Behold the Kickmen – Q&A with Dan Marshall
Yesterday, our massive preview of Behold the Kickmen was published. Today, you can read the full Q&A I had with indie developer and brains behind Kickmen, Dan Marshall. Hit the break to find out more about what inspired Dan to make the game, how the Story mode works, and what advice he has for other indies out there. Enjoy!
Hi Dan, how are things, I imagine that you are eagerly awaiting the start of the new football season?
Is that now, is it? I hadn’t noticed it had finished.
My first question about the game; did you ever think about adding an exclamation mark to the end of the title? I keep feeling like I should be referring to it as Behold the Kickmen! Is that just a bit nuts?
I didn’t, actually. There’s a lovely exclamation mark at the end of Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! which I always felt lend them a lovely showtunes aesthetic, you know, kind of like OKLAHOMA! which I’m suddenly aware might not have an exclamation point, actually. But you get the point.
But those games are deliberately frivolous, hence the playful ! at the end. BEHOLD THE KICKMEN is a deadly serious football simulation, and as we all know there’s no room for fun in the World of Football.
Early days, but I added a whole new tactical level to #Kickmen: drag and drop to set your squad's formation pic.twitter.com/hNTImOV9O3
— Dan Marshall (@danthat) July 28, 2016
When I first wrote about the game in April, a day before those Kotaku chaps made the game famous, it all seemed like you were having a bit of fun. When did you realise you were going to end up having to make a full game?
Yes it was fun at the beginning, wasn’t it. I remember those days. But yeah, from the start I was going to make it into a full little game. I was thinking maybe something about a schoolboy kicking a ball against a wall, some sort of Super Hexagon style mini puzzle-action thing. And then it took off and I sort of got carried away and turned it into a thing with Teams and AI and all different modes. So, I was always going to have to do this ‘menu’ and ‘polish’ stuff, it just arguably would have been over a lot quicker.
Will there be DLC where you can control that schoolboy, taking his first steps to football stardom?
Hah, that’s kiiind of the plot, I guess? You start as a know-nothing kickman at the bottom of the leauges and work your way up. He’s not a schoolboy, though. I don’t know how you’d differentiate between Kickman and Kickboy on the field anyway?
Made a start on #Kickmen's random Football Player Name Generator. Pretty accurate so far #screenshotsaturday pic.twitter.com/QzznyLGFnJ
— Dan Marshall (@danthat) July 29, 2016
Back when coverage of Kickmen started, the Twitterati seemed confused about what you were doing. Are people starting to understand what Behold the Kickmen is all about?
I think most people got it? I think quite a lot of people even if they hate football enjoyed playing Sensi and Speedball etc, and I think quite a lot of people would play something along those lines, but the mawkishness of football culture is just kind of offputting. Behold the Kickmen I think is a nice ‘in’ to being able to play a football game from a lofty position of self-superiority.
That or people just dug the haircuts on the little men.
I, for one, certainly dug those hairucts!
The last time I looked at a Football thing was a Panini sticker album for Mexico 86, so I suspect that was the inspiration.
Finally added the most-important part of football to #Kickmen – adverts for your main competitor's game pic.twitter.com/IpEsCBPmg1
— Dan Marshall (@danthat) July 22, 2016
In your most recent developer blog, you talked about, and showed off in the video, the added layers of gameplay you’re adding with sprints and lobs. What kind of feedback are you getting from testers with these features?
The most recent stuff hasn’t gone to testers yet, I’m still toying around with it internally (by myself) and working on getting the Story Mode done, so that the next round of testing can be bigger and more focussed. I think because the first 2 rounds of testing were limited to Quick Play (which is the one-off mode) it lacked a little…. drive? So I’m getting the League and Story stuff working nicely because that gives people more ownership of their own team, and I think the feedback will be more relevant.
But I think all the ‘special skill’ stuff works really nicely, I think it’s good to have a wealth of options at any given point – when you got the ball and could only ‘run or kick it’, the game felt a little flat. Now it’s got some options and mistakes feel like your fault, rather than an unfair roll of the dice.
What can you tell us about leagues, the World Cup and player management?
The Leagues system works as the main Story Mode to the game – you create a team at the bottom of the big spreadsheet thing, and you climb that ladder. There are 5 leagues, with a default 4-teams-per-league but if you’re a maniac you can increase that so the game goes on forever.
