Easy Day Studios Has Mishandled Skater XL

Skater XL‘s pre and post-launch support is some of the worst in the live-service area. Updates have come so infrequently with the eight month early access period receiving little support followed by the 1.1 update arriving five months after a lackluster 1.0. Add in the studio’s lead developer’s alleged departure made with no fanfare and Easy Day Studios is in a tough spot. Skateboarding fans have two major options in 2021: Skater XL and Session. The latter is in very early development, shaping up to be the definitive skateboarding simulator if update 0.0.0.6 is anything to go by. By comparison, Skater XL‘s official 1.0 launch failed to add anything meaningful over its early access stint, adding an anemic soundtrack and character customization options.

The article will specifically discuss the console versions (and by extension, the vanilla PC version) because they highlight Easy Day Studios’ incompetence. The vanilla release provides hours of enjoyment for its target audience, but the further you delve into Skater XL‘s inner workings, the more you realize how poorly designed and barebones it is. Easy Day relies on its community to carry the legwork rather than acting as supplemental to the experience such as Mojang with Minecraft. Mid December’s 1.1 update only went so far.

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Unavoidable Comparisons

Comparing Session and Skater XL is necessary as a frame of reference for contextualizing how little respect Easy Day Studios has for its game and skateboarding culture.

On the surface, they offer similar experiences to an unsuspecting buyer. They’re both skateboarding games using dual stick controls with flip tricks sharing the same motions and flicks. Session has more official tricks while offering the user more fine control over customizing the user experience, including but not limited to:

  • Manual or auto board catch (requires an input to plant feet on the grip tape after flip tricks)
  • Three options for inputting mid-air body rotations
  • Three options for controlling flip trick speed
  • Options for continuous flips and scoops (Allows an “unlimited” amount of flips and shuvit spins as opposed to capping at 360 shuvits and quadruple flips)
  • Three options for grind inputs in addition to “casual” and “auto” grind toggles making grinds easier
  • Sliders for how camera angles appear during grinds compared to normal gameplay
  • Three options for its control scheme, including a “legacy” option using one stick like Skate

While not covering everything, this truncated list shows as a statement of intent from
creā-ture Studios. All Skater XL offers without mods is a controller display showing players’ inputs during gameplay, which coincidentally, was an early access mod before Easy Day instated it in its 1.0 release. Because this isn’t a comparison, anything else either game has over the other is irrelevant.

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Homogenization is a dirty word in the industry, but it’s not inherently bad design. Without homogenization, we wouldn’t have easy ways to compare equipment stats in rpg’s or the dual stick control scheme for shooters. Alien Resurrection was panned by some critics upon its 2000 release because gamers couldn’t wrap their head around moving with one stick while aiming with another. 21 years later and you’d be hard-pressed to find any console shooter that doesn’t control like this.

Session has set the bar for gameplay options to suit individuals’ skill levels and interests in skateboarding. They’re more than optional modifiers, showing how much creā-ture respects the culture. Skateboarding is about freedom of expression; showcasing your style or personality through quirks such as how you tweak your board mid-air or what kinds of tricks you default to or how you land and what kinds of obstacles you skate. Even the way you push or plant your feet communicates something about you. Session‘s customization options feed into that personalization–An element of skate culture Easy Day Studios ignores.

For an example of this, look no further than the inconsistency involved with 180 variants of flip tricks like varial heelflips instead of laser flips. Session offers 1/4 and 1/2 scoops to differentiate between the 180 and 360 versions of tricks or 1/8 and 1/4 scoops. Skater XL only features the 1/4 and 1/2 split, though it feels more like a 1/8 and 1/4 system, and even then, it improperly identifies inputs. Almost all scoops are registered as 1/2 even when I know for a fact I’ve done a quarter circle scoop.

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The community has multiple workarounds: Performing an ollie then IMMEDIATELY doing the 180 trick motion. This is the most consistent way to make sure you’re not landing laser flips and tre flips every five seconds, but this workaround shouldn’t be necessary. These also appear awkward as they’re angled more like forward flips. Conversely, players can catch the board before completing the 360 flip, but board catching is so robotic it ruins the steez. You won’t get realistic footage using this method. The trick display also often registers this workaround as a shuv-it spin, which is not unusual. Both games incorrectly display trick names at times, but that inconsistency translates on-screen. It never looks quite right using the board catching method.

Steez is bolstered through creativity. Always doing 360 variants of flips gets stale and doesn’t always look good depending on the skater and obstacle in question. A clean frontside 180 varial kickfip off a ledge into whatever can look so much better than a normal tre flip. That Skater XL doesn’t have an option for scoops outside of using mods is a damning condemnation of what makes the sport special.

There are other workarounds, but that the community has had to find different ways to fix an inherent flaw showcases the game’s inadequacy. This is a quick fix. It’s not adding an entirely new mechanic or trick type like darkslides. Adjusting values for scoop inputs does not take 5+ months.

Mods are Cool But…

Skater XL launched with a paltry amount of character customization. Pre-release material made a big deal about 1.0 adding a bunch of clothing and decks, yet despite this, its 1.0 release had less clothing and decks than Session in version 0.0.0.5 (0.0.0.6 adds even more). All notable Skater XL content creators like Nightspeeds, Garrett Ginner, Toasty Ghost, and Milky use mods, which isn’t inherently sacrilegious.

