One of the most enjoyable trends to emerge from the indie gaming world has been quirky competitive multiplayer romps. Games like Towerfall Ascension, Samurai Gunn, and Starwhal: Just the Tip have encouraged PC gamers to gather friends together around the monitor and beat each other's brains out. One of the latest games to follow that trend is the upcoming cyberpunk volleyball game from Necrosoft Games called Gunsport.
Gunsport takes players to a future dystopian planet, where grievances are settled with giant guns… that are used to send a ball flying into an opponent's goal. To learn more about this two-on-two outing, Shacknews spoke to director Brandon Sheffield.
Shacknews: For those that are hearing about the game for the first time, how would you describe Gunsport?
Brandon Sheffield, game director: When we're showing the game to people in person, we usually tell people "it's like volleyball with guns." This seems to help people get the hang of it quickly, especially since the control scheme is unusual - you use the triggers to aim your guns up and down in a 2D plane, and press X (on Xbox One) or Square (on PS4) to shoot. We've found that both these factors get a lot of people who don't usually play games to succeed in Gunsport pretty quickly. We've had a lot of folks come over with significant others, who said they couldn't play games, and then found they were quite successful once we walked them through it.
In the abstract, I'd call Gunsport an esport that is cooperatively competitive - success is more about cooperation than it is about antagonism. It's about predicting where the ball is going to be, rather than reacting to where it is. Ultimately though, it's just a game about shooting a ball into a goal, in the simplest terms!
Shacknews: What inspired you to create this game? How did you come up with the idea of cyberpunk volleyball with guns?
Sheffield: I've always liked this sort of game - I played Windjammers a lot as a kid, and have the MVS cart in my arcade machine at home. There just aren't enough games like that, which are oriented more around the action of a sport in the abstract. Football games are great, and all, but make it a turn-based RPG, or all about throwing arcs, and I'm more interested. That is to say, I'm not so interested in simulations, I like things that are broken down, abstracted, and go for that arcade-like fun right away. I think we're starting to see more games like this now, which makes me happy. And we at Necrosoft games basically all like this sort of game, so why the heck not, right?
But there was one more inspiration - an old and rather obscure game called Dogpatch, made by Midway in 1978. I played this game at the California Extreme Arcade Expo a couple years back and felt like the concept was worth exploring further. It's just two hillbillies shooting a can back and forth, using dial and button controllers, but there was something to it. It was the spark that lit the fire of Gunsport!
Shacknews: Can you explain how the rules work? And can you describe the collaboration process between the team in creating the rules? How long did it take for everyone to come to a consensus on how the game should be played?
Sheffield: The rules:
- The Keeper has two shots and can't move. They have a wider aiming range.
- The Striker has one shot but can move and jump. they have a narrower aiming range.
- Every time the ball crosses the net toward you, you reload.
- Every time the ball crosses the net in either direction, it's worth more points.
- If the ball lands on the opposing team's floor or in their goal, you get the point value of the ball, plus whatever the goal bonus it.
That's basically it! And there wasn't much collaboration in the rule creation - it was so simple that I pretty much just came up with the ruleset myself and we ran with it. We tried it, and it worked. It's one of those rare cases where something worked just about as well in practice as it did in theory. There are still some parts we're figuring out together, especially with the weapons.
Shacknews: How important is the game's setting? What can you tell us about Neo Tokyo and how many different parts of the future world will players get to see?
Sheffield: The game's setting is more subtly important than it is overtly important. You'll see subtle information in the backgrounds about how each country and city came to its individual form of peace. Neo Tokyo did it through a return to master craftspersonship. The person who can make the best car, the best building, the best neon sign, will put their individual stamp on it, subtly. So nothing looks exactly the same, but is a variation on a theme, or an improvement of a concept.
Each place has a different vibe behind it - in Cambodia, Gunsport has more of a ceremonial tone to it, where ceremony and celebration of the arts is the way they found their particular peace. In the Neo USSR, you'll find industrialism in full effect, with collaboration in the furthering of space travel among the highest points of interest. In the People's Republic of Oakland, people have gotten together to create a city state that exists outside traditional governmental structures, more like the Occupy movement. So while their technology has moved forward, it's done so in a slower, more sustainable way, meaning their tech may look a bit older or more DIY. We hope to explore more countries in the future... we'll see how much we can get done!
Shacknews: How many characters have you revealed so far and what can you tell us about them? How many characters are you shooting for in total?
Sheffield: We haven't revealed any final characters yet! We'll get to that once our new demo is out - but we're aiming to have five teams of two character each - so the answer is ten!
Shacknews: How many different weapon types are there and how will they change the way the game is played?
Sheffield: Each team will have their own weapon set - they all have their own angles, timings, and speeds, which give each team and each position within that team a unique feeling. We're still working out exactly what those weapons will be... we're trying things right now, and we're getting some pretty interesting results so far.
Shacknews: You've previously mentioned a single-player and co-op story mode. What will the story entail?
Sheffield: The story will mostly be about the people playing Gunsport - their individual motivations for success. The overarching story is a simple conceit that a world tournament of Gunsport is going down, and everyone wants to get the top prize. The stories will be about what this means to each team, and what they plan to do with their winnings. Basically, think about the stories in Street Fighter II - those kinds of simple tales of individual motivation.
Shacknews: Your last public appearance for the game was PlayStation Experience. What kind of feedback did you receive from the convention goers and has any of their feedback affected development in any way?
Sheffield: The major feedback we got was that a lot of people who thought they would be terrible at the game, were quite successful at it. Older folks coming by with their kids, when I forced them to play, they could compete right away, even if they hadn't really held a controller before. The other thing we saw was that some people weren't interested in playing it when they saw the screens, or when they walked by - but once they played it, they were really into it. So we need to figure out what the heck we do about this, because it's good and bad - we've got people liking the game, but they don't think they're going to. How do we tell these people they can actually play the thing? We're wracking our brains about this right now, so you could say that's affected development!
Shacknews: When do you hope to have Gunsport ready and what platforms is it coming to?
Sheffield: If all goes well, we should have Gunsport done by the end of the year, and it's coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.