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Mode Seven Explain Why Frozen Cortex Left The Frendzone

What happens when a dev hates their own game's name

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Frozen Synapse developers Mode Seven have been quietly talking about changing the name of their exceedingly clever but regrettably-titled strategic robo-sports game Frozen Endzone for some time now. Tired of all the friendzone puns and concerned about how much it overstated the American Football aspect, they’ve only gone and done it. Frozen Endzone is no more: as of today we have Frozen Cortex. Or, Frendzone is no more: now we have FroCo.

The name isn’t all that’s changed. As of any minute now, Frozen Cortex also boasts a new, more heavily sci-fi look, revamped AI, a big performance boost and Mac/Linux builds. This is a major update, not a mere rebrand. I had a chat with Mode Seven’s Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham about why they’ve changed so much after so long – including their reasoning for (and risks of) that rebranding. Read on for that and a glimpse of the new-look game.

First, let’s do a wee list of those changes, and then have a watch of a new trailer for this reborn tactical futuresports game:

– OSX and Linux versions
– New pitch, ball and animations
– Completely overhauled AI including much faster performance and much more intelligent play
– Five new stadiums
– Significant performance improvements: frame rate should be 50-100% improved on most hardware
– Big loading time improvements

UI improvements:

– Throwing UI improved
– Intelligent interception-radius rendering
– indicator for whether a move location is “safe” or not
– Minor rules changes to reduce the need to “keep playing when the match is clearly over”; other gameplay improvements
– Quite a few new gameplay options to play around with in the Custom Game editor.
– Significantly updated in-game commentary text
– Other minor changes

And here’s how Frozen Cortex now looks and sounds:

Right then. Time to find out a thing or two about why this has happened…

 

 

RPS: Don’t you know that you can never escape the friendzone?

Paul Taylor: My love for you will never die, Alec.

Ian Hardingham: Well… Ross did escape the friendzone. So I disagree with the premise.

RPS: In seriousness – what do you expect the name change to affect, other than your own discomfort? And is there any risk that rebranding after so long could be harmful?

Paul: We’re changing the name as part of some general changes to the aesthetic, including the look of the ball and some elements of the pitch: it’s probably not the most significant change to the game in those terms.

Looking at it in isolation though, I think naming something is an odd conjunction of how the creators feel about that thing, and how they want the world to perceive it. So, I can’t say definitively “changing the name will have this specific effect”: that would be presumptuous. We wanted to address the fact that some people think the game is an American Football simulation when it’s a turn-based strategy game with entirely different rules from football that are much easier to understand. The word “endzone” probably wasn’t helping, so we thought we’d take care of that and get rid of a massively silly name at the same time.

We’re in Early Access and that’s the right time to make changes that bring the game into line with what we want to make. I think there could be some minor confusion over the name but we’ll make sure you can find it by searching for the old name as well: I’m not expecting this to be too much of an issue.

Ian: The name change is personal preference for me – I ended up hating the original name, and that’s not cool for a thing I’ve put three years of my life into. I don’t think the original name was hurting the game particularly – it just wasn’t something I wanted to ever have to say again.

RPS: You mentioned that Early Access has gone well, but how do you feel about that system overall now? (I know you kinda did your own version of it with Synapse, but presumably it’s been a bit different?)

Paul: Early Access has functioned really well for us as an interim stage between our own beta and full release. To be honest, I do slightly wish people would use it more in that way: we tried to get big problems ironed out early on with a smaller beta and then move onto Steam when we wanted a bigger audience with the game in a more robust state.

One of its oddities is that, for certain types of game, I think it can encourage a much longer development period than they otherwise would have had. For us, it’s more about helping to fund the game, building the community and helping us push forward to actually releasing it properly.

We still have a lot to do while in Early Access, including releasing the major part of the single player game, so I’ll be in a better place to judge it after that. Having said that, I think we’d definitely do it again.

Ian: I just think Early Access is better for both the developers and the players. It forces us to release regularly, which is incredibly beneficial to us; and I just think it straight-forwardly makes our games better. Being exposed to paying players’ feedback (which will always be more critical and representative) early in development is basically invaluable.

There’s a lot of drama over the nature of Early Access as a product – a lot of talk about pricing schemes and business models – which I think overshadows the fact that this is for our fans to really help us make the best game that we can. When it’s working like that, I think it’s a brilliant thing.

RPS: How comfortable are you with people continuing to call it a ‘sports’ game?

Paul: It really depends on whether you think Speedball or Blood Bowl are sports games: I don’t mind this particularly as long as it doesn’t lead people to think that it’s a sports simulation. Mechanically, it’s a strategy game, but if you want to call it a futuresports game then we’re definitely fine with that.

Ian: On the one hand, I want to say that it’s none of my business what people choose to call something. On the other hand, I’m here changing the name of this game, so I can’t really say that.

What I wanted to make, and what I believe Frozen Cortex is, is two things. Mechanically, it’s a game quite like Frozen Synapse, but faster to play and with (even) more of an emphasis on predicting your opponent and making calls. Aesthetically, it’s a fantastical fictional sport played by weird robots in the future. That’s what I see when I look at the game, and that’s what I want other people to see when they look at it.

Honestly it really isn’t any of my business what you choose to call it – it would just make me really happy if people didn’t think it was a sports simulation.

RPS: The look the game has now – what are the key influences there? And how sure are you that this will be, essentially, the game’s final look?

Paul: Aside from polishing, which will be pretty comprehensive and take a few months at least, the game will definitely continue to look like this. The changed ball, animations and pitch stuff in this version were pretty much just things we wanted to try out, rather than being dictated by particular external influences. We did have a long discussion about different shapes of ball which is too painful to recount here.

Rich Whitelock (Lead Artist): The aim is to communicate a large amount of gameplay related information and reward the intense planning with satisfyingly brutal outcomes, not just for the players but also any spectators who are watching. Our aim for the polishing stage is to push the replays to be not only as exciting as possible but also comprehensible from closeup on a PC screen and when spectating at an event.

Martin Binfield (Lead Animator): When a robot and a robot hate each other very much they are animated.

RPS: Do you have an approximate ETA for the singleplayer stuff?

Ian: We should be getting a reasonably feature-complete beta of the single player campaign out to people in September.

Paul: We’re putting a lot of work into this behind-the-scenes: it’s a giant league with AI coaches who all have different personalities. There will also be random events during matches, bits of backstory for the different teams and a load of other stuff. It’s really fun to play around with at the moment but this isn’t something we want to do piecemeal in public (partially owing to the story elements), so it’ll likely come out as a big update.

RPS: Thanks for your time. You may now exit the Frendzone.

Frozen Endzone evolved into Frozen Cortex today, and is available- complete with new art and AI – either direct from the developers or via Steam Early Access.

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Alec Meer

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