Simple Perfection

One of the things I found myself missing surprisingly badly while I was in Rome was Skate 3. It had only just arrived before we left, so I hadn’t spent much time with it and had a hankering to get back out on the streets. Skate 3 has repaired the core problem I had with Skate 2, which is that it’s returned to the sunny-happy-days model of skating, rather than the grim “everyone’s out to get us” mode of the previous game.

But what’s been getting me with Skate 3, much more than during the extensive time I spent with the original Skate, is the notion of control. I wrote a long while back about how much I admired the way the series gives you “everything” up front and thus makes the only limitation on your performance of tricks yourself. That’s still very much true in Skate 3, but this time around I’ve been much more caught up in the notion of “true” control.

See, it’s actually pretty easy to do rad and crazy tricks in the game by simply thrashing around with the control sticks madly, providing you know at least something about what kinds of waggles lead to sweet moves. To that extent, you can complete lots of the challenges in the game by a slightly more sophisticated form of “button mashing”, and the game is pretty clearly tuned to allow this by making most challenges about score accumulation rather than precision.

The true beauty of the game for me this time, though, has been in the connection between intention and performance, and really between having specific intentions and then performing them. Thus, it’s not “do an awesome flip trick into an awesome grind into an awesome flip trick to dismount”, but rather “kickflip to 5-0 grind to pop shuvit off.” The difference between these two approaches is immense, even though the literal outcome of both could actually turn out to be identical. And I love that difference.

What’s particularly wonderful about learning to do the tricks in the game on purpose is that you effectively regress in terms of on-screen prowess. Rather than spinning the board a million times and doing a flip, you tend to focus on more straightforward tricks like ollies and kickflips and 50-50 grinds. As such, your skater could end up looking far less skillful than that of a stick-and-button mashing fanatic. Further, that masher would beat you in any score-based competition modes. For all representational intents and purposes, playing this way makes you worse.

But oh the joys of deciding ahead of time what you’re going to do and then doing it. It’s like calling a shot in pool, except in a version of pool where if you wanted you could also just smash the cue-ball more or less at random and expect three or four balls of yours to go in. Basically, it’s about true skill in a way that not many other games I’ve played are able to match. Oddly, I suppose something like UFC Undisputed might be another example, though I think it still lacks the finesse of the Skate games.

In some ways skateboarding is the perfect vehicle for this kind of approach to gameplay. Though I only skated for a couple of years, I experienced very thoroughly just how much it’s an activity centered around experimentation and, most of all, repetition to perfection. Even the simplest move has to be drilled until it can be performed effortlessly and, eventually, chained together with others into beautiful, clean sequences or lines. Further, unlike in Mirror’s Edge, where I felt as though falling off a rooftop was a betrayal of the represented character of my avatar, Faith, when I fail in Skate and my avatar gets a few grazes on his elbows, that’s part of the game.

So I can recommend no more positive experience in playing a game than something so amateurish-looking as an ollie to 50-50 grind along a rail. For once the skill isn’t just stored in the avatar, it can be in you, too.

11 January 2011
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