Tony Hawk's Project 8 Hands-On

We try to grind our way into the top eight (or at least get as close as we can) in our hands-on look at the new Tony Hawk game.

Neversoft is rightfully proud of its brand-new motion-capture facility. The famed developer of the equally famous Tony Hawk series has built a state-of-the-art mo-cap studio located in a cavernous warehouse section of its new digs in Southern California. It's not surprising that a big-time developer would have this kind of technology available in-house. What is surprising is how the Tony Hawk series, which has prided itself on being a remarkably accurate representation of skateboarding tricks and culture, has gone so long without motion capture. And this is just one of the new things we learned about the upcoming Tony Hawk's Project 8 during a recent trip down to SoCal to visit the Neversoft bunch and check out the game for ourselves.

Tony Hawk and the crew are back for the eighth go-around of this venerable game series.

The previous Tony Hawk game, American Wasteland, was the first TH game to use motion capture of any kind; the cutscenes in the game used the technology. While THAW for the Xbox 360 was more or less a port of the Xbox and PlayStation 2 version of the game, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Project 8 have been built from the ground up specifically to harness the power of the next-gen consoles. With that much processing power and memory on hand, one of the first orders of business was to make sure that practically any move or trick found in the game was first captured in real life using the mo-cap studios.

What that entailed was approximately 63 days of mo-cap, which started at the beginning of the development cycle for Project 8 in February 2006. Along with in-house staff posing as amateur skaters and pedestrians, which you often (literally) run into when roaming the open world of Project 8, every pro skater featured in the game spent some time in the studio being filmed performing not only a number of "standard" tricks and skating moves, but also signature styles that are unique to that skater. One particularly dedicated pro, Rodney Mullen, spent a total of three days in the studio fine-tuning his tricks for the (multiple) cameras that were recording his every move.

In addition to dressing the skaters in the requisite spandex and light-capturing balls getup that you might be used to seeing pro ball players don once a year for video game mo-cap sessions, the Project 8 folks even went so far as to mo-cap the skateboards themselves. Not only were the bottoms of the boards fitted with the balls, but special strips were attached to the trucks. As a result, subtle details such as board and truck flex are captured in loving detail thanks to the wonders of mo-cap magic.

All of this technology and detail is designed to make the tricks in Project 8 look more realistic than ever. Whereas before, every trick was hand-animated by the enormously talented Neversoft art team, now, each trick will be based on the real-life move that was captured in the studio. That doesn't mean the animation guys can just take the rest of the year off, however; the job of tying the trick animations together so they flow in a realistic and believable manner is a key element to ensuring that all of the captured tricks play true in the game.

The focus on the moves and physics of skaters and their boards is indicative of the development mind-set behind Project 8. Departing from the narrative-heavy approaches found in the past few Tony Hawk games, Project 8 is focused squarely on the tricks. There's still a story in Project 8--Tony Hawk's looking to assemble a team of the eight best amateur skaters in the world, and your job will be not just to make it on the team, but to rise to the number one position--but, in the end, Project 8 is all about getting on your board and showing what you can do.

Daewon Song is one of the many real-life skaters featured in the game.

To show off your skills, a slew of different challenge types will be available to you as you scoot around the Project 8 urban and suburban environments. These include spot challenges, which are set up throughout the world, and you must meet various requirements to pass them, such as grinding a rail for a certain length or acquiring a huge amount of air in big-air challenges. Unlike instanced challenges, spot challenges are available at any time--to initiate a grind challenge, for instance, you simply start the grind near the starting point. Other challenges available in the game, such as puzzle challenges, require you to get from a starting point to an end point, and will let you move around a number of objects to create a "path." One puzzle challenge required us to maneuver through a number of rails and school buses, before grinding quickly around a flag pole and eventually onto a wooden crate. Puzzle challenges will test not only your trick skills, but your ability to lay out the objects available to you in such a way as to pass the challenge. It's not exactly a park creator (which won't be featured in Project 8), but it's pretty fun nonetheless.

Finally, we have to mention the bail challenges scattered throughout the world, which were among our favorite challenges. Here, the idea is to grab some air and then launch your skater off the board. The game's Havok physics engine kicks in, and your player flops through the air, bouncing off every tree, column, staircase, and bush he or she hits on the way down. The ragdoll physics are hilariously exaggerated here, and if nothing else, this mode is good for a few laughs.

