I know that there are probably people on the planet who are better than me at Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. I have never met one.
When in 2001 Neversoft released their seventh game, the third in their trailblazing skateboarding series, they added a single new mechanic that at once actualized all of their ambitions for the series: that is, the revert. It was a simple addition that, if timed right, allowed you to continue a combo after landing a mid-air trick, ollie-ing over to the next rail or ledge, and chaining together exponentially higher scores. What the revert did, in short, was turn their game from playgrounds of individual “trick objects” on which you would perform your best grind or 720 into a single, sinuous object, the contours and curves of which were ripe for high-score exploitation. It did this with a single button: R2.
At a certain point, then, the game became less about getting the most points before the clock ran out than how well you could set yourself up to keep a trick going after the clock ran out. Two minutes turned into five; ten-million-point scores turned into ten-million-point tricks. You optimized, from there.
For a kid in the last year of high school these pursuits were the sort of blanketing, time-sucking blend of aggravation and relaxation that other people turned to narcotics for. (I mean, I did that also.) I’d mute it and throw on The Blueprint or Is This It and just generally smell awful for full afternoons. The optimal shapes of the levels and the preferred button-bindings for each trick are fused forever to my brain; I feel my fingers twitch involuntarily now as I type this. Apparently there were a lot of us: it sold a gazillion copies, as its predecessors had, and stands still as one of the most-loved games of the PlayStation 2. Along with Grand Theft Auto 3 and Metal Gear Solid 2, it represented a sort of expansiveness that implied infinite possibility. Games could be so much bigger than we thought they could; look how big the world is!
Like GTA, the Tony Hawk series would go on to chase that sense of possibility by filling in the blank spaces with activities, costumes, and increasingly puerile jokes. Arts and crafts; shit to keep kids occupied. Neversoft started making games called THUG (Tony Hawk Underground), then THAW (Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland), then churning out Guitar Hero stuff. Apparently they did a Call of Duty “mode.” I have played zero of these games. Like the Strokes and Jay-Z, that sense of possibility from the dawn of the millennium has been thoroughly explored. I know where every one of those storylines ends up.
This week Neversoft shuttered with finality, subsumed by Call of Duty creators Infinity Ward. Their legacy, then, isn’t as journeymen, working across sports and music and shooting games. It’s not even a single series of games, or a single game. It’s a single button, which, crystallized in time, allowed you to stretch into infinity. Or at least the next railing.