After lying dormant for a decade, the skateboarding genre is experiencing a resurgence as of late. Since the announcement of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, we have seen other titles pop up. Including the announcement of Skate 4 (although an announcement is literally all we got from that). But there has been another title that has been in early access for a little while that has been gaining traction among the digital skater community, and that is Skater XL.
Looking to fill the gap between THPS and Skate 4, this ambitious project from developer Easy Day Studios has had some tremendous progress so far. We got a chance to speak with the co-founder and director of Easy Day Studios, Dain Hedgpeth, as well as the director of marketing Jeff Goforth and lead programmer Jon West about the game’s progress and take a look at a hands-off demo as well.
One foot in front of the other
The main developers of the game are self-confessed THPS fans, as well as being life long skaters themselves. They wanted to see what else could be done with a skateboarding video game. Despite being a successful sub-genre of gaming, there hasn’t been that much experimentation in the skateboarding niche. THPS is very arcadey and focused on combos, while games like Skate skewed more towards realism. Similar to comparing Burnout to Gran Turismo if you will. Another big focus of the team was to incorporate the creativity and culture of skating into the game as well.
Right off the bat, the controls separate Skater XL from its contemporaries. The left stick controls your character’s left foot, and the right stick controls the right foot. For the first time in a skating game, your movements are not determined by pre-coded animations. In other games like THPS, you press a certain combination of buttons and that tells the game what move to do. It is more akin to executing a special move in a game like Street Fighter. The board is really the star of the show, and the developers said they were shocked by what players will able to accomplish when the game went into early access. They were accomplishing feats that they didn’t know were possible in their own system.
Skate anywhere however you want
But in Skater XL moving the sticks controls the physics and the animation that goes with it. There is no code to “tell” the game to do a kickflip, you have to do it yourself. This means you can do the same trick at different speeds, and hold on certain parts for longer or shorter periods of time. The player directly controls the character’s feet and the board. To complement this method of control, some other features have become more streamlined. For example, you don’t have to balance yourself on a rail while grinding like THPS. The balance is controlled by the game, and instead, players focus on where to shift their feet on the board which can let them switch to grinding on different sides. Allowing for more dynamic control overall while grinding.
The team spent most of 2019 going back to basics when it came to designing the levels for the game. To try and find a way to balance building the most fun levels possible without being limited to certain kinds of players. There are different ways to skate different parts of every level. Some areas have more simple routes that are great for newer players, while others are more complex and better suited for advanced players. This is all up to the player to discover for themselves, but the levels were clearly designed with all skill levels in mind. Which is a great thing to see.
The world is the best skate park
The level showed off for a large majority of the preview was the fictional “Easy Day High School.” A very California style school that featured multiple different sized buildings, a courtyard, and a tennis and basketball court. The area is very large and chock full of areas for players to take advantage of the unique architecture found within. We were told that the game would launch with five maps made by the developers, as well as three designed by the community.
We were then shown the downtown LA map, which had recognizable areas like the Staples Center and the LA Convention Center. Ironic considering that this preview was probably intended to be shown at E3 this year in that very same building. For areas based on real-life locations, not everything was replicated 1 to 1 however. Some areas were tweaked to make for better gameplay. Not much tweaking was necessary for downtown LA though, as the unique architecture is famous within the skating community, like the stairs leading down from the LACC.
Get some big air
There is also a Challenge Mode to test the player’s skills. What is cool about this mode is that it just doesn’t give you a list to check off like a challenge mode in a fighting game, or make you watch a canned video to see how it is done. Instead, players will follow a ghost CPU that will perform the tricks in the challenge that the player will try to replicate. It is a very cool idea for helping players complete these challenges, and increase their overall skills as a result. The challenges were designed with skaters and non-skaters in mind, as well as highly skilled and lower-skilled players to ensure maximum enjoyment for everyone.
Another level we were shown was “Big Ramp.” A giant ramp paradise smack in the middle of the desert. Where players can do technical tricks or just get big air off a giant halfpipe. Again, this is designed to please all levels of players. It was definitely the most arcade-like level we saw in the demo, but it also looked like one of the most fun.
Branding makes the world go round
The game also features a character creator. Real-life skate brands like Element, Etnies, DK, and more have contributed their brand names to the game adding an extra layer of authenticity. Some brands even went so far as to debut new products in the game before releasing on store shelves. While obviously not as robust as something like Soul Calibur, there is still a large amount of customization available. You can make a male or female character, change your character’s skin tone, hairstyle, hair color, and customize their clothing from hats, all the way down to their shoes. Of course, you can also customize the board as well. There are even some professional skateboarders to pick from like Evan Smith, Tom Asta, Brandon Westgate, and Tiago Lemos.
The official community discord for Skater XL already has over 100,000 members and that speaks to the strong focus on community-created content in the game. Skater XL is working with the mod website mod.io to provide its community of players with the means to create all kinds of cool custom content. Everything from board to clothes to even entire levels are there for everyone to download, play, and vote for their favorite. This kind of focus on community is very welcome and appreciated, and fits so well in the context of skate culture. There are lots of cool custom creations on the site. One user even made a collection of Marvel vs. Capcom decks, which I really loved. There is even a community magazine called “The YZ Magazine,” which is the game’s version of Thrasher Magazine. This community zine features official game news as well as community highlights, mods, and more.
Kickflip with kickin’ tunes
To end the preview we also got to take a look at some of those previously mentioned community-made maps. Which really showed off not just the creativity of the community, but also the level of customization that the game has to offer. First was a skatepark named “Hud Land,” which is a great addition to the game since there isn’t another more traditional skate park style level. “Streets” is a hybrid mashup of San Francisco and Barcelona. Then lastly was an in-game recreation of Grant Park in Chicago. Since the game is so heavily based in and around the skating culture of California, it was great to see another area of the US represented in the game. In fact, the modder who made the Grant Park level actually joined the Easy Day team.
Of course, no skating game is complete without music. While Skater XL has announced what artists will be included in the game, including bands like Modest Mouse and Interpol, the specific tracks being included haven’t been revealed yet. Don’t worry though; they will be revealed before the game’s release. The team said they wanted the game’s music to capture the essence of skating and skateboard culture. They looked to classic skate videos for inspiration, many of which the team watched themselves when they were younger to help set the tone of the game.
Skater XL looks to be a welcome addition to the skateboarding genre with unique controls and a huge emphasis on community that isn’t found in any of the other skating titles, or most other games to be honest. Skater XL releases next week on Tuesday, July 28.