Shannon Liao contributed to this article.
GMT+5:30 on May 21, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.
Electronic Arts’ “Knockout City,” an action multiplayer computer game, will be released on Friday, promising plenty of excitement for dodgeball aficionados who will hurl, swerve, and pass balls to knock out the opposing team.
Velan Studios, which also worked on “Mario Kart Live,” explained some of the game’s inner workings in an interview with The Washington Post. An in-depth look at the game’s many modes was also presented during a hands-on session.
The principle of the game is simple: hit your opponent twice with a dodgeball to knock them out. In certain modes, known as “playlists,” the goal is to knock out 10 enemies before the opposition team, while in others, the goal is to collect the diamonds that fall when an enemy is knocked out. Oh, and you can also play dodgeball by pressing a button to “become the ball,” which allows your buddy to toss you towards an enemy like a homing missile.
Despite its simplicity, the game is a lot of fun to play. I got the hang of every game mechanic after a few hours of playing with other games journalists, from catching the ball to avoid being knocked unconscious, to doing a pirouette to bend my ball past obstacles like walls and automobiles, and to improving my aim as the homing missile seeking enemies.
I used a mouse and keyboard as well as an Xbox controller to play. The controller makes game controls much easier, as button-mashing effectively keeps my in-game avatar safe from incoming balls, whereas using the mouse and keyboard made me more of a slow-moving target.
“Knockout City” looks and feels like a spiritual successor to Electronic Arts’ colourful and splashy three-vs.-three shooter, “Rocket Arena,” produced by Final Strike Games, based on the few hours of gameplay so far. However, “Rocket Arena” failed to garner a large enough audience for gamers to queue for games.
“This has been the case since the beginning of the 90s. “[Our sector] is full of games that didn’t acquire public approval and games that did,” Guha Bala, co-founder of Velan Studios, said. “Sometimes you can blame it on the financial strategy, but it’s more likely that the game touched an emotional chord and truly resonated.”
He went on to say that one of the reasons he and his brother, Karthik Bala, founded Velan Studios was to pursue “unique ideas,” rather than get bogged down in the minutiae of business planning.
In comparison to “Rocket Arena,” “Knockout City” takes a different approach.
For starters, “Knockout City” costs $19.99, but the game’s producers are giving players a 10-day free trial during a block party in-game event. That’s $20 less than the upfront cost of “Rocket Arena” and $40 less than the cost of larger EA games. The free trial also gives players the opportunity to see if the game is something they will enjoy.
“Especially for us as an indie studio, leaning into gameplay and not wanting to do aggressive paywall techniques and stuff like that, we thought a relatively cheap premium price with tonnes of content crammed in would draw in as many people as possible,” Guha Bala explained. The 10-day trial, according to Karthik Bala, will let people grasp what “Knockout City” is, as it isn’t just a shooter, fighting game, or sports title, but combines components from all three genres.
The company also collaborated with Nintendo to make “Knockout City” a multiplayer game that doesn’t require a Nintendo Switch Online subscription (which costs $3.99 a month).
“With conjunction with Nintendo, we chose a fresh strategy in this game to make it as accessible as possible to as many Switch gamers as possible,” Guha Bala stated.
To keep things fresh, “Knockout City” plans to offer a rotating number of game types, or “playlists,” as it puts them. That’s instead of having various game types for which players can line up in advance, which would divide the player base and perhaps lead to longer matchmaking wait times, a problem that plagued “Rocket Arena.”
“If you have too many playlists, they get fragmented, and wait times can become excessive,” Karthik Bala explained. “And if there aren’t enough, you might not have as much diversity. However, the aim is to be adaptable. So far, we’ve completed a few betas [testing periods]. Now we have some direction as to what the appropriate starting amount is.”
The first season of the game will begin on May 25, and each season will last nine weeks. Every week, Velan plans to introduce new content to the game, including new gameplay, challenges, playlists, and even other types of dodgeballs. The studio will also solicit feedback from players to see whether there is sufficient interest in turning “Knockout City” into an esport and introducing a competitive ranked mode.
One feature that the game lacks at launch but may be added later is the ability to play with up to four players per team. When there are five players seeking to be on the same team, this can make things more difficult, but Velan emphasised that this is just a “beginning point” for the game.
People can join a crew and be sent to the same “hideout” to jump around and communicate with one another. The hideout is a playable lobby that Velan says might be experimented with, however he doesn’t say if “Knockout City” would start to enable in-game concerts like “Fortnite” and “Roblox” do.
Velan’s 50-person crew is small “in comparison to the game’s ambition,” according to Karthik Bala. “We’re dedicated to helping the crew, but as a live service game, the health and well-being of our studio is critical. It’s something that we, like everyone else, had to deal with during the pandemic. And thus far, everything has gone well.”
Guha Bala went on to say that the old-school style of producing games was to release a title on a specific date and then take a month off before prototyping the following game. Velan’s teams have been reconfigured to focus on live services, with a quality of life team focusing on game enhancements and a features team focusing on new features.
“We deliver with a sense of balance, because one of the most pernicious aspects of the live services game is that you never stop,” Guha Bala explained. “It’s like we’re working from home and can’t leave work, just like this pandemic. As a result, you’ll need to establish stronger procedures to deal with it… and we’ve begun to reposition ourselves, but it’ll be a work in progress.”