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Why Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 Was (and Still is) Important

Why Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 Was (and Still is) Important

Hi, I’m Hamish Black and welcome to Writing
on Games. Believe it or not, there was a point in time where the notion of accurately representing
the art of skateboarding was most effectively realised, well… here. We live in a post-Skate
world; we’ve seen how realistic the depictions of skateboarding can be. As such, the idea
that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series started off as a means of legitimising the sport in
the eyes of the mainstream may seem a little absurd.
I mean just… look at it. Look at the speed at which you careen through these places where
skateboarders probably shouldn’t be, how high you go, how seemingly effortlessly you
glide around the entire level coming across super weird scenarios along the way.
I mean, it’s fairly well accepted at this stage that the series met a slow, ungracious
demise. This was a result of superfluous sequels that superficially attempted to cash in on
the culture; forcing dated, juvenile aesthetics in your face. Well, what made those older
games different? Aside from branding, what here is actually indicating an accurate portrayal
of the sport? Well, I would go as far as to say that 3 remains
one of the most streamlined representations of the mindset behind skating that gaming
has seen, precisely because of its heightened artifice as a video game. Through the abstract
nature of its mechanics as they relate to actual skating, 3 is able to timelessly convey
what it means to skate. Let’s take a step back for a minute. See,
I was able to pick up 3 again recently thanks to a lull in the barrage of new releases that
has characterised the start of 2017 and man, it’s remarkable how well that game holds
up. I played it for hours actively trying to find flaws in the game’s design and honestly,
I came up short. It plays like it could have been released yesterday. Every one of the
game’s systems is perfectly tuned to create a stunningly pure gaming experience, carefully
iterating on the vision laid out by the first two games while avoiding the superfluity of
future titles. It’s through this purity that the game can present its vision of the sport.
How do we define that purity? You could sum up Tony Hawk 3’s player goal as follows
– maintain fluid, balanced movement through a level while making the numbers as big as
possible within a two-minute time limit. Now let’s examine Underground 2, where you build
up a team of pro skaters and some of the Jackass cast in order to travel the world meandering
through different environments before activating a particular goal that might have you skating
or it might have you controlling Steve-O riding a bull and the goal is to create as much chaos
as possible sometimes but sometimes it’s also to get a high score I guess and there’s
nut shots and Bam’s dad is fat and sometimes there’s a time limit and sometimes there’s
not. To say it’s diffuse would be to put it lightly.
On the other hand, Tony Hawk 3 is so focused that, to me, it doesn’t even matter that the
characters are on skateboards. On a mechanical level, it’s not really about skating – it’s
solely about movement, and that movement ain’t exactly realistic.
By 3 you have both manuals and reverts, meaning you can essentially maintain a combo throughout
the length, width and height of a level if you wanted to. It’s not about how stylish
the tricks you pull off are, it’s about how many you can fit in before you hit the
ground. Individual tricks don’t provide many points, but when each trick adds to a
score multiplier, quantity rather than quality becomes the incentive. The time limit adds
a sense of urgency to proceedings without becoming frustrating, due to the near instantaneous
nature of restarting a run. Do you see what I’m getting at here? Tony Hawk 3 is not
Skate – it’s not realistically representing skating through the streets. It is sheer artifice
– it is quintessentially a video game. It evokes the mechanical coherence of old
high-score arcade games which are easy to pick up and play, but immensely difficult
to master. It’s the kind of game you can complete in four minutes, but the discipline
required to get to that point is where the depth of the game lies. Tony Hawk 3 is about
skateboarding in the same way Asteroids is about going on a space adventure. Sure, it’s
technically what you do, but it’s also more mechanical than that – more artificial.
And the game is better for this artifice! 3, at its core, is about training yourself
to get better through discipline and understanding of the mechanics of what you’re trying to
