Since launch the PlayStation Vita has slowly amassed a bountiful and diverse library of games that touch nearly all corners of the gaming spectrum, but if we are to be honest with ourselves there are some areas in which it is lacking. Sports games have offered gamers the thrill of realistic competition on a digital playing-field, and with the advent of online multi-player the sense of rivalry has only increased. It’s no secret that quality simulations are few and far between on the Vita, yet there seems to be something far more bothersome occurring at large in Sports games; genre-wide homogenization.
Many will be able to recall a time when developers approached sports titles in a multitude of ways, including the overdecorated and perhaps even silly. Yes, the fidelity of today’s video games do offer us the ability to live out authentic representations of our true-to-life fantasies; but they can also provide a completely novel experience that is exclusive to the medium. Over the top action, delirious speed and frivolous fun are just some of the qualities found in arcade-sports titles of the past, and they’re something that developer Ludometrics looks to bring to the future.
The Glasgow-based developers recently took to the Official PlayStation Blog and announced Bodycheck, their light-hearted take on football’s brutally chaotic history, and it became immediately clear that we had to know more. Following the post we got into contact with Ludometrics to do just that, and in turn we have been fortunate enough to have been given exclusive access to the project throughout its development. From today unto its arrival, Founder David Thomson will be providing a monthly look at various aspects of Bodycheck’s design. From presentation to gameplay, this developer diary will have rare and candid insight as to Ludometrics creative process. However, regardless of the journey, it always starts at the beginning; and that’s where we find ourselves today. Enjoy.
An Introduction to Ludometrics
We’ve been around officially for almost 4 years now, but the first 2 years it was basically just me figuring out what I wanted to do next, whether that was to keep making games or go and do something else. I’d previously worked making games for mobile phones (way back even before Java phones), and then with a couple of other companies here in Scotland, and then most recently I was at Denki, leaving there in 2010. A couple of years ago, though, I decided I missed making games too much, and started to pull a team together from people I’d worked with over the previous decade or so.
My background is programming, and I made games when I was growing up and at university, but mostly I’m interested in the creation and design of games, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some great – and largely unsung – designers over the years. As well as myself, there’s David Wagner and Brian Hackett, the programming core of the team (I’m not allowed to do any real programming any more), and Alan Grier looks after the visuals. I think between us we’ve been working in games for about 80 years or something, which seems slightly ridiculous to us, because it (usually) doesn’t always feel like that long. We also work with a few other people that we know and trust on a contract basis, just depending on what needs done, people like Raymond Usher at Euphonious (who was audio director on Crackdown and various Grand Theft Auto games).
The Birth of an Idea
The concept is one that’s been kicking around for a long time – at least 17 years, according to my documents! About a year ago, I was cleaning out an old laptop and came across a treatment I’d written up. As I was reading it, I really wanted to play the game it described! I’ve given a talk a few times over the years about something I’ve called “Selfish Creativity”, although I don’t lay claim to the concept, only the name! Basically, the idea is that you make the game you want to play (or book you want to read, or movie you want to see, or conference you want to attend, or… – I’ve collected quite a lot of examples). A lot of people talk about making the game you want to make, but I don’t think that’s the same thing at all – there are many things I’d like to make, but only from a curiousity of how it’s made, not from any real desire to play it.
The idea originally came from games I grew up playing, but augmented with what I’d actually like to do as I play those games. Multiplayer was always a core part of the idea – I love playing local multiplayer games, and I grew up with things like Super Sprint, Kick Off and Sensible Soccer – we’d have weekend long tournaments and that’s the feel we’re going for.
I’m a big sports fan as well: I’ll happily watch almost every sport, I read about them, I follow teams and players, all of that. In fact, I was a qualified football/soccer referee for a couple of years too. So that was something I have a passion for that I wanted to bring to the project too.
Filling the Gap
Although I play and enjoy things like FIFA and Madden, no one else was making the kind of thing I wanted to play. I felt like they [ sports games] were restricted in what they could do and show, obviously due to the licenses they have and the fact they’re probably more of a simulation of the sport they represent than anything else.
I know there have been things like the Blitz games in the past, and I think I’ve seen some reports that they might come back – but I wanted to work on something that played like a sport, but also took advantage of the fact it’s a virtual world and actually we can do whatever we like. The logistics of software don’t match the logistics of real life events, after all, so we can have 3 and 4 team matches without too much of a problem.
We started around September last year, working out things from a tech point of view early on – we knew we wanted to use 3D for the game, so it was a case of sorting that out first of all, and then starting to pull the core ideas of play together. We have what you could call a first playable up and running now, but we have lots to do and build in the next few months!
I don’t think I could deny the influence the Speedball series has had on this – a lot of comments on the news picked up on it after all, and it was certainly one of my favourite games growing up. However, I always felt it was never quite what I really wanted to play. Obviously, the “real” sports games have a role to play in there, as well as MOBA games like DOTA2 and SMITE. Mario Kart is another influence, mostly in terms of the power-ups. And all the games I’ve worked on previously inform the design one way or another too, particularly Quarrel, the multiplayer game I worked on at Denki.
I’m also influence by non-game things too, like music, architecture, and people like Jim Henson and Chuck Jones. That may not be as immediately apparent as the above, but it’s all there!
Designing a New Sport
Bodycheck plays chaotically, (that might be the best way to put it), but that was always the aim; to make a really intense and fierce game where action never really stops and players drop down from exhaustion (if they survive long enough to become exhausted). We’ve simplified basic controls as much as possible, but there’s so much scope for nuance in there. We want this to be a game you can pick up, play, and do reasonably well at straight away, but it also needs to be something you can get better at, and learn more about how the controls work and what you can do. It’s been interesting playing multiplayer recently, and watching how people develop tactics on the fly to deal with what you’re going to do, especially regarding the magic spells and items.
We’re aiming for both ad-hoc and online multiplayer, we really want people to go online and take part in tournaments and so on. Four team matches are pretty much insane already, so I hope everyone else has as much fun as we’re having just now! We’ll be supporting off-line play as well, though, since we realise not everyone wants to go online all the time.
Choosing Vita as an Arena
We chose PlayStation Vita based on a combination of factors: one was that we wanted to make the game for a system with a controller. Nathan Vella – from Capybara – wrote on their blog last year that they create games they love, then bring them to wherever there’s an audience and a good controller. That really rang true for what we wanted to do with Bodycheck, so that was one aspect. Another was that it was a device we all carried and played, so it was something we already used and were familiar with. And we felt confident we could deliver the game we wanted on the platform too – we knew what we wanted to do was ambitious, beyond what we’d done as a team recently, so the fact it’s a standard platform means we can be sure that every player is familiar with the platform already. Their instincts on how to play the game will hopefully match how you actually play the game. And that screen is lovely – who could resist?
Sony’s Team Spirit
It was all very straightforward, surprisingly so – I’d mentioned to a few people that this was a project we were looking at doing, and Ricky from Honeyslug (who are working on Hohokum, of course) introduced me to Shahid Ahmad at Sony (yep, him again!) who helped kick the whole process off. Shahid’s team, particularly Spencer [ Low ], have been brilliant at getting us through the hoops of becoming registered developers and publishers for the Vita, supplying the kit we needed and so on. They really believe in bringing through new companies and products to their platforms, and I think they like that we’re trying to do something that’s familiar, but also different enough from what else is out there on any platform not just the Vita. It does raise the bar for us a bit, because I really don’t want to let them down!