Tony Hawk's Project 8 Preview
After visiting the Neversoft studio, and taking their latest creation for a spin, it's possible that we might see the sports game of the year hit store shelves next month - Tony Hawk's Project 8 looks to be that good.


Neversoft's studio is a wide-open former warehouse, and judging by the decor (and the large half-pipe adjoining the break room), it's obvious that skateboarding, both digital and real-world, is the Hawk team's passion.

According to the game's producers, Tony Hawk's Project 8 has been built from the ground up to take full advantage of the power of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
It shows. There are no load screens (or long tunnels) in Tony Hawk's new world; everything loads seamlessly, and the game's luscious graphics zip along at an impressive frame rate with no hint of lag.

The world's 12 best skateboarders are present and accounted for in the game, of course, and all of the game's pros have been motion-captured at 120 frames per second with a system that's said to provide accurate positioning within 0.5 millimeters.

60 days of motion-capture work went into Project 8, including a trip to Tony Hawk's home, where the mo-cap equipment was taken and specially assembled to capture Hawk's aerial tricks on his personal 14-foot half-pipe.
All these tricks look more realistic than ever due to full motion capture on the board itself during the sessions - the trucks, wheels and deck are all separately "mo-capped", and so in the game, they'll move and flex realistically as well.

To add even more realism, the pros' features were photographed with a 22-megapixel camera to capture their features and clothing as accurately as possible, and they were "mo-capped" off their boards as well, capturing how they stand, walk and run. Using smaller, facial "mo-capping" equipment, even how they express themselves has been recorded. A full-body scanner and facial scanner replace the traditional "skin" that the mo-cap wireframes attach to, ensuring that the resulting normal-maps of each professional skater is wholly unique, and reacts with light accordingly.

The end result is a virtual doppleganger so precise that only next-gen systems could even dream of using it in game action.

The biggest Tony Hawk team in history has taken on Project 8, including 15 level artists, 10 character artists and five level designers, and the result is the most impressive-looking Hawk game yet.

Of course, none of this matters if the game itself isn't good.
No problem there - from only an hour with the controller, it was clear that the game isn't just good - it's potentially great.

The game's natural and easy-to-use controls work perfectly in sync with the improved graphics, and after only a few minutes of playing, one is so absorbed in what they're doing, that they're no longer thinking about buttons or analog sticks, and that's a hallmark of excellent game design.

The next, and most genius part of the game's design, is that all the goals are achievable with only a little dedication - but the game's not too easy - because how well you achieve the goals is what separates the men from the boys (or the women from the girls, for that matter). Moreover, if you blow an attempt, you can instantly try again, harkening back to not only classic video gaming in general, but classic Tony Hawk gaming in specific.

The game play is remarkably varied and there's no shortage of things to do. To make things even better, virtually everything in the game links to an Xbox Live scoreboard on the Xbox 360. Think you nailed that grind outside the movie theatre? Then pause the game and instantly see how you did against the world's best or against your friends.

The game's newest feature, "Nail the Trick," changes the way the Tony Hawk series will be played forever, and it allows for the spontaneous creativity that the sport of skateboarding is renowned for.
At any point in time, clicking both analog sticks simultaneously will trigger a slow-motion camera, centered on your skater's lower body. Using both analog sticks (each one representing one of your skater's feet) and the Xbox 360's bumper buttons, you have total control over kick-flips and spins as you create your own completely unique trick. What you can do depends on how much air you've caught and the skill of your skater; and the more you do with the board, the trickier it becomes to land correctly.

There's a learning curve here, to be sure, but the satisfaction of landing your very own trick is worth the effort, and this innovative new game mechanic works perfectly within the flow of the game.

The game's goal is simple: start from the bottom and become one of the best eight skaters on the planet and join Tony Hawk's new team. How you do that is up to you, because the game tracks everything you do at all times as you rise through the ranks. Like in real life, practice makes perfect - if you want to become better at grinds, then keep grinding - the in-game menu will even tell you how many more feet you'll need to grind to raise that particular skill rating a notch.

The game's designers noted that if you completed every goal at no higher than the "Am" level (the lowest level of accomplishment, below "Pro" and "Sick"), you would still be able to "finish" the game's main story; albeit differently than those who finished with higher levels of achievement, who would get a different "ending".

Although, with the multitude of game options and innumerable ways to play, Tony Hawk's Project 8 would never really "end". However, it does have a beginning: November 7th. Let the countdown begin.