do. Once you internalise this, you begin to see the world in a different way. You see every part of the world as a means to push the boundaries of
it even further. Every trivial rail, each inconsequential elevation shifts in its intended
purpose, instead becoming a means of getting you to places you couldn’t previously go.
Once you get there, you know you achieved that through your own skill, making it feel
all the more satisfying. What I just said could be applied to either Tony Hawk 3 or
any number of interviews given by the Birdman talking about his love of the sport. I think
that says a lot about how the focus on overtly game-y mechanics represent the purity of the
sport, no matter how abstract it may seem visually.
And it’s clear that 3 represented a peak of sorts in this endeavour. Even 4 removing something
as seemingly trivial as the time limit may have offered more freedom to explore, but
also removed any urgency from or reason for maintaining fluid movement.
More egregiously, however, we then saw the addition of full blown narratives to proceedings
in the Underground series, which at the start saw you aspiring to be Chad Muska (of all
people), and later saw full-blown celebrities representing a more juvenile side to the sport.
The CKY prank side of things was an important part of the culture’s evolution for sure,
but focusing on it so heavily diluted the lucidity of vision seen in previous games.
Put it this way – people will play Tony Hawk 3 in years to come and get an idea of what
it represents fairly immediately. People will play Underground 2 and say “who the hell is
Bam Margera and why do people treat this idiot with such reverence?” It’s why Skate became
the dominant franchise of the sport – it ultimately represented the same values that
later Tony Hawk games left behind, albeit in a more grounded, realistic fashion.
Those later titles showed skating as a status symbol; as a means of sticking it to the man
and getting people to listen when you shout “GET OUT OF MY ROOM, MOM”, rather than a means
of teaching you about yourself, the world around you and how you can overcome your limitations.
By emphasising cultural aesthetics over streamlined design, the later titles placed themselves
in such a specific point in time that they felt dated and tired almost as soon as they
launched. People quickly grow out of that rebellious phase and almost always
look back on it with utter disdain. In the same way, people tend to look back on the
titles that pushed it so hard and it’s not unreasonable to say that some might blame
them for the death of that particular brand of skate culture.
As a whole, though, it never really died out. It might lean more towards the fringes of
the mainstream now, but it’s also not driven by the same kind of teen angst and nut shots
that made the games look like the cast of Jackass directed a Green Day video. Instead,
there’s a desire to creatively navigate the world around us; to see the world differently,
as something conquerable both spatially and philosophically. There’s something childlike
to this desire, sure – it’s an escape from the constraints of everyday life by going
faster and higher than anyone else. However, there’s also a maturity to maintaining the
discipline required to learn a craft and hone one’s skills to do things that others can’t.
Essentially, skateboarding as it stands represents a desire to grow – something the distinctly
game-y mechanics of Tony Hawk 3 wholly reflect. Games like Underground 2 and American Wasteland
wallow in the aesthetics of the juvenile, attempting to cash in on the rebellious phase all teens
go through. By rejecting that dated perception of skate culture, by focusing on the clarity
and depth of its systems 3 was able to capture a far more distilled vision of what it meant
to skate. As such, it feels just as fresh now as it did all those years ago.
So I hope you enjoyed this piece on Tony Hawk 3. If you did, why not click subscribe (like
50000 other people have done, holy moly), click the little bell thing and check out
the podcast in the description. If you feel like going the extra mile however, you can
always support the channel directly via Patreon, just like the wonderful folks currently on
screen have done. Special thanks go to Iago Foxo Bouza, Justins Holderness, James Doering,
Biggy Smith, Mark B. Writing, Artjom Vitsjuk, Christian Konemann, Nico Bleackley, Nicolas
Ross and Charlie Yang. The support every one of my patrons has given me has been absolutely
astonishing and I honestly can’t thank you enough. And with that, I’m Hamish Black and
this has been Writing on Games. Thank you very much for watching and I’ll see you next

