Gravity Kings is a cancelled overboard / overbike racing / skateboarding game that was in development by Microsoft Game Studios for the original Xbox. Unfortunately there are basically no details on this lost project, but just a few images from an early prototype: by looking at these we can speculate it could have been similar to the Tony Hawks’ Pro Skater games (exploring the levels, doing tricks), but with an alien twist. The game was set in a modern-looking city, but with strange, orange-skinned aliens.
Images from this early prototype are preserved below, to remember the existence of this cancelled game. If you worked on this lost project and could help save more details, screenshots or videos, please let us know!
In 2002 Electronic Arts commissioned Criterion Games (the team mostly known for their Burnout series) to develop a 3D reboot of Skate or Die, the popular skateboarding game published by EA in 1988 for many home computers and the NES. Unfortunately this Skate or Die sequel for Xbox and Playstation 2 was cancelled after just 1 year of development.
“Criterion started talking to EA in 2002 and they asked if we’d be interested in doing a remake of the old C64 and NES game, Skate Or Die. These guys wanted to make a skateboarding game, so we did it.”
It seems that after Acclaim filed for bankruptcy, Criterion approached EA as a possible new publisher for Burnout and in the end they also pitched a new racing game titled “Need for Speed: Split Second”, that EA greenlighted along with the new Skate or Die project.
“[After Burnout 2: Point of Impact in 2002], we were talking to EA Canada about doing a Need For Speed game, so we put together a pitch to do a stunt racing game called Need For Speed: Split Second.“
Criterion had an interesting concept for Skate or Die, to let players to freely move around the levels on foot, choosing the best spot to start doing tricks on the skateboard, entering into shops to buy new boards and interacting with NPCs. In 2002 this was quite a new way to conceive a skateboarding game, when most Tony Hawks games still had the same gameplay mechanics as the first one.
“In Tony Hawk you were always on the board and it was all about tricks and high scores, but I wanted to explore what it was like to just go out for a skate and have that feeling of just doing whatever you want, […] I wanted to be able to get off the board”
Unfortunately EA had even more ambitious plans for Skate or Die (it seems they also proposed to make it a tie-in for Jackass or Dogtown and Z-Boys), not only they wanted to enter in competition with Tony Hawks, but even against such as massive game as GTA 3:
“But the project was apparently subject to all kinds of pushing and pulling at the behest of the publisher. We were told ‘you can’t just make a Tony Hawk game – it’s got to be like Grand Theft Auto,’ and that was the first time we were like, ‘Really?’ ‘It’s got to be open world.’ Well, what does that mean? Nobody really knew.”
The team at Criterion knew that it would have been impossible to meet EA’s demands, so they decided to quit the project before it would became a development hell:
“We watch as the game changes direction before our very eyes, from classic skating game to GTA-inspired open-world ideas through to an ingenious skating evolution concept but the simplicity with which the various videos flow onto the screen belies the confusion and trauma the team went through in trying to score when the goalposts were moving so quickly and so frequently. Sullivan tells us of a number of serious illnesses he went through as a result of the constant stress, and he wasn’t alone – the team was in turmoil.”
“We called a meeting with the EA guys, told them we were walking away [from the Skate or Die sequel] and they went mad, threatening to sue us, put us out of business… there was a lot of anger and frustration, […] then we got a call from the Need For Speed guys and they said ‘we can’t work with you guys any more; you just walked away and there’s a shame on your company, so we can’t talk to you. […] I remember coming back to my desk and there was a folder on my desktop called EA and I just clicked delete. We learned a lot about how a game should be made, and we learned a lot about working with an external publisher – how we had to get our shit together earlier but also how we had to stand our ground.“
In the end Criterion and EA signed a new agreement and they started working together on Burnout 3: Takedown, released in September 2004 for PS2 and Xbox. In august of the same year Electronic Arts acquired Criterion and they became one of their internal development team that later create such titles as Black, Need for Speed and new games in the Burnout series.
If you own issue 100 of Games TM, let us know if there are more screenshots from the cancelled Skate or Die sequel in the magazine!
Sonic Extreme is a pitch / early proto created by Vision Scape Interactive, that was recently discovered by ProtonX (from the Assembler Forum) on a development unit for the original Xbox console. The project features Sonic skateboarding around in an area reminiscent of Heroes‘s Seaside Hill. Additionally, there appears to be a battle mode with Sonic and Shadow built in the same split-screen style as Sonic Adventure 2: Battle / Mario Kart. Probably Vision Scape Interactive tried to pitch this project to SEGA, but without luck.
Vision Scape Interactive were also working on other cancelled games:
This is the beta for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. There were very big differences from the beta to the final game. Some levels are heavily edited from their final versions, and some levels didn’t make it at all. In the character select screen, the characters (save for Bucky Lasek) are very unchanged from their final versions. Chad Muska is used as placeholder for some of the characters.