An essential ingredient for any trick-based game is finding a balance between making the game appealing to those new to the series while still appeasing vets who are always looking for new and exciting ways to punish their fingers. Project 8 addresses this by assigning skill levels to various challenges in the game--am (for amateur), pro, and sick, which you can think of as bronze, silver, and gold medal equivalents. Reaching amateur level for most of the early challenges in the game should be a breeze, even for those new to skateboarding games. Achieving "pro" level on most challenges will require some dedication, while "sick" level is going to take some real cojones. Producers estimate that achieving sick ratings on all the challenges found in the game (and thus earning the "sick" ending), will take you roughly 20 to 25 hours of game time, depending on your skills, a far cry from the two- to four-hour sprints that made up the recent Tony Hawk entries.

Some challenges will test your skills on the board, as well as your eye for design.

As is the case with many next-generation games, Tony Hawk's controls make liberal use of the analog sticks. Pushing the left stick forward while in the air, for example, will pull off a kick flip with the board, and there are many more variations you can pull off using both analog sticks. The coolest example of the new analog controls, and an entirely new feature in the game, is the "nail the trick" feature. It essentially lets you create your own trick on the fly, and you can access "nail the trick" mode either by entering specific challenges of the same name or by clicking the two analog sticks at any time.

In this mode, the game will slow down, and the camera will shift to the side, focusing on your board and your feet. Each analog stick controls one of your feet--the left stick controls the foot closest to the left edge of your screen, while the right stick controls the foot closest to the right. As you fly through midair, you can move either foot up or down to flip your board as you go, opening a wealth of base and branching tricks that are initiated depending on whether the board is tape-up or trucks-up. As the board flips through the air, it essentially becomes its own physics object and will react realistically with your feet depending on which way you move the sticks. While the developers initially had "nail the trick" tied only to specific challenges, they liked the mode so much they decided to make it part of the actual control scheme, letting you initiate the mode whenever you wish. In another bit of smart design, tricks pulled off in this mode will also count toward your combo scores, which should make it one more weapon in the arsenal of the Tony Hawk hardcore who regularly rack up million-point combos.

As you skate your way around the world in Project 8, every trick you pull off will go toward your overall progression as a skater. Grind for long enough, and your proficiency at grinding will advance--make enough big-air jumps, and your skill will go up in that area. If you want, you can check out a detailed look at your skater's stats and see exactly how much you have to do to get to advance in any particular skill area (just 838 more feet of grinds before getting that next level!)

Graphically, Tony Hawk is looking sharp. Skater models--whether they are scans of real-life pros (which are, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from their real-life counterparts) or created skaters we got to mess around with during the demo--are vibrant looking and animate well, and there's very little in the way of frame rate or animation stuttering to complain about. Things may be mo-capped out the wazoo in Project 8, but the animations themselves seem smooth and silky. In addition, the environments that you skate through are lively and interesting looking, with plenty of objects to interact with, lots of elevation changes to take advantage of, and loads of peds to mow down in your quest for skating glory. The game's sound deserves some special mention as well--we liked how the sound would change depending on what kind of surface we were skating over, be it asphalt, grass, or a rubberized pool cover.

Filmer challenges will require you to follow a cameraman and pull off the tricks he calls out.

Game modes in Project 8 will include the career mode, create a skater (which we didn't get to check out, unfortunately), and online and split-screen multiplayer. On the online side, Project 8 will include a number of leaderboards for various challenges found in the game, as well as support for up to eight virtual skaters online. One new multiplayer game type we learned about is dubbed "walls." Here, as you skate along, you'll be trailed by a line that creates walls. Should one of your opponents hit this wall, you'll earn a "frag," the ultimate goal being to box in your opponents (sort of like a skating version of the old arcade geometry battle Qix).

With its old-school focus on tricks and challenges, a revamped control scheme, and some cool new features, Tony Hawk's Project 8 is looking like an appealing mix of the old and the new. We'll have more on the game leading up to its release this fall, as well as a full review once the game hits store shelves.

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38 comments
pdo4545
pdo4545

this is a great game....

Gamer_dude_666
Gamer_dude_666

Can't wait for it to come out MAN IM A TONY HAWK MANIAC YEAH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

rpc2006
rpc2006

Hopefully there will be a multiplayer mode that lets you and some friends just skate freely around the entire environment without any time limit or who gets a certain amount of points first............oh and why no park editor.

madgamer2000
madgamer2000

bail mode is straight out of the old ps1 thrasher skate boarding game. it had a mode where you could bail and physics would kick in, but in it you could make your person flail or tuck up or grab edges of stuff and it would give you points based on how much damage you did.

Kaintae1134
Kaintae1134

I can't friggin wait for this game. But doesn't "Walls" multiplayer sound a lot like that game from Tron?..

