• It's Mario. And then it's Tetris. And then it's Mario. And then it's Tetris. Copyright-infringing Flixel awesomeness – much better than the concept initially sounds. You should check this out.

Skate: Gaming for Generation C

05 January 2008

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I’ve been meaning to talk about EA’s Skate for a while.

Skate is a wonderful game. Whilst the Tony Hawk games plough ever-deeper furrows of furious button-mashing combos, EA decided to go for a more “realistic” route with their skateboarding game. The controls are the most obvious example of this: rather than using buttons to correspond to moves, they use the analogue controls on the board to correspond to the rider’s body: the left stick is your body, the right your feet; the two shoulder buttons are two hands.

To Ollie, you flick the right stick from neutral, to down, to up. To kickflip it’s neutral to down to up/left or up/right. To manual – rolling on only the front or rear set of wheels – you have to find a sweet-spot on the right stick and not move it to neutral or an extremity; as in life, it’s a balance problem. Here’s a more detailed look at the “Flickit” trick scheme.

Couple that approach with a somewhat heavier gravity than Hawk ever had, and you end up with a wonderful simulation of skateboarding. It places the focus not on huge chain-combos (a “videogamey” aesthetic if ever there was one) but on simple, stylish maneuvers that look cool. It’s very satisfying to pull off a simple flip-to-grind, as long as the line is good and you look good doing it. All of a sudden, the focus shifts from points, to just how good you can look navigating the city (a fictional hybrid called “San Vanelona”).

So far, so good. But for me, the most interesting thing about the game is what happens when the game breaks out of the console and into the world.

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In order to capture stylish runs and painful bails, EA included an impressive video editor, which makes it easy to alter film-processing and speed effects to mimic the immediately recognisable skate-video aesthetic.

And these videos can be shared with friends. And not just by forwarding them over Xbox Live; no, you can shoot a video in-game, and then – from your console (PS3 or 360) – upload it to the web. EA have a dedicated site for this, called Reel. Like any Web 2.0 product, Reel is still in beta (perhaps giving it a more “authentic” feel), and it effectively functions as a miniature Youtube for the game.

Here’s a short clip of a through-flip hosted on Reel. You can see some of the film effects in play. And remember: this clip was made in a videogame, uploaded from a console, and now exists as an embedded flash movie on a webpage, with the potential to be tagged, commented, and linked to.

And EA really want people to use this. If you look at the Achievements list for the game (Achievements being a way of rewarding players for impressive, or unusual behaviour in-game), you can see that amongst the usual score and skill challenges, there are achievements for uploading videos and photos, and even one for getting at least 20 people to view your video on the web.

Think about that for a second: you get an achievement for the behaviour of other people who aren’t in the game-world at the time.

I find Skate exciting because it’s a prime example of a game that understands Generation C; it allows players to share game-information outside the game – and in a manner that is so much more easily referenced, due to it having a permanent link – just as they share movies, photos, and blogposts. Other games that “get” this include Halo 3, which lets you upload and share screengrabs, movies, and even custom game-rules (although you can only view screengrabs online), and the Project Gotham and Forza games, which have a very detailed photo mode; here’s some of my virtual photographs from PGR3.

It’s also great to see EA understanding the ethos of the real-world skate community. Skating has always been a community with a huge user-generated aspect; bootleg and home-made skate videos have been a huge part of the scene, and so to attempt to digitally recreate the community (and not just the activity) is a really interesting move.

Skate has been almost universally praised, but it doesn’t feel like it’s done as well as it could have. That’s a shame, because in many ways, it’s one of the more innovative “major league” titles of last year. For the reasons above, I thought it was worth bringing to the attention of the many people interested in this terrain who don’t necessarily play console games.