Eurogamer Expo 2013: Frozen Endzone hands-on
From the creators of Frozen Synapse, Frozen Endzone’s goal is to combine the strategic depth of the aforementioned with a new, creative core mechanic wrapped up in a futuristic sport skin.
On its surface this is a futuristic sports title that takes heavy inspiration from American Football as well as ‘90s videogames such as Speedball 2. This angle was a clear choice to avoid appearing too much like a straight sports title, as well as one that was aesthetically particular and appealing to the team, avoiding any perplexity on its genre roots and leaving an interstice for newcomers.
“Randomly-generated playing field”Underneath the bonnet is a strategic engine that has been fashioned for instantaneous understanding and use. Rather than beleaguer the user in information overload, the setup is simple. Its turn-based rather than real time. Click to select a team member. Double-click where you want them to head. There was no padding, nubilous mechanics or requirements. User experience is taken seriously by Mode 7. They go through an intense prototype stage of the sole core idea until long before they begin to add on the bells and whistles.
The core of the game pits two opposing teams of robot athletes against one another on a randomly-generated playing field. Through coded algorithms, the engine is capable of creating endless field variations without obstructing play, ensuring each time has a slight alternation on the last. With both teams deployed on the small field, fully visible on the screen, the attacking team must collect the football and get it to the end goal in a limited number of passes.
Plays and orders are given during a frozen play period – currently without a timer in all modes – that lets you give orders and then play them out to see what’ll happen. However, it won’t show what the opposing team will do, so what’ll appear to be a clean run could be blocked if your opponent has chosen to run a player into the path and block. Play then freezes when a key moment occurs. The first is collecting the ball. As soon as the attacking team does so everything stops and new orders can be given. This requires planning to look a play or two ahead, especially if you want a runner to make ground for a final long throw.
“The overall pacing is deliberate”The best of the hands-on preview was the multiplayer mode. Two players can play competitively with the usual rules. This time they take it in turns to attack and defend on the same field. Most points wins. Rather than being completely turn-based, which the team felt would be unrealistic and slow the pace, both teams actions play out at the same time. By making tactical decisions the coach will confirm their decisions and wait for the other team to do the same. Once both sides have confirmed their choices the moves are then played out and followed by a dynamic camera.
An advanced tactic allows for hypothetical plays to be planned and played out with the opposing pieces should you wish to second guess what your opponent might do. The overall pacing on Frozen Endzone is deliberate and aims to continue Mode 7’s niche of slower, easier to pick-up strategy titles. Paul Taylor, Managing Director, and one of three core members at Mode 7, explained that in-depth MOBAs are enjoyable in what they achieve, for example, but that shouldn’t mean that other sub-genres shouldn’t be carved out. The ability to play and wait for turn taking will allow friends in different time zones to progress at their own pace should they so wish.
When questioned about customisation and whether this sports angle would be carried through, Paul was happy to discuss the options they’re currently working on. Team colours will be available to create a unique look. The name of your team is up to you, a simple but often overlooked customisation that they’re keen to include. The unique choice will come from the voxel based faces of the robot athletes that can be fully customised, allowing for that personal touch.
Paul also talked about the internal discussions that have been taking place regarding a playable beta version that is planned for release later in 2013. Discussing the rise of early access titles on Steam, which they have been Greenlit for, he is careful to ensure that a solid piece of the Endzone pie is offered. It shouldn’t differ from what one would expect come full release.
Mode 7’s Frozen Endzone is both easy to pick up and fun to act as a futuristic sports coach. It was the multiplayer that took me most be surprise. It’s not hard to picture having some long night sessions satiating on the competitive angle without the pressure of real-time play that is already covered across a range of genres. This is a niche worth carving out. One that may appeal to inquiring sports fan as much as the strategically minded.