and I can do these impossible tricks, but not without Bobby.
So Bobby and I began our journey a couple of months ago when a mutual friend of ours challenged me to a game of Tag. I was instantly sucked into the world that is Tony Hawk and Bobby and me would be virtually inseparable from then on. The object of tag is to cover as many objects as possible with your color and you lay your mark by tricking off of that object. The better the trick the deeper the color and if you perform a better trick off an object of your opponent you steal it and it becomes your color. The screen is split with one player on each side allowing each their own space as well as a chance to peek at your opponent's progress (or an exceptionally excellent combo/trick). And this is how my learning process began: big airs, simple flip tricks and pushing the limits a little bit at a time.
One of the greatest things about THPS is the interface and controls. It didn't take very long to get the hang of the control elements perhaps because they seem to match real movements so well. For example, to increase speed press and hold down the A button, your skater sinks lower and begins gaining speed, and releasing the button releases that energy, your skater will ollie/jump. This makes sense because it mimics the same action taken in real life and lets you skate with your thumbs in a way. Certain tricks require balance, which is represented by a sliding scale. Your balance can teeter back and forth in the way that it might when you are standing on one foot. Once the basics of balance, grind, grab and flip tricks are understood the goal of the player and of any skater is to master them and bring them together in a seamless flow. Bobby and I got along really well because we're both partial to vert tricks (aerial tricks on a ramp) over street course tricks. The better your flow, the quicker you move into the zone (i.e.: you're special gauge maxes out). Once you're in the zone, you can attempt special tricks, which can vary from unbelievable to dangerous to hilarious. One of Bobby's special tricks, the Samba flip, was actually inspired by playing THPS. However, if you bail, you have to start from scratch.
So, a couple a months ago, I played tag and I got it and things made sense. Perhaps that is why Tony Hawk Pro Skater has spawned such a popular and enduring series (there's rumors of screenshots of THPS5 online right now). For myself, the appeal of THPS was due in large part to being able to pick it up and then run away with it. It was fun to learn new things and finally land increasingly crazier combinations. It is a game that requires a willing student, but the learning process is pretty open-ended due to the game's non-linearity. The learning curve was a lot friendlier than other games since your hope is to land a cool trick not trying to shoot first before you get shot. My reward was watching Bobby achieve better and higher air and ultimately viewing actual footage of the man himself performing some of his signature moves.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater is so enjoyable because it combines many positive aspects found in various game genres. First off, it is immersive without the violence or fear factor of a first person shooter. Secondly, it brings in character building and goal structuring (goals were introduced in THPS 4) using the modern mythology of pro skaters versus the ancient tales of a regular role-playing game. Finally, it's a sports game but in the extreme sports sense of the skater ethic and "fuck-it-all" attitude. In short, it's got a little bit of everything and that's the site of its mass appeal. Whether you're looking to find the best combo, max out your stats, trick over every gap or finish every goal, there's a little piece of you in the game. I found mine in Bobby.