“[It] was tricky, because honestly the whole Tony Hawk physics engine was designed around skateboarding obviously. More or less, you’re a marble rolling around an environment until you jump in the air, and then you float in the air and you fall back down.”
– Tony Hawk’s Underground producer Scott Pease, speaking to USGamer.
Nearly 15 years after its release, a group of Tony Hawk’s Underground developers have come together to chat with USGamer about what it was like to work together and ship the game in under a year.
It’s an interesting collection of anecdotes about what it was like working at Neversoft in the early 2000s, when the (now defunct) studio was riding high on the success of the Tony Hawk games.
While Underground is, by its own developers’ admission, a bit of a “cult classic” compared to some earlier games in the franchise, the story of its development is interesting because it broke with its predecessors in a number of notable ways: it had a story, it had cutscenes, and most notably (from a design perspective), it let players step off their skateboards and just…stroll.
“It felt like once we had a narrative and once we pushed in the more adventure game-y direction, it just made sense to be able to get off your skateboard and not be constantly holding on to brake and having to keep your guy from speeding off down the street or whatever,” recalls THUG producer Scott Pease.
“And honestly it created a ton of problems as well. If you can skate the environment, that’s one thing for the designers. But then when you can stop, slow down, walk around, climb on everything, walk everywhere, look at everything up close and in detail, then that’s a much bigger deal for the level designers and they have to think about their levels differently, they have to really close them all up and make sure you can maneuver both ways.”
To pull it off, the team remembers having to tackle a bunch of thorny challenges like: How do you integrate board dismounts into a game that encourages players to string together long trick combos? what button (on an already full and established control scheme) is given over to dismounts? How do you animate an authentic, believable walking animation?
“That was a pretty big task to take on. You don’t want the character to just fly around, that’s not how people walk. They have to turn, they have to step off, when they come to a stop they have to take a final half-step to stop,” remembers programmer Dan Nelson. “There’s all these weird rhythms and accelerations and curves that make a walk feel like a walk as opposed to just like a marble that’s sliding around on the concrete. I spent a lot of time trying to get that working.”
You can read more memories (about everything from losing teeth in research to getting the game to run at 60 frames per second) from Noonan, Pease, and many more THUG devs over on USGamer.