Microsoft's E3 conference from earlier this week featured a wild troll. About halfway through, a trailer started that showed blacktop and concrete covered in graffiti. The steady rhythm of "Powers That Be" by Hieroglyphics soundtracks a person hopping on a skateboard and doing some generic tricks. Half the people in my Playstation chat room were convinced this was the trailer for the long-awaited Skate 4. I mean, why else would EA have restarted the Skate 3 servers? It wasn't. After about a minute of in-engine skateboard styling, the title flashes across the screen: Session. The E3 conference room is dead silent as the trailer fades out. My chat is having a nuclear meltdown.
The start of E3 2018 last week brought predictable expectations: What form will this new Super Smash Bros. game take? Will the XBOX One finally come with some great exclusives that aren't just Cuphead? What the hell is Death Stranding even about? But the one on the tip of most of my friend's tongues was Skate 4. A decade out from the series' creation and so many fake broken bones later, the world of gaming is still ready to skate again.
For those unfamiliar, the Skate series was a skateboarding sim heavily based around the real-life physics of the sport created by EA and their developer Black Box Studios back in 2006. It was initially developed as a sort of antithesis to the increasingly ridiculous Tony Hawk games, which had already burned through their Jackass on skateboards aesthetic by 2005's American Wasteland. They were fun and thrilling in the same way games in the EA Sports BIG camp like the SSX snowboarding games, the NBA and NFL Street series and Def Jam wrestling games were: flashy arcadey sports sims in the NBA Jam mold.
Skate attempted to bring the sport to a more realistic headspace. Players would skate in parks and locales around the world like any other game, but there was a greater emphasis on the technical aspects of skateboarding. The "Flickit" system let you control your character's feet while they performed flips, bringing a more authentic feeling to the trick system.
The learning curve for the game was steep, with tricks and grinds requiring intricate and fast button presses different from the more simple "press Triangle + up to do a nosegrind" tradition of old. There are no Christ Air 900s or Franklin Grinds here. Skate wasn't just aiming to take you to the halfpipe; it wanted you to feel the chipped wood of every grind and the wind off of every 180 flip. Poor collision detection, glitches, and annoying product placement kept the first Skate from being the Tony Hawk counterpoint it so desperately wanted to be, but it was still a step in the right direction.
Even with these more technical aspects, there was still a lot of fun to be had outside of 101 teachings. Skate 2 introduced an open world career mode where you help bring skateboarding back to the fictional city of San Vanelona and out of the clutches of MongoCorp. It also introduced a Challenge mode that you could play alone or with friends, both local and online. The challenge mode and Create A Spot mode is where the game dips its toes in the more arcade sports traditions that the Tony Hawk series used to dominate. Jumping off of ramps and ledges hundreds of feet in the air to land triple and quadruple backflips or crashing and ragdolling out brought a sense of fun to the games that extended beyond skateboarding nerds to the general gaming public. Yea, I can pull off a proper grind, but watch me wreck myself trying to grind along the edge of this entire building. Intoxicating isn't even the word.
To this day, the games still have a hardcore following. It both introduced skateboarding to a demographic who might not have cared otherwise and let them faceplant avatars at high speeds. The latest game Skate 3 was released in 2010, but Challenge videos, mostly spearheaded by YouTuber ZexyZek, still bring in millions and millions of views and hundreds of thousands of comments asking for specific tricks. Skate 2 & 3 still command a lot of attention across YouTube, whether it's in the form of let's plays or just messing around. I felt that passion in my group chat's frustrated (and very exaggerated) screams when the Session trailer ended after Microsoft's E3 conference. I also felt it when Skate 4 began to trend worldwide on Twitter shortly after.
Internet irony has a way of seeping into even the purest spaces of happiness, but the mania and culture surrounding the Skate series still feels genuine. There's a dedicated audience out there ready to throw money at the chance to fall in love with digital skateboarding and throw themselves onto the concrete from 200 feet in the air. In a world where a dirt bike puzzle series like Trials can flourish, it's hard not to wonder why Skate 4 isn't being the chance to do the same.