"When you design a hardware peripheral, you have to design a game at the same time." That's what Josh Tsui, president of Tony Hawk: Ride developer Robomodo, says about his game's dramatically different style from its Tony Hawk predecessors. And the idea for the peripheral definitely came first: Tony Hawk himself had been bugging Activision for years to try to get a skateboard controller made. But it finally happened, and the result is Ride -- and its decidedly unorthodox controller.
Stepping onto the Ride controller is almost exactly like stepping onto a skateboard. The size is similar, the curves are the same, and even the balance feels the same (at least on the carpet of the demo room where I got to try the game out). Slight changes in weight and pressure lean the board easily, which is what controls steering. Running a foot alongside controls speed, just as on a real skateboard. And tricks are performed with motions similar to real life: popping the front end up performs an ollie, tilting the board to either side while doing that performs a kickflip, and so on. The board even has sensors to detect when you're grabbing it, which is crucial for advanced vert tricks.
But you don't need to be a skater in real life to play Ride. I'm not, and I cleared the (admittedly simple) challenges in the demo easily. ”One of our big design mantras," says Tsui, "was that people who have just seen people skateboard should understand the basic mechanics. In fact, it's funny: Kind of like with guitarists playing Guitar Hero, real skaters actually seem to have a harder time than non-skaters. They get used to it eventually, of course, but it seems to take them longer."
But enough about the controls; what about the game? Truth be told, Activision is showing off fairly little of the game at this point. What was shown bore a strong resemblance to the foot-controlled arcade game Top Skater (one of the games that prompted Tony Hawk to try to develop a similar control scheme for the home) in that the player cruised down a narrow channel rather than maneuvering through an obstacle-filled open level as in previous games in the series. Ride strips things down all over the place, presenting different skating styles in entirely separate sections of the game. Different venues are presented for speed runs, trick runs, and challenges -- this last bit being a series of preset tricks the player is required to perform, in an area specifically built for those tricks.
That doesn't mean the globe-trotting theme of previous games is abandoned, though. Expect levels in LA, Chicago, New York, Barcelona and Frankfurt. And you'll be able to skate in all these areas with friends in-person (in a pass-the-board mode) or with up to four players online.
But if you're concerned about your friends busting up your board, never fear. It's rated for players up to 300 pounds, and it's specifically designed to take a beating. "We've been abusing it to death," says Tsui, "and so far it's been holding up."
You'll be able to get your own feet onto Ride when the game hits 360, PS3, and Wii this Fall.