Football Superstars Interview with Steve Marshall

Monumental Games has been on our radar as a developer of an MMO engine for quite some time, but only last month did they finally announce their own game. They’ve partnered with CyberSports to create Football Superstars. This unique MMO combines on-field action, with the off-field pursuit of fame and fortune as a true “superstar”. We interviewed Creative Director Steve Marshall about the project.

WarCry Q&A: Football Superstars
Answers by Steve Marshall (Creative Director, CyberSports Ltd)
Questions by Dana Massey

imageWarCry: Can you explain the partnership between Monumental Games and CyberSports? For both companies this is the first project, is this a traditional publisher/developer relationship?

Steve Marshall : I’m really pleased you asked that question Dana as I believe it is a unique relationship when it comes to the traditional roles that a publisher and developer have which we are all exceedingly proud of and will hopefully be reflected in the quality of the end product.

The entire Football Superstars project is very much a collaboration of both companies. We have a very deep respect, rapport and trust of each other. Everyone has a very clear view of the vision, feature expectations, milestone deliverables and are subsequently working incredibly hard to make sure we all deliver our parts in what we believe will be an amazing game.

WarCry: One reason team sports have paradoxically remained single player games is that it can be rather boring to play as an individual in a team sport. In real football (soccer), players need to stay within a system, play their position and spend a lot of time watching others with the ball to be successful. How do you intend to simulate soccer, but still keep it entertaining on a PC?

Steve Marshall : The principal of playing a computer based football game as an individual was proven to everyone the first time we had the opportunity to playtest our initial concept game. As simple as it was, the most frequently voiced comment I heard was that it is just as satisfying being the person that enabled their team mate to score, or being the one that prevented the equalizer from going into the back of the net as it is to be the foot behind the winning goal. After a little “honey pot” chaos people naturally fall into attacking, midfield or defensive roles, every player immediately understands the basic football concepts and naturally do what is required for their team.

imageBeing part of “the whole” is a very tangible feeling while you play and is one of the fundamental reasons I believe football is such a popular sport overall.

Within the Football Superstars world we answer the issue in several additional ways… Players will not be exposed to the trials and tribulations of hard-core 11 aside tournament matches immediately, they will be eased into it at their own pace, ensuring that their initial matches will be fast, very dynamic and certainly chaotic as they progress through the smaller lower league divisions.

This should give the community plenty of opportunity to develop relationships and a clearer understanding of the control systems, personal development and awareness of their own individual play styles which will subsequently lead to the formation of tactics and true organised team play at which point opportunities for higher profile games will emerge.

It is also clear from my experience of other MMO’s (mainly RPG’s) that people genuinely enjoy playing supportive roles, which as we all know in football is just as important as the man up front. A strong defender is arguably as valuable to a team as a strong striker possibly more so.

In addition we capture an incredible wealth of statistics and reward players for holding position and generally playing as part of a team. This will ensure that nobody feels left out, regardless of how high or low profile their participation may seem during any individual match.

imageWarCry: What about aspects of organized sports that are really hard to mimic in a game. One reason popular sports games take a TV style approach is that in sports, players need to be constantly aware of those around them and what they’re doing. This head swivelling is hard to mimic on a computer. How are you going to tackle perspective?

Steve Marshall : We are giving each player a range of aids to identify key factors of the game, position of the ball, team mates, opponents goal and many others. We have also developed a very high fidelity control and camera system that allows you a great deal of flexibility (and looks beautiful too). You will be able to look across from the wing as you fly down the left before placing a perfect cross to be headed into the back of the net. Certainly during our playtests I have never heard a comment from anyone that it was difficult to identify where the ball, their teammates or anything else viewpoint related was to be found.

WarCry: On the field, how much of the player’s performance relies on skills their character has learned and how much on the actual abilities of the player?

Steve Marshall : The balance between the two has always been significantly key to the overall design. The control system will give a very unique and realistic feel of football gameplay and will allow a player to shine from nothing more than their own ability to manipulate them. Player attributes add an interesting mix to the equation though, but will always be an augmenter and not categorically define the success or failure of any player. It is important to us that a top tiered player will still be able to be defeated by a low tier player should they be able to use the controls far better than the former, however, it doesn’t mean it will be easy as there will be an advantage to be had by the higher “leveled” player. Unlike many MMORPG’s it will at least be possible.

imageWarCry: The goal of the game is to attain fame and fortune on and off the pitch. Can you talk a bit more about the off the field side of things. How will you make it both alluring and entertaining?

Steve Marshall : We have the luxury of having an MMO based on the real world, and as such our potential scope for what is applicable for off pitch entertainment is pretty much unlimited. However, we are focusing on getting the football game itself as perfect as we can and then build on the lifestyle world introducing new features regularly.

Early on players will be able to shop to customise their look, enjoy a social drink (maybe even a boogie), compare their success on the pitch with each other using replays, share a story with the media, scout players for your team or have a good pep talk via headsets before a key match. We have an abundance of additional plans for rapid introduction such as a variety of mini games, the opportunity to buy and personalise a penthouse flat to owning a full on estate as well many others lifestyle features. The lifestyle side will be very much community focused with a range of opportunities that we hope will attract even those that would not normally call themselves traditional football game fans.

WarCry: Team sports have consistent teams lining up against each other. In gaming, that kind of commitment from 22 players (in an 11 aside game) has proven elusive, to say the least. How will you handle match-making to make sure players can always find a game?

Steve Marshall : That was certainly very true a few years ago, but we believe that the increased availability of broadband across the globe and the general perception people have of gaming these days has certainly changed for the better.

