Just when it looked as though gamers couldn't be worked up into a bigger frenzy over Tony Hawk 3, Neversoft has taken the wraps off the game's online options. They were once believed to be in danger of being cut from the game to make its November release, but we're pleased to report they're in and looking pretty cool. Offering new multiplayer games and support for modem and LAN play, Tony Hawk 3's online features bring a whole new dimension to competition in the already deep game. We managed to put the online aspects of the game through their paces thanks to a USB Ethernet adapter and have come away fiending for the final release of the game. In the first installment of our look at the online components of the game, we examine getting online and chat with Neversoft Entertainment president Joel Jewett and TH3 producer Scott Pease for insight on the game's development.
Getting online with Tony Hawk 3 was a breeze after plugging a network cable to the USB Ethernet adapter and entering the game's network mode. The game recognized that it was our first time getting online and proceeded to walk us through the setup process. You'll have the opportunity to select a name for your network character and select the type of hardware you're using to connect. The build of the game that we had supported Ethernet (network adapter for PS2), Ethernet (network for PS2; PPPoE), USB Ethernet Adapter, USB Ethernet Adapter (PPPoE), Modem (network adapter for PS2), and a USB Modem. Connection settings could be set to autodetect DHCP or adjust IP address, gateway, subnet mask, and host name manually. Advanced options will also let you set a primary master server and secondary master server if you want. Don't let all the tech talk rattle you if you're unsavvy, because it should be possible to get online by just selecting hardware type and entering a few bits of info. The game's autodetect feature seems to work very well.
Once online, you'll browse the various servers. We saw three for each coast, all of which list who's playing on what level in each game. Plus, you'll be able to hop in anywhere you like provided there's room. Online games support a maximum of four players using broadband, one player serves as host and has control over game settings, such as the type and length of games. Multiplayer games between players using modems are limited to one host and two other participants for a total of three players. When players hop in a game, you'll find yourself in a free skate mode that essentially serves as a "lobby." You'll be able to skate around a level and do whatever you like until the host initiates a specific game. You'll be able to communicate with your fellow skaters via hunting and pecking on an onscreen keyboard with a PS2 controller or by connecting a USB keyboard to the PS2 and typing out messages. Unfortunately, typing in our build was initiated by hitting the space bar on the keyboard, which freezes your skater until the message is sent. While we didn't expect to type and skate at the same time, we've always found it rather fun to talk smack while a friend plays--and vice versa. Fortunately, the game itself tosses in some choice text messages, such as "All your base are belong to (insert opponent's name here)" and the like, during gameplay when you smack an opponent. While we initially longed to be able to type in our own messages without freezing our character, the game's phrases slowly won our hearts as they became surlier in nature.
After exploring TH3's online play and being taunted by the names of levels being tested--which our build couldn't access, such as Airport and Skater Island--we were able to speak with Joel Jewett, President of Neversoft Entertainment, and Scott Pease, producer of the game, about Neversoft's approach toward taking Tony online.
GameSpot: When was the decision made to include online play in Tony 3?
Joel Jewett: Early in a pretty short cycle. Full production on the game did not start until after we finished Tony 2 last year. We have this overachieving programmer named Steve Ganem--he said he could do it, and it did not really take much more than that to make the decision. Hell, I knew it would be fun. I wanted to play it myself.
GS: How long did it take to implement?
JJ: Less than a year.
GS: Did online play affect the games they chose to support it?
JJ: We wrote King of the Hill and Slap! specifically for the online component of the game.
GS: How much work did it take to make the process of getting online or on a network seamless? How important was that?
Scott Pease: It was easy, really--we just booted up some other online broadband PS2 games and copied what they...oh wait, that's right, there weren't any... Actually, we did look to the PC world for guidance, figuring that people would be most comfortable with the network setup they had done on their PC and could apply that knowledge to their PS2. Then we stripped out any unnecessary stuff and kept testing and trimming until the setup felt about as lean and mean as it could get. We're quite proud of the fact that if you have an existing network that automatically assigns IP addresses (DHCP), then all you have to do is plug in your PS2 and make one simple selection from a menu (the type of adapter you're using) and that's it--you're online. For modem users, enter your dial-up phone number, user name, and password, and that's it...
GS: How will modems be supported? Will Neversoft have servers running?
JJ: As far as game servers go, the server is one of the PS2s in each respective game that is being played online. As a player, you choose to act as a server, which allows you to do things like change levels, choose the number of players you want to host, or choose the type of game. Or you can join someone else's server.
GS: How is lag being dealt with?
JJ: In any online game, one player acts as the server, and the remaining players act as clients to that server. Each PS2 in the game runs the game logic for its own skater independently...the server PS2 performs a limited number of additional calculations to track the whereabouts of the other players in the world, collisions between skaters, and with the world, that type of thing, and then sends this info in packets over the Net to the clients' PS2s...this has the effect of reducing the feel of lag for the player because your skater will always feel the same as in a normal game because your skater's logic is being run on your own machine. We have not really run into much problem with the amount of info we are sending between machines over broadband hookups, but bandwidth for modem play sometimes gets to be a bottleneck if the server is connected via modem. We limited the number of clients that a server can host if a player is hooked up to the net via modem to two clients (for a total number of three players per game). Modem players can join four-player games hosted by someone hooked up to a broadband connection with no problem.
GS: Will there be any sort of global rankings system?
SP: For this version of THPS3, we spent more time on getting the four online games working and feeling right and didn't want to sacrifice the quality at all by pushing for any system of online rankings. The tricky part about rankings is that they're always vulnerable to cheaters, so you have to burn a lot of time working to make sure that the game can't be hacked and that the scoring is all fair and equitable. You can look at nearly any online PC game to see the sorts of problems they've had with this, and we wanted to spare ourselves some of those headaches this time around. But we will be looking to do some form of rankings and persistent stat tracking in the future.
GS: Will player-created parks be able to be used online?
JJ: We simply did not have time to pull that off for this version, but we will most certainly be starting on another version of the game as soon as this one is finished.
GS: Will there be any kind of a profanity filter for typed messages like those found in Phantasy Star Online?
JJ: We put in the ability to ban people from your server if they do not behave themselves.
GS: Will any courses from previous games show up?
JJ: Well, you'll just have to play it and see...
GS: Will there be any online-specific courses?
JJ: There won't be any online-specific courses. That is a tough call because so much work goes into a level that by the time we are done with it, we want everyone to have the opportunity to play it. The online draw is that you get to play it with other people.
GS: Will there be any other online gameplay modes other than what we've played?
SP: There are four online games, and you can switch from game to game any time you like. In addition, you've got free skate, which can be really fun because you can essentially create your own games. We were playing last week and we saw someone in the server trying to jump off this ramp and stick a McTwist and land on top of a specific building. Suddenly, we all wanted to try the same feat, so then we organized it so that each person got five attempts to make the same trick, and we all took turns. When someone else was trying the trick, the others could hang out on top of the building and watch with the look around camera--it was a blast. First one to stick it took $20. Now if we could only build e-commerce into the game, it would be even easier to collect on these bets...
Thanks to Joel Jewett and Scott Pease for their time.
Check back for our next installment for impressions of what Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3's online games have to offer.