'Tony Hawk' Is More Honest About Video Game Skateboarding Than 'Skate'


Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/xwk4kw/tony-hawk-better-than-skate


I too come on the Tony Hawk side of the argument, although that stems from my distaste for right stick gestures in sports games in general (Fight Night, I’m looking at you). Also, as someone who is indifferent to real life skateboarding, I’ll take the series that lets me play as Spider-Man. :slight_smile:

BTW, did you play THPS 4 on a CRT, or did you use a modern TV? I can’t seem to get the timing down at all on a newer HDTV, so it’s always a mess of falling on my face when I try to play these games.


I am currently playing THPS4 on an HD tv and I don’t have any timing issues!


Huh, maybe I just lost a step in the intervening 2 decades.


I think for me what’s great about Skate is the way it captures the process of learning to skateboard, with the analogue-stick based control scheme facilitating that. It’s frustrating. You will try the same spot again and again and again and again and again and you’ll get so close and you’ll also eat shit. And this isn’t to do big fancy stuff, it’s very simple things that pros seem to be able to do in their sleep; a heelflip over a 4 set. A boardslide on a 6 foot rail that’s a few feet off the ground. I never got anywhere farther than incredibly sloppy kickflips after years and years of trying (growing up in a very backwoods town in appalachia didn’t help, no infrastructure) and Skate spoke to that, for me.


Aaaaaah that plywood roller coaster brings back ancient painful memories. I hold THPS4 as kind of the series’ weakest link inbetween THPS3 and Underground, but damn if it isn’t incredibly memorable and quirky.

I think we get different things out of skateboarding. The reason why I love the Skate series is because I think it captures an aspect of skating that’s more receptive to me. I can’t skate worth a damn, but the appeal of skating for me is the exploratory potential a skateboard provides. It keeps the human and the vehicle separate while still making the human the more important aspect of the process of movement - I compare that to a pair of rollerblades, which are all about the rider but provide no separation from the rider and the vehicle at all, or a bicycle, which is comparably huge and tough for the rider to really move independent. Meanwhile, a skateboard lets a rider move quickly with the board, yet they can pick it up, climb on top of an object, and get back on the board with an ease no other vehicle provides. It’s total freedom of movement and speed, and the rider gets the added bonus of creativity in tricks and skill in performing them. That’s what I think is so incredible about skateboarding.

Skate gets that on a level that THPS doesn’t really, the Skate worlds are so huge, the rider feels so small and like there’s so much to explore and create spots from.

Yet, THPS gets that technical sense of skating so right, and has some very good exploratory aspects to it as well. I see the two series as having different missions - THPS was a sport turned into a video game on a video game’s merits, racking up high scores and completing puzzle-like missions and goals, and Skate was an attempt to turn a sport into a video game on that sport’s merits, where the best realistic aspects of the sport were translated as closely as possible. Both of them do it so well.

Thank you for writing this, you’ve made me think about skating games today, and I already think about them all the time anyway


This is so much it for me. I used to skate a lot and it’s incredibly hard to learn how to pull of the kind of street skating thats popular today (I don’t even want to mention how impressed I am with talented vert skaters that shit is wild). Skate was so good at simulating the trial-and-error process of both learning how to actually get everything down and then applying that to spots around the city. You develop a sense for the “good” spots in San Vanalona or Carver Bay the same way you do when you actually skate around a place constantly. You’ll bang your head against that one rail you just have to hit because god dammit you wont let a hunk of metal beat you.

Tony Hawk does a similar thing with it’s goals, but I struggle to remember a time in those games when I would literally spend hours trying to trick over the same staircase for no real reason. I just wanted to do it.

That said, I do think Tony Hawk (despite the next level arcadyness. One of the things people used to say about Skate is that it’s more “realistic” which I kind of reject. Those games are still arcady as hell) understands that aspect of skating on a fundamental level. You still explore and find spots, it’s just on a different scale (more akin to a platformer) and its Goals are more explicitly puzzle-like, but you still try them over and over and have to learn by just doing it again and again until you finally get it perfect. THPS is still about mastery of space, but instead of mastering the city one staircase at a time you throw yourself at each stage all at once learning every bit of geography instead of when to time your kickflip down this one specific 8-set.


What I liked more about THPS was that it captured that ideal vision I had of skating as a kid. When you are sitting there on the school bus looking out the window and thinking how if you were a cool skater like Tony Hawk how awesome it would be to do sick tricks off the stuff you were passing by.

It plays into that fantasy of “If I was a rad skateboarder this is definitely what I would be doing” and it does it well.

Also shout out to Skateboard Park Tycoon 2004 which came attached to a really bad looking video game T-Shirt that I definitely convinced my mom to buy me at a JC Penny. The shirt was lame but that game was great.


This was a nice article with an interesting perspective. I haven’t really encountered someone who fell on the THPS side of the skateboard game fence, but to be fair, I also haven’t really ever had the THPS vs. Skate discussion with other people before.

I personally do really really enjoy playing Skate more than THPS (though I’ve only ever played THPS4, THUG2, and the THPS PS3 remake, so make of that what you will). The feel of just riding around a huge world and seeing spots that would make for a nice line, is so simple yet so effective. Like a number of users above me mentioned, just getting that simple line, maybe a kickflip over a set of stairs, to manual, to 50-50 grind on a stair rail feels sooo satisfying. And like @ClairvoyantVibes spoke to, there oftentime isn’t ever a reason to try to do that. But you just want to so badly. That’s something I think Skate gets better than Tony Hawk.

