Interview: Tony Hawk's Proving Ground DS
We speak with VV about Proving Ground's innovative character progression, new art style, and more...
Vicarious Visions has been making handheld Tony Hawk titles for several years now, but the company still manages to surprise with each year's new iteration. Proving Ground is shaping up to be no exception, with a new, more realistic art style, more robust online functionality, and a greater emphasis on handheld level design.
We spoke with THPG DS Lead Designer Leo Zuniga about what makes the game tick...
Modojo: So... what's your biggest combo?
During development I managed to hit 15 Million, but I'm sure players out there will be able to break that in no time :) Our testers were hitting 20 million combos on average.
Mo: When conceptualizing THPG DS, what was your largest or primary development goal? What one thing did you most want to be able to accomplish with this title?
Leo Zuniga: THPG DS brings the handheld game closer to the console's look. We know we don't have the power of the consoles, but we squeeze everything possible of the DS to execute on the game's new look. Screenshots don't do the game justice, you've got to see it all at 60 frames per second. We have really polished the game's handling, which is key for a game like Tony Hawk. We also wanted to build a lot of goals that were well suited to handheld gamers and allowed both new and experienced player to enjoy the game more.
Mo: What elements from the console version were absolutely essential to translate to the small screen(s)?
LZ: Progression and Skater classes are two elements that were key. Tony Hawk has a wide range of player skills, people who can skate around and do a 50k combo while others who can perform combos into the millions. Each challenge in THPG DS provides three levels of difficulty, AM, PRO and SICK. The game has over 120 challenges and the difference between AM and SICK levels is wide. All of this is done without a difficulty setting, you simply jump in and start tackling challenges, you can always return to beat a higher difficulty for more cash.
Mo: What changes have you made that make this version uniquely satisfying as well as appropriate for on-the-go gaming?
LZ: THPG DS continues to offer the ever popular Classic mode, which allows people to jump in and complete challenges all in a matter of minutes. Free skate is also great for handheld as it allows players to explore the environments and practice their combos that will help them during the story based challenges. The game is much bigger in terms of level and goals this time around, so you can enjoy it for many, many hours.
Mo: Proving Ground for the console appears to be taking a brave stab at shared user generated content in the form of videos. Can we expect that feature to make the transition, or are handhelds just not yet capable of that level of community interaction?
LZ: User generated content is a powerful feature on DS, although we can't match the video functionality of the consoles we've got our own spin. The THPG DS community site allows people to share their custom logos and replays. This feature is quite popular and we continue to support it with several improvements.
Mo: Why was the cel-shaded look found in sk8tland and Downhill Jam made more realistic this time around?
LZ: We've been developing DS titles for quite some time now and our art team has been honing their techniques and approaches. The new art style brings us closer to the console, but we know we can't quite match their level. Screenshots really don't do the game justice you've got to see it in action to appreciate the overall look.
Mo: How does VV approach level design for handheld Tony Hawk titles? Is an attempt made to recreate the console levels as closely as possible, or are entirely new levels designed, or somewhere in between?
LZ: Neversoft is extremely supportive throughout the development of the game. We get early console builds which allows us to reference the game. In terms of level design, the key is to identify landmarks which the player will recognize. With landmarks we can rough out the general areas of the level and start connecting them with streets, ramps and other elements that the player can skate. We also get Neversoft's high poly levels and break them into usable pieces for our engine. There are several approaches, and we've got some general guidelines to make sure everyone is on the same page while developing their level.
THPG DS levels are much bigger than sk8land's, we've been able to open up areas and deliver and variety of environment this time. Also, our trick lines are completely unique to the DS - so people who purchase both game won't be disappointed!
Mo: Can you describe how the title takes special advantage of the DS features, such as touch screen, dual screens, etc?
LZ: THPG DS continues to take full advantage of the platform. We've got the map on the lower screen which helps players navigate the levels. We've got a new touch screen based challenge which uses gestures (circles, slashes etc...) to execute tricks. The mic is used to record your custom sounds, this is a fan favorite. Our graphics editor continues to provide a canvas for people to flex their artistic muscles.
Mo: Can you explain how the Skate Lounge is taking shape? Is the DS port's lounge kept walled off from that of the console versions?
LZ: Our menu system revolves around the skate lounge; this is your personal room which starts pretty bare. As you progress through the game you earn pieces which then populate your lounge. Since we have an open progression system different player will end up with different items on their lounge. At the end of the game you might have things like disco balls, trophies, poster and other items show up on the game's menus.
Mo: What one feature in Proving Ground DS are you most excited for gamers to try when the game is released later this month?
LZ: I've mentioned this before, but I'm really excited about the new progression system which also includes the Hardcore and Career classes. These two classes showcase the different approach real skater take on their skating styles. You've got guys who are all about technical tricks and showcasing their stuff on magazine and videos. The hardcore skaters are all about stunts and just skating for the sake of it, grassroots style. While playing THPG DS the player will be able to tackle challenges that link to these two styles. Player's can flip back and forth between the two at any point during the game.
Another feature that I'm really excited is "real skating footage". We've got 15 pro skaters and each has a clip showcasing their best stuff. Watching these videos on DS is great as it brings the game closer to the skating spirit.
We really hope people enjoy the game, we've tried our best to tackle fans' requests and polish the overall game experience. I think we have created the best Tony Hawk game for the handhelds ever!