I’ve skated once in my entire life, years and years ago. All I can really say about the experience is that my wrist still makes a conspicuous “pop” whenever I rotate it in just the right way. That being said, I’ve always had an affinity for the digital variety of skateboarding, from Tony Hawk Pro Skater to the skate. series. Recently, I’ve been diving into True Skate, for Android devices, a delightful little flick fest that lets you live out your inner Hawk from the comfort of your little pocket screen-slab.
The game operates more or less like one of those little finger boards you remember from middle school. You put one finger on the board, and drag the other across the ground to ‘kick.’ You flick your finger back to the rear of the board to kick it into the air, then tap the front to even out your ollie. Once you’re skyward bound, you flick and twist the board in various ways to flip trick your way around the park. The board really feels like a physical object in an actual world. The physics driving the whole affair are fantastic, heavy and quick at the same time. Flips feel cool, kicking around feels convincing, and balancing a grind on your way down the rail is almost as exhilarating as the real thing.
True Skate does a lot of things very right. The payment model is fair and non-gouging, the game-feel and controls are fantastic, and it looks right slick. But the thing I want to focus on most is competition and creativity and how the two feed into each other. True Skate has an extensive leaderboard system, with a unique leaderboard for each level, for best line, for best trick, and sorted by day, month and eternity. You can also log into Facebook and see how your friends rank alongside you right at the top of the leaderboards.
This means something really important to the concept of a leaderboard: It makes it accessible. Sure, you might not get the best trick of all time on every park, but there’s a strong chance you’ll make it to the top for a day, or a week. And what’s the greatest thing about those leaderboards? You can click on any trick or line, and instantly watch a replay of them.
One day at work, I got a phone call. It was a coworker of mine, telling me to check out the leaderboard for the day. Sure enough, there he sat high up on the rankings, tempting me to beat him. This prompted a few hours of back and forth phone calls and frantic fingerboarding as we bested each other throughout the day, vying for the top spot. We never made it, but we got to congratulate each other on some cool ass tricks, and gloat when we finally pulled a few points ahead. It’s amazing to see a game that structures creative and friendly competition in such an accessible and compelling way. And that creativity is key to the ethos of True Skate.
True Skate isn’t much of a game, per-se. It’s really more of a sandbox. Well, really, it’s more just like skating around at your local skatepark. You start with a board, and a park, and… that’s about it. There’s a few little missions that you can go through here and there, but they’re really window dressing at best, nothing more than a few equally trivial and maddeningly frustrating challenges. No, the real game relies on watching your fellow top skaters on the leaderboards, learning their tricks, and slowly oozing your own creativity into their tricks, hooking your own ideas and spontaneity into their lines, and watching as you tick up the leaderboards because of it. Really, True Skate embodies what I’ve always imagined real skating was about: A community of individuals coming together to compete and learn, to shift between smack-talk and teaching effortlessly, and to relish the competition but to also respect and admire each others ability and artistry. And this sort of sandboxy competitive spirit that bleeds through the whole True Skate experience is something that many games could learn a thing or two from.