In 1999, sweat pouring down his face after several failed attempts, Tony Hawk, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest skaters of all time, took to the air above the X-Games, tucked his head down, threw his momentum over his shoulders, spun through the air 2 1/2 times, and landed the first-ever 900 in a competition.
This was a legendary moment in skateboarding history. Skaters know the story. But what if they didn't? What if Tony Hawk hadn't landed the 900?
Polygon spoke with Ben Esposito and Russell Honor, the duo behind Perfect Stride, about the origins of the game, their collaboration and, of course, the Time Wizard.
Perfect Stride began years ago as a mistake.
Ben Esposito was in high school fiddling with Half-Life 2 mods when he stumbled upon the exact control that will define Perfect Stride.
"I played it for hours, and I'm like, 'I need to make the most badass game out of this," Esposito said.
He kept that oddity in the back of his mind for years as he worked on other projects. It's so odd, in fact, that when he and Honor teamed up to make Perfect Stride, he had a hard time explaining it to his co-developer, who spent a about a month trying to recreate it.
Perfect Stride's official website touts the controls as "hella hard & we like it that way so shut up" without apology.
"It's actually pretty simple," Honor said. "It's a mouse-only game. You press the left or right mouse button to start emitting this force to either your left or right side. By turning the mouse into that force - like, I hold the left mouse button and start sliding the mouse to the left - you gain forward momentum as you start to eat up that sideways-emitted force."
The upshot is that Perfect Stride demands "long, smooth, fluid mouse sways" to build up speed. Also, you can't move forward, at least not directly. All movement is based on the arcs you create.
"You have to basically learn the system really well so you know, 'At this speed, I should be turning at this rate in order to get the maximum speed bonus from it.'"
The gameplay mimics the demanding controls. Perfect Stride's world is based on islands, each of which is technically accessible from the beginning of the game. To move through each, though, players will have to become familiar with the controls and gain the skills necessary to overcome the obstacles that keep them from the next island.
In spite of — or maybe because of — its demanding nature, Perfect Stride will include a rewind mechanic that lets players back up and try missed attempts. That mechanic grew out of their experiences with other games and a way to get out of bad design that could leave players stuck in a corner.
"The rewind is critical," Esposito said. "For me, I just consider it an essential feature to a movement game at this point."
Honor said the pair sort of backed into the story, which grew out of an earlier version of the game that included a dating sim as a subplot but was ditched for a more skateboarding-centric narrative.
"So, after Tony Hawk did not land the 900 at the 1999 X-Games, it set forth the course of events that allowed," he said and took a deep breath, "a Time Wizard to come into power. He himself is immortal, so he prevents everyone else from dying."
"Yeah," Esposito continued, "because he himself can't die. He wishes for death, but he can't [die], so he reigns over the world so that people can't die."
Odd as that might seem, it's actually expressed in the story.
"Mechanically, it's actually expressed in the story by the rewind mechanic," Honor said. "The idea is that, when you're about to die, it freezes time, and then you have to rewind out. You can't actually die."
There's a loophole in this alternate history, they explain. Just as paper beats rocks, guns beat everyone else. Death by bullet is the only way to escape. Unfortunately, there are guns everywhere, but no bullets.
"Well, there's rumors that there's one bullet left on earth," Honor said,"and so your mission is to try and find that bullet so that you can kill the Time Wizard."
There's more to the story, but the Arcane Kids didn't want to get into it because it could spoil the conclusion to the story.
L.A. Game Space Kickstarter backers will have access to the alpha version of Perfect Stride when rewards are distributed to backers sometime later this year. That version of the game will include a handful of islands and the mechanic that the game will almost certainly be known for. After that, Esposito and Honor will build more islands, listen to player feedback because they want "to keep it open to what the players" want and work toward the game's eventual release, which will include both a level editor and a multiplayer component completely divorced from the story.
Like everything else with Perfect Stride, multiplayer will be familiar, but a bit odd. Just ask the developers.
"It's basically a big fuckin' skate park where you can hang out with your friends," Honor said. "It's like IRC but with skating."