100 thoughts on “Why Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 Was (and Still is) Important”

  1. THPS1 did not age well, sorta same with THPS2 but its better. THPS3 is great, but in my humble opinion THPS4 is the superior game because of the level design. Both are hilarious arcady classics. @Writing on Games I see the timer more as a issue than a good game mechanic. The timer doesnt make the game fun or make you do high combos, missions and or the player do. THUG is the best game of the series and would be perfect without the driving missions but the game lets you skip them. THUG2 is real bad if you focus on the missions and story and music and atheistic. American Wasteland, nothing special more of the same but not bad. Project 8, good at the time but somehow aged horribly. Proving Ground, looks like shit, is shit, will always be shit. And does Ride or THPS5 even need to be mentioned? The series was like a rollercoaster ride with just one lump

  2. THPS3 is a very classic videogame. It feels like actual skating. Skating In real life with my friends back then were very fun and I wish I could go Babcock to those day. THPS3 was a lot like that to me due to the online community with the THPS community. To me American wasteland was very good and brought back the routes of the series and actual skateboarding.

  3. excellent and masterfully put. easily the best video about thps and exactly what makes it so appealing on this site.

    not to get into "no true scotsman" territory, however, but it may be a bit unfair to seemingly write off the succeeding games based upon their dated stories. i'd imagine most people would begin to play other modes or play online after either completing or giving up on the stories anyway. furthermore, the mechanical peak of the game coincided with the directional trough. thug2 may have been a weak point to a lot of people storywise, but it also refined the feel of the engine to what most thps fans would consider sheer perfection (there is a good reason thug pro is based on thug 2 and not thaw, after all).

    it all depends on how you play thps, i suppose. thps3 and thug-thaw fairly evenly shared online players at the time of server disconnection, so that says something about the divisiveness of the direction the series took.

    at any rate, it's all about what you dig about thps and what you want out of your experience with it. it's so rare for what on paper seems like such a niche product to attract such a wide range of people with different tastes and ideas.

  4. THPS3 still my favorite tony hawk game always enjoyed it on the original xbox i was 4 years old playing it non stop the secret tapes were great until my xbox wouldn't shut off late at night it scared the living hell outta of me my favorite character in the game will always be Neversoft eyeball

  5. That is like really surreal, that third one looks slightly better in graphics than all the sequels after that. Simplicity?

  6. videogamedunkey summed it up pretty well in his review of THPS1. "The whole game is the best part of the game". Those first 3 TH games were lean, streamlined gaming experiences and almost 100% of the gaming experience was PLAYING THE GAME. No saggy cutscenes or story, no superfluous gaming modes, no unwarranted baggage. Just pure, uncomplicated, arcade style gaming goodness perfected.

  7. Your points on 3 are all fine, but the negativity towards thug and AW seems unnecessary. They're different games/brands with different emphases, and all culture becomes dated eventually. Either way, nice video.

  8. THPS2 was the king for me. It's always the one you play first, and that one was it. Best soundtrack too. I guess most people here started on THUG

  9. I just don't understand why they didn't make THPS 5 in style of the first 3 games. No story, just levels with goals (like THPS HD).

  10. I recently bought a copy of this to get my 12 year old nephew into it (he's trying to pick up skating.) Through all the crazy xbox one/ps4 switch games there are available nowadays, he INSTANTLY fell in love with THPS3 and still obsesses over it to this day!

  11. I’m going to replay some of the games. I played them so much back in the day but I really have forgotten most of the maps and the campaigns.

  12. The only things that would make 3 better is spine transfers and the School from THPS2. 3 has always been my favorite. Still play it occasionally.

  13. how many double impossibles, mctwists, and cannonballs do you do throughout this video, jesus christ man… ?

  14. Idc what you say, THUG 2 was fun af. I loved the story and all the stupid jackass stuff, like steve-o with the bull and stuff.

  15. Though I agree with a lot of what you are saying and the fact that I think the first three games were likely the best or purest anyways. I think one could argue that skate culture as a whole is juvenile and the later games still represents skateboarding for the good and the bad.

  16. Nahh. THPS 4 was the best in the series. Don't get me wrong, thps3 was good, but if you want the BEST and PURE THPS experience. You should play THPS4. That's when spine transfers came in and it just felt more fast pace than thps3. THPS3 just feels slow compared to thps4.

