It’s an exciting time if you’re into skateboarding, as Skater XL is making its way to PS4 and Xbox One this month. We found out more about where it’s at from Jeff Goforth of developer Easy Day Studios.
There hasn’t been a great skateboarding game in quite a while, what most influenced you to get Skater XL happening?
Yeah, it’s been ten years since a new, authentic skateboarding game hit the market, and a lot has changed in that time. Skateboarding franchises were some of the most played and beloved video games of the 2000s – most of the team have fond memories of Friday nights hanging on the couch with a few friends passing the controller around playing EA’s Skate or the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series.
Fans of these games have famously been clamouring for a new Skate and a revival of an old franchise, but the question we started asking ourselves is, “What would a skateboarding game designed from the ground up today look like?” We’ve spent the last few years looking to answer that question, designing and improving Skater XL through Early Access, and now moving towards the full launch of the complete 1.0 game.
What influence (if any) did the classics – everything from 720° to Tony Hawk’s to Skate – have on Skater XL?
Having grown up skateboarding, I think the whole team had grown up playing THPS and the Skate series to some extent. While I don’t think they necessarily directly influenced the decisions we made developing Skater XL, it would be hard to not have learned and been influenced by skateboarding games that came before it. We are really stoked to carry the torch for the skateboarding genre, and push the limits of physics-based gameplay on today’s platforms. We see Skater XL in the same category as these legendary games for the next generation of players.
Will fans of those other series be able to pick up and play?
Absolutely. One of our goals in developing the controls and gameplay for Skater XL was to make skateboarding accessible to anyone with even a casual interest in skateboarding. We didn’t want the controls to be the challenge of playing the game, but rather have them be intuitive and allow the player to challenge themselves to develop their skills. With our independent foot control and physics-based gameplay, it is a step forward in relation to previous animation-based titles, but through testing we’ve seen players of previous franchises pick it up quickly. In most cases, once players have experienced the level of control available in Skater XL, they can’t imagine ever taking a step back to previous control schemes. It’s that satisfying.
Can you please tell us more about the left stick/left foot and right stick/right foot controls, and what they’re capable of?
Ultimately, Skater XL’s controls are designed to be fun in the same way that skateboarding is fun, and it’s built more as an expressive and creative tool than a traditional video game with pre-set challenges to complete.
The game is unique in that it doesn’t have any tricks programmed into it, only control of the movement through the thumbsticks. Each thumbstick is connected to the character’s corresponding foot — the right stick controls the right foot, and the left stick controls the left foot. This combines with completely physics-driven movement and a real-time character animation system allowing you complete responsive control of the skating movement. It’s a huge evolution from the gameplay driven by canned animations in past skating games.
This control scheme is also consistent through all parts of the gameplay, making it easy to learn and rely on when inventing new tricks and movements. The resulting gameplay is very much freeform, sandbox and creative in nature. Think of it more like a musical instrument than a conventional game.
Which way does gameplay skew, more arcade or more sim?
This is a common question, but we feel it’s not the right way to frame Skater XL on this scale that trades one for the other. When people think sim, people are often imagining a trade-off of gaining depth, control and realism for a steep learning curve and difficult controls. On the other hand, the term arcade seems to imply easily accessible fun with simple controls and not a lot of depth (but probably lots of content to compensate).
There’s a mantra in game design, ’easy to play hard to master’ and we’ve designed every aspect of Skater XL from day one, from the controls to the level design and challenges, to strike a balance of being easy to pick up, fun and satisfying for the average gamer, while having a huge amount of depth and control for hardcore skate game fans.
We don’t believe the best elements of sims and arcade games are mutually exclusive, and even in Early Access we have many both casual players and core guys racking up 1,000-plus hours of play and still developing skill and style with the gameplay.
What’s the coolest move that you’ve pulled off in-game?
For me personally, I have more fun mimicking my real-life skating style, but just taking tricks a step further than what I can do in real life. I’ve always been into skating ledges, so I can spend hours working on combos and lines at the LA Courthouse, to where I land everything just how I want it. That’s the coolest part for me as a skateboarder – the fact that you can do each trick differently and add your own style to it, as you would in real life.
Can you please tell us more about the real-life locations in-game?
The level design process was super fun and we learned a lot from player testing with different locations and obstacles. Given that Skater XL has a completely new game mechanic based on physics and independent foot control and that our core philosophy has always been to prioritize gameplay first, we decided to go back to the drawing board on how we approached level design for 1.0.
The maps for 1.0 are the result of months of work figuring out how to unlock the most gameplay in an environment. Through countless testing and play sessions, we’ve learned how each real-world spot can stay true to their real-life counterpart, while optimising them to get the most fun and variety in gameplay. So, the angles, the distances, the way things fit together and the combinations of elements are arranged in a way to make sure that there’s a lot of runs and as you finish one trick, there’s always something more to do next.
Anyone who is familiar with skateboarding, or Downtown Los Angeles for that matter, will see many recognisable locations from throughout skateboarding history. From the Staples Center Hubba ledge to the Wallenberg ‘Big 4’, there’s no shortage of iconic locations.
Have you implemented any form of multiplayer in these console versions?
The social aspect of skateboarding is something that we know is a part of the real-life skating experience and something that we talk about a lot. There is a multiplayer mod that has been created for Early Access on PC, that we’ve learned quite a bit from just watching how players interact with it, and what the important pieces are there. It is something that we continue to discuss, but will probably be a consideration after the 1.0 launch.
The tunes have always been a huge part of skate games; what do you have in-store for us musically?
I hate to have to say it, but our lips are sealed on that one! Music is very challenging but we would like to be able to confirm that we have something in the works soon, watch this space!
Are there any special Easter eggs or other hidden goodies that players should keep an eye out for?
Well if I told you, would they really be Easter Eggs? Ha-ha! Also, happy egg hunting…
Skater XL hits on PS4 and Xbox One on July 28. Pre-order now at JB Hi-Fi.