The School is the first level in the beta. There are some differences, like the fact that the rooftop is blocked by fans, and that the pool area is also very changed. Instead of collecting 1 secret tape for each level, there are multiple secret tapes to be found in each level. The “Bonus 500” and the “Bonus 200” point symbols are now just plain rings.
Thanks to Christopher Mauro for the contribution!
Some more details about the early prototype version of Tony Hawks were shared with us by Teetha Mundo:
“Based on the information from the source, a forum post from 1998, these screenshots are from a Pre-Tony build, or a build that was shown to TonyHawk.
This build features one of the first original skateboarders in the game, being built a month or two after the Apocalypse-Build. There’s actually a hologram of Bruce Willis in one of the levels, it’s the same model from the Apocalypse game. In some of the screenshots you can see early versions of existing levels or even levels that didn’t make it to the final release. The skater and skateboard model still exists in the games files up to TonyHawk‘s Pro Skater 2.”
Here is footage of some levels that didn’t make it:
Downhill: This level didn’t make the final cut because it looked too similar to a level in the arcade game, “Top Skater”.
Classic Concrete: This level didn’t make it because it was just a physics test, to see how the skater model reacted to terrain like grass, dirt, etc.
Suburbia: It’s unclear why this level didn’t make it. Some say that it was an early version of the San Francisco level, And I definitely see similarities. But for the most part, it doesn’t look anything like it.
Freeway: This was probably taken out because it was boring and didn’t have many things to trick off of. I think some of the level was used in the second level of Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX, like the grindable steel girder and the porta-potties.
Chris also recorded many videos from beta and test levels:
Recently rewatched the didyouknowgaming video about the tony hawk pro skater series and they really skimmed over a lot of the content that was cut. Such things like the (inaccessible) test level, freeway map, downhill map and more. I decided to play the betas myself and see what I could do to try and get into the test level without a cheat device. Well I succeeded. I took the betas, mixed certain build files together and rebuilt the rom (and can play it on hardware as of yesterday so yay for this) and realized I had forced the test level to be a selectable stage.
Heres the levels (excluding Suburbia) that I recorded for Tony Hawk’s beta. The title says “MIXED BETA” because it’s not the original build. The 2 betas that are online I mixed together in some ways so it’s not truly the original rom, but all the stages are in tact and all stages are from the original builds (again except Suburbia which was overwritten by the test level).
Thrasher: Skate and Destroy is a skateboarding game developed by Z-Axis and released in 1999 for the PlayStation. Pcloadletter noticed various beta differences in some old screens and videos. Different HUD, some tricks do not register (nollie tricks especially), different start screen with 3 characters only and no multiplayer and many more.
A beta demo of Trasher: Skate and Destroy seems to have been leaked online, its a combination of the early build/hud but with the (almost) final menus. All the character photos are here with one selectable at start. You can see a short bio instead of the stats. Also one of the three levels unlocked.
The coolest part I found is the camera control. Pressing L2 + a direction changes views on the fly; up = overhead, right = regular chase, down = far/wide chase and left = first person. Sometimes switching on the fly will crash the demo but its interesting to play in first person at least. I’m not aware of that in the final game at all.
Its weird because many advanced tricks are available but not some of the default basics. L1 is the control for certain grinds (missing) nollie tricks (missing completely), wall rides (these work), and manuals (incomplete). Manuals do not score points or register and have glitchy animations. If you move it cancels out and will in a short time on its own regardless. So far only the nose manual will work on a downslope or landing in a pipe. L1+x is used to switch stance or revert. A difference is a missing hud logo with only a text indicator of “switch”. Also if you hold R1+L1+x you will do a unique trick where the board switches but you hold position. This was removed from final, its kind of cool even if pointless. […]
In the courthouse level itself many textures are different and the lighting seems darker or maybe its the popup. Some logos are not on ramps and there is a missing trash can from final. If you try to exit the gates (different texture from final) the menu type is weird. […]
There is also a text file on both demo and final called OPTIONS.txt. They look like they related to debug but I don’t really know. The only difference from final is the first option for ztuneDebugPrint set to NO. In final it is set to YES. The dates are 7/27/1999 and 10/20/1999. It was released 10/31/1999. I don’t know if that relates directly to the build of the game but 3 months pre-release would be believable with all the differences I noticed already. […]
Comparing the text visible in hex editor has revealed some minor differences. There is no reference to the passwords, secret character Beesuit Guy, or character stats (but all descriptions are present in final form). The memory card functions are incomplete but 1/3rd present. From some general text there appears to be a test level called “gametest” in a missing map area called “Debugville”.
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