On The Level

On The Level: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 - Airport

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3: “Airport”

Finding wisdom through repeated failure.

By Joe Keiser • April 26, 2012

All men have, in the history of their adolescence, a Place Of Little Failures. It’s that run-down place of easy familiarity, like the unlit parking lot or the alley behind the pizza joint, the place where a teenage boy can make all the mistakes owed to immaturity because no one there is in any position to judge them. The Place Of Little Failures is the reason all fathers everywhere tell their sons, “Don’t waste your youth like I did.” Of course, this is actually a sacred location to everyone who has one, because it can only exist in the endless days before the finite nature of time becomes known—and becomes a crippling burden.

The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series, despite all its later atrocities, did not initially waste anyone’s time. The first game’s rugged mechanical facsimile of skateboarding did an unprecedented job of capturing the sport’s highs and lows while leaving out the hospital visits and frowning parents. The extreme-sports culture was already evolving from one in which bloodied outsiders traded VHS tapes into one that featured in The Sponsored Television Event Of The Summer. Video games, for all of their previous efforts, had failed to do justice to either side of this phenomenon—the ESPN X-Games cash-in project 1Xtreme did a particularly wretched job. Yet Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater easily captured both the sport’s independent streak and its burgeoning sports-star glamour. The second game, somehow, was even better, and the third game was even better than that. 

Tony Hawk 3: Airport

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was the series’ final moment of triumph before a long stretch of malaise. It refined the design of its predecessors, allowing the player to fuse all their actions into a flowing dance of wheel, air, and asphalt. And the levels were in a similar perfect balance, large enough to be explored but not so large that you couldn’t experience every wall, rail, and floor tile repeatedly with your face.

It turns out there’s something wistful about exploring a space by allowing it to repeatedly injure you. And so the game became the Place Of Little Failures, that idiot proving ground where, at some point, the youthful stupid was knocked right out of you. But the levels in Tony Hawk 3 were better teachers, and faster, because while many of them had the look of urban blight, they were in fact carefully crafted to draw out the perfect skater.

The early Tony Hawk games focus entirely on points. To squeeze the maximum number of points out of a two-minute run, skaters seeking perfection in Tony Hawk 3 only have to know a small number of things. They have to know grinds, the process of sliding the board down a rail. They have to know vert tricks, those death-defying spins skaters do when they shoot up an incline into the air. To a lesser extent, they have to understand lip tricks (balancing stationary on the edge of a board), wall rides, and other esoterica. But most important is the mastery of the manual and revert, which link every other trick into point-rich combos through perfect timing and careful balance. Finally, players have to know the stage implicitly, so they can find the best paths and spaces to execute these combos.

Tony Hawk 3: Airport

Now take a level like Airport. It’s not a skate park haphazardly painted to look like a real, relatable place, that crime of architectural laziness so frequently committed in this genre. Instead it’s contemptuously familiar, with its long corridor of travelators and barren concourse. (At least you don’t have to put your belt through an x-ray machine, but as a pro skater in 2001, you probably wouldn’t even know what a belt was).

After a few (okay, a few hundred) two-minute plays, it becomes clear that the airport was chosen as a Tony Hawk venue because of the natural contours of its space. That ridiculous hallway provides an abundance of simple grind paths, provided you can link the travelator rails with careful jumps and a steady balance. Doing this properly gives you an early explosion of points, but it also quickly drops you into the concourse, where there are even more opportunities to find high-value vert-and-grind combos if you know where to look. Some spaces, it turns out, don’t need to have half-pipes irrationally grafted onto them to provide a welcoming surface for a skateboard.

