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Jon Hare comes out of the darkness to speak about the return of Sensi Soccer; the competition and much more...
Sensible Soccer is possibly one of a very few truly iconic games and many older gamers will fondly remember playing it on the Amiga (or the multitude of subsequent formats â?“ ed). Being nostalgic, the mist of time tends to make you think of all the positives whilst forgetting nearly all of the negative aspects of a game, even about a developer, but Sensible Software, headed by Jon Hare, which sadly disbanded a number of years back is a true exception. Sensible Soccer was innovative, fun and compelling and so the latest news that Codemasters, along with Jon Hare, is working on a new version of Sensible Soccer to bring the game into the is great news.
To get the definitive word on the game our very own golden oldie, Derek dela Fuente, had an informal conversation with Jon Hare and got the very first insight into Sensible Soccer that will compete with the two premier titles - FIFA and Pro Evo- and could result in a new generation of â??Sensiâ?? fanatics.
Will the return of Sensible Soccer feature any of the managerial modes that featured in Sensible World of Soccer?
Itâ??s early days yet in divulging all the details but weâ??ve incorporated all the management features you would need to play a soccer game. You can change the formations; you can put players in different positions in a squad, make substitutions. The way we deal with the players, what they do, how they are and the differing skills of the players is going to be very interesting for people to use. In terms of on pitch management it will be very much the same as was in SWOS but in terms of having a transfer market for example we donâ??t have that. What we do have is weâ??ve worked very hard on a strong single player game in relation to having what we call custom teams like we had in Sensible Soccer. In effect in single player mode you push and develop the custom team. You can develop players, play in different competitions. The game, you can take as a given, being highly playable and fun. You also have the many tactics and formations on the pitch.
The Custom team is like a totally new game mode in relation to team development. This is very much long term in many respects, in playability with upgrades and unlockable items where you will endeavour to push your team forward. A very different slant to the original Sensible Soccer. I will challenge you to find any football game on the market with a stronger single player mode! Weâ??ve also go the two player mode in place as well. It will certainly push things forward for gamers and itâ??s all quite exciting!
"Itâ??s much easier to master than Pro Evo Soccer and itâ??s much more flexible and playable than FIFA"
With the importance of licenses and brands do you believe Sensible Soccer can build upon the group of fans who remembered Sensi the first time around?
Interestingly I think a purchasing pattern is going to immerge - people are interested in Sensible Soccer and remember it and in the UK it is still the second favourite football game. There is obviously a potential market. The game is quick to pick up and fun to play as it has always been. Itâ??s much easier to master than Pro Evo Soccer and itâ??s much more flexible and playable than FIFA so I think that the old user will probably be the first to pick it up and have it in the house (curiosity) but what I anticipate is kidâ??s brothers playing it because someone else has got it and actually going out and then buying it themselves or telling their mates to buy it. It will be real word of mouth with Sensible Soccer ironically compared to staid, tired old licenses, FIFA and Pro Evo, which they are becoming and Iâ??m not saying they are bad games of course and FIFA is becoming better all the time but they are becoming predictable as to what you are going to get, they are hamstrung by their own success. They canâ??t really change their winning formula.
OK that naturally pulls me into the next question although youâ??ve partially answered it. Do you consider that games like Pro Evo and FIFA lack â??funâ?? and so what can Sensible Soccer bring to an audience that might be unaccustomed to the simpler delights of Sensi Soccer?
In our day to day testing and development, and it was only yesterday, we were playing the old version of Sensible Soccer and then played the new Sensible Soccer, as well as playing FIFA next to it and kept on swapping between them. It was stunningly obvious how slow Pro Evo soccer is. Itâ??s a really slow game, itâ??s not exhilarating; it does not draw you in. Because you are making decisions all the time it never really excites you to the point where you almost feel in control. Like if you were driving at speed you are on the edge of something exciting and everything is a split second decision that is more like what playing football is like. When you are out there playing football, you run around, get the ball under control. Now as soon as you get it under control you are closed down and so you have the pressure of making quick decisions and then youâ??ve got the exhilaration if all the decisions, and your execution, come off of seeing that youâ??ve produced something successful! Now I donâ??t think that Pro Evo or FIFA, either of them, come anywhere near to this and I think that what people will really pick up is how much fun it is, how fast it is, the fact that it is still top down (up and down in a 3D environment). When you aim at the goal you can actually bend the ball into the top corner, you can actually achieve a precision finish. You canâ??t do that in other games, or put together the lightning fast passes. When you go between the other games you really see the difference. Itâ??s all to do with accessibility, immediacy and fun.
So itâ??s also about the view, the topdown, birdseye perspective?
