The following is an interview of Ralph D'Amato of Neversoft. It was conducted by Blitzkrieg in October of 1999. Ralph is the exectutive producer of the THPS line of games.
Blitzkrieg: What exactly was your job in the development of THPS?
Ralph D: I was the Associate Producer for the THPS project. My job encompassed many things, but mostly it was making sure the other team members had the "things" they needed to get their jobs done. I assisted in coordinating communications between team members. I followed up and reported on project status on an ongoing basis. I assisted in maintaining the schedule and kept detailed meeting notes for reference. I provided detailed game play testing and design suggestions for the game as a whole, as well as instance by instance testing for each of the programmers/designers/artists. I monitored and assisted in the maintenance of our "bug" tracking system and coordinated our internal focus test groups from which we tapped a lot of great feedback. On the Marketing side I created the first Neversoft THPS web page and was responsible for it's updates...or lack thereof as some of it's many visitors would say. I also assisted in THPS demos at conventions and a skateboard contest and took tons of the screenshots that were used on preview/review websites, in mags and in our ads. And for all the people that have sent mail to us about the game, I'm the guy who responded to every one of them.
Blitzkrieg: How exactly did you come up with the idea to create a skateboarding game?
Ralph: Short and sweet, Activision approached Neversoft with the idea of doing a skateboarding game while the Apocalypse project was in full swing. It was a sport that nobody had really captured well in a game...aside from 720, which many of us on the team had sunk tons of quarters into. We took on the challenge and the rest is...you know.
Blitzkrieg: With the lackluster success of Street Skater, we're you ever afraid that the gaming community wouldn't take to another skateboarding game?
Ralph: No, not at all, we knew that we brought something completely different to the table in our game, and we banked on the wealth of talent that the THPS team has and knew we could deliver a skateboarding game that people would love.
Blitzkrieg: What exactly we're you trying to accomplish with THPS and do you think you accomplish it?
Ralph: I think we are trying to deliver a cutting edge game that represents the sport of skateboarding well and will provide the gamer hours upon hours of gameplay. I believe we accomplished our goal, notwithstanding the fact that we weren't able to do everything we wanted to in this incarnation of the game.
Blitzkrieg: While playing THPS, it's obvious that the skating physics are very well done. What specifically did you do to achieve this?
Ralph: We watched hours upon hours of footage of skateboarders and got lots of feedback from the pros. All of that combined with the programming talent we have and a bit of trial and error got us to where we are with our physics.
Blitzkrieg: The levels in THPS are very well designed, you can literally pull tricks anywhere at anytime. How did you manage such a task?
Ralph: It was our intent from the very beginning to allow the skater to use anything and everything to trick off of or interact with as real skaters do. Knowing this our designers had quite a bit of layout work in their hands. It wasn't just mere placing geometry arbitrarily, they had to look for all the possibilities for skating "lines" and build accordingly. It was a very detailed process to say the least.
Blitzkrieg: How was it working with Tony Hawk? Did he help with the actual development of the game besides doing the motion capture for the skater models?
Ralph: Yes, Tony provided quite a bit of valuable feedback. He was sent all the major builds of the game. What can I say the guy is a professional and a very cool, friendly person.
Blitzkrieg: Was there anything that was cut out or never made it to the final version?
Ralph: Yeah there were a few things. A couple of levels that didn't make it or were substituted with other levels, a few tricks that didn't make it as well as a few 2 Player modes and some special effects that didn't make the time line. The levels themselves changed quite a bit as did the characters. In the School at one time there was a secret area behind the start point that would allow you to jump onto some clouds, then you would ride on the clouds all the way down to the pool area where they would drop you off, after that the sky would get dark and it would start raining, way too "Marioesque" for a skateboarding game. The fire exits in the Mall would blaze into a major fire if you bumped them and there used to be a dinosaur skeleton that was replaced by the florescent lights you grind to get the secret tape. San Francisco originally was 4 times the size. In Roswell we had planned for a UFO to fly in and crash into the side of the mountain. As with any game project some things stick, some are discarded.
Blitzkrieg: THPS looks to be a huge hit with gamers everywhere, we're you surprised at how well it has done? Are there any plans for a sequel?
Ralph: We are very happy that people are enjoying the game. Are we totally surprised that people like it? Not really, I'm not trying to sound cocky, but we had lots of people playing and previewing the game way before it came out and they all seemed to like it. More importantly all of us on the THPS team really like it and we are connoisseurs of fine games, at least we think we are. These things, along with the success of the demo told us we were heading in the right direction. As far as plans for a sequel, I think there would be too many bummed folks out there if there wasn't one. Don't you?
Blitzkrieg: What is your favorite level and skater and why?
Ralph: Hmm that is a tough one. They are all my favorite (politician answer). No really, I probably spend most of my time playing the Warehouse and the School. As far as skaters go, I like playing Tony because the 900 is one of my favorite tricks to do and I like to use Andrew because my fingers are tuned to do his bluntslides.
Blitzkrieg: lastly, if the group there at Neversoft were to hold a tournament, who would win?
Ralph: The winner would probably be either our Producer, Scott Pease our Sr. Artist/Animator, Noel Hines or our Designer, Chris "Team Chicken" Rausch . There are a few of us that could give them a run for their money, but these guys have the game down.