Skate 4 is happening. Announced at last week’s EA Play, two “skater dude”-like developers spoke on how “the fans” willed Skate 4 into existence much to the hype of almost everyone on social media—myself included. Finally, after all of this time, we are getting a new Skate game! With over 300 hours in Skate 3 and a real-life history of being a skateboarder (I still am), I should be very, very excited. I was and now I’m not. The more distance I get from the announcement, the more I am bummed out by it.
Skateboarding videogames have been in a weird place since the Tony Hawk and Skate games stopped being made. There was a thirst for them but none came. Indie devs grasped the proverbial torch and ran with it. Olli Olli (and its sequel) showed us how 2D skateboarding can be a magical realist exercise in bliss—your eyes glazing over as you perfect line after line because your brain is in skater autopilot mode. And while all of this was happening, rumors of a Skate 4 were always swirling below the surface (mainly in comments on social media and YouTube). And then came Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. It was to be a return to form to the combo-based mania of THPS 1–3, it wasn’t.
I just kept skateboarding in real-life and returning to Skate 3 whenever I wanted a digital skating fix. Skate 3 has been pretty much perfect for me, I haven’t really wanted for more. But as time passed, new skateboarding games started to pop up here and there. Session was announced and has been in early access for a while. Its brand of hyper-realistic skateboarding with a challenging but interesting control scheme has caught the eye of many people, myself included. It is rough around the edges but at least it has character, and it is the only skateboarding game that recreates what it is like to spend two hours trying to half-cab a five-stair, only to give up on it and come back to it another day. Session is very, very hard. It holds a different place in gaming than the Skates and THPSs of the world—it is the first skateboarding simulator (“simulator” as defined by the euro-style trucking/farming sim-style experiences). The controls are an exercise in minute detail and it is less so about building lines as much as it is about just staying on the fucking board. Session is going places and hopefully, 1.0 arrives sometime soon. And then there is Skater XL (which releases July 28th, 2020). Skater XL is the closest one of these new-wave skateboarding games has gotten to Skate, as it is pretty much just that. I’m not saying this to be reductive, as it seems to fundamentally understand skateboarding and how it looks and feels more than the Skate games and its lower budget gives it that abstracted character and look that games without endless amounts of money tend to have. It does not look user-tested to death, it just looks fun.
Oh, and there is SkateBIRD, a game about a skateboarding bird. Yeah, it looks great and the new demo is a blast.
But the old guard is returning. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remaster is out soon and Skate 4 is officially happening. The conversation will inevitably shift from the interesting and challenging skateboarding games being made in the indie-space to the Big Skateboarding Games that will just be more of what we know, multi-million-dollar exercises in just how far nostalgia can go—even if that nostalgia is hardly a decade old. Nostalgia in games, or in anything defined by fandom(s), is literally just a selling point; which is bad. The desire to remain comfortable and not be challenged exists beyond the media we consume, to give in to complacency (even in skateboarding games) is to be complacent in snuffing out a desire or want or attempt at change, at doing something new, and/or at defining what skateboarding games can be. Instead, most people are fine with taking them as they were and just letting that be what they are. When Skate 4 wasn’t a defined object that will exist, skateboarding games did not have an end-point; the sentence remained unfinished. And now I am afraid that Skate 4 will finish that sentence with nothing more than a simple period. Skate 4 is happening.