There are a large number of MMO’s that have been around for a significant amount of time that have content specifically designed for many more than 22 players all of which requiring a huge investment of time to complete, often a number of hours per session. The very most we will ever ask a player to commit to in a match is 90 minutes to as little as 5, and even then should they be required elsewhere… have their internet connection pulled from the socket by their toddler or other minor disaster we have developed mechanisms to replace them.

The issue of a regular squad of 11 players is addressed by our “Sponsor club” system, which without going into too much detail gives each competitive division a pool of players it will choose from when starting a match, individuals will be able to elect to play for their sponsors team, resulting in each “squad” being quite dynamic. No professional football team has exactly the same 11 players out on the pitch every match when you consider substitutions, reserves and “B” teams and this is replicated in Football Superstars.

imageShould a player wish to participate at a more casual level for shorter non competitive game then they can visit a local kickabout pitch or sports centre for a friendly match in an ad hoc fashion, or organize one with friends privately. We have aimed at accommodating all types of game player.

WarCry: Football is likely the most popular sport on Earth, so obviously you have a wide potential audience, but it is quite low on the radar in the lucrative North American market. Why do you think non-“soccer” fans might enjoy your game?

Steve Marshall : The key reason we believe Football Superstars has the potential for a wide audience in North America is simply that it will be a great deal of fun to play. I have been a hardcore gamer for many years, before the days of the Spectrum I used to play games on my dad’s IBM taking great care of the huge 5 ¼ inch game disks (Same cannot be said for my care of his work related ones unfortunately…) and have enjoyed almost every genre of game produced to date from RPG to RTS. With that in mind we have tried to identify the key areas of each genre and apply the most “fun” parts of those into Football Superstars. The immersive and tense action of an FPS, the depth of a management game and the social aspects of an MMO to name a few. So you do not have to be a hardened football fan to get the most from the game. Just enjoying games in general will be enough…

It is also the first game of its kind, so we hope that people will give it a go purely for this reason alone, and subsequently discover it’s very enjoyable. The timing also helps, the high profile Beckham’s making a splash in America certainly won’t do Football Superstars a disservice raising it’s profile. Lastly women’s “soccer” is one of the fastest growing sports overall having a significant following in the USA.

All of these we hope will help make Football Superstars a success in every region.

WarCry: With players able to create their own teams, which I would assume is akin to a guild in a traditional MMO, are you worried that they’ll all create versions of their favourite teams and what the consequences of that might be?

Steve Marshall : Your assumption is spot on, players will be able to create and manage their own clubs, however, our target audience is potentially wide and as such we will be monitoring areas where players have the opportunity to “misuse” the tools they are given, such as creating insulting or offensive club names etc. We will use the same monitoring mechanism together with a filtering system with guidelines on acceptable names to ensure that we don’t have 5000 Manchester United’s as we have very definite plans for these in the not too distant future. Otherwise we don’t wish to restrict the creativity of our community too far, it is after all their game.

WarCry: The art on your page shows some rather fantastical stadiums. Talk about the art style of the game.

Steve Marshall : The vision is to create a Football utopia, an aspirational world that people enjoy just being in and our artists are busy creating it. Our towns and cities will be pleasant places to just take in the view or spend time with friends at the beach, the stadiums will be awe inspiring to see and feel a privilege to play in as it would be to play at Wembley. A key decision in using the Monumental Games technology was their focus on scaleable next generation graphics allowing us to create a very realistic approach to our content. Every stadium will have it’s own feel, one on an island surrounded by golden beaches, another poking through the clouds of a magnificent mountain town or a city centre where the focal point is the stadium itself. We are creating a world where you truly can relax, enjoy the sights and revel simply being a part of it.

Everyone imagines at some point what it would be like to become a superstar and we give the player a world where it is possible to live like a king, and that certainly doesn’t include slums, derelict houses and burnt out cars…

imageWarCry: You peg your release date as Q2 2008. I honestly cannot recall an MMO that met its first release date projection. Why will you be different?

Steve Marshall : Nothing would please me more than being able to see into the future and say “yes, we will definitely release on X month and Y day”. There are many reasons why projected dates slip and any of them totally out of the control of the publisher/developer. What I can say is we have a very tight design, strong project management, dedication from every team member be that within CyberSports or Monumental Games and a clear vision of where we wish to be upon release. So we are doing everything in our power to meet our projected dates. Our relationship has allowed us to plan to a timescale that we anticipate will be accurate and the game will have the content our community will require to build upon.

A key advantage to Football Superstars is that we only have one key “quest”, we don’t have to worry about creating a back story, our players will make their own history. We don’t have to create a fictitious rivalry between factions and everything that factions imply, these will be developed by our community. There is no need to gently lower the player into a world that is alien to them explaining and building the immersion as everyone understands the rules (well, most of them anyway).

Finally, the project is such a labour of love for everyone involved I don’t believe anyone counts the hours in the office and looks at the clock waiting for the end of the day, we are all very dedicated to making this happen, but we will not make promises we cannot keep, hence “Spring 2008”.

By the soon to be announced Alpha date we will be “feature complete” with our intended release content, leaving the remaining months for us to test, polish and retest each of the key areas through Beta before we go live.

From that point we have enough additional content planned for several lifetimes of development and will be taking input constantly from our community on what they would like to see appear in the game next, and will do what we can to make sure it all happens.

Very much aware that it sounds quite arrogant and certainly not wanting to, but who knows, maybe we will be able to add “First MMO to deliver as projected” to the lists of firsts…

Now tell us your thoughts after the click.

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