Part One; Tony Hawk Ride studio discusses its new board peripheral, and why it avoided Natal
Before Robomodo even has a chance to see the release of its debut project, Tony Hawk: Ride, the Chicago-based studio is already beset by rumours that it’s working on its sequel.
If true, it’d hardly be a surprising move. Activision has a tendency to roll out a range of software for its expensive and alluring peripherals. Will Robomodo’s new wireless skateboard be any different?
In the first half of Develop’s interview, Robomodo CEO David Michicich and Ride lead designer Patrick Dwyer discuss the potential of the Tony Hawk franchise, and the board itself.
Do you feel that new peripherals are the best way to revive stagnated franchises?
Dwyer: I wouldn’t say ‘best solution’, no. It’s just that after ten years of playing a certain type of game, players have kind of fully developed their skill-set.
If you go up to someone who likes the Tony Hawk franchise and tell them that, in the next game, they’ll have to learn entirely different things to what they’re used to, then they’ll be more interested in seeing what you have to offer.
I guess a peripheral is a useful tool in reinvigorating a franchise, but what’s important is that developers introduce new things that make players think or feel in different ways. You can do that with a new peripheral, but you can also do that with new game design elements.
Ourselves and Activision felt that, in order to best bring Ride to the masses, a new and intuitive controller was necessary.
Michicich: When Activision approached us about Tony Hawk, it was their interest to rejuvenate the whole franchise. Back in the day it was such a big, big game – I mean this is the series that built Activision.
So Activision were really keen on reviving it. I mean, Tony Hawk himself wanted to make a peripheral-based skater game for a while.
So how much was Mr Hawk involved with the project?
Dwyer: Oh I’m sure he’s been more involved in Ride than any other TH game for years.
And did that put pressure on Robomodo? You clearly have a vision for how you want to make games. What if Tony Hawk comes to the studio and says he wants the game made another way?
Michicich: I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t very concerned about that.
But, after meeting Tony, yes, that man gets it. He has that legacy for what he’s done with Neversoft for the last ten years; he actually offers incredible advice, he knows what we do, and he shows respect. The man gets it.
Dwyer: He is extremely smart, and he knows what makes a great game.
What ideas do you have for the board outside of the skater genre?
Michicich: That’s really difficult to answer because we’re kind of, ah, [pause], we’re kind of, [pause], we’re doing a game with Activision and we’re not allowed to talk about it right now.
Let’s talk about the potential of the board, then.
Dwyer: Well the board is extremely versatile, it has two accelerometers in it so you can get any tilt value, pitch value, roll value.
It has four IR sensors, so it can sense distance from the board up to waist-height, so it can tell if people put their foot past it, their hand past it.
So, as far as being an input device, there’s lots of different gestures and triggers that a game can read from. I mean just the amount of information that the board gives the game allows it to be extremely versatile, in terms of genre.
Surely when the studio saw Project Natal for the first time, there must have been a sense of frustration. You’ve been working hard on creating an intuitive, fluid, 1:1 motion controller and suddenly Microsoft comes out with its own…
Dwyer: Actually we weren’t frustrated when Microsoft announced Natal. We were well aware of that kind of technology, and had that tech under our roof for about four months before Natal was revealed. We had 3DV camped out at our studio for a while, and we were really considering shipping our game with that technology ourselves.
In the end, we liked the idea of the board better. You pick it up, you throw it in your bag, you take it to your friends’. You’re not setting up a camera, you’re not asking for permission to do something to your friend’s dad’s TV, y’know.
That’s understandable, but another studio might be tempted to use Natal tech in making a rival skater game.
Michicich: Natal is awesome. We’re very familiar with that technology-
-Activision public relations: [Natal] is also a few years out, right?
I imagine this board is designed to be future-proof; this isn’t just for one game, this’ll be for other Tony Hawk games and other genres, right?
Michicich: Absolutely. But going back to your previous question about Natal, when you want to play a half-pipe in Ride, you literally rotate the board sideways. You actually move the board, and it lends itself correctly to the experience.
We had to build the hardware, for the game we wanted to make, in the time that we had. This is the technology we have, and we are very attracted to it. But we actually have designs that are floating around [concerning] Microsoft and Sony technology too.
So we’re not competing with Microsoft or Sony – we think they’re awesome – and their motion control tech is totally in line with the type of games Robomodo wants to make.
It’s clear that Robomodo wants the board to be versatile and intuitive, so it’s difficult to foresee a future Tony Hawk Ride game using tech like Natal and the board at the same time, because they’re both fulfilling the same purpose. Would I be wrong in making that assessment?
Michicich: Yeah, the one thing the board provides that Natal doesn’t is the feedback. With Natal, it’s just the player. On something like a Wii Fit board, you don’t feel any movement. With Ride, you can feel the board move around as you make it move. It sits underneath you, and the experience is you and your board and, really, that’s what skating is all about.
I guess, when talking about mixing the board with Natal, I guess it’s something that could exist…
Dwyer: Yeah it might be quite costly! Maybe you could also play Guitar Hero on your board!
Michicich: [laughs] Yeah.
Dwyer: But these are possibilities for sure. Our stance on things like Natal is that we applaud this kind of thinking and these ideas on changing how we play games.
This industry has been in a fatigue for such a long time, and with the economy the way it is, people are really choosy about what games they pick. We know that it’s the developers’ job to push the envelope, to innovate and be creative thinkers.