CLeRKSfan4life
CLeRKSfan4life

This game is looking pretty good but I'm more excited about Downhill Jam for the Wii

mastermind89
mastermind89

sounds pretty good, glad to see there putting some new ideas as well as a little more realism into it this time around. and for all those people who are wishing for a new skating series thats much more realistic, theres a game called "skate" for the ps3 coming out. so arcade/tricked out fun:tony hawk realistic"er":skate

Piaras007
Piaras007

Sounds like a 'been there done that' to me. Prove me wrong please.

faytal-ehtee
faytal-ehtee

lovin the ragdoll physics bail mode. hopefully i can re live some of those moments i had in the bail mode for dave mirra freestyle bmx 2. loved that mode on that game. where is the old miracle boy these days anyway

Snowy_90
Snowy_90

make the game like real life wood suck, it wood be no fun watsoever, thats the stupidest idea ive ever heard. this new game looks like its goin to be awesome, the last couple were short but the introduction of new tricks and all that makes it worthwhile to play. since this one can take up to 20 hours i reckon it'll be awesome. the only reason y sum ppl wood get bored after 10 mins is because they arent any good

creamsoda09
creamsoda09

tony hawk games are only fun for 10 minutes then i go an shoot something

tecknautic
tecknautic

Madden is old, stop the Madden games allready.. sheesh what a marooon!

zappa2001
zappa2001

Tony Hawk is 38 dummy. He was born in 1968.

zim000
zim000

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

A-TEX
A-TEX

Tony Hawk is celebrating his 50th birthday this week. Is this guy even physically capable of skateboarding anymore? Get out of here, you old geezer! Stop making these games, for the love of Pete!

Failed2Live
Failed2Live

Yeah, Tony Hawk has lost it's appeal but I remember back in like the 5th or 6th grade my friend told me NeverSoft was planning on making 9 of them... Guess this would be it, right?

ali_g_84uk
ali_g_84uk

luisnunezjr At least for me, tony hawk has lost his appeal. Errrr no...i think for 95% of people its lost its appeal. Its so unbelievably tired that game. I think Tony Hawks 3 was the last great game, 4 was passable, then came the THUGS.... Seriously neversoft, either completely revamp the series (i.e. make it a simulator rather than the cheesy turbo, 42 trick combo approach) or just drop it completely.

jeffers_13
jeffers_13

"wah this game is hard and i can't play it so it sucks" hehe :) max payne is cool

jd14
jd14

tony hawks game really sucks they r so complex for me

toxicmog
toxicmog

Tony hawk is just Meh... now. But its cool they are putting so much work into it. Tony hawks 2 on the PS1 was the best :P

luisnunezjr
luisnunezjr

At least for me, tony hawk has lost his appeal.

AdMordem
AdMordem

yay! I love me tonys!!! Looks so so so damn good!!! better be november for australia too... dunno about all this tony bashing i have enjoyed imensely every tony hawk game (bar downhill jam). American Wasteland like THUG2 before that may not have been ground breaking in terms of gameplay, but it served what i and im sure many others wanted... MORE TONYS!!!! After all this game is proven to be addictively fun, why mess with a good formula?

SteveTwo
SteveTwo

Yeah, okay, I'm pretty sure the game where you trail a wall and try and get your opponent to crash into it is the lightcycles in TRON. Qix is the game where you try and slow build boxes in an area until a certain percentage of the screen is taken, while sparks run around the perimeter and a line-shape bounces around in the unclaimed area. Nothing at all like the lightcycle-type skating game that are putting in Project8.

T1Panda
T1Panda

Awesome. I'm pretty excited for this. Hopefully it'll be a step up from THAW...

fingerpaint
fingerpaint

I'm thinking about getting a 360, and if I do, I think this will be one of my first games.

4lic
4lic

this will be the only version to feature online..so I'll be getting this one

dan2pro4u
dan2pro4u

shares many of the features that Amped 3 has.. stealing their ideas, eh?

KBABZ
KBABZ

I'm looking forward to challenging my friends to nice a game of Bail! Let's see, I'll have my dude launch off these staris, fly into this tree, hit the edge of this wall, and then fly down several feet before smashing his crown jewels on this handrail before gently sliding down to lie in front of a little old lady. *Imagines Bail mode mixed with the non-existent Create-a-park mode* Aaaah... bliss!

pretzelmeister
pretzelmeister

lets just hope it turns out well, unlike american wasteland

Iszdope
Iszdope

I knew avoiding the series (for fear of despising it) after number 2 would reap rewards eventually...methinks this could be the one.

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

Hopefully it'll be fun, but then again, these things come out almost yearly so its not that exciting.

A7Xfan
A7Xfan

mix of old and new. So kind of like Tony Hawk 3 which got an (undesrving) 10?

DanteKiller
DanteKiller

Finally! A REAL Tony Hawk game for the next generation! I don't know about you guys, but I'M getting the 360 version!