Gaming session with its professional skating stars
I tried the same trick for 20 minutes at this point. A simple boardslide.
I start with my skateboard in my hand, drop it on the concrete, then kick and push until I reach the stairs, where a wrought iron railing extends downward. down about five feet.
Twenty minutes later, I crossed it out in every way imaginable. I flew forward, like an unconscious Superman, onto the cement below. I missed the railing and landed on the side halfway up the steps. At one point, my rear axle contacted the railing and stayed there perfectly, a metal-on-metal smooch in slow motion. This elicited a half-encouragement, a half-chuckle from the reporter behind me, who had patiently watched my progress as I got closer and closer to landing the lap.
I first played Session: Skate Sim in 2020, a few months into its Xbox Game Preview run – shortly after going through Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. After all that time in Birdman’s sneakers, Session felt almost hostile. The camera position, which mimics the perspective of the height of the board frequently seen in skate videos, made for a disorienting experience. Developer Crea-ture Studios’ decision to map each stick to one of your skater’s feet caused the control scheme to flip every time I turned around, so if I wanted to ollie I would have to hold the right stick down or push up on the left thumbstick, depending on which direction I was currently facing. I adapted pretty well to steering with the triggers, but practically I was falling a lot more than I wanted to. I played for an hour or two, then gave up the game, annoyed.
But now I’m not on my couch back home in Illinois. I’m at Substance Skatepark in Brooklyn, New York, where monitors sit on seven high tables draped in long black tablecloths, arranged in a circle with TVs in the center. A mix of journalists and skateboarders, professional and amateur, lend themselves to the game. Skaters not playing the game ride up ramps, squeak on rails and sometimes whip around the play station, rippling the slicks in the breeze. Everyone grabs slices of New York-style pizza from the mountains of plain white boxes on folding tables near open garage doors leading from the sidewalk to the warehouse-like indoor park.
Like me, the game is in a very different place than it was the first time I played it. After three years of early access, Session finally entered version 1.0 last week (the day after the Brooklyn launch event). It’s still a radically different take on skateboarding, but it has plenty of options players can tweak to make it more accessible, like moving the camera to a more traditional perspective, opting for legacy controls that look straight out of Skate and add more tutorials and mission structure to guide players through its many maps. Yet even with all of that and plenty of difficulty options, Session will never be THPS, and it doesn’t try to be.
“The loose analogy that I like to use is… are you playing an arcade jet game where you have one thing to fly and a booster? Or are you playing Microsoft Flight Simulator where you have 300 commands to launch a Boeing field?” says Session producer Jeffrey Spicer. “Go ahead, you won’t fly anywhere.”
But this slowness is important. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater introduced millions of kids to skateboarding and played a significant role in the rise of cultural relevance the sport enjoyed in the early 2000s. But it also simplified incredibly difficult tricks to many. simple button prompts and transformed the skateboarder into a divine figure who could string together a series of unique moves in a lifetime, consistently, race after race. Session offers something much closer to the reality of learning the sport.
“When I was learning to play [Session] right now I was doing a Nollie Heel Frontside 50 and it took me a while to make one,” says Manny Santiago, a pro skateboarder who is a playable character in the game. is said, ‘Oh, it’s kind of like the real thing.’ And I’m all, ‘That’s pretty close,’ but real skateboarding is actually years and years. But the game enforces that pressure. Because, in other skateboarding video games, you learn stuff so fast it gets a little redundant… Not boring, but not nearly as difficult. Where it really challenges you, so when I do something in the game, everyone cheers like it’s real life.”
It’s true. Twenty-five minutes later I got up, positioned my board horizontally above the rail, slid and landed on the concrete below. The reporter behind me was still watching. He clapped.
NEXT: Session Review: Virtual Skateboarding Doesn’t Get Better