Tony Hawk 3: Airport

Closer exploration yields further rewards. Some are borne of the area alone, like when you find the helipad, grind one of the copter blades, and watch it take off. But most secrets only emerge in the wake of repeated failure, like finding the perfect path to a six-figure grind after landing on your skull 83 times. The physicality and virtual pain of your interaction with the landscape heightens memory—something about falling upside-down into a urinal ensures you’ll always remember everything about that urinal. After you’re done with the Airport, the entire space stays in your mind, a mental map built entirely of notions to never do that again

Which means it’s built of that same nostalgic stuff as that seedy bar that you knew wouldn’t card your underage ass, where you also knew the taste of the pool table felt and the exact shape of the dent under the dart board. But instead of taking months or years of delinquency to build its map inside of you, the Airport took mere hours.  Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, the upcoming re-hash of those old play systems and levels, knows that space still lives in your brain. Its makers are betting that, if they give you the chance, you’ll want to drop in to make sure the place is just like you left it (and that you’ll forgive recent series atrocities like that skateboard controller). It’s not that you can’t go back. It’s that you shouldn’t, but that’s why you will—only for a little while.

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331 Responses to “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3: “Airport””

  1. Shane Cubis says:

    I’ve never been so angry in my life as I was trying to master this level. 

  2. Merve says:

    This level owes me a week of my life back. I mean that in a (mostly) positive way.

  3. AuroraBoreanaz says:

    I was getting some decent scores on this game, but for hours I couldn’t figure out what the game was talking about when it referred to a Manual, or how to do one.  I’m pretty sure I finally had to search around online for a description of how to do it.  Once I did, being able to link together several different grind spots pretty much instantly tripled my score.

    I barely remember any of the actual levels now though, except the school where you had to ring the various bells (which may have been in one of the other THPS games).

    • Merve says:

      Even when I figured out how to do a manual, it was tough to execute. Timing the up-down button press exactly right was nigh impossible.

    • Raging Bear says:


    • TheOnceAndFutureCheese says:

       The first time I played this one, I was playing SKATE against my buddy. I was pretty hot shit at THPS1, so I went at it the way I had in the first game, and I got absolutely crushed because I didn’t know to do a manual.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         Playing SKATE and barely getting your ass off the ground is a pretty sobering experience after jumping 90 feet high off a half-pipe in THPS and landing into a manual.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          While your comment is true and the two game series are very different, the person you replied to was talking about playing the SKATE mode in THPS3 and not being familiar with the manual mechanic that wasn’t in the original THPS game.

          But yeah, I could never even do grinds the few times I played the Skate games, though they seemed fun enough.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         @Douchetoevsky:disqus Ah… well, that holds true also.

    • ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

      I hated the missions where you had to manual through a certain course. I’m not sure if those were in 3 or if it was a wonderful invention of 4.

    • ProfessorPoopyPants says:

      Same here.  I had no idea how to do a manuals or link together tricks.  I remember being content with grinding everything.

      I was just out of college.  I remember I was watching my cousin’s 9 year old son for her one afternoon and he hipped me into how to do everything on that game.  Then my scores ballooned.  I think that may have been the first time in my life that I felt old.

    • 3FistedHumdinger says:

       School was THPS2, yeah.

    • brian_jorgensen says:

      The introduction of the manual is where every skating game officially loses me. The five or six hours up to that point tend to be awesome though.

  4. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    One of my favorite games ever, and the highpoint of the series. I think I played this level the most. Though I spent a lot of time in the level creation thing, making mazes or obstacle courses. I could probably still map out this whole level, even though it’s been years. Between this and the mentions of Burnout 3 on here, I’m seriously jonesing to hook up my PS2.

    • eggbuerto says:

      The online even still works for THPS3 on PS2. Well, it did as of late last year.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        I forgot this even had online play. I never played it myself, the only time i played PS2 online was Burnout 3 at my friend’s house once. It seemed like hardly anyone took those things online, unlike the Xbox, which most of my friends played online with.

  5. ShitMcFuckensteinAVC says:

    Unfortunately, I missed out on the Tony Hawk games. They came out around the time I took up guitar and I didn’t play games for three years.

    • TheOnceAndFutureCheese says:

      Good news, they’re doing a downloadable HD compilation pretty soon. As far a I know, they’ve only showed the first level of the first game, but I’m pretty excited.

      • ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

        From what I’m hearing, it’s just going to be an amalgamation of the first two games, so no 3 yet.

        • PutSomeRanchOnIt says:

          Huh. That’s just like the Tony Hawk 2 released on XBox back in the early ’00s. Which I got for $3 and is AWESOME!

    • Effigy_Power says:

       Boo to you for wasting your life on acquiring an actual skill while we honed our grinds down that weird rail along the glass tower and all the way into the parking garage. You loser.

  6. Effigy_Power says:

    Oh, I was pretty decent in this level (I tell myself that, as I have no idea what high scores were around… it was 2001, damnit), and I was a pretty okay skater in the real life I was sometimes thrust into when the PS2 needed cooling off.
    So I thought that some of these maneuvers would be fun on a real airport. I took my skateboard, drove to LaGuardia and GUESS WHAT!?
    I broke a nail on my car’s window crank, they wouldn’t let me into the airport with my skateboard and when I did a single ollie on the parking lot back to the car, I slipped and fell on my ass.
    I decided that real life sucks and computer games are awesome and haven’t looked back since.

    • ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

      It seems ridiculous, but I totally tried skateboarding one time on the assumption that if I’m great at THPS, obviously I’ve got to be at least decent at real skateboarding.

      I busted my ass pretty severely twice within thirty seconds and decided skateboarding was dead to me.

      • Effigy_Power says:

         I have a story that can top that.
        My brother had been playing the rally activities of Gran Tourismo 2 for an entire day and was then sent by my parents to pick up my little sister from a friend’s house.
        Deeply inspired by his prowess in the game and lobotomized by 9 hours of sitting 24 inches away from the TV, he thought that his 1994 Pontiac GrandAm should be able to sort of slide through a corner.
        It was winter. The car had all-Season tires. My brother is not a good driver. Steel bollards are harder than cars.
        $1200 damage. License revoked by parental authority. Shamed for life.

  7. ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

    There are very few games that I’d consider myself genuinely great at, but I spent so much time with all of the Tony Hawk games, that I’m surprisingly good at them, considering I’m a mediocre-to-average gamer otherwise. I always liked 4 the best, but it was the first one I played, and I recognize that it was the one that took the series in the goofier, much less skating-based direction that it took from then on.

    Awful, awful admission: I always played as Bam Margera. And thought he was cool as fuck. I haven’t watched a CKY video in probably ten years, but I doubt they’d hold up for me now.

    • Tristan says:

      I usually played as custom skater who wore a suit, sunglasses and Vans because I thought that was super cool. But if I didn’t play a custom character I played as Bob Burnquist because he is awesome and I used a lot of vert skating.

    • Effigy_Power says:

       I remember going through that as well. Somehow I duped myself into thinking that Margera was a cool guy and that all his stuff was amazing and so damn awesome.
      I am today, as you are, ashamed of that admission, but not too fancy to not admit to it. I hear you, ElDan, and I understand you.

      • ElDan_says_Fuck_Disqus says:

        There’s got to be a group for recovering Bam fans somewhere, right? We need to hug this shit out.

        I will say this, I’ve never had such a drastic turnaround on someone as I did with him. I went from thinking he was the shit to thinking he was a complete douche like in the course of a day. To this day, I still almost like Jackass 2 better than the first one since it’s so obvious that everyone is having such a blast fucking with Bam, who’s a total prima donna about all of it.

        • Effigy_Power says:

           I had the first Season of Viva LaBam on DVD… I conveniently forgot it at someone’s place… I don’t talk to that person anymore.
          It all worked out that way.

  8. Tristan says:

    The best place in this level was the baggage claim. There was a vert ramp you could go off of, revert, manual, grind a semi circle around the baggage claim (or on it), manual and on to another vert ramp, revert and repeat the process in the other direction. There were gaps that would increase your combos too. Super high score. Believe me, THPS is the only video game series I’m good at.

