At the end of last week, Mode 7 Games, most notably known for their extremely well received turn-based strategy, Frozen Synapse, announced a they’ve been working on a new game. They’re dubbing it a ‘tactical future-sports game’, which mixes some of the simultaneous-turn-based design of their last game with the sport of American football.

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. “Football is one of the greatest simultaneous-turn-based action-phase games ever invented. It just so happens that the ‘units’ are actual human beings.”

I spoke with Paul Taylor, Mode 7 Games’ Joint Managing Director, who started out by telling us how this very well fitting idea came about. “Football is one of the greatest simultaneous-turn-based action-phase games ever invented. It just so happens that the ‘units’ are actual human beings. The rules of Endzone take football as a fundamental starting point but simplify and tweak them heavily to create an original ‘future sport’: even if you don’t understand football you’ll be able to get into it quickly.”

“The idea originated entirely with our Lead Designer Ian Hardingham. He wanted to make another game in a similar style to Frozen Synapse but work on evolving the UI and experience to push some different buttons for players.”

frozen endzoneAs a fellow Brit, it seemed an unusual choice for a company based in Oxford, as the sport is fairly unknown amongst the majority over here. Paul explained, “Ian’s been a long-term, hardcore NFL fan, and I’ve been a casual fan since the early ’90s. I actually got into the sport from playing Madden on my SEGA Mega Drive: that’s where I learned the rules originally. We have a group of friends who follow football to an insane level of detail as well, so I’m used to the “core fan” perspective.”

“I was lucky enough to see a college game when I was out in the US at Austin GDC – the atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve experienced since. I like the culture of US sports – the talk shows and the over-the-top analysis – some of that will definitely make it into the single player story.”

Also on the story, I asked if the similar name meant it would tie-in. “I’m still undecided on some aspects of the narrative,” he replied. “It’s not set in exactly the same place or time as Frozen Synapse, I can tell you that. The ‘Frozen’ brand itself is about having a certain set of production values laid on top of simultaneous-turn-based core mechanics.”

The core mechanics allowed Mode 7 to re-use some basic stuff, but as the recent trailer of alpha footage displayed, it’s vastly different from a graphical perspective. “Endzone was actually fundamentally prototyped inside Frozen Synapse and we have been able to re-use some code. However, one of the major challenges with this game is animation: Ian wrote a completely bespoke animation system that uses the turn-based structure to do offline calculations to determine when certain animations should be played or blended.”

“Of course, the art style is also much more ambitious. We’re extremely lucky that we have the opportunity to work with insanely talented people: our Lead Artist Richard Whitelock and Lead Animator Martin Binfield. I have been blown away by their work. They have also, coincidentally, been my friends for years and it’s a total joy for me to be able to entice them away from the AAA games industry.”

 

Paul was responsible for Frozen Synapse’s soundtrack, his music goes under the name ‘nervous_testpilot’. He spoke of the pressures of doing it again this time around.

I think it’s a challenge for me to live up to Frozen Synapse music-wise, if I’m being honest, but I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can. It’s incredibly important to me to do my best. Endzone is going to have a dual soundtrack: uplifting trance for action replays, and a deeper electronica sound for planning and outcomes. So…a big challenge but a chance for me to work in two genres I absolutely love. I really hope people like it.”

I think it’s a challenge for me to live up to Frozen Synapse music-wise, if I’m being honest, but I’m going to work as hard as I possibly can. It’s incredibly important to me to do my best.

I then ask Paul’s thoughts on crowd-funding. Frozen Synapse was, in a way, crowd-funded before the whole Kickstarter craze began — they offered the ability to buy into the beta, similar to Minecraft.

“We did a pre-order beta for Frozen Synapse which was very successful. I think Kickstarter is great for ideas that couldn’t be funded otherwise, or for very ambitious products. With Endzone, we wanted to prove the concept to everyone and have something tangible to purchase before anyone gave us money. That was out of respect to the community who have supported us infinitely (even voting for us at the IGF Awards so that the game picked up the Audience Award). I think we also wanted to stand out a bit and show people that we had put the work in: we’re not just trading on the success of Frozen Synapse.”

“We are using Steam Greenlight as well and asking people to vote for the game on there. Again, this is about building up a community around this game specifically. This is a very personal project to us that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone: it is a risk. So, again, if the game gets voted onto Greenlight in its own right we will feel massively vindicated in our decisions: we know there is a an audience that loves future-sports and is excited about this idea. We want to reach out to that audience and unite it.”

He says they’ll likely do the same kind of buy-in beta again with Frozen Endzone, as well as replicating Frozen Synapse’s two for the price of one deal. “I think it’s likely that we’ll do both of those again. The pre-order was great because it basically funded the completion of the game. Endzone is much more expensive to develop, so that will really help out! The 2-for-1 was good because it allowed everyone to always have someone that they could play against. I think there is a fear of not being able to get a game in an indie multiplayer title, and this goes a long way towards alleviating that.”

Mode 7 Games expects to release Frozen Endzone sometime in 2014. You can follow the latest updates over on their official website.