We recently had the chance to sit down with Chad Findley, the Project Director of Tony Hawk: Proving Ground at Neversoft. Read on to find out about the difficulties of catering to different audiences and keeping a long-running series fresh!
There have been a huge number of Tony Hawk games released over the years. How much of a challenge is it to keep things fresh and exciting? How is Proving Ground going to achieve this?
Chad Findley: it's always interesting trying to make the next game, but there is so much to skateboarding and the culture and what games are about that there are always new and fun directions you can take. Proving Ground, for instance, takes a new direction in allowing the player to choose his path as a pro skater - is he going to be hardcore, or more career oriented, or the innovative rigger?
The series has become progressively more open-ended. Will Proving Ground continue to build on the 'free roaming' aspects of its predecessors? What made you decide to pursue this kind of game design?
Chad: this has happened in an attempt to let the player choose how he or she wishes to proceed - what they do and at what pace. People play the games in many different ways - some are goal reapers and try to blast through the 'game' as fast as possible. Others are free-skaters and just like to skate around and maybe do a goal when they are ready. So we try to cater to both by allowing the player to choose their own path and pace.
You're continuing to move to a more 'urban adventure' design in the Tony Hawk games. Do you ever see yourself shifting back to something that is more purely focused on skating? What makes this broader approach better?
Chad: The life of a pro skater involves more than just skating - getting sponsored, joining teams, getting a deck, finding spots, making a name, and with a large part of the audience wanting to experience the life of a pro, we try to give them just that. As for the future, we'll see!
Our writer Emily wanted you to know that she has a dent in her wall from when she threw a controller at it after playing Tony Hawk 4. Is it a challenge trying to keep a balance between making the game accessible and including enough depth in terms of the moves you can pull off? How hard is it to keep both the casual gamers and the hardcore skating fans happy?
Chad: It's really difficult. We've got such a broad range of players - from the casual newbie to the 7-hour-a-session hardcore. I think we've done a lot to give both what they need, especially with being able to AM, PRO, or SICK all of are goals now, the newbie will still be able to enjoy and experience the game, but the hardcore guy will still get a great challenge.
Proving Ground is being developed for all the major platforms, including handhelds. What are the major differences (if any) between the versions?
Chad: We're developing the PS3 and 360 versions at Neversoft. They will be very nearly identical. The PS2, Wii, and DS versions are being done out of house. These will vary as necessary due to hardware benefits/limitations.
The series has been going for years - have you found that your demographic has changed at all? Does your focus shift as your fans grow older, or are you still targeting the same groups as you did when the fist Tony Hawk game was released?
Chad: even with all the focus testing and console data, it's still tough to know exactly who is buying the game and why. Just to keep the game fresh and to introduce different players to different game types, we do vary our 'target' sometimes, but we always make sure to keep the game fun for everyone. Proving Ground, for example, has well over 300 goals - story goals, classic goals, high scores, ambient goals - stuff for everyone and every style of game player.
What new features are you most excited about in Proving Ground? How will these features get Tony Hawk fans excited?
Chad: Two things get me the most excited. Expanding Nail the Trick to incude grabs and manuals has really opened up a new style of gameplay. I love putting together all new lines using them. The other great new feature that I really love is the video editor - it kicks ass. You can capture footage easily, drop the clips into timelines, change the camera, split and trim clips, add effects and overlays, and choose your music tracks. You can make some really professional looking stuff.
EA's skate has been getting a fair amount of attention lately. Has the sudden appearance of competition caused any changes for Proving Ground, or is it just business as usual? What's your take on having a competitor in a genre that has been pretty roomy until now?
Chad: Business as usual. We had a strong concept and design doc a year and a half ago and it didn't change. The entire time we just kept working on making the most fun Tony Hawk game ever.
Finally, how will you ensure that the Tony Hawk series stays fresh and appealing in the future? What kind of steps do you take to ensure that each successive game remains fun and engaging?
Chad: We stay current with skating and games, and we keep our ear to the ground on what the players want always. It is always a new challenge but we love challenges!
Thanks for your time!
Chad: Thank you for having me.