  9. Jeremy Robinson says:

    There was a spot on this level where you go down an escalator onto a round baggage claim I believe it was. You could grind that area endlessly and get a crazy combo score at the end of it. 

    • The Otter White Meat says:

      The speed you could pick up in that spot was kind of crazy, considering just how small an area it is.

  10. wolfmansRazor says:

    You gotta wash yo’ aaaaasss

  11. JokersNuts says:

    Never was really into Skating, never really into Skating games. But my friends ALL were!  Tony Hawk was constantly being played, and this level was one of the most played.  I remember trying my hand at it multiple times.
    You can grind if you hold the Triangle button!  I like that part  :-)

  12. Pretty sure I did a continuous trick for the whole 2 minute time period worth some odd million points. It was where the rails went in a U and then up an escalator so you would not lose any momentum. This game was crazy will the continuous tricks you could pull, to the point where I was even thinking about what tricks I was doing just more about if I could keep a trick going the entire time.

  13. Dr_John_Zoidberg says:

     I forget the other level on this one (San Fransisco??) where you could literally grind around the entire perimeter of the map and do a 50million point trick (or whatever).  I was great at this game.  Freshman year of college in the dorms when something like this:

    1) wake up
    2) eat
    3) convince everyone else on floor to cut class
    4) go smoke weed
    5) Play Tony Hawk 3 for 12 hours
    6) eat
    7) get drunk
    8) repeat

    • The Otter White Meat says:

      I think you’re thinking of Rio. That level was the worst for multiplayer because you’d end up with 10 people all grinding endlessly around the perimeter and they would never do anything else.

  14. bendthebullet says:

    “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was the series’ final moment of triumph before a long stretch of malaise.”

    Uh… excuse me?  Have we somehow entered a world where Tony Hawk 4 doesn’t have some of the best level design and added the last set of mechanics that really mattered?

  15. sirslud says:

    The baggage pickup area was a goldmine for stupidly high scores since you could drop down the ramp, hit the circular rail, do trick at the top of the ramp it linked too, go down hit the rail … etc. Fuck, I used to spend hours just in that one little corner of the airport level. (Also, one of the best videogame licensed soundtracks ever?)

  16. caspiancomic says:

    It’s always fun when, as you say, it doesn’t feel like a game level was designed as a level first and then decorated to superficially resemble a real area. It’s a tough feat to pull off, but when an area feels like a real place where crazy video game madness happens to be going down, it really helps the feeling of immersion. So, in a cover based shooter, finding chest high walls all over an otherwise empty area of the city is sucky, boring design, but improvising burnt out cars or bombed out carcasses of houses or whatever as makeshift cover is usually much more gratifying and real feeling. First example that comes to mind (and kind of related to the theme of skateboarding… sort of) is from the bus terminal level in Jet Set Radio. Nothing in that level screams out “this is where video game graffiti artists should come to do their thing”, it just looks like an ordinary bus station- but the hand rails, billboards, traffic dividers, even the buses themselves, are all lined up just so, so that you can navigate the area perfectly. With the right character and good reflexes you can even grind around the stage in a circle eternally. Good way to rack up points in some of the bonus challenges.


    yeah Tony Hawk 3 was the shit, best sports related game ever in my opinion

    I remember spending hours just skating around the suburbia level, also remember the thong bikini clad women on the cruise ship?

  18. itisdancing says:

    The School in THPS2 is still my favorite level ever. Don’t know why. Just is.

  19. 3FistedHumdinger says:

    I don’t think THPS3 was the peak.  THUG was a refreshing return to form, and yeah, it actually had a story as opposed to the bland setlist of shit you’re supposed to do in 2 minutes.

    EDIT: Just realized how great Setlist of Shit would be as a heavy metal band name.

  20. lunwen says:


  21. John Miskelly says:

    I liked this game, but it was the first in the series that I played on a PC keyboard, a poor substitute for a console control pad, so I could never truly love it like its predecessors. It also didn’t introduce me to Lagwagon like THPS2; I was already well versed in Epifat punk so it had little left to teach me.

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