It’s hard to foster a sentimental attachment to the annualized sports games of today, their desire to replicate everything that happens on field, pitch, court or canvas to the nth degree creating a sterilized atmosphere. Ask most of a certain age wherever you go, and the sports games they feel most attached to are dedicated to their source material, but maintain an accessibility and sense of unique character. Americans may site Tecmo Bowl, despite its Japanese origins. Japanese may call on Namco’s Famista, which had a sizable following in the west as RBI Baseball. To Europeans though, there could only be Sensible Soccer.

Sensi had a slavish attention to the details of football, its Sensible World of Soccer  iteration reproducing practically every team player and league from around the world (and with a slightly devil may care approach to licensing), but from whistle to whistle, this was something altogether different. Sensi was as often compared to pinball as the Beautiful Game, a lightning fast pace leading to end to end play without the hold ups of pace breaking offside rules, and with seconds long offensive pushes ending in physics defying banana shots. Sensi was a unifying experience, pure gameplay joy bringing in non soccer fans and retaining them, as well as the football faithful through its details and appeals to the joy of victory and agony of defeat.

Pre alpha footage shows the familiar zoomed out view, though the action can be played from any angle.

Pre alpha footage shows the familiar zoomed out view, though the action can be played from any angle.

Sociable Soccer, Sensi’s long awaited spiritual successor has existed in Jon Hare‘s mind for at least a decade now, but with the talent needed to afford his vision being available, and the connected hooks of modern systems, now is the time, allowing for an individual to connect to the game on four different levels.

‘When you first start the game, you’ll create your own 3D avatar,’ Hare explains, ‘and then choose your favourite team, and country. We’ll have the same mix of club teams, maybe not as many as SWOS, but still in the hundreds, and silly custom teams like Old Dear’s Menu, but when you choose a team, you’ll be put together with every other player who uses them. You’re still controlling the whole team each game, but what’ll happen afterwards is that from every player’s three points for a win, one for a draw or none from a loss, the game will take an average, and determine online rankings from that. That way you can play for your favourite team, and have Cambridge United compete with Liverpool even though they have fewer fans’.

Consistently play well enough, and your player avatar could be ‘called up’ to the in game team or country of your choice for all to play. Similar club and country allegiances have permeated racing games of late, but Hare is looking to create a stronger sense of community than the fairly dry Driveclub or the forthcoming Gran Turismo Sport. ‘In addition to choosing your club and your country, you’ll also be able to create and join clans, which have their own leagues. We’re aware a lot of Sensi fans weren’t necessarily football fans and that those people don’t necessarily feel comfortable choosing a specific club to play for. But they might be into indie rock, or goodness knows what else. So you can join a like minded clan and play with them’.

All of that joins the usual robust single and local multiplayer through a wide variety of competitions (all with subtly altered team, player and contest names, though you can edit everything back if you like), and on pitch, you can expect the same accessible and fast paced play as Sociable’s classic forebear. Customizable controls will even let you pare everything down to Sensi’s one button setup if you like, but Hare is quick to clarify that this isn’t a result of dumbing down gameplay.

‘The original Sensible Soccer was built for a one button setup, and when we did the Megadrive version we expanded that to a three button system because that’s what was expected. Now Pro Evo or FIFA players expect those control schemes, and it’s silly to deny them or the progress those games made. So that’s there, but it’s more a case of extrapolating further from the simpler setups. We want something that is arcade, that is fast paced and separate from FIFA, but something fans of those games can enjoy easily’.

Concept sketches show the rounded approach to limbs that better serve fast paced hand animation.

Concept sketches show the rounded approach to limbs that better serve fast paced hand animation.

Appealing to modernity also means for a full Unity powered 3D presentation, shunning the little sprites of yore. ‘It’s one thing if it’s a little iOS project, but you can’t really put out a sprite based game now and expect it to sell. There’s also a desire to push yourself further and go for something new. A lot of people will want Sensible World of Soccer exactly as it was, but that’s an old game now, and yes, gameplay is the first thing, but it’s not the only thing’.

Attempts were made to bring the original Sensible Soccer franchise into 3D, with decidedly mixed results. While Xbox and PS2 outing Sensible Soccer 2006 was a decent bit of knockabout fun, Sensi ’98 was a disaster. The trick to having fast paced arcadey soccer, Hare posits, isn’t to shun 3D, but to use it correctly.

‘The problem (with Sensi ’98) was motion capture. With the original games, everything was hand animated, and there were basically three positions a player’s leg would be in; front back and neutral. It meant everything could move very fast. Try and apply the same speed to a motion captured animation and it all goes wrong’. The art isn’t final for Sociable yet, but inspiration is being drawn from surprisingly non sporting franchises. ‘If you look at any Nintendo game, you’ll see that they use very rounded character designs, and there’s a good reason for that,’ Hare explains. ‘The models can rotate much faster that way, whereas a more angular model looks strange when turning at high speed. We’re definitely drawing from that for the final game.’

Hare is determined that Sociable Soccer will make it to market on PC and console, even if traditional publishing means are necessary, but that having the independence  afforded by a successful Kickstarter is infinitely more desirable.

‘After Codemasters bought (Sensible Software), I was involved with Sensi 2006 and had been working on a 3D Cannon Fodder for a couple of years, but that was at a time when they were scaling back and shutting down projects. We talk on and off, and they’ve been quite amenable lately, but ultimately that stuff’s out of my control. This is the first time for a while I’ve owned a project like this. I live for it, and everyone on the team does. You hear about how terrible crunch is, but when you have that kind of passion, working 16 hours a day on it isn’t a problem’.

Thanks to Jon Hare at Tower Studios for his time. 

 

Quick and easy details:

Title: Sociable Soccer

Kickstarter Goal: 300,000 GBP

Developer: Jon Hare/Tower Studios

Twitter: @sociable_soccer

Planned Platforms: PC, PS4, XB1

Planned Release: December 2016

Pledge your support here if you’re interested!

 

About The Author

Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)