Skating Through E3

Latest skateboarding titles premiere at gaming-industry mega trade show.

E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, showcases the world’s most spectacular interactive entertainment. This year the skateboarding industry showed its ever-growing popularity within this six-billion-dollar-a-year business with the new version of an old favorite, and its competition.

Activision, the leading worldwide developer, publisher, and distributor of interactive entertainment and leisure products, posted 572-million dollars for their fiscal year 2000. It owes some of that success to skateboarding. Last year, with the launch of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Activision shipped more than one-million copies in less than five days, making it one of the biggest launches in Activision history, and capturing the number-one spot in both unit sales and revenue for 2000.

This year Activision recognized the influence of skateboarding by creating “Activision O2”?an entire sub-brand dedicated to action sports?and crowning the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series as its primary title. Banking on the success of THPS, Activision O2 will take some of the elements that made it popular and transfer them to games like Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX, Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer, and Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder.

Scheduled to be shipped with the launch of Microsoft’s anticipated Xbox console, the generically titled Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X from Activision 02 will set the standard for sports gaming on the Xbox. This version of the game combines expanded levels from both THPS1 and 2 while adding three new levels?like a dance-club level only available on the THPS2X version. The power of Xbox allowed the developers to take the game to new heights, revamping the animation system to allow players to replace the music in the game with songs they’ve stored on their Xbox’s hard drive, and options like a female create-a-skater.

But Activision isn’t only banking on Microsoft. Look for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3?which also features improved graphics, cinematic sequences, new tricks, and online competitive play for up to four players?available for PlayStation 2 this fall. A new roster of characters, including Bam Margera, Eric Koston, Bucky Lasek, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, Steve Caballero, Elissa Steamer, Andrew Reynolds, and more, are in THPS3. This time, as players change characters they’ll notice that the sponsors placed in the digital environments also change to match that skater, and players will have multiple clothing options per skater, and can maneuver the characters through Middleton, Rhode Island’s Skater Island Skatepark, Rio De Janeiro, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, and other locations while interacting with other characters in the game.

What’s that? You don’t have a PlayStation 2 and don’t plan on getting an Xbox? No worries, THPS2 will also be available on the new Nintendo Game Boy Advance, scheduled to launch mid June. Activision’s own handheld version is hoping to cash in on the estimated 25-million Game Boy Advance units Nintendo anticipates selling in the next year. By spreading itself out and focusing on creating quality expansions for the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, Activision shows why it was the only software publisher to show triple-digit growth for calendar 2000.

Konami and ESPN The Games?the network’s video-game venture?are also utilizing the popularity of skateboarding to launch a new brand of games for the PlayStation 2 and Game Boy Advance. ESPN X-Games Skateboarding is the first in what a representative from Konami said will be a “series of summer events with the X-Games title.” This game features eight licensed skaters, including Bob Burnquist and Colin McKay along with all their equipment, music from Linkin Park and New Found Glory, and the ability to choose 64 authentic skateboards while adjustinng their speed and handling characteristics. Players can compete in a street or halfpipe competition recreated from the 2000 X-Games in San Francisco, while the in-game commentators discuss their trick selection and competitive ranking. By getting this ranking and earning points, the player can unlock levels which allow you to skate in the streets of Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco. On top of that, other levels are deemed “Fantasy Levels,” like the Luxury Cruise Line where you skate around a Titanic-like ship.

Your “fantasy” has always been to skate aboard the Titanic, right? No? Mine neither. While it’s an interesting idea to turn a skateboarding game into a TV show with the commentators and ESPN-network graphics, the game seemed a little stiff?it tries to do too much and achieves a far second to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series. I wouldn’t compare the launch of this title to the launch of the Titanic just yet, but it will be interesting to see if this game can stay afloat after its release this September.

Leading analysts forecast that new consoles will achieve 70-percent household penetration in the U.S. by 2005, with video- and computer-game software sales projected to surpass ten-billion dollars. If E3 2001 was any indication, skateboarding will be a huge part of that future. There was more detail this year not only in physics and graphics, but also in products and sponsors?a trend that could positively influence retail sales in the skateboarding industry as well.

In an era where gaming violence is a hot topic, skateboarding games provide a refreshing alternative for kids of all ages, and based on their overwhelming popularity, they’re leading the charge for the success of next generation video-game consoles.

Erik S. West is a freelance writer and can be contacted at: