I’ve been meaning to talk about EA’s Skate for a while.

Skate is a wonderful game. Whilst the Tony Hawk games plough ever-deeper furrows of furious button-mashing combos, EA decided to go for a more “realistic” route with their skateboarding game. The controls are the most obvious example of this: rather than using buttons to correspond to moves, they use the analogue controls on the board to correspond to the rider’s body: the left stick is your body, the right your feet; the two shoulder buttons are two hands.

To Ollie, you flick the right stick from neutral, to down, to up. To kickflip it’s neutral to down to up/left or up/right. To manual – rolling on only the front or rear set of wheels – you have to find a sweet-spot on the right stick and not move it to neutral or an extremity; as in life, it’s a balance problem. Here’s a more detailed look at the “Flickit” trick scheme.

Couple that approach with a somewhat heavier gravity than Hawk ever had, and you end up with a wonderful simulation of skateboarding. It places the focus not on huge chain-combos (a “videogamey” aesthetic if ever there was one) but on simple, stylish maneuvers that look cool. It’s very satisfying to pull off a simple flip-to-grind, as long as the line is good and you look good doing it. All of a sudden, the focus shifts from points, to just how good you can look navigating the city (a fictional hybrid called “San Vanelona”).

So far, so good. But for me, the most interesting thing about the game is what happens when the game breaks out of the console and into the world.


In order to capture stylish runs and painful bails, EA included an impressive video editor, which makes it easy to alter film-processing and speed effects to mimic the immediately recognisable skate-video aesthetic.

And these videos can be shared with friends. And not just by forwarding them over Xbox Live; no, you can shoot a video in-game, and then – from your console (PS3 or 360) – upload it to the web. EA have a dedicated site for this, called Reel. Like any Web 2.0 product, Reel is still in beta (perhaps giving it a more “authentic” feel), and it effectively functions as a miniature Youtube for the game.

Here’s a short clip of a through-flip hosted on Reel. You can see some of the film effects in play. And remember: this clip was made in a videogame, uploaded from a console, and now exists as an embedded flash movie on a webpage, with the potential to be tagged, commented, and linked to.

And EA really want people to use this. If you look at the Achievements list for the game (Achievements being a way of rewarding players for impressive, or unusual behaviour in-game), you can see that amongst the usual score and skill challenges, there are achievements for uploading videos and photos, and even one for getting at least 20 people to view your video on the web.

Think about that for a second: you get an achievement for the behaviour of other people who aren’t in the game-world at the time.

I find Skate exciting because it’s a prime example of a game that understands Generation C; it allows players to share game-information outside the game – and in a manner that is so much more easily referenced, due to it having a permanent link – just as they share movies, photos, and blogposts. Other games that “get” this include Halo 3, which lets you upload and share screengrabs, movies, and even custom game-rules (although you can only view screengrabs online), and the Project Gotham and Forza games, which have a very detailed photo mode; here’s some of my virtual photographs from PGR3.

It’s also great to see EA understanding the ethos of the real-world skate community. Skating has always been a community with a huge user-generated aspect; bootleg and home-made skate videos have been a huge part of the scene, and so to attempt to digitally recreate the community (and not just the activity) is a really interesting move.

Skate has been almost universally praised, but it doesn’t feel like it’s done as well as it could have. That’s a shame, because in many ways, it’s one of the more innovative “major league” titles of last year. For the reasons above, I thought it was worth bringing to the attention of the many people interested in this terrain who don’t necessarily play console games.

A new year

03 January 2008

Here we are in 2008, then.

2007 was, I think, hectic. The first half was largely uneventful; busy at work, mainly. Everything ramped up from about May, though: another trip to Copenhagen to attend and talk at Reboot, which was fantastic as ever; then a short natter at Interesting 2007.

At the end of August, Alex and I eschewed our usual city-breaks for a week in Whitstable, escaping to the seaside with books, beers, and a camera. It turned out to be one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. A few weeks later, we went to the End of the Road Festival, and had a fantastic weekend amidst great music, lovely weather, and a bunch of peacocks.

And then, in October, I left Nature after 18 months. I enjoyed my time there by and large, but found myself clashing with the corporate culture far more than I’d expected. Working with a non-colocated team (the majority of whom were on GMT -5), in an environment that didn’t exactly support multidisciplinary interests so well, turned out to be tough at times, and it slowly wore me down. I made many good friends there, and learned a lot, so I was sorry to go, but I think I made the right choice for me. I left to join Headshift, returning to being in a smaller company, and which seems to be working out OK, so far. I’m still working out what I want to do; Headshift seems to be a good place to do that.

I liked 2007, all in all, although I found the hectic nature of it quite tiring by the end. I hope that this year will be no less eventful; I also hope to be able to manage it better.

On to the year to come, then. A new year is traditionally a time to make resolutions. Some will always be private, but I think it’s time to make some in public, if only so I can hold myself to them. And so: here are some things I want to be able to hold myself to:

  • I’m going to write down what I read. Alex does this very effectively, and I’m annoyed that I haven’t got good records, because I’m convinced I read way more than I think I did. Still, I think I’ve done OK this year.
  • Actually, I’m going to write down everything I consume much better – films and games, especially. This might involve a spreadsheet; it might involve an existing service like All Consuming. We’ll see.
  • I think I might actually launch a web app, for real. I’ll keep you all posted on this one, but it’s not far off now.
  • I’m going to write more about what I do, if only because I want to work out what I do. I write code; I design interactions; I think about things. When people say “what do you do?“, I say that “I make things on the web“. This is deliberately vague. I’m still trying to work out if that’s really what I want to do, or if I have some higher-level goal in mind. Right now, I’m finding it hard to juggle an interest in programming with a desire to push my design/product thinking a bit harder.
  • I’m going to write more about what I enjoy. I want to write about photography a lot more, and my games-writing here has tailed out a little bit. That should be redeemed a bit.
  • I’m going to write more, full stop. There’s too much to keep in my head and to the pub forever. I need records.
  • I’m going to lose weight – get rid of some flab, try and vaguely acquire some tone. This is going to be hard, but more frequent runs and less snacking will get us a long way.
  • I’m going to keep a better notebook. I’m always embarrassed by my scratchy handwriting, my shapeless layouts, my mucky scrawl. I envy my friends their tidy notebooks, often embellished with bold illustration. I’m always too afraid of making a mess, and I think perhaps too afraid to make the notebook an artefact in its own right (rather than an transition artefact). This fear also means my notes are, sometimes, either too brief or too illegible to be of real use, and I think if I took more care over the artefact itself, it’d be more useful to me.
  • I’m going to learn to drive. About time.

I think I’m going to end up rambling if I don’t stop soon, so maybe that’s enough resolutions. I’m not sure I can keep to them all, but I want to have them here, in public, to be held to and to return to at the end of the year. We’ll see how we did then.

I hope you enjoyed your 2007. Here’s to 2008.