Roll7 has worked on a few different games, but it’s best known for the OlliOlli series. A skateboarding series that’s just the right mix of frustrating and compulsive, OlliOlli and its sequel, OlliOlli 2, still remain two of the most authentic-feeling skateboarding games – despite the 2D perspective.
The reason for this success – for me, at least – is the game’s sense of flow. Manuals, grinding rails, there’s a sense of momentum to it. That kineticism is when Roll7’s games really shine: action shoot-’em-up Not a Hero also has that similar feeling of momentum, except here you’re kicking through doors and shooting goons instead of hurtling down a staircase on a plank of wood at improbable speeds.
It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that’s played their games to know that each of the studio’s founders are keen skateboarders. NME has sat down with the studio’s co-founders Simon Bennett, Thomas Hegarty and John Ribbins to talk about their love of skateboarding, how that’s infused into OlliOlli, and how the forthcoming OlliOlli World is a reflection of their changing attitudes to skateboarding.
“The reason I get out and go on a skateboard now has changed fundamentally from when I was younger!” says Bennett. “When I was young I tried to do tricks, sort of, broke my knees and my coccyx and various parts of my body over the years. I used to go out and throw myself at a series of steps until I landed something, and there was something inherently satisfying about trying something that’s really hard and succeeding. It’s invariably only the tenth time you got it, but that success – that feeling – is really awesome.”
That sounds like OlliOlli. Unlike the real world, there’s no long-lasting effects to each bail – you’ll heal up between every tap of the reset button – but you can still feel every single crunch.
“When you hit 40 – to be honest it happened to me at 35 – you realise your knees don’t work in the same way.” adds Bennett. “but actually, OlliOlli 1 was the reason I got back into skateboarding with John (Ribbins). When we were making that game, we started skating around Deptford together. It’s where I did my last few ollies, 180s, and kickflips and stuff. For me, skateboarding now represents the flow of cruising around and going fast, and being away doing something childish and fun, and getting in that flow. Going fast and carving, and really enjoying it, headphones in and sort of enjoying going for a cruise. I think there’s a lot of people during lockdown that have reacquainted themselves with skating, and maybe a different kind of skating than the skating they did when they were younger and realising it’s just as fun to push down a hill and do simple turns.”
While Ribbins is still more into what Bennett describes as “ankle-breaking radical skateboarding” and offers to a do kickflip for me during an office-bound Zoom interview, it speaks of different skating philosophies, both of which OlliOlli World represents.
“In the previous two games if you didn’t time it right you got a sloppy landing and eventually slammed if you didn’t time it right,” says Hegarty. “We went back and forth for ages on whether we could even touch this mechanic. It was kind of like the Holy Grail of what made OlliOlli 1 and 2 so successful. Eventually, we did start toying with the idea of, do we remove it completely? Do we have it as an assist mode? Eventually we got to where we did with OlliOlli World where you can still press to land and you can still get better scores [by] having that correct timing, and therefore you’ve got that ethos of what we’re trying to do. But what we’re now doing is we’re saying, if you want to do that, great – you can go and do that and go and test your skills. If you don’t want to do that, if you found that too difficult in the previous games, then it’s up to you.”
“It goes back to what Simon [Bennett] was saying, it’s about skating how you want to skate. We’ve tried to make OlliOlli World a lot more welcoming in that respect. You don’t have to be a twitch ninja now to get through to the end of OlliOlli World, whereas you did on the previous titles.
In part, Roll7 making OlliOlli World more accessible for newcomers isn’t just a way to get more people involved in skating games: it’s an acknowledgement that skating in itself has become more accessible and diverse in recent years. Ribbins describes past OlliOlli games as being “pre-Instagram,” and explains why he thinks that “Instagram has changed skateboarding” – and how that’s influenced Roll7’s approach.
“Previously, the only skateboarding content you got to see was skate videos. It was people who were amazing – that’s what you saw. Whereas, I feel like Instagram has meant you can be someone with a million followers who can be someone who skates curbs every day – and people still find that really inspiring,” notes Ribbins.
“Someone on Instagram who is in their 50s, who’s just thrashing curbs, is really cool – and also inspirational! I think that’s also kind of a part that has fed the game. Our original mindset was…get good or go home, right? Whereas now it’s like, skateboarding as a scene, there’s way more women in skateboarding. There’s more older people in skateboarding. There are people who were pros in the 80s who are still skateboarding now in their 50s or 60s. There’s so much more breadth in the people who are skateboarders – it’s not just the domain of 14-24-year-old white men, basically. I think that’s definitely something that infused the game in terms of how you customise yourself, and that welcome approach that Tom was talking about.”
Over the course of OlliOlli‘s development, Roll7’s approach to skateboarding isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Back in November 2021, the studio was acquired by Private Division, a publishing label of Take-Two. Bennett reveals that Roll7 was “inundated with [acquisition requests] from a number of different potential suitors” over the years, but Roll7’s co-founders were anxious that a purchase would jeopardise its positive culture and rigid anti-crunch stance.
According to the trio, none of these worries ever materialised with Private Division – Hegarty shares that “we’ve never had a point where [Private Division’s] been like “you have to do this, or you shouldn’t do this” – we’ve very much been trusted to run the studio. We’ve got a lot of ambitions that we can’t talk about right now, which we can realise with Private Division.”
Bennett adds that as well as Private Division’s willingness to stay hands-off with Roll7’s studio culture, the team also recognised some kindred spirits within the publisher.
“There is a thread at Private Division all the way through senior management about extreme sports. There are a lot of people at Private Division that are into skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing. That passion and that knowledge – that inherent knowledge – for caring about something because you do it in your own time is something we spent a lot of time discussion with them, and I think it really helps us know we’re with the right partner for the long term for our ambitions as a studio, which is very much flow state games within that extreme sports base.”
Even though we loved OlliOlli World in our preview, it’s hard to match the excitement radiating from the creators themselves. Although it’s set to be more accessible than past entries, the trio explains why newcomers and hardcore fans alike are still going to find something to love.
“I think we’ve made sure that [for] the people that enjoyed the first two, it’s about that skill, it’s about testing yourself,” explains Hegarty. “You can still do all those things within OlliOlli World. We have split routes so we’ve made sure that if you’re new to the game and you want to get to the end of it, you can do. But the way we’ve got the levels now with the 3D plains, we’ve made sure that if you want to challenge yourself to that level in the previous games you can do. On top of that, there’s a load of new mechanics to explore – The ceiling for mastery, if you want to go there, is higher than before.”
Ribbins adds that OlliOlli World has been created as “a love letter to skateboarding,” and although Roll7 has designed it “so more people get to the end of it,” hardcore challenges alike to those in the first two games are still present – for which he offers an apology “for your left analogue stick”.
“OlliOlli World is everything we wanted to do with the OlliOlli series, but never had the time, the maturity, the experience, or the budget to actually develop,” concludes Bennett.
“This is genuinely the best video game we’ve ever made as a studio. Hands down. I can’t wait for people to get their hands on it. It’s fucking ridiculous.”