How Tony Hawks Pro Skater Shaped My Music Taste

Originally written for 7Bit Arcade, the original has since been taken down, this one has been edited to make it read better and stuff. 

A clattering of drums, a ringing guitar hook, then some trumpets. Oh, and while that happens, you’re watching Tony Hawk – or Bob Burnquist, if you’re a cool kid – slide down a ramp and right into your heart. For anyone who played the Tony Hawk’s series back in the Playstation glory days, you’ll know that song I tried to describe in the first line is Superman by Goldfinger. It’s one of many songs that now have a permanent home in my memory banks, thanks to the legendary skate series. From one of the many bands I’ve come to love through spending years in Tony’s world… Even if it’s only for that one song.

As you’re probably aware, this year will see the series rise up from the grave of plastic peripherals and return bathed in a new, high definition light. The trailer showed Tony burning through the warehouse level from the first game and ended with a very lovely shot showing you sharp, incandescent graphics. Look, it is right here under this paragraph!

As good as it is – and it is undeniably good – it’s lacking something. Notes arranged into a melodic order and played super-fast over the top, otherwise known as music. It doesn’t ruin what the trailer is going for, but when it comes to Tony Hawk’s games and the nostalgia it’ll no doubt be rekindling, the music is arguably just as important as the gameplay.

The original game came out in 1999, sparking off a series that released a game every year up until 2011, the first Tony Hawk free year. As any fan of those early games will tell you – hopefully, at length – the original games had a moreish appeal, with short, two minute runs that mixed up impossibly awesome physics with an simple, effective control scheme that made becoming an instant addict of the game a very easy thing to happen. It’s not an overstatement to say that the gameplay from the early days is the finest that the extreme sports genre has ever offered.

So, why does the music mean so much to me? Well, without it, the game loses some of its spark. Going back and muting the soundtrack leaves you with an effective skateboarding game, but one that never clicks into life. The music that accompanies those different runs gives the game a real flavour and keeps proceedings fresh. Skating through the high school in Pro Skater 2, listening to The High and Mighty’s “B-Boy Document 99” is not the same as skating through the same area with Bad Religion’s “You” blasting out through the background. The juxtaposition of those different musical styles helped to give the gameplay a unique essence, even after you’ve exhausted every inch of a level.

But it’s not just the impact on the gameplay that leaves the soundtrack with such a special place in my heart. With almost every game I’ve brought since 2008, if the option to tinker with the soundtrack is present, I’ll take it. Yet, I never did this as much with Tony Hawk’s, because the series introduced to me to a huge range of bands. Bands who I probably would never had heard of without it.

While it might have only been a matter of time before I would have discovered bands like The Ramones, Goldfinger, N.W.A and NOFX, my first experience with all these bands was in the Tony Hawk’s game they would soundtrack. Spending years of my youth listening to Blitzkrieg Bop in short, two minute bursts helped to develop a love of fast, poppy punk that still burns bright to this day. But it doesn’t stop at those bands. Tony Hawk’s Underground is the main reason why I have a large amount of Alkaline Trio and a Hot Water Music song in my iTunes, Underground 2 treated us to the insanely catchy Interested in Madness by Operatic; Pro Skater 3 gave us the thrashy delight of AFI’s The Boy Who Destroyed The World… I got my first taste of these songs in Tony’s digital world and it’s surprising how many years later simply stumbling across them on Spotify will bring back happy memories of endless manuals and grinds. No matter the game, chances are some of it’s soundtrack has sneaked onto my iPod.

No matter the track, if I’ve heard it outside of the game, I’ve always been transported back to my bedroom as a teenager, linking up combos and having my brain soak up some of the best punk and hip-hop ever committed to tape. Nostalgia is something that I never expected to experience at twenty years of age, but the warm, fuzzy feeling the old soundtrack give me is enough to justify listening them far more than I should.

Activision has yet to confirm the soundtrack details for the HD remake of Pro Skater and as Dan Amrich of Oneofswords.com points out “music licensing is a one-time. The songs from the original games were only licensed for those specific games on those specific platforms at that specific time.” Bluntly put, if the original songs from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 or 2 are to appear in the game, then Activision are going to have to shell out for them again. While the 12 year old who spent far too much of his free time with the series is desperate for that to happen, the levelled-up 2012 version is content to see what the developers cherry pick for the game. Simply because I’m thrilled at the prospect of the game reshaping my musical interests once more, pointing me in the direction of new bands and reaffirming my love for old ones. Pro Skater has been doing it since day one, here’s hoping the streak continues.

 UPDATE: The remake came out. Here’s what I thought of it!

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