If you win, you climb the leagues, if you lose you drop down. At the end, you have to fight Brazil United (who are the best Football team) and if you do that you win the World Cup and everyone’s just delighted.
During that process you can unlock skills (like passing, or sprinting) and you can spend Goals on upgrading your team, so they’ll react faster, and the Goldkeeper will be better at saving the goals, that kind of thing.
It’s pretty much 1:1 with real football, I think?
Added a speed modifier to #Kickmen, so you can play it as ultra-slow waddling geriatrics if you like pic.twitter.com/pYzv02Ji4b
— Dan Marshall (@danthat) July 14, 2016
Are you telling us that the players won’t necessarily know how to pass properly without unlocking a skill? Based on my youthful kickabouts, that certainly is 1:1 with real football.
Yeah, when you started a game it was all a bit overwhelming having a billion rules to learn, so I locked some of them off so you’re introduced to concepts slowly. At first all you can do is kick and tackle, and the more nuanced stuff gets introduced each time you win a game.
You also asked fans to contribute to the crowd chants. How rewarding was the experience of choosing which ones to add?
Hah, it was fun. I deliberately gave very little direction because I just wanted people to use their imaginations. Some lines had to be taken out for factual inaccuracies (shouting “Come on, Ref!” when Behold The Kickmen is a British football game, and we have ‘Umpires’ over here), and some had swearing, which sounded… odd. Rude words didn’t gel with the cutesy nature of everything else, but I might re-visit that, it might be funny. Anyway, it was a great experience, really fun listening to them, but obviously editing them down, filing them, sorting paperwork so I can legally use them and adding them to the project was BORING AS HELL.
The umpire giving a player a kiss after they do a goal is lovely, what happens if someone gets sent off?
Hah, they just run off the pitch into the Red Card Prison. One of the things I learned early on was that anything that stops the football match from going on is VERY BORING, so I’ve tried to cut down things like ‘getting sent off’ or ‘half time’ because sitting still watching some footballers run around isn’t much fun. That’s why the ball can’t go out of bounds – can you imagine if it did and play stopped every single damned time? Eugh.
But the kiss stayed because it’s too adorable to remove.
I think we can all applaud the inclusion of the kiss. Are there any other moments like that you want to reveal?
Hah no, I think that’s the only one. As I said, keeping flow going in-game wound up being really important, so all the silly stuff is kept for the cutscenes…
#Kickmen soldiers (not sure of the official term) now have dinky little numbers on their jumpers #screenshotsaturday pic.twitter.com/e2FAJn4SPO
— Dan Marshall (@danthat) July 9, 2016
I understand you are following your own advice and not including multiplayer. What lessons have you learnt during development of Kickmen that you would share with other indie developers?
I think one thing I’ve learned that I definitely need to act on myself in future is when coding something, to always be thinking “what if further down the line I want to change this?”. So with Kickmen, one stupid thing I did early on was assume all games would be played vertically because that was the way these games play (like Sensi/ Speedball, right?) but later on you think it’d be nice to rotate the pitch and play horizontally, to add a bit of variation, but of course because those early days I was coding like it was a GameJam, it basically required a complete re-write to change anything like that. So my advice is, even if you’re bashing out code for a silly joke game, always make sure it’s infinitely expandable and can cope if you want to make a sweeping design decision. It’s certainly something I’ll be doing with the next project.
Before the final question, will you make any other hardcore 100% realistic sports simulations in the future, like cricket perhaps?
Heavens no, I’m not doing anything like this ever again. It’s alright ot make mistakes in life, just so long as you learn from them and don’t do it again, isn’t it Batman who said that? Whatever, that.
Finally, do you know when the game might be released?
No. I don’t really see any reason to rush it out so my plan is to have a lovely long Beta test, and act on all that feedback to make sure it’s as good as it can be; the sad thing about making a football game is it can’t possibly get more than a 6/10 because it’s a football game. So by the nature of the beast it’s at least part-rubbish.
But it’s basically at Beta, hopefully by next week it’s ‘done’ and I’ll start getting wider feedback. It’ll be available to the wider public as soon as I’m happy it’s actually fun to play.