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Hands On With Speedball 2

Speedball 2 is being remade. It’s not Speedball 3 or anything like that, it’s a remake. It’s a new game attempting to cash in on the success of the old by replicating it with contemporary tools. To provide an analogy from cinema, it’s Clooney, Soderbergh, and chums remaking Solaris because the original Russian film is lost to a bygone era, but nevertheless carries incredible value for anyone who remembers it. Speedball 2 was the only future-sports game that ever really made sense. It was as near to perfect as any game has ever been. It’s being remade in 3D, on the PC.

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Perhaps it can. Kylotonn obvious have love for the original game, and they seem to understand its techno-chrome aesthetic. They want to get armoured men colliding on a steel pitch /just so/ and that’s a commendable intention.

They’ve provided RPS with a preview version containing a handful of arenas a bunch of teams. Once I’ve navigated the clunky menus and sorted out the terrible default graphics settings, the game runs smoothly. It sounds like Speedball 2 and it almost looks like it (but not quite).

The problem is that it doesn’t play like it.

They’ve added a button. Actually they’ve added a few buttons, but only one of them doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s not that adding of keys to depress repeatedly is necessarily a bad thing, but Speedball 2 was an example of the perfect single-button design. You moved with the stick and you tackled and threw with the button. That was all the game needed, and it worked. It was efficient. Anyway, in this remake one of the buttons they’ve added switches you to the closest relevant player. In the original this switching was automatic. They should have left it that way.

As things are now the switching is semi-automatic. While it does switch to the ball-carrier most of the time, you have to manually switch if you’re not in possession of the ball. This also causes a lag in switching to a player to which the ball has been passed. It doesn’t take all that much to get used to this system, but it’s a matter of redundancy – you simply didn’t need that new button, and it should not have been included. The switch should always be automatic. I should imagine Kylotonn have provided manual switching to allow players greater control over their game, but I think it just sends us waddling towards over-complexity. There are jump and run buttons too. These are kind of extraneous, but not exactly a big deal.

The crucial problem with the manual switching is that it makes a long pass incredibly tricky. You want to be able to know that once you’ve lobbed it across the pitch you’re going to be able to continue your charge towards the goal in a single, fluid motion. Accidentally deselect the passed-to player, and, well, you’ve fucked it up. All this combines to make the smooth passing and tackling of the original game rather more awkward. It’s exactly this kind of awkwardness that I was praying this new game would not deliver. It’s especially bad with the speculative long pass. You throw, manually switch to a player who’s nearby, and then try and get into position – except in the half-second it’s taken you to press the button, it’s basically too late, as one of the computers players has started moving in on the ball.

(It’s a particular bugbear of Gillen – the pair of us are kind of writing this – that computer players don’t have to wrestle with a control system, and are capable of things which are simply physically impossible for humans to do – like an RTS where they’re giving equal attention to both sides of a map at once, or whatever. We digress.)

Anyway – this sort of increase in complexity kind of falls apart when the game’s as fast-moving as Speedball II is. There’s simply not enough time, in the way the game is paced at the moment, to do all this stuff manually. Speedball II’s one button system wasn’t just elegant – it also suited the way the game was played. It wasn’t FIFA, y’know.

But perhaps adding new stuff is in the spirit of this “remake”. The new arenas are all quite different, and provide different power ups for the players on each one. This isn’t sticking to the tiny, ancient template of Speedball 2, it’s creating a larger, quite different future sports beast. Hell, even the “Ice Cream!” guy is different.

(TREASON! – Retro Ed)

And I’m nothing if not unreasonably optimistic, and I’m therefore assuming that the final game will have some kind of auto-switching option that is missing from this preview. It is evidently unfinished, and there’s supposed to be two modes for the game, advanced and classic, or something like that. The preview code only seems to contain a single mode – and that’s the advanced one, I hope.

That said, Kieron’s unreasonably annoyed that the female characters don’t have helmets and the post-score replay shows the person celebrating rather than the goal itself. RPS Good Cop/Mad cop in full effect, I suspect.

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Jim Rossignol

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