With THPS it feels almost more puzzle-like or even akin to a platformer, where you’re exploring a world filled with collectible items and specific named gaps aplenty, requiring a kind of observation and precision that you’d fine in a more traditional platformer. Nothing wrong with that in my opinion, but I think imma be a Skate baby for life lol.


Having played through most of the THPS and Skate series relatively recently, both series are really great. But, I’m also gonna come down on the Skate side, one big reason: freedom of expression.

My intense focus is mostly owed to how much I appreciate it as a discipline, a monastic experience, that pulls bodies of all types into coherence around purely abstract concepts like a “big spin” or a “kickflip.”

This seems so weird to me. That’s completely the opposite of what draws me to Skateboarding. The thing that makes skateboarding so different from most other sports is that it’s not just about perfecting a sequence of movements, it’s about style. It’s about inventing a new trick, finding a spot that’s never been skated before, building wild shapes with plywood and steel. You don’t practice 100 hours in devotion to the kickflip, you practice 100 hours to make that kickflip yours. I love seeing the ways that different skaters continuously reinterpret and reinvent skateboarding.

The thing that makes Skate so interesting to me is that it gives you so much analog control, and so much expressive potential with the game physics. In Tony Hawk, you press a button and become rigidly locked-in to a single pre-set animation. In Skate, almost every aspect can be tweaked and used creatively. When you move the stick to execute a kickflip, you can change how fast the board spins, how high you jump, the angle you launch at, all with subtle variations in speed, timing, and length of your movements. The stick inputs are not just an abitrary barrier-to-entry like quicktime events or a special move inputs in Mortal combat, it’s a powerful tool for player expression. Even when you’re in the air, you can use both sticks to spin, grab, tweak, and do various poses that add style. Almost every button and analog input on the controller can be fed into the animation/physics system to create interesting results.

On top of this, the same philosophy feeds-in to other aspects of the game. Skate gives you a huge open world to explore and find your own lines, rather than small pre-defined areas. Skate has a very deep photo mode and replay system. Skate not only lets you build your own skate parks, it also lets you grab and re-arrange objects in the world, or drop in your own ramps and rails to reinterpret a spot or find some new way to grind that the map’s creators had never envisioned. There’s a fairly deep character and board customization system. And some of the in-game missions tie into the photo, replay, and customization features.

It’s fun to have a game like Tony Hawk that lets me live out the fantasy of being able to do a darkslide into a perfect quadrouple kickflip 900. I can definitely appreciate the hard, disciplined, technical aspects of skateboarding. But personally, I’m more interested in a game that lets me play out the creative aspects of skateboarding. Tony Hawk is rad, but give me a game that lets me be Gou Miyagi or Richie Jackson.


Skate resonates with me way more, and I think most of that comes from how it just never lets you forget how absurdly difficult what you’re trying to accomplish actually is, and recognizes that difficulty and trial and error is something you just can’t separate from skating if you want to represent and depict it in a genuine fashion that will connect with those familiar with the activity and culture around it.

I mean the Hall of Meat mode is basically this bizarre celebration of the failure and pain that is a crucial component of the whole experience, which I think is sorta that game’s mission statement. It maintains and balances this really playful attitude while also forcing you to experience at least a taste of the frustration which is integral to the sport.


I have too many fond memories of playing the original Pro Skater at vacation care with a group of older kids, passing the controller with each 2 minute run. That structure made the first three Tony Hawks so moreish, and such a great game to play with friends. Skate is so much more into the learning process, and stressing the skater’s physical relationship to their environment, but in doing so it lacks Tony Hawk’s expressiveness and energy. Having never actually skated in my life, it’s that vibe that I associate most with the sport.


For me, Skate was all about the photo and video editing modes. I loved nothing more than exploring to find a great spot to practice and perfect a line, then using the replay editing tools, create something cool and share it.

THPS just didn’t compete in that regard.


I love both series of games but I can’t help but feel like skate really appealed to what I liked about skateboarding: cruising around the city looking for good spots and trying to get cool tricks for your skate video. You got a great sense of the city and it would be so rewarding when you hit that switch varial heelflip to noseslide on the ledge and got the perfect angle to showcase it in the photo/video mode. I got so much more enjoyment out of landing tricks I found aesthetically pleasing over a gap in skate than finding the good grinding loop in THPS.


I really agree with the take on Tony Hawk, even though I enjoy both games.

I recently picked up A Play of Bodies, and there’s a lot of discussion on what exactly constitutes a “body” - where a person ends and a tool or apparatus begins. Taking the viewpoint of tools being extensions of the body (namely a skateboard), I think Tony Hawk feels somehow more natural in its gameplay. When I go to ollie or kickflip (if I can manage) in real life, the actual actions that my body does much closer resemble a button press than the analog fiddling of Skate. Thanks to muscle memory that has been built up over time, tricks just “come out” less consciously than they’re depicted in Skate.


This is a bad take. Control schemes and abstraction aside, Skate wins simply by the virtue of coming later and being better situated as an open-world game, which better fits the ethos of skateboarding than the arbitrary games and puzzles slapped on top of THPS. Second, Skate acknowledges and better incorporates the film-making that is part and parcel of most people’s second-hand enjoyment of skateboarding, I remember getting lost for hours cutting together a rad sequence, it’s too bad they lost the thread so quickly in Skate 3.