Commemorating Neversoft closing down with a look back at their seminal video game.
Anyone who hit a certain age and cultural taste at the same time as I did will be just as upset to learn of the closure of game developers Neversoft this week – 20 years after they were founded – to be absorbed by Activision-owned Infinity Ward; I expect they’ll be working on Call of Duty 36 before long rather than one of Neversoft’s older, more original games, but it was one of their earlier hits which I can honestly say is responsible for one of my all-time nostalgia pangs.
Neversoft took over the Guitar Hero series of games from its third instalment onwards, and while I had a lot of fun playing those games, they weren’t made for me; I was already in bands – and that’s quite probably down to one of their own earlier games!
The first time I booted up a copy of Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding on the Playstation, everything about immersive gaming came together so beautifully for me, starting with the drum roll intro to the first song on the soundtrack as I rolled down that ramp in the Warehouse for the very first time. (‘New Girl’ by the Suicide Machines, but you knew that already because you own that album as a result of this game too, right?)
I couldn’t afford to buy many games when the Playstation came out, so something had to be really, really special for me to risk it. I didn’t buy this game myself either, to be honest, but it was the very first really, really special game that also turned me onto the whole ‘alternative’ thing. I was already on my way to buying punk rock albums and dressing a certain way – but playing the first Tony Hawk game really made me feel like there was all that cool stuff out there waiting to be discovered.
It’s from 1999 so the graphics have obviously improved these days but back then it looked gorgeous, and in playing terms I felt like there was absolutely nothing like this game out there at the time: fast and furious gameplay, actual mastery of controls to be had (unlike the usual button-bash-fest we were getting from beat-em-ups at the time) and the concept of levelling up skill points to prepare for the harder levels. The first Hawk game also gave me the one key thing that I never had the patience for with games before: practice, practice, practice.
I wanted to get better at this game for a variety of reasons. I wanted to see every board design, play as every character, try every move. I also had a bunch of rather competitive friends at the time and wanted to see if I could beat them at H-O-R-S-E. (I never could; as much as I practiced I still had, y’know, a life compared to most of them.)
Most of all, it was just cool. It made me pay closer attention to games and music, not realising until then how beautifully they could come together like they did. I saw a good three or four bands that were featured on that soundtrack (including The Suicide Machines in about 2002, whose singer introduced ‘New Girl’ by saying “anyone here play VIDEO GAMES?”) and bought up all the cool skater stuff I could get my hands on; it’s safe to say I made some…interesting fashion decisions at the turn of the millennium.
But that’s the whole thing about learning to express yourself: if something comes along at the right time with just the right amount of potential, and the right amount of craft and care put into it by the people who love it and embrace it and want to see others sharing in those experiences – games, music, books, it doesn’t matter – then it’s really something special.
The Tony Hawk’s series, and the first one most especially, did that for me.
Plus Guitar Hero was pretty sweet for a while, until they started taking the piss with all the band add-ons.
Thank you, Neversoft, for giving a young man something to obsess over after school and at weekends with his friends. And for putting ‘Bulls on Parade’ in GH3.