A few weeks ago, after I published a column about how football is basically a role-playing game, I got an e-mail from a guy named Nathan Lazur. He wanted to pitch me the game he's working on. A "football RPG beat'em'up," he called it.
It's called Football Heroes, and like many indie developers, he took to Kickstarter to build up some final rounds of funding to make it happen. Today, Football Heroes hit its goal. $US12,000. And after hearing about the game from Lazur on the phone last week, it's hard not to get psyched about that. Football Heroes — a fast-paced, action-packed, easily-digestible game for mobile phones — sounds like it could be a great deal of fun.
"Mobile is kind of a letdown in my opinion," Lazur said. "The tech is there, you could have fun in your pocket, have fun wherever you are, do whatever... That's kind of where I think our game comes into play. You can take bite-sized bites of the game and just enjoy it right there and put it back in your pocket. If you're playing single-player, just level up your guy, sort of like what you'd do in an RPG. And then you could be like, OK, I leveled up my guy, now I'm gonna go online and kick some butt."
Lazur has worked in the industry for a few years now. You might recall his ill-fated attempt to remake Chrono Trigger, an attempt that was shut down by Square Enix's lawyers as soon as word got out that it existed. He also worked at a number of studios over the years, including Pandemic, the former EA subsidiary that created open-world action game The Saboteur.
Football Heroes is his pet project, a game he's been designing and coding on and off for the past few years. It's a fast-paced arcade game that plays like normal football — you can pass or run; you have four downs to move 10 yards; the offence and defence take turns on the field — with a not-insignificant twist: You can beat people up.
You can gain character levels, assign perks, and earn power-ups — then use them to slaughter opponents on the field, Ray Lewis-style. So you'll pick a play, execute it, and then beat up your opponent's offence or defence as you trample your way towards a touchdown.
"The pace is really fast," Lazur said. "It's less than eight minutes per game — you're continuously racking up points. The challenge here is the balance: You can have certain perks or power-ups for your guy, but there's almost always something to cancel it out, if you have the right thing equipped or your dudes are powerful enough, or you focus on a specific position and build them up.
"That's one thing that [co-designer Michael A Marzola] works on a lot is just balancing out power-ups and making sure the level curves are correct."
You might get the sense from the Kickstarter video that the game is heavily slanted toward offence, but Lazur assured me that the defence is just as strong. "I was surprised by how powerful it is," he said. "There are lot of opportunities for fumbles, a lot of power-ups or perks which will help facilitate that.
"Playing catch-up is a lot easier than in other football games, but then again, the offence can go balance out their attack with their own power-up strings. There's a lot of opportunity there for both teams to have exciting moves."
So you load up the game and you can go into matchmaking mode, where you'll be placed against an opponent based on an aggregate "score" that is a combination of your character levels, power-ups, and skills. It's best played on WiFi, since it's all real time, and you can play it in very short bursts — each quarter is two minutes, Lazur says.
There's also a tournament mode that lets you grind through a division of four or five computer-controlled teams. Once you conquer the division, you get a trophy. "So it's pretty simple, but it'll give you something to do," Lazur said. "You'll still level up your guys. You'll level up whether you're playing single-player or multiplayer. You're just constantly getting better."
They've also got customised touchdown dances. "That's one thing you can't do in the NFL because they're completely against any excessive celebration," Lazur said. "There's a spike button in the endzone... In the future, we want to have a very cool sort of customisation where you score a touchdown and you can put text, customise the message."
Football Heroes will be out by the end of the year, Lazur says. Or at least before football season is over. Even if Roger Goodell doesn't approve.