Steam Greenlight Spotlight: Frozen Endzone
Frozen Endzone is a simultaneous-turn-based sports game from UK-based indie studio Mode 7, the developers that brought us Frozen Synapse. By all accounts, Frozen Synapse was both a critical and commercial success, so you may be wondering why Frozen Endzone is on Greenlight rather than simply appearing on Steam when it is ready. This wasn't something Valve asked Mode 7 to do, but rather something the studio decided on its own. The team wants "direct feedback on what people actually think of the game," they wanted to "start building up a community on Steam and have a centralised place to release updates and info through development," seeing Frozen Endzone voted onto Steam by the community would mean a lot to them as a "vote of confidence," and maybe most surprising of all, they want to support what Valve is doing, saying that "Greenlight is awesome and if slightly more established devs use it then that will benefit everyone." When I started my Greenlight Spotlight column, I stated that I would focus on hidden gems, which Frozen Endzone can hardly be considered. Yet Mode 7 has a point – what if more established developers used Greenlight? Could you imagine if every studio, big and small, had to actually prove their products to consumers prior to release? Maybe the Sim City launch debacle would have been avoided. Maybe Dark Souls wouldn't have been such a shoddy port. But I digress...
If you have never played Frozen Synapse, it may be difficult to grasp the notion of simultaneous-turn-based gameplay. As the name implies, both sides take their turns at the same time, which makes the already tactical nature of turn-based gameplay even greater. In Frozen Synapse, you didn't simply map out your actions, but also what you thought your opponent would do, test how it would all play out, then make adjustments until you were happy. Once you committed your plan to action, there was no turning back. It was the ultimate guessing game. Frozen Endzone will play out in the same way, but instead of trying to kill your opponent with a team of military personnel, you're instead trying to score touchdowns in a futuristic version of American football. Now you may think my love of the sport is causing me to be a bit biased, but I actually typically hate sports video games – they're simply never as good as watching or playing the real thing, and typically devolve into simply exploiting some weakness in the game design than actually tactically mastering the gameplay. Frozen Endzone, on the other hand, looks to offer an entirely different and unique experience. Aside from it being more simplified than actual American football, the terrain and player placement will be randomly generated each time you play, with each drastically affecting how you plan your moves, as can be seen in the screenshot below.
Frozen Endzone is still early in development, with it not expecting to launch until 2014, but it already looks quite impressive. The art style certainly has a futuristic feel to it and its 3D nature is naturally more expressive than Frozen Synapse's top-down 2D look. The animation system plays a huge role in that. According to Lead Animator Martin Binfield in an interview to PC Gamer, "the play is evaluated and then the replay is constructed based on what happened." As such, all the animations will be pre-calculated, with the system using what he called "paired animations" to create a cohesive look. Also, since the players are robots, expect more exaggerated hits than any normal human could take.
Frozen Endzone is an ambitious project, but Mode 7 has already proven itself with Frozen Synapse. The game will feature both single player (Skirmish and Season) and multiplayer (various modes), and it's being developed for PC, Mac, and Linux. As with Frozen Synapse, Frozen Endzone will have asynchronous multiplayer, which means you don't have to wait around for your opponent to take his or her turn and you can have multiple games active at once. Even if you're not a football fan, if you like tactical games, Frozen Endzone is certainly a game to keep your eye on.