Me, skating virtually.

I’ve written about Skate before, in the context of designing online games for a generation of players used to a world where they are in control, and where everything is shareable. Writing last year, I said:

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.

The original Skate had an impressive community website, for sharing screengrabs and videos. It wasn’t without faults, though – it was very difficult to permalink to, as every request to Reel (the video-sharing community) first asked you what country you were in, and then redirected you to a homepage, rendering the permalink useless.

How refreshing, then, to see the improvements made to the new Reel site for Skate 2, released at the beginning of this year. Now, permalinks are encouraged – here’s an example – but the concessions to creative end-users go several steps further.

Once you’ve uploaded a video, Reel not only lets you view it and share it with friends, but also now provides proper good embed code, making it trivially easy to re-contextualise the video on your own site. Even more remarkably, though, Reel allows you to download the FLV (flash video format) file for the video, so you can upload it somewhere else – Youtube, Flickr, Revver, wherever you store your video. Here’s a video of me skating a short session – just click on it to watch:

They let you download the FLV! That’s brilliant. Because, you see, even though Reel is good, it’s not where my friends are; my friends are on Youtube and Flickr. When the first game was out, smart Skate-rs wanting to upload their videos to Youtube had to rip the FLV file by peeking into the source of the page; now, EA are enabling them to do that licitly. The file is, after all, still watermarked with the Skate 2 logo, still understood as a fragment of that product – so what if somebody wants to tweak it in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker, or cut it into a best-of compilation, or re-upload it to Youtube? They created the content, and so they should be free to do what they want with it.

The web facilitates and encourages this – the FLV file was always present, it was just obfuscated. By adding an explicit download link, EA demonstrate that they understand not only the fact that you want to share your footage, but also the reasons why you might want to share it, and also that they understand their place in the ecology of the web. They’ve provided the hard part: exporting video from a 360 or PS3 to the web. Now, you should be free to do what you want with it.

EA have even released a downloadable pack with more advanced cameras for filming replays – cameras that can track and follow motion-controlled patterns, for instance. Whilst you could argue that this functionality should have been free, it’s interesting to note an add-on for a game that’s about creativity and sharing, rather than gameplay – and more interesting to note that as well as providing more tools, the “filmer pack” also bumps the amount of video you can store online nearly four-fold.

The Reel site for Skate 2 is a great example of the enabling of permanence, and ‘going where people are”, that I discussed in my talks at NLGD and Develop last year. It’s also an interesting example of the kind of social play that’s much more common than simultaneous, co-operative play – namely, the sharing of play experiences around or after the fact; the objects that emerge out of play. That’s something I talked about at Playful last year (and which, I discover, shamelessly isn’t online yet. Will rectify that soon!) As ever, it’s always exciting to see real-world, big-money, examples of good practice in action. And, as a bonus: here’s my profile on Reel.

(I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages, and it’s been sitting in my draft folder for way too long. If in doubt: just release it into the world)


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.


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.