  17. It's weird to think I grew up loving almost all of these games, and hearing people still talking about them makes me want to dust off my PS2 and play them again.

  18. I can agree that THUG 2 was kind of an abomination but it's kind of lovable to me. THUG 1 is extremely of it's time but it's kind of fun to look back on and I'd argue the mechanics are just as solid as 3. Plus THUG 1 provides a ton of challenge and managing to 100% it on the highest difficulty is a point of pride.

  19. I personally loved THPS 4 the most. even though it wasn't, it felt so big and open. it made exploration less stressful (no timer).

  20. I loved THPS3 but, THUG 2 was my favorite easily.

    I kind of enjoyed the absurdity of THUG2 & also the story was fun to play through.

  21. "THUG and American Wasteland attempted to cash in on the rebellious faze all teens go through" You do realize skateboarding was for a long time about rebellion and sticking it to the man, right? Thats why these games were riddled with punk music, skateboarding and punk music at the start were the same culture, they were intertwined, the same kids who were going to punk shows were the same kids who were skating when they weren't at punk shows. Another thing, "what it meant to skate", do you even skate? most likely not, judging by how this channel is about video games, so how would you know "what it meant to skate"? And stop fucking saying "Tony Hawk 3" its called Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3, or for short, Pro Skater 3.

  22. There is something really important for me about the Tony Hawk's Levels, something that makes the earlier ones better than THUG 2 and American Wasteland. To me, the levels are not only about lines and scores, but also a big deal about familiarity, atmosphere and liveliness. In that matter, the Pro Skater games are way ahead of the later ones because their archetypal levels offer more than the generic city levels. They have something inspiring on them, creating their own enigmatic stories, instead of levels just consisting of random rooftops and streets. The carnival will forever be burnt into my brain with its sunset sky, the weird balloon clown and the lurking alligator, but after years of playing I still get lost sometimes in THUG 2's Berlin and Nawlins because every corner and every street looks the same. I will always remember Kenny the Koala at the Zoo entrance, the pee guy in Canada, the Barbecue douchebag in Suburbia or the voice announcements by Captain Jennings, but wouldn't care for the random NPC's in THUG 2 in my wildest dreams.

  23. I STILL have Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 on PS2 today! I had my copy since I got it for Christmas in December 2003 along with the light blue PS2 8MB memory card that I still use today! Still runs beautifully!! Nostalgia!!

  24. American wasteland had a mode that was similar to the regular thps formula. It also had plenty of time limits in the main story. I like both the thug style games and thps games. The cky/jackass/bam era of skating was really interesting and was what got a lot of people into skateboarding back in the day.

  25. i found thps3 to be flawed, i would argue both 2 and 4 kick its ass.
    but for argument's sake let's pick 4, since it is more feature-rich.

    thps3's feel was just off, and the near-endless balance you would have on rails was ridiculous, it had a bit of performance issues too.

  26. I love these game series! thu2 was brill and the thps3 was great i wonder what games will there be in the future about skating

  27. I understand and agree what this guys is saying but 4 was the better game.

    But now sex pistols anarchy in the UK in just playing on mtv rocks. What game was that?

  28. Enjoyed THPS3 when it came out, however revert continuing combos never felt right with me, it felt almost like cheating how bizarre and long of a combos you could pull of. In my mind THPS2 is still the king of Tony Hawk games. School II is one of my favorite level designs of all time.

  29. i know quality and i used to play this game everyday like crazy. but when underground came out, i completely ditched the series, ugh horrible haha

  30. My favorite move is the christ air by Ron Gilbert and the force by Darth Vader. I completed this game 100% with all characters including custom and unlocked characters, darth vader, wolverine ect.

  31. I went through a marathon about three years ago where I played 1-THUG. They do hold up remarkably well.

  32. What you said from 4:34–5:00 reminded me a LOT of Hitman (the newest one). That game also has a lot of "learn the level, get better and you will see the rest of the game like an assassin."

