I think one of the things I’ve learned from making Kickmen is to let other people have a go earlier on in the process. In-development games are dreadful for so long it’s difficult to let other people see what you’re doing in case they judge you too harshly and think you’re rubbish at making games. And I mean in-development games are bad bad bad: things don’t work, stuff isn’t implemented yet, so you can see why it’s difficult to let others in, but the result is you get so blinkered with your vision you can’t see where you’re making mistakes.
The ‘Beta’ version I put out for Kickmen was a bit iffy, but I got some great feedback and spent a week tinkering. Tinkering is the best bit of video game development – you don’t really have to create anything new per se, you’re just pushing pixels around, cleaning things up, and addressing problems.
So for the last week, Kickmen has been thoroughly scrubbed up. It’s the same game at its core, but these additions have done gone so far towards making it a rounded experience.
FEVER MODE - the game now employs a system whereby showing off cons money out of your fans. When you do ‘fancy shit’ the Fever Meter goes up and projected earnings rise – do a Goal and that cash is Banked and you can spend it upgrading your squad. Spending cash massively improves the Squad Management side, it helps it feel more tangiable, and also means even if you’re winning by a comfortable margin (17-0 for example) there’s still worth in playing because you can be pulling off cool passes to earn Fever.
GRAPHICS TUNE-UP – I’ve added some funky menu effects and new particles, that kind of thing, which helps give the game some extra sheen, but the main thing is Player Animations. Before, going overboard with animations felt a little pointless. Kickmen is so fast that you’d never really see a Kicking animation, but a little bounce here and there and some ‘tackle charging’ animations has really helped bring out the best in the controls, and added a lot of personality to the game.
GAMEPLAY TUNE-UP – This is the main bit. There have been a few interesting changes, notably to the AI and the goldkeepers – it’s now much harder to score (thanks in part to a smaller goalmouth) which I think ups the tension and satisfaction from scoring a lot. The other main change is a significant nerfing of player speed when you’re in control of the ball – you can now barely move and it adds so much to the game – you need to be thinking about kicking it or passing it away, you can’t really just jog up the pitch. Some people will hate that, but I think it really helps keep the pace of the game in check.
The game now also features a robust auto-levelling system, so if you’re playing against a team and utterly thrashing them, they’ll start to focus their skills and put up a bit more of a challenge. It’s reactive, so you’ll probably still win (because otherwise it’d be annoying) but it just means there’s games have less of a tendency to devolve into boring walkovers.
What’s next? Well, one of the more consistent bits of feedback was that people love the goofy Story Mode stuff, so I’ve asked Michael to bash out some more characters for me so I can take that in some new weird and wonderful directions. Once that’s done, I’ll open the Beta out again and get some more feedback, and do this whole process again.
It’s not ‘there’ yet, it’s increasingly a ‘good game’ and certainly not the embarrassing disaster it was a couple of months ago, so I guess the sensible thing to do it to keep sitting on it, keep tweaking, keep listening to feedback until it’s better than Sensible Soccer and people don’t laugh at me for making it.