Itâ??s not topdown. What we have done in terms of the camera and the game is a combination of three different elements. One of the best features from Sensible Soccer in terms of control and what happens is the speed, the way you pass. Then we take on board some of the best features from other games in the interim, a sprint button for example, the presentation, (graphics and animation), the 3D view done properly, not like in Sensible Soccer 98. Then we have added other original features which at present I will not go into but weâ??ve added different controls, still keeping it simple. For example we have 360 degree control; you can run around and pass in 360 degrees. The combination of the 3 elements makes the game. Itâ??s amazing really for in the 90s we had a successful formula and we could not break it and we were stuck with it. What this gap has given us is a chance to totally modernise and overhaul the game. The look that is mirrored within other games, the playability of what people expect from Sensible Soccer but brought up to date and I believe it will come across as a huge breath of fresh air, ironic really for an old licence.
"When you go between the other games you really see the difference. Itâ??s all to do with accessibility, immediacy and fun."
Any extra details on the controls and animations?
Well we are retaining the extra after touch system we had in the original game. We are trying to keep it to the minimum of buttons and working on a lot being done for you, almost like within the AI, as opposed to the controls. Like mentioned, there will be a sprint button added. We shall also be using the selection system from old but also ensuring things can be done manually. What people have to remember is that because the animations have been dominating football games for so long, you must consider that Sensible Soccer is about moving the ball and players around which gives it the feeling of control. Other games are dominated by the animation. An example regarding the animation; say I want this player to receive the ball and the ball has to be manipulated to get to him and because the animation needs to predict what is going to happen you need to give a bigger variety of kicks. For example, you need to say I want to do a through ball whereas in Sensible Soccer you can bend the ball so it becomes a through ball and the guy will naturally run onto it. You donâ??t need to specify it is a through ball. You play it just like in real life; the ball goes in front of the guy rather than to his feet which in effect is a through ball. As long as the physics are correct it will all naturally happen but your animation system needs to be corrected so that itâ??s flexible enough to respond quickly.
"The look that is mirrored within other games, the playability of what people expect from Sensible Soccer but brought up to date and I believe it will come across as a huge breath of fresh air, ironic really for an old licence."
Where development has been over focused on the animations, it takes longer for the animations to play out, the animations are therefore not that responsive to whatâ??s happening within the game. Weâ??ve ensured that the animations are totally responsive to what is happening, which to cut a lot answer short, means you need less control buttons. In some cases the buttons initiate the animations. The animation on the fly can interpret what you are doing and manipulate and accommodate things and so can get away with it on one button. We managed to get in the best compromise between what modern games are used to in terms of button configuration and what does what, whilst putting in modern features such as sprint button whilst also retaining what Sensible Soccer is, a game that is simple and easy to play. We got a great balance... The way the different players perform, their skills, who you play, where they play, what they can do. Itâ??s quite refreshing!!!! Surely itâ??s best to be able to play the game the right way as opposed to when to press the button at the right time?
"From the PSP side the reason youâ??ve not seen us announce anything is purely down to timing."
Moving on, the support of Kuju has raised a few eyebrows, what was the reason behind bringing them onboard and why is the game coding not being handled by Codemasters?
Codemasters has for a number of years focused most of their efforts on games other than their key licence brands, by that Iâ??m talking about LMA, Rally, etc, and having it done externally. They have been ramping up the external department slowly for the last five years so I feel the fact it is being done externally is more normal than not. In terms of why Kuju, why not. They are one of the best British out-sourcing development teams around. Iâ??ve worked with Tony Kavangah when he was at Krisalis. Iâ??ve also worked with Kuju with my own company Tower recently. Tower is a company owned by myself, Mike Montgomery (ex Bitmaps) and John Phillips (technical director at Bitmap Brothers), and the designer of Nebulus/Hewson. We mainly focus on the development of mobile games, purely because we can finance them. We do look at other items - recently a film company were looking into a game of their animated movie. We actually won an award this year for best developer port mobile house. Weâ??ve worked on titles such as Sensible Soccer Cannon Fodder, British Lions Rugby and are about to do a couple more titles.
Sensible Soccer seems ideally suited to the Sony PSP are there any plans to support the handheld format?
It is something which has actually been considered. From the PSP side the reason youâ??ve not seen us announce anything is purely down to timing. We have so much time to eventually do this, and it is a sensible publishing decision to take it stage by stage. Yes if Sensible Soccer is successful I would be highly surprised if we did not see a PSP version. At the moment we are focusing our attention on the current formats we are working on.
TVG would like to Jon Hare for taking the time to let us know how the return of Sensible Soccer is shaping up. Weâ??ll have more from the man himself on the general state of videogames soon and further coverage of Sensible Soccer to bootâ?¦