Sports games have existed as long as gaming itself, but it took one Californian skateboarder to make the genre truly explode.
When Tony Hawk agreed to lend his name and likeness to a new skateboarding game in 1998, the skateboarding legend had no way of knowing the game would transcend generations.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2019, Hawk said he was heavily involved in the production of the game beyond doing the cursory motion capture; Hawk consulted with the skating community to make sure the sport was accurately represented.
"I consulted with the other featured skaters in order to have a sense of democracy for what should be included, and proper names. Some of them are still upset that I went with ‘Ollie North’ instead of ‘Ollie one-foot," he told The Guardian.
Context is crucial when discussing the games in this series: 'Dark Souls' was perfectly positioned to revolutionise the gaming industry that had grown complacent by 2011 and 'Grand Theft Auto III' captured the jaded, cynical mood of 2001 when the initial euphoria associated with the new millennium had subsided.
'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater' captured the golden days of skateboarding perfectly.
The game was released in September 1999 in the United States and Europe 1999 in Europe and it's important to note the cultural landscape of the time.
The late 1990s was the golden period for skateboarding and the music scene that sprung up around it was just as joyful and anarchic.
Ska and skate punk were major components of the skateboarding lifestyle, and in the cultural landscape of 1999, acts like The Offspring and No Doubt were chart-toppers.
There was a joyous, rebellious feeling associated with skateboarding, almost as if the counter-culture that dominated the 1960s had suddenly hopped on a skateboard.
'Tony Hawk Pro Skater' was at the eye of the storm, and the game that was initially projected to sell no more than 250,000 copies became a billion-dollar franchise.
Every game needs an iconic opening level that instantly hooks players into the game.
'Deus Ex' has the Statue of Liberty level, 'Super Mario Brothers' has world 1-1 and 'Tony Hawk Pro Skater' has the warehouse.
The warehouse is such a beautifully constructed and well-sculpted piece of level design that you could spend hours on that level alone trying to beat your high score or try grind out even more audacious combos.
The maxim of 'easy to play, hard to master' is one of the trickiest things to get right in gaming, and to this day 'Tony Hawk's Pro Skater' remains among the scholars of that particular philosophy.
Anyone from 4 to 90 years old could pick up the game and be landing combos within seconds.
To this day, the game is still incredibly fun to play, as the 2020 remaster demonstrated.
Skating terminology flashes up on screen, and within minutes people who've never stepped foot on a skateboard are able to tell their "ollies" from their "pop shove-its"
Variety is the name of the game when it comes to video game design, and ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ has variety in spades.
The game features a number of iconic levels outside of the famous warehouse level, with the school, the mall, downhill jam, downtown and the streets of San Francisco serving as playgrounds players can spend hours in.
With ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’, the simplicity is the point.
“Pick up and play” is the major selling point for consoles, and the game is the platonic ideal of a game you could play for 10 minutes when you’re waiting for dinner to cook or an epic 6-hour session on a rainy Saturday.
The game caters to people of all skill levels, meaning the game will treat you the same if you just jump around breaking your bones or pull off a 100,000 combo.
Therein lies the masterstroke of the game; it can make anyone feel like Tony Hawk regardless of skill level. Video games as an interactive medium allow players to become someone they’re not, and the game does a brilliant job of making players feel like they’re the champion of the skatepark.
It is impossible to discuss the game without discussing the music element, and the music element here is as crucial to the game as the skateboarding element.
The ska and skate punk influence are to Tony Hawk what the Rolling Stones are to the films of Martin Scorsese.
The loose, energetic feeling of the music paired well with the high-speed action.
The 2020 remake got a bit too clever by including more modern artists who were influenced by pop-punk, but for our money, you cannot beat the original soundtrack.
Granted, it was only 25 minutes long owing to the limitations of the consoles of the time, but in those 25 minutes you have instantly recognisable songs that became pieces of iconography in their own right.
The game sold well above expectations, and the game serves as a fun footnote in the history of music.
Deftones were recording their seminal 2000 album 'White Pony' around the time of the game's release, and the recording studio the band rented had a PlayStation with a copy of the game.
Producer Terry Date lamented the studio's choice of console and game, saying that the band became addicted to the game during the recording process resulting in many hours being wasted.
Recalling the album's 20th anniversary in 2020, Date said "the best decision the studio owner at the Plant (the recording studio) ever made was to put Tony Hawk on a big screen in the lounge. There were so many hours of studio time burned because we weren’t doing a damned thing."
Guitarist Stephen Carpenter recalled "Terry would give us grief because we were crushing on that all the time. Terry’s like, “We’re in the studio, guys. This costs money.” We’re like, “Whatever, we’re playing this video game.”
"The best part was just acting a fool and stringing all types of tricks together. You didn’t even have to know what you were doing," he added.
Considering how well White Pony defined the sound of early 2000's rock music, it's fun to think of two major cultural objects of the era intersecting.
Tony Hawk himself showed up at the Oscars last week to present a tribute to the films of James Bond, and while the skater has an amazing career on and off the skateboard, it’s his heroics in the world of video games that mean the Birdman will become a folk hero passed from generation to generation.
Speaking to The Guardian, Hawk was proud of the game's legacy.
“The game inspired a generation of gamers to appreciate and, in many cases, try skateboarding and the culture surrounding it,” says Hawk.
"It was the tipping point for skating in terms of no longer being considered an underground or ‘alternative’ sport."
Just last year skateboarding was a medal event at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, and it is difficult to imagine skateboarding having that broad mass appeal without the exploits of Tony Hawk and friends being introduced to gamers in 1999.
In 1999, NeverSoft and Tony Hawk created lightning in a bottle that has endured for generations.
And it all started in a low-res warehouse in 1999.