Tony Hawk made his return to video games earlier this month in the form of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD after the previously annualized series of the famous skater’s namesake took a one-year hiatus. According to statements made by Josh Tsui, CEO of Robomodo, the studio behind the XBLA release that remixed elements of the first two titles in the series, publisher Activision is ready to call it a comeback. Speaking with Gamasutra, Tsui said that “the prospect of a fuller game is definitely on the table — it’s just a matter of when and how.”
On the subject of why digital platforms were the right choice for a stab at a series comeback (PSN and PC versions will eventually follow the XBLA release), the CEO cited simple distribution and low price. “I think for now Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a very good way to reacquaint people to the franchise,” he said. “People are more apt to try games that are smaller and downloadable. Moving forward we’d have to see what our options are for a completely new experience, especially for any new platforms. But for now, downloadable games for a low price allow us great flexibility to try new things.”
It’s an approach that essentially amounted to the polar opposite of the studio’s previous attempt to bring Tony back. Original series developer Neversoft took over development of the Guitar Hero games after Activision acquired the brand but not its dev team (Harmonix), and 2007′s Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground fell off the rails. As Neversoft tried its hand at the then-in-vogue plastic peripheral market, Robomodo got its first crack at Tony Hawk and went in a similar direction.
A duo of Hawk-branded releases came out of their efforts in ’09 and ’10 that had players standing on costly skateboards. The pair performed about as well as the court of public opinion initially ruled they would, which is to say, abysmally. Tony Hawk: Ride, the first of the two, sold a meager 114,000 units in its first month on sale. One critical outlet even went so far as to unflatteringly name the title its “Anti-Game of the Year” and incorporated an image of the requisite skateboard accessory into its “crappiest games” award logo. Ouch.
That, however, was then. And this, as they say, is now. If moving about 120,000 units of a retail release across three platforms in one month can be considered disappointing for a once-powerful series, then a digital reimagining of the early Tony Hawk games hitting that benchmark in one week on one platform can only be viewed as a successful return to form. High marks from the premier media outlet exclusively covering the XBLA platform probably haven’t hurt the series’ chances of returning to glory either.
Yet not all critics were as high on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD as XBLA Fans was. What does Tsui think of some of the more scathing reviews out there? He told Gamasutra that his team entered into an unwinnable war by resuscitating two beloved games of yesteryear. Make too many adjustments to those rose-tinted nostalgia glasses and they would have surely had a George Lucas situation on their hands, angering the purists who grew up playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its sequel. Change too little, on the other hand, and Robomodo could have faced accusations of being a lazy cash-grab. It’s a dilemma developers of every remake/remix face. The Chicago-based studio chose to err towards preserving those warm memories of days gone by; Tsui explained that protecting the purity of mechanics from the turn of the century was the dev’s “number one priority.”
“Had we changed it up and modernized it, we would have gotten the same criticism from the other side,” he added. “We knew going in that there were going to be some comments about the gameplay, but it’s not Pro Skater 5, it’s what Pro Skater 1 & 2 were.”
Before Robomodo was able to begin putting a new window dressing those venerated mechanics, it first had to go about convincing Activision to let the developer dust itself off from its earlier spills and get back on the board. Pulling that off required a little star power. Hawk himself filled that role, championing Robomodo’s cause. “To be honest, Josh [Tsui] and I pushed Activision to do it repeatedly until we laid it out that this can happen, in this timeframe, for this cost. It was a long battle,” the world’s most recognizable skateboarder said back in March.
Tsui sounds convinced that their original vision was the right one to pursue, though he’s looking to be more aggressive with the brand going forward. “We were given the right amount [of resources] based on the scope of [Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD], but obviously we would always want more to go bigger,” he explained to Gamasutra. “I don’t think hits these days look the same as they did back in 1999 or 2000, so it would be great to see the Tony Hawk franchise do interesting things on a variety of platforms.”
For now, Robomodo is tied up with bringing its HD reset to the PlayStation 3 and PC along with getting the game’s first DLC onto the Xbox Live marketplace. It hasn’t been decided when (or if) more downloadable content will be made available, or what platform(s) Hawk will grind onto next. It hasn’t even been determined whether or not future installments are coming this gen or not until next-gen rumors give way to actual hardware launches, but Tsui sounds almost certain that it is indeed coming. So go right ahead and call it a comeback.