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Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground Interview

Tom Orry Updated on by

This year the Tony Hawk franchise has some real competition in the form of EA’s Skate. At Games Convention 2007 I caught up with Chad Findley, project lead on Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground, to find out what lies ahead for the hugely successful skating series.

Pro-G: Could you just introduce yourself, your role on the game and your previous work on the franchise?

Chad Findley: I’m project lead on Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. I’ve worked at Neversoft for about nine years now and I worked on Tony Hawk 3, Tony Hawk 4 and THUG. I switched to GUN and then came back to Tony Hawk with Proving Ground.

Pro-G: The Tony Hawk franchise has been around and successful for years. Why do you think it’s managed to remain at the forefront of gaming for so long?

CF: I think there are a couple of reasons why. The first being skating culture, it’s huge. There are so many stories, so many things you can do to excel. This allows us to have the freedom to move our game into different areas every single year so we can make it fresh and new.

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The other side is that we are really just making a fun, fun game. You can go totally sim, you can go totally arcade. Our main thing is to take the best of both and to make a good fun game out of it that has challenges so you have to better yourself, get good at it, and eventually accomplish it.

Finally, we don’t want to make the same game every year. We want to make something new that we’d like to play, so every single year we look at what we want and what the fans want, and then try to make a compromise between the two.

The game has improved visually over Project 8

Pro-G: Project 8 was Neversoft’s first real next-gen Tony Hawk title. What did you learn from that experience that you’ve brought into Proving Ground?

CF: We learnt an awful lot. We learnt what the limitations are, we learnt where we can do more to improve frame rate and get more from the hardware. The first thing we did was smooth up the frame rate in the game, so we don’t get any more hitches. We balanced the memory so we could get more people in the world, to make it look and feel more realistic. We also did a whole new pass on our shader system so we can have more realistic objects without dropping the frame rate.

This year we’ve also managed to implement a video editor. Storing all that video data takes room, but we’ve been able to free up enough space to allow us to make this totally working video editor. You can cut videos, merge them together, adjust the speed, save them off, and if they’re good enough they’ll be on Xbox Live.

Pro-G: Is the goal here to bring the Tony Hawk community together? Do you have any plans for competitions for best video and that kind of thing?

CF: We are planning to do monthly leaderboards, so the best videos are viewable at the top. I certainly hope it becomes a big thing. I spent the last week working with it to create attract videos for our game, and it’s like a whole different game in itself. When you lay out your clips, and your effects, and overlays, we actually have beat tracks on all our music in the game, so if you edit on the beat, do a trick on the beat, if you land on the beat, we score accordingly – that’s what gets you high on the leaderboard.

We expect people to learn as they get used to it. They’ll add the cool effects, the fish-eye lenses, the fade to blacks, the blurs, and really put up stuff that challenges people to make even better videos.

Online improvements mean finding games online is far easier than before

Pro-G: Nail the Trick was the big new feature in Project 8. What have you done this year to expand on that?

CF: I was working on GUN while Project 8 was getting done and I came in at the end and tried Nail the Trick. I’m kind of a physics geek so I really like that; it was really cool to have that total control.

In Proving Ground we’ve broken down skaters into three classes: career skaters, hardcore skaters and rigger skaters. Depending on which story you take you’ll learn different abilities. If you go down the career route you’ll learn Nail the Trick, Nail the Grab and Nail the Manual. With Nail the Trick we gave players total control – the left stick controls your left foot, your right stick controls you right foot. You can do under flips, impossible shove its – whatever you want to create with it, you can.

Now with Nail the Grab, if you hold down the left trigger, your left stick controls your left arm and your right stick controls your right arm. So you can grab the board on the front rail or back rail, the tail or the nose; you can tweak it off in any direction; if you do a quarter turn on the stick you’ll actually do a finger flip and you have to catch it back at the right time to land it again.

If you hold down the right trigger you go into Nail the Manual mode, where the two sticks control the shifting of your weight on your two feet. You can keep linking these Nail movies together, and it looks really cool and feels really cool.

Pro-G: Online appeared in Project 8 but not in the PS3 version. What are you doing this year for online play?

CF: This year we’ve made some pretty drastic changes to online. In previous years you’d have to back out of your single-player game into the main menu, and then go into the online menu. This year, because the game’s all about creating your skater, with your abilities and skating the way you want to skate, at any point you just hit the pause menu and go right into Xbox LIVE, where it’ll show you games that are taking place in the city you’re in. You can jump right in with your skater and your abilities.

If you’re hosting the game it’ll also have how you’ve modded the level. So if you’ve placed down pieces, kickers and ramps and rails, the level is available to skate the way you built it.

Pro-G: Music has always been a key component of the Tony Hawk series. Is this year’s game going to have an equally impressive line-up of tracks?

CF: The track list we have is somewhere over 50 and once again it does encompass multiple styles of music so there is something there for everyone. We know just as much as everyone else that some people like the pounding tracks to really get it going. Some people like the hip-hop tracks that really get them to flow. We know it’s a huge part of skating and a huge part of playing the game, so we’ve taken this area very seriously.

Pro-G: With the game coming to Wii, have you done anything to make that experience different to what we can expect on the PS3 and Xbox 360?

CF: With the Wii version we are doing a lot of Wii-specific controls and gameplay mechanics. Like, with Nail the Grab and Nail the Trick, we use the Wii controls – you flick it to do a kick-flip, you flick it to do a shove-it. We tried to add as many things that would make sense in the Wii version, but also not make the game harder to play.

EA’s Skate is sure to offer gamers a real alternative

Pro-G: Do you think that players who struggle with the complexities of the controls in the next-gen versions will find the Wii game easier to get into?

CF: I think it’s more ‘different’. The things we moved onto the Wii controls will feel really natural. If you make something cool, but it’s harder to control because it’s Wii specific, that really isn’t helping anybody. So anything that really should be a standard control interface, we left as it was.

Pro-G: Any Sixaxis improvements this year?

CF: We tweaked all that stuff as much as possible, but our game is really built around a specific control scheme, so anything we can give the players to make it a better experience, we will do, but we don’t do anything for the sake of it.

Pro-G: For the first time in a long time the Tony Hawk franchise has some real competition, in the form of Skate from EA. Has this affected the game’s development at all?

CF: You know, we started this one early because we had a very specific goal. We really changed nothing based on what’s coming out from EA. On the other hand, competition is always awesome, because it’s better for the community and it’s better for everyone as they raise the bar for each other. But this year we just set out to make the best Tony Hawk game that we can.

Pro-G: Thanks for your time.

CF: Cheers



Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground

on Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360

The game will feature new Nail-the-Trick modes, skater classes, revamped multiplayer modes…

Release Date:

02 November 2007