Regardless if you were a skateboarder or video game enthusiast, at some point you would have played a Tony Hawk Pro Skater (THPS) video game during the late 90s / early 2000s. The simple control layout, engaging map designs, basic trick list, and awesome soundtracks entranced the player in countless hours of virtual skateboarding bliss. The icing on the cake was the inclusion of real-life pro skaters along with their respective real-world sponsors.
The THPS franchise was a global success with multiple titles remaining on the top ten best seller’s lists months after release. Tony Hawk is just as relevant today as he was during the first THPS release. He is still regarded as the face and ambassador for the skateboarding community. Without a doubt, he is a living legend. So the question is what happened to the THPS franchise? This juggernaut of a franchise added multiple titles to our video game collections and all of a sudden disappeared.
Pretending I’m a Superman does a great job answering this along with so many other questions that fans of the franchise have asked. Documentary Producer Ralph D’Amato was also the producer for THPS 2 in 2004 thru “Tony Hawk’s Project 8” 2006. He felt it was important to tell the behind the scenes story about the franchise and how a small development team called “NEVERSOFT” turned Tony Hawk’s vision of a fun “pick up & play” skateboarding video game into a reality.
The overline story of Pretending I’m a Superman has Tony Hawk providing a full recount of his career. Starting from youth, entry as a pro skater, ambitions of creating a skateboarding game, and what he thinks caused the demise. However, the subline stories in my opinion really make this documentary shine. Multiple pro skaters from THPS 1 thru 4 are interviewed such as Jamie Thomas, Rodney Mullen, Steve Caballero, and Chad Muska “The Ghetto Thugsta” just to name a few.
These pro skaters talk about their careers before and after the release of the first THPS. Jaime Thomas had no desire to be in a video game and was ultimately going to pass on the game. Seeing fellow respected skaters sign up along with the understanding that Tony Hawk had some actual involvement in the development is what changed his mind. The general consensus at the time was that all skateboarder games would just be sponsored cash grabs, subpar quality, and lack respect for the sport. You have to remember this was a pre-instantly accessible internet age so news traveled via word of mouth and magazines.
Another notable story was told by Rodney Mullen. For those who are unaware, he created a large majority of street/flatland tricks done today. He talked about doing sponsored skate shows for various companies and just being regarded as one of the pro skaters. After the release of the THPS, large crowds of people would show up to these sponsored events just to see him. He was no longer just one of the pro skaters, he was now a superstar. I have to admit, it was a bit surprising how many of these skaters did not expect this new level of celebrity status. My only guess is that they were unaware of how well the game was selling globally. To quote Tony Hawk “THPS was turning people into skateboarding fans”.
Pro skaters are not the only ones interviewed. Many of the bands who contributed songs to the THPS franchise also experienced a boost. “Pretending I’m a Superman” is not only the title of the documentary but also a key line in the song “Superman” contributed by the band, Goldfinger. John William (lead vocalist) tells a story about a show in Europe a few months after THPS release. Goldfinger was opening for the band “Bloodhound Gang” and in traditional opening act fashion, the crowd reaction was a bit underwhelming. This all changed when they started to play “Superman”. He recounts seeing the crowd erupt with excitement and singing along. The band had no clue what just happened and what caused this crowd reaction. It wasn’t until after the show they found out THPS was a huge success and their song had quickly become regarded as the THPS song.
NEVERSOFT founder Mick West, Silvio Porretta (former NEVERSOFT lead artist) along with other former NEVERSOFT team members chime in providing deep insight on the lengths they took to ensure they had not only a fun skateboarding game but one that properly reflected the skateboard lifestyle/culture. This attention to detail is why THPS is still held in such high regard. “Pretending I’m a Superman” does a great job telling the THPS story and the impact it has had not only on fans but all those who were involved. I would have liked a bit more insight into what Tony Hawk’s future vision for the THPS franchise would look like, not including the upcoming remake. Activision acquired NEVERSOFT in 1999 and disbanded in 2014 with many team members joining the Call of Duty development team Infinity ward.
“Pretending I’m a Superman” is informative, entertaining and will trigger all your nostalgic feels for the franchise. I would recommend anyone interested In video game history to check out this documentary and for all fans of the franchise to do the same and get those juices flowing for the upcoming September 4th release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2.
Releases Digitally on August 18th, 2020
(iTunes, YouTube, XBOX, Prime Video, DirectTV
Directed by Ludvig Gür
Producer – Ralph D’Amato
This review was written based on a digital copy of Pretending I’m A Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story provided by Wood Entertainment.