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Sensible Soccer

Kieron Gillen | 2 Jan 2007 11:00
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AP was a bit juvenile at times, which is fine, because games are a bit juvenile, and being juvenile isn't just a pejorative. Being idealistic and having a complete unwillingness to compromise are two absolutely primary juvenile traits. I'd swap a lot of quasi-serious professionalism for them.

If something got a mark in the 90s in Amiga Power, it meant something. I didn't always agree with them, but I knew they agreed with what they'd written, and they'd lead me to enough interesting places for me to follow whatever they suggested. Hell, they'd already got me into pinball via the divine Pinball Dreams, created by future Battlefield 1942 developers, Digital Illusions. (Huh!)

AP gave Sensible Soccer their highest-ever mark. I trusted AP.

For what it's worth, I trusted Sensible Software too. Everyone trusted Sensible. While it'd have been harder to call at the time, with the match long over, it's fair to describe Sensible as the definitive Amiga Developer. Despite being rooted throughout the 8-bit scene, they came to their full power with Commodore's 16-bit machine. They're also definitive in a way that they ended up being tied to the Amiga, being unable to transform into something else as its age came to a close. While people like Bullfrog became a PC developer of note, Sensible disappeared down a hole of their own making with their infamous unfinished great-lost game, PC graphic adventure Sex 'n Drugs 'n Rock'n Roll.

But before that, they left behind a string of genuinely classic games. Mega Lo Mania was Civilization as observed through an English surrealistic filter and one of those pre- Dune II proto-real-time-strategy games which people tend to forget about when writing history books.

Cannon Fodder was an overhead-viewed action/strategy game using a mouse-control. Arriving at a similar time to Bullfrog's Syndicate, it was a fascinating example of how two development studios could approach a similar concept with their own design priorities and end up with a radically different games. Where Syndicate was oppressive, Cannon Fodder was witty. Where Syndicate was black satire, Cannon Fodder was underwritten with a quiet moral rage at war.

Of course, there was Wizkid, a game so delightfully warped that it makes Psychonauts look like Gary Grigsby's World at War and probably remains the world's only graphic adventure/Arkanoid-clone hybrid.

And there was Sensible Soccer.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, sitting down to play. Not quite true: Back on the Spectrum, I'd played a fair chunk of Jon Ritman's seminal Matchday II, and I'd also enjoyed Microprose Soccer, Sensible's chunky eight-bit forerunner. But Sensible Soccer was something quite different.

It was obviously a Sensible game. Unlike Matchday's side-on view - now the standard one ala FIFA or Pro Evo - it was viewed from above. And not slightly from above, but some distant point, perhaps suspended precariously from the bottom of a blimp. You could see huge expanses of the pitch. The men beneath you were tiny blurs of pixels. Even if there was masses animation, it'd be almost impossible to tell.

Sensible Soccer didn't look like the best game ever, if you didn't know what you were looking for.

Admittedly, I did. The tiny sprite thing was just one of Sensible's constant visual signatures. Sensible's John Hare has since talked about how this minimalism wasn't actually a weakness. In fact, Sensible Soccer is better animated than a modern football game, by using the impressively sturdy anti-aliasing of the human mind to fill in the gaps. When watching FIFA, there's always going to be tiny problems which drag you out of the world where animation doesn't quite match up. As you approach perfection, the errors scream. In Sensible, the reverse happened, with people claiming to have seen animation where there was none. It all happened so quickly, overhead kicks were pasted in our inner minds.

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