When people are asked to think of the best skateboarding games, Neversoft's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is often at the top of that list. It helped popularise the underground sport, bringing the culture from the street into households all across the globe. But what's strange to think about in retrospect is that Neversoft wasn't the only company that was interested in securing Tony Hawk's likeness.
At the same time that Neversoft was in negotiations with Hawk, several other companies also expressed interest in creating their own skateboarding games with the skater at the forefront. Chief among them was the nascent Rockstar Games.
According to Jamie King, a former producer at Rockstar, and one of the five original co-founders, his first job at the new publishing label was to secure various video game licenses, based on suggestions from his fellow co-founder Sam Houser. Houser tasked King, for instance, with securing the video game rights to the 1979 action-crime thriller The Warriors, with the former producer writing directly to Walter Hill — eventually leading to the Rockstar Toronto beat 'em up from 2005. But the next task wouldn't be so fortunate.
“Sam said, ‘Go get me Tony Hawk’," King recalls. "So I met up with Tony Hawk, but he had already pretty much done the deal with Neversoft. So then Sam was like, ‘Go, get me Thrasher Magazine.’ So I went and got that. And that was pretty much the first time I had produced anything. Suddenly, I was in Seattle and San Mateo with game developers, eating pizza at ten o’clock at night, worrying about ankle physics and bones.”
We reached out to Tony Hawk's management team to hear his side of the story. Hawk confirmed the story, "I did meet with them and discuss a few ideas because I hadn’t signed the Activision deal yet."
Thrasher Presents Skate and Destroy, Rockstar Games' response to losing out on the Tony Hawk license, launched in October 1999 in the UK, for the PlayStation One — just one month after the release of the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game. It was a solid skateboarding game, with the developers Z-Axis taking a more simulation-heavy approach compared to Tony Hawk's emphasis on arcade-y physics (and anthemic, punk singalongs). But it failed to capture the zeitgeist in quite the same way as Neversoft's title.
Perhaps, because of this, Rockstar never got around to releasing a sequel to Thrasher, with the game now serving as a strange memento from the time the publisher tried to make a Tony Hawk game, but lost out to its competition.