In Easy Day’s defense, its modding community is incredibly active, maybe owing to the studio using an engine/framework that’s more mod-friendly than Session. Regardless of the intent, Skater XL‘s passionately-driven community has created a lot of interesting decks. Clothing isn’t as exciting because it fits awkwardly onto the models as with official clothing, but given the restrictions, modders have done the best they can. In its current state, Skater XL‘s officially integrated mod-browser is filled to the brim with cosmetics ranging from actual clothing brands to stupid shit like a zombie character model or shirt and board set that’s just an image of beans encompassing the entire deck, wheels, and body of the shirt. It edges out the Skate series, Session, and even the recent Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 due to the sheer amount and variety of options.

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They’re Not THAT Cool

After installing the cosmetic mods, you’re left with three new modded maps: Riverfern, Quebec Skate Plaza, and Applewood Park.

Applewood, in particular, is one of the more favored maps among the PC community. This is when Skater XL‘s underlying issue rears its head: its physics. The absurd pop heights, moon-like gravity, insane speed, and imprecise trigger sensitivity are well-documented by anyone that’s played it.

This centers back to all worthwhile Skater XL content creators using mods. They don’t just use cosmetic mods. They also play with maps, but more importantly, they use gameplay mods–of which, the XXL mod is the most popular. It has a stats menu allowing players to adjust:

  • Gravity
  • Pop force
  • High pop force
  • Grind pop force
  • Manual pop force
  • Flip speed
  • Scoop speed
  • Top speed
  • Body spin speed
  • Grind spin speed
  • Pump force
  • Push force
  • Revert speed

The aforementioned creators use different values for each setting to suit their comfort level, but they share one constant: a push for realism. Milky’s stats may be different from Garret Ginner’s whose stats may be different from Nightspeeds, but regardless, all of them have tweaked them to be more realistic than the vanilla game. This XXL mod is crucial because most modded maps are designed to account for users having access to a stats menu (XXL is not the only stats mod), meaning obstacle heights and distances between spots are crafted in a semi-realistic manner under the assumption players are chasing a more natural expression of the sport.

Most of these modded maps don’t mix well with the vanilla physics. Riverfern, Quebec Skate Plaza, and Applewood Park feel like they were ripped from another game. It’s similar to Tony Hawk levels modded into Session and built to scale with the original levels’ proportions. This disconnect creates a rift in the user experience.

Quebec Skate Plaza is the worst offender as even two pushes send players speeding too high to lead to the sense of flow the real life park was clearly built to have. You’re going to overshoot ledges and move too fast to trick from one obstacle to the next in a realistic manner. With the vanilla physics, you’re either moving too fast and overshooting to make a realistic line incredibly difficult or moving so slow it’s hard to make anything meaningful happen.

Staunch defenders make absurd claims such as “getting good” to skate any of the maps realistically–an absurd notion. This is supposed to be a skateboarding simulator; an expression of the sport. Playing the game in an unintended manner to make spots more skateable is antithetical to how a true skateboarding simulator should work. You shouldn’t have to resist the game’s systems to an effect to make a line look realistic. You should…just be able to do it…as with Session.

One of Applewood Park’s spots provides the perfect example of the core game’s failings. There’s a tiny kicker inches ahead of a grind box that’s several feet in length and higher in elevation. With only three pushes, players can gap the grind box by a notable margin using a low pop ollie. Using the high pop, you might as well call yourself an astronaut. This same inconsistency between proportions and the physics also made the launch California Skatepark un-skateable without stat tweaking.

Modifying stats is so integral to the Skater XL experience, that Milky himself, the most notable Skater XL content creator, uploaded a video discussing his thoughts on the stats menu. In it, he says he only played 30 hours in 2019 before discovering mods. After learning of the stats mods in early 2020, though, his playtime that year shot up to over 2,000 hours. He isn’t the only proponent of bringing a stats menu to consoles.

A popular modder, jboogie, started a petition urging Easy Day Studios to improve the vanilla game. Taken from the petition’s description:

SkaterXL is a skateboarding simulation, and yet it does not provide a true simulation of actual skateboarding. Skateboarding is individualistic, rooted in creativity, and a totally unique experience depending on who is on the board/behind the controller. This game as a whole would appeal to a much broader demographic (including real world skateboarders) if everyone had the option to control their “stats” like we do via mods on PC…

Skater XL was described by the developers as an “instrument,” but an instrument cannot be taken to its fullest potential without being TUNED properly. SkaterXL is essentially a guitar with no headstock. Easy Day, PLEASE LET US TUNE THIS SO CALLED “INSTRUMENT” THAT YOU HAVE PROVIDED. Let us express the creativity and freedom that this game is hiding beneath its default “tuning.”

https://www.change.org/p/easy-day-studios-gameplay-improvements-for-skater-xl?source_location=petitions_browse

Most Skater XL mods are simple tweaks, adjusting values or turning on/off things built into the game’s engine as opposed to coding/arting up something completely new. Considering it’s Easy Day’s own game, more than anyone else, they should be able to fix it.

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Notice how much clearance I got for a low pop after only 3 pushes. You have to actively push against the game’s systems to skate spots as they’re meant to be used.

Too Little Too Late

Level design is an art. Creating a fun or interesting level isn’t enough. The game’s systems need to support them and vice versa. Gameplay and level designers need a healthy back and forth to craft the ideal play space. This mantra applies to any genre; not just skating.

Easy Day Studios has no concept of the marriage between level design and gameplay systems considering the three maps they carefully selected for consoles to usher in the integrated mod browser are among the worst for Skater XL‘s physics. They selected the popular maps rather than the ones that play best with it. Even assuming the developers add what users have been asking for, that’s not reason enough to celebrate. They’d just be caving into the popular user stat mods from the past year rather than having taken the initiative to recognize their own title’s poor design.

Subsets of the community have taken to renaming the development team Lazy Day Studios for a reason. Skater XL has potential, but it squanders it by falling apart as a video game and an expression of skateboarding.

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