Interviews

Talking Tony Hawk's Proving Ground DS with Vicarious Visions

Expect more gritty touchscreen trick-based fun

Talking Tony Hawk's Proving Ground DS with Vicarious Visions

With Activision and the Birdman's long-running skating franchise continuing its annual release pace, it must be about time for this year's experience – Tony Hawk's Proving Ground – to see the light of day. Indeed, at three in as many years, THPG will make the Tony Hawk series the most repeated on DS.

But beyond its regularity, what's really encouraging about the situation is that both previous games have been highly enjoyable, with Tony Hawk's American Sk8land marginally better than Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, in our humble opinion.

In this context, we're also happy to see that US studio Vicarious Visions is continuing its favoured position in charge of Tony Hawk DS development, and so we caught up with producer Chris Olson to find out what to expect third time around.

Pocker Gamer: Instilling freshness into a long-running series is a challenge, so how have you approached Proving Ground?

Chris Olson: What we're going for is to create an experience that's a true sequel to Tony Hawk's American Sk8land. When we set out on development, we wanted to bring in all the improvements that have come to the franchise with the last few console versions and polish and expand the entire experience.

We aimed to make something that was more challenging for advanced users while still being accessible for newbies. We wanted to make the game look a lot more gritty and realistic, and expand the levels and game modes for a lot more gameplay.

Is that why you've ditched the cel-shaded look of American Sk8land?

We wanted to bring the DS more in line with the console games and we just didn't feel like the toon-shaded feel really fitted with Proving Ground. It was a real challenge to pull off the more realistic look and maintain our 60 frames per second performance, but we ended up with a game that packs in a bunch of huge, realistic and gritty levels that look great and play well.

Pulling off tricks via the touchscreen is always cool but how do you stop the game degrading into a stylus-based scribblefest? And for the record: what's the highest combo you've managed to rack up?

What we wanted to do with the gesture tricks is to create an experience similar to Nail a Trick on the consoles but within the capabilities of the DS. When you're in Nail a Trick mode, you're given onscreen prompts that tell you what gesture you should do to perform the trick you want. If you can perform that gesture correctly before you land, you will successfully complete the trick, so it's really more about precision and timing than about just scribbling on the touchscreen.

As for highest combo? Hmmm, I can rack up a few million points, but there are people on the team and in our test group who pull off 15- to 20-million combos, no problem. I can't wait to see the insane high-scores that will get posted on our community site, though.

What can we expect in terms of online play?

We really benefited from the great work that was done for multiplayer on Downhill Jam and American Sk8land. We learned a lot about what people like and didn't like in terms of online modes and community features.

For Proving Ground we've expanded the amount of players for both local and Wi-Fi modes from two to four. The community site's also been totally revamped to allow for more stat tracking, more art and more ways to show off your skills and the stuff you've earned.

Customisation is an important element in personalising games, so what options are going to be available to make our Proving Ground experience unique?

I think this is one of the ways in which Proving Ground really shines. Players can customise their clothing, deck logos, stickers to plant in the levels – all kinds of things.

On top of this, the entire progression of the game is built around the player customising his or her own skate park. We use the touchscreen to make this a very intuitive and powerful experience.

As you play the game, you will also earn different items that will go into your skate pad, so you'll see a graphical representation of your progress throughout the game. In addition, you can upload the custom art you've created and share it with your friends online.

Our thanks to the multi-million combo-pulling Chris Olson for his time. Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is due for release on November 2nd.