In 2015, video game developer Robomodo released Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, the first Pro Skater game in 13 years. After the acclaimed Tony Hawk games spent time experimenting with story and peripherals, Pro Skater 5 was supposed to be a return to developer Neversoft's original formula, a love letter to those who just wanted a pure, arcadey skateboarding game.
The overwhelming consensus among reviewers was that It was a colossal failure, an unplayable mess.
In 2017, when asked about future updates coming to Pro Skater 5 on Twitter , the developer revealed it wasn't planning new additions, rather pointing fans to a different type of Tony Hawk experience: a mod called THUG Pro.
A fan-made mod for 2004's Tony Hawk's Underground 2, in THUG Pro players can access remade levels from nearly every Tony Hawk game released since 1999. It allows users to play old levels with new tricks and playable characters not yet introduced in the original games. It's a curation of nearly an entire series in one neat package.
So where did it come from?
The Tony Hawk games have always had a rabid fanbase, but around 2012, THUG Pro co-creator Morten Larsen said the scene was struggling. Online services for most of the games weren't available anymore, he says, adding it took extra steps and hoops to jump through just to get the game running—increasing the barrier to entry for prospective players.
"Also players were spread between different games and platforms. Some players were staying true to the series and only played Tony Hawk's Underground online on the original PlayStation 2. And they still do to this day," Larsen told me over Skype. "And others were playing on PC, mainly Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 3, THUG 2 and Tony Hawk's American Wasteland. But the numbers were decreasing."
Larsen said the idea for a mod like THUG Pro's always existed, though it was more or less a "pipe-dream." But as the scene waned, he and a few other modders decided to revisit the idea. "And this time there was actually a need for something like this," Larsen said. "So the motivation was more clear; build something that could be a better foundation for the THPS players and modders in the future."
That's not to say it's been easy. "It's always a struggle to decide what to focus on," Larsen said.
One of the big things Larsen said the creators needed to strive for was accomodation, allowing players to play the type of Tony Hawk game they want. During development, THUG Pro creators had to figure out the nuances of each game, then "making those into sensible options that can be toggled without conflicting with other options," he said.
"Another thing was to get the controls right, which has been a never ending nightmare," he said. "Making sure that people can hook up their PS2 controllers and be able to play like they do on the console et cetera. But I think most of that is finally getting to a state where we can shift the focus over to other stuff, like adding more new content and features. Which we have been doing since the start, but it was always a fight between fixing gameplay or adding new content."
The end product of all this work is something hardcore Tony Hawk fans have both flocked to and praised, and it's unified the once fractured community Larsen talked about. Looking around the internet, numerous forums and threads are available for THUG Pro where players talk about new additions to the game and share their own additions to the mod.
Looking to the future, the THUG Pro team's been working under the mod's hood, Larsen said, making a better pipeline to help the creators' workflow and rewriting scripts, internal tools that help a game know what to do based on player actions. "We knew it was going to take time, but it was something that had to be done. Otherwise I don't think we would have been able to continue with the mod," he said.
"It not just under-the-hood stuff coming in this update though," Laren added. "There's also been a overhaul of the visuals of the game, updated UI sprites with higher resolution, among other things. The Create-a-theme option finally returns, and people will also be able to add their own custom soundtracks."
Even though Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 might've been the death of the iconic series in an official sense, THUG Pro still lets fans play their favorite games. It can be downloaded here.