Eight skateboarding games in as many years, across three generations of consoles. Will Neversoft-creator and maintainer of the Tony Hawk Series-ever stop?
Annually-updated franchises are frowned upon as much as relied upon, both golden calf and black sheep. That mix of familiarity and evolution is a powerful one, for gamers as much as game-makers, selling incoming consoles and propping up departing ones. Many modern, big-hitting franchises have managed to ride the past decade, but few manage to sustain a steadfast annual frequency without burning out or needing a fallow year or two to refuel both consumer enthusiasm and developer fertility. And Neversoft – the studio behind the Tony Hawk series, the persisting alpha male of the combo-sports genre – is still going at it, through PS1 to PS2 to PS3, from Xbox to 360; while there may have been trembles and creaks along the way, there's been no significant stumble, no wipeout.
After launching its figurehead skating title, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, in 1999 and maintaining a metronomic release schedule ever since (see page 69 for 2007's instalment, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground), the studio is showing no visible signs of exhaustion, regardless of how its less forgiving fans may sometimes feel. Just how does Neversoft manage? Continual staff turnover? Overlapping development teams? Iron-rod management and caffeine drips?
Sitting down in the company's cavernous LA studio, the answer begins to emerge before the question has even been posed: Neversoft feels close-knit, upfront and as laid back as it can get away with. Five of the studio's most senior faces casually gather throughout the interview in the building's demo room, with little formality or fuss – president Joel Jewett, director of development Scott Pease, art director Chris Ward and co-project developers for the latest Ton y Hawk title, Brian Bright and Chad Findley.