Skater XL Preview – A skateboarding sim built by and for skaters

It’s been just over ten years since EA released Skate 3, and there has been next to nothing to fill that void of skateboarding games / simulators since then. How weird that ten years later, we find ourselves on the cusp of another boom in popularity for the genre. EA have announced they are working on a Skate sequel, Activision is releasing yet another Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater remaster/remake and we are also seeing a growth of indie titles looking to bring their own take on the genre to the masses.

This is where Skater XL joins the foray. Developed by Easy Day Studios – a studio primarily made up of skaters – Skater XL looks to build on the legacy set by Skate while developing and building their own take on the genre. It’s certainly a lofty goal as the fans of skateboarding games are incredibly vocal about wanting a Skate sequel, so it’s absolutely vital that anyone looking to build on that legacy brings something truly special to the table.

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With its release next week on 28th July, Co-Founder and Director Dain Hedgpeth was definitive: “Our primary goal with Skater XL, is delivering the next step in skateboarding games for both fans of the sport and people who are fans of the genre.”

While our demo was hand off, the controls for Skater XL look unique in the way each analog stick independently controls each foot. In other Skateboarding games you might control how each foot flips the board, but in Skater XL you are also able to control foot position and how you might catch flip tricks.

“Independent control of the feet is direct which gives players a lot of freedom when riding the board,” Dain explained. “We haven’t actually programmed any tricks into the game. it’s up to the player to create that movement and control the direction in order to perform moves.

“We spent the first year of development working on this system as we wanted to capture the creative freedom that skateboarding embodies. The more we worked on it, the more satisfying it was to play, which is why we are now in a place where the game looks and feels really unique.

“I think the best way to explain it is that it’s like playing an instrument. You pick up a guitar and there are almost an infinite number of ways to play a particular riff and that’s how Skater XL is. There are so many ways to skate a particular spot and we really want to play into that idea of nurturing creativity through the board control system.”

I couldn’t help but notice through the demo how well many of the levels are designed. As someone who used to skateboard for the majority of their childhood, I’ve always had a good eye for spots and Skater XL is absolutely jam-packed with them. Skater XL deliberately calls back to classic 90s and 2000s skateboarding culture, where everything felt like it was set in LA and San Francisco. In fact, the new level Easy Day High School looks like it fell right out of the classic 90s Skateboard video, H-Street – Shackle Me Not.

Dain told us, “Easy Day High School is a large school that’s a combination of thirty different famous spots including Lockwood High and the classic leap of faith spot in which Jamie Thomas destroys his board. We think long-time skateboarding fans are really going to enjoy skateboarding some of the sports most famous – and infamous – spots.

“Building all of these spots was an interesting process and we spent almost half a year just focused on level design. We had to build all of the levels around the gameplay mechanic and in our early experiments we built each spot on a 1:1 scale. We soon realised that they weren’t much fun, so we went back to the drawing board and spent time optimising them for players, while also trying to maintain the look and feel of those famous locations.”

The Downtown Los Angeles level boasts even more skatable space than the High School and is filled with landmarks. Co-Founder and Lead Programmer John West said, “If you’ve ever been to LA or watched an E3. you’ll probably notice the Conference Centre which is also home to the famous ledge that Geoff Rowley landed a 50-50 on – a moment that has since been immortalised in the form of a bronze statue.

“There’s also the California One Plaza, with lots of smooth marble and ledges to jump, grind and trick as well as the Radio Korea building which is another famous skate spot in the area. LA is a diverse city, so we’ve tried to include small portions of each area to make our rendition feel authentic and fun to play.”

What’s great to see is that the game has already been able to build and active audience via Steam Early Access, with an active modding community growing from that. “So far there have been over 150,000 mods downloaded with an average of 15,000 mod downloads per day on PC,” Dain said. “It’s been great watching the community engage with the game so well and it’s something that has definitely helped us shape the development of the game as we head towards 1.0. Modding hasn’t been integrated into the game fully yet, but it might be something the team works on in the future just to make it more streamlined.”

Modding has been such a success that a trio of community created levels will ship with the game on console. For console fans to get more actively involved with this, Easy Day would have to integrate a park creator in the game, which simply isn’t on the cards for day one, but something they might explore for the future. The same is true of online multiplayer in general.

Dain revealed, “Multiplayer is something we’ve spoken about since early development. There’s a unique flow of interaction with skateboarding, as you don’t typically skate at the same time. One person skates while everyone else watches. It might get a little competitive, but it’s mostly about the flow of ideas and creativity.

“There is already a multiplayer mod available for Skater XL, which we’ve watched improve by leaps and bounds since it first released, and it’s currently one of the most popular mods. As far as full implementation with the game, there are some other portions of the game we feel are more important right now, but it’s not something we are going to rule out. We’ve actually spoken with the modder a lot and learned from how they built it inline with the game.

“We know that everyone skates differently and we want to facilitate that as best as we can in Skater XL. So yeah, multiplayer is definitely something we are thinking about, but we want to make sure we do it right and in a way that fits Skater XL and Skateboarding as a sport.”

Getting more pro skaters into the game could also be on the cards. Players can pick from Evan Smith, Tom Astam, Brandon Westgate or Tiago Lemos, each coming with their own clothing and skateboards to ensure their style is authentic. There’s also a default male or female character, but I pushed the team on female pro representation in the game and if that is something we can expect to see in the future.

“It’s a lot of work to get someone scanned in and licensed,” Dain replied, “and we felt four skaters was the magic number for the full release. We hope that in the future we’ve built a game that maintains an active community, which means we can potentially work on bringing more pro skaters to the game.”

Skater XL launches on the 28th July on PS4, Xbox One, PC with a Switch release confirmed for later in the year. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s clear to see the team is incredibly passionate about Skateboard, not only as a sport but also the wider culture. From the individual feet control to the intricately designed levels, Skater XL has a lot to offer the Skateboarding community, the gaming community and everyone else in between.

As a father of twins approaching his thirties, games like Skater XL enable me to live the dream of getting back on a board, and this is something the team is very aware of.

Dain said, “We built Skater XL for people who have skateboarding backgrounds, but who may not be able to pick up a skateboard. Everything is designed around the culture and the history of the sport, so we hope that resonates with players. […] We’ve created what we feel is a digital way for people to get their skateboarding fix.”

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2 Comments

  1. Pre-ordered a copy months ago. Can’t believe it’s almost release day! From watching youtube videos, it seems the stats menu is an essential mod that needs to be implemented asap. Being able to adjust pop height, flip speed, etc.. to make it less floaty. I’ve nominated Nora Vasconcellos, Luan Oliveira, Mark Suciu, Ishod Wair and Jamie Foy for the next bunch of pros.

  2. Can’t believe 2 days from release and this is the first I’ve heard of this game. I loved the Skate series and while delighted to hear of a new Skate game in the works I was disappointed I’d have to wait and felt Session may have to tide me over when it was out on console. This however has me very intrigued though I’m a little concerned about the control method and it’s difficulty. Saying that Skate was odd at first and that ended up being very intuitive. I’m also intrigued by the lower price point and fact that we’re 2 days away from release with no reviews for PS4 or XBOX versions. Will give it a few days to see what word of mouth is like after release and may well treat myself. Hope it’s a fully fledged game rather than an extended tech demo.

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