Recently in New York it was Gabe who showed me the next Tony Hawk video game, Tony Hawk Shred. Gabe did a great job, especially for someone who would be happy to be paid in toys. Gabe is seven.
The next Tony Hawk game is for kids, kids like Gabe. It is called Tony Hawk Shred and it is the second Tony Hawk game, after 2009's Tony Hawk Ride, to use a skateboard controller. It is the first Tony Hawk its creators have targeted at gamers age six to 12.
Companies such as Activision, which is publishing Tony Hawk Shred, usually have adults show reporters new video games, but for this one, it made sense to have the son of one of the company's brand managers stand on top of the board controller and show the new larger-than-life version of the Tony Hawk series. The Ride game had been a critical flop and was scorned by the teenage and adult crowd of Tony Hawk skateboarding fans who had supported earlier games in the series.
Who could really like standing on a board controller and spinning around on their living room floor to control a skateboarding game? A kid like Gabe. And the kind of skateboarding game a kid like Gabe might like would be fillled with giant jumps, might let you play as a caveman and shred through a cartoon version of a skateboarding world.
Gabe seemed like a fan. His dad told me he picked the game up in a day.
Shred is played using the same board controller from last year's Tony Hawk Ride, though this year the board will be offered in a new color scheme that Gabe used in New York. You perform tricks by tilting the board as you would a real skateboard and by sometimes covering sensors on the edges of the board with your feet or hands.
You can skateboard or snowboard in Shred, picking from one of four difficulty options. The easiest is "Casual," which, as with the low difficulty level in Ride, puts the game on rails and asks the player only to tilt and twist the board for jumps, no steering required. The next level of difficulty is "casual plus," which lets players hop from one pre-defined racing line to the next. Up two more difficulty levels, the player has full control of where they go and how they do their tricks. From what Gabe was playing, the impression I got is that you play Shred for the challenge and fun of skating through a level in the best line possible, doing the wildest trick allowed in the game.
On the Xbox 360, players can skate and snowboard as the pros or as their Avatars. On the Wii players have the option to use their Miis. Pro skateboarders in the game include Tony Hawk, Lyn-Z Adams, Corey Duffel, Sean Malto, David Gonzalez, Geoff Rowley, Stevie Williams and Chaz Ortiz. Snowboarders include Travis Rice, Louie Vito and Torah Bright.
Snowboarding and kid-targeted exaggeration are the big new changes for Shred. A smaller tweak is the option to make menu selections with the board controller, freeing players from having to have a controller in hand as they play. An improved display on the screen clearly shows how the player's feet and hands are interacting with the board, making it clear if you are covering the sensors or not or tilting the board in the way you thought you were.
It made sense that Activision would let a kid show this game. The Shred board looks like a toy. And adults might look better suited to be doing something else than waving their arms around as they spin their board on a carpet. But a kid doing it looks like fun. Gabe was the right mixture of intensely focused on the action and clearly having a good time, cheering his jumps and throwing his hands in the air. He may be the son of an Activision employee, but his joy with the game seemed pleasantly unscripted.
Gabe told me the game will be out in the fall for, in time for Christmas, "so you can buy it for your kids." It will be out for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii, with ($100) or without ($60) the board. The Xbox and PS3 versions are being developed by Robomodo, who made last year's Tony Hawk Ride. The Wii game is from Buzz Monkey.
I asked Gabe if he was going to get a copy. "Um, I don't know," he said, as he turned back to play the game more. He was busy landing a jump. Gabe, I think you'll get one. You deserve it.