  33. Muska has had his infamous moments, but he's a great, humble guy and of course an icon and legend in street skateboarding history.

  34. In my opinion the career mode was too easy but it's still a good game. I haven't played pro skater 4 but I heard that career mode in that game is challenging

  35. been playing thps2 and recently thps3 and i had the same exact thoughts explaining why i played it so much

  36. People give so much shit to THUG/THUG2.. Man they had some dated cultural references but those games were like somewhat non-linear RPG versions of THPS. They were so good back then and there hasn't been anything like them since.

  37. The sad thing is that Project 8 was a promising return to form, then they messed up by making Proving Ground essentially underground 3. I will always view project 8 as the true pro skater 5 as that game also pushed you and gave you incentive to master the game and get better as you climbed up the ranks. It's no pro skater 3, but the promise was there and it upsets me so much they didn't stick with that formula and improve on it. Introducing another series of stories riddled with cliches and annoying characters just… Didn't do it for me.

  38. I don't know what it is about you but it makes me feel sick, maybe the accent and the stupid overcomplicating of a kids game, bad youtube recommendation!

  39. You make a very compelling argument for THPS3 being the best of the series. I’m glad I watched this video – it reminded me of why I loved the series in the first place. Well done, mate ?

  40. Honestly, my favorite Tony Hawk game was THUG. The whole story line of going pro, skating for enjoyment vs. for money, and your rivalry with Eric Sparrow was actually super interesting to me. I find myself coming back to THUG more than any other Tony Hawk game after all these years.

  41. in terms of longevity, I think THPS2 is the only one that still holds up to this day but without a doubt, mechanically, THPS3 is the most refined and pure arcade skateboarding game to date. its one of those games that had it been made today on the PC using an open source engine, the community would still be supporting it through mods (similar to half life, skyrim, fallout ect.).

  42. the underground spinoffs were underrated gems. Yeah the jackass gimmick was kinda meh but the levels were mostly pretty memorable and well designed, and the soundtrack still rings in my ears to this day (THPS4 will always be king though)

  43. I still think Pro Skater 4 and Underground 1 are better than THPS3 , and the peak of the series.
    This video felt almost like a review of why Underground 2 sucks, and you just say the same thing over and over and over…
    It becomes a chore to listen to.
    Even if you for some reason don't like the (totally ignorable) story elements from Underground 1 ,
    I can't see how anyone could say that 3 is better than 4 .
    All the same goals are still there, the only difference is that you can get to them in your own time,
    the “urgency” is still just as present once you start them up.
    The levels are bigger and better designed, and you now have spine transfers, fixing one of the biggest and craziest oversights of 3 .
    People forget that in 3 you could land in a drained swimming pool and spend all day just trying to get out.
    Being on a 2-minute loop, as the only way to play a AAA game… man…
    as good as 3 was back in the day, it's a damn good thing they moved away from that structure.

  44. I still think that THPS3 was the first misstep, and while it was probably still better than THPS2 you could already see how it was going in the wrong direction. The tightly focused levels of 1 & 2 became more sprawling, less about mastering this particular thing and more about exploration, and the introduction of reverts and manuals gave too simple a means of stringing together combos. Instead of mastering the structure of the objects in the levels you could string together combos by simply finding flat paths between them.

    That said, I still enjoyed THPS4 and THUG1 immensely. These were still very good games.

  45. Thank you very much for this excellent review. I totally agree with everything said in the video. Personally, I would place this game somewhere in the top 10 best games of all time, too many countless fun & enjoyable hours went into it. I entered this game as the worst amateur on the planet, and exited with the pro confidence to take on the champions of the world, I'm not gonna lie, I did enjoy THPS 4 also – however, had I not played THPS 3 first, I wouldn't have played or bought the 4th edition and THUG 1. I only played the sequels with the excellent skills & experience I gained from THPS 3 – that game was the original classic for me, and it was my gaming skateboarding school so to speak. 10/10

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