LOS ANGELES--The Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games has been one of the most successful cross-platform, third-party franchises since its debut more than six years ago. Despite that success, developer Neversoft is scrapping everything and starting from scratch for the upcoming Tony Hawk's Project 8 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. We went behind closed doors in the Activision booth to watch a demo of the game.
We didn't get to play the game, but based on the early Xbox 360 build of the game that we saw, it's coming along nicely. The demonstration began with a showcase of the new physics and animation in the game. We watched as a character ollied off of a high ledge and realistically bent at the knees to brace for impact before landing. But whereas previous games had one single animation for each trick or action, this game combines several different animations so that each trick looks unique. In this way, an ollie off of a high ledge looks significantly different than an ollie up on top of a box or rail. One of the demonstrations we saw showed a character trying to balance as he ground on a long rail. The way he put his arms out and compensated for momentum by leaning and moving looked very natural, and it didn't just look like a canned animation. The developer explained to us that this is achieved by combining six different animations based on the character's movement and relation to the environment.
After the demonstration about the physics and animation, we got to see the game in motion. It began with a rider dropping into a huge ramp on top of a building, clearing a gap between two skyscrapers, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, grinding power lines, and more. The tricks were all familiar, and it's clear that the level design hasn't been drastically altered. You'll still hit lots of half-pipes and rails, and the trick system, while it looks different, features many of the same tricks. You can still string combos together by landing on a rail or by riding out a manual. One nice effect was the focus mode, which pulls the camera in to focus on your character's feet and sends the game into slow motion to show off the fancy footwork.
The world of Project 8 looks good even in this relatively early build of the game. There are 12 motion-captured professional skaters in the game, and they look detailed and move naturally. In the demo we saw, the terrain looked much more varied in terms of height than in previous games. This variation will not only let you catch big air, but as you skate downhill you'll pick up tremendous speed. The world is all one huge cohesive area that is connected by jumps and spine transfers. You can skate from a school to an amusement park to a shopping mall at your leisure. The game uses Havok physics, so you can interact with all of the items in the environment and they will all respond realistically. As in previous Tony Hawk games, you'll be able to talk to non-player characters scattered throughout the world to take on missions.
Based on what we saw of Tony Hawk's Project 8, it looks like it will stay true to the Tony Hawk formula while updating the look and feel of the game. We're looking forward to getting our hands on this game, and we'll bring you the details as soon as we do. Unfortunately, the game isn't playable at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, but with a release date set for this fall, it won't be long before the game skates onto the Xbox 360, Xbox, and PlayStation 2. There will also be a PlayStation 3 version to follow.