This week marks the return of the Tony Hawk videogame franchise with a resurrection of the original series, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the latest entry in this once beloved line is living up to expectations, boasting a dismal 27 rating on Metacritic at the time of writing, with widespread reports of often amusing bugs and breaks. No doubt the series will once again be going back to the drawing board after what’s shaping up to be another unsuccessful outing, leaving publisher Activision to work out its next move (if it even gets to make one). Perhaps the answer lies in virtual reality (VR).
VRFocus has written about how VR and sports experiences aren’t necessarily a good fit in the past, and pulling off an immersive skateboarding videogame would be challenging to say the least, but the genre also has some benefits. It’s an entirely standalone experience, for example, and not dependent on interactions with other players that would simply be impossible to replicate right now. It’s also not an experience that needs players themselves to move around a room. Simply standing on the spot as the board moves for them is actually an ideal situation for VR right now.
That said, there are obvious no-go areas for skateboarding VR games right now. Tricks are the most glaring issue, as even pulling off a simple ollie would be hard to replicate with current technology. Perhaps Room Scale tracking on the HTC Vive could accommodate for something like this; jumping on the spot would go at least some way to replicating the experience. That’s certainly pushing the boundaries of the health and safety limitations of VR at this point in time.
Even then, perhaps the simply experience of riding a skateboard would be enough for some people, even without tricks. Being able to confidently cruise along environments without the worry of falling off, and even picking up speed could still prove to be a worthwhile experience in this early stage of VR.
Perhaps the answer lies in our old friend, the skateboard peripheral used for both Tony Hawk: Ride and Tony Hawk: Shred. Fans of the series will remember that these 2 entries proved about as popular as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 right now, and arrived at a time where peripheral saturation was reaching its peak. Reviled as it may be, this peripheral could do a long way to helping players believe that they’re actually riding a skateboard within a VR experience, reacting naturally to performing tricks and turns.
As silly as it may first seem, skateboarding is one of the few physical activities that could go some way to being convincing within VR right now. It might be a long time before we see Tony Hawk again but, when we do, perhaps he’ll be wearing an Oculus Rift.