Paul Taylor of Mode 7 on Frozen EndZone’s sporty influences, American football, and team games

FrozenEndzone

On Wednesday, we talked to Mode 7’s Paul Taylor about Frozen Synapse, the turn-based strategy game that was released on iPad yesterday. Today, we’ve got the second part of that interview, in which we talk about the developer’s upcoming sports game, Frozen EndZone. Taylor discusses his team’s fascination with sports commentary, why they made a game based on American football, and why it’s not a team game.

What have you learned from Frozen Synapse that you’re bringing into Frozen EndZone?
As I mentioned earlier [in Wednesday’s interview], one of the things we’re trying to do with it is create something that allows players to be a little bit more creative. Frozen Synapse is great, and it creates these really intense games where you feel like if you put one foot out wrong, everything is going to fail. In EndZone, it’s a lot more dynamic. There’s a lot more back and forwards.

Something [designer] Ian [Hardingham] introduced recently into one of the main game modes is being able to throw the ball into space, i.e. you don’t have to have it caught by a member of your team. It’s a little bit like Blood Bowl style. What it means is that you can basically punt. It means, if space is getting tight, you can throw the ball into space and put the onus back on your opponent.

There’s a lot more back and forth play, and it’s a lot less about thinking “If I’m literally in this space, then I’ll win, or lose.” It’s a lot more about coming up with general plans, like passing in this direction, or making sure to cover the rear of the field to make sure he doesn’t throw a long pass.

There is some more micro stuff involved, in terms of where you block and how you deal with one-on-one situations, but in all I’d say it’s more of a strategically creative game.

How did you go from making a strategy game like Frozen Synapse to making a game based on American football?
It’s definitely football influenced. Both Ian and I are football fans. I’d describe Ian as a proper football fan. He’s a big Falcons fan, and has been following them for a long time. I’m somewhat of a casual football fan, so I’ll watch a few matches a season, follow the news a bit, and watch the Super Bowl. And I’ve been doing that since I was about 10.

We definitely have an affinity for football as a sport, and we like the meta stuff around sports. The analysis, the crazy talk shows, the crazy news stories that come out. That atmosphere we think is really cool, and would really suit a game.

This idea sort of came out of Ian’s head fully formed. He just said “I know what the next game is.” He sat down and drew me this terrain and these little robots. He said “These are robots playing football in a warehouse. That just came out of his head. Making a sports game allowed us to make something that’s a lot more freeform. It’s not just one-on-one unit interactions all the time. There’s something about sports that works well with using terrain and space, and we thought that re-emphasizing the random terrain in a different way, in a new game, would be cool.

Finally, we just wanted to try something a bit unusual. There are so many interesting indie games coming out right now, we just thought future sports is one of the least likely genres. We like our crazy aesthetics. We like having the opportunity to do something unusual. We think that gives us loads of potential in terms of things like story, music, and art.

You said you were fascinated by the analysis of football. What will you be bringing from that stuff into Frozen EndZone?
What we wanted to do is create a game where you have interesting stuff to do on every turn. But not only that, we want your decisions to feel like they have a great amount of weight. We’re planning on having an analytical commentator in the single-player, who can react to what you’re doing. This will probably be text-based, but we’ll have someone who can point out what’s going on with your player. That will be a big part of the aesthetic. We’d like the game to know if you favor particular strategies, so the game will figure out what your personality will be.

This is super Peter Molyneaux stuff by the way [laughs]. We haven’t even implemented this yet. But that’s where we were going with that idea.

I’m a massive eSports and StarCraft fan, and I love the color commentator interaction. I’d love to write dialogue like that, and I’m already thinking about how we can do that. As a game, it really suits that, and having it in the game, rather than on a meta level, is something I’m really interested in.

Was there any thought to making it a team game, with multiple players on each side? It seems that, with the rise in popularity of MOBAs, it would be something that would cross your mind.
Not really. Ian’s very big on one-on-one game design. It certainly required significant effort from me to get him to do co-op vs. AI in the Frozen Synapse expansion. That was not something he was initially keen on. That said, I’d like to see if we could get some more co-op play in this. But no, we’ve never really designed a team game.

I don’t really understand MOBAs. I’ve played League [of Legends] a bit, and it’s cool. But it seems so complicated to me. And I know that’s a cliche and that it’s ridiculous for someone who likes StarCraft to say that. I just don’t know what’s going on tactically at a casual level. Unless my team is really coordinated, it seems like it’s a bunch of players with different motivations, some of which seem to barely be functioning like humans. It’s a looser form of game design, I think.