Interviews

NaturalMotion talks hard-hitting tackles in Backbreaker Football

From tech demo to social one upmanship

NaturalMotion talks hard-hitting tackles in Backbreaker Football

One of the most surprising games announced for iPhone recently has been American football title Backbreaker Football: Tackle Alley.

Why surprising? Partly because, despite the nationality of the sport, it's a joint operation between two UK companies: animation outfit NaturalMotion and developer Ideaworks3D.

And partly because it's based on a PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 game - also called Backbreaker Football - and there haven't been too many of those on the App Store.

Needing to know more, we ran through the covering line and sacked NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil for some answers.

Pocket Gamer: Why did you decide to make an iPhone version of Backbreaker?

Torsten Reil: NaturalMotion and Ideaworks3D had an existing partnership to bring our PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 animation engine morpheme to mobile platforms via its Airplay SDK. As part of this, Ideaworks3D found the iPhone was fast enough not only to run morpheme, but also the animation assets straight from the PS3/X360 version of Backbreaker, which NaturalMotion is developing.

So, it was a natural step to see if we could recreate an entire mini-game from the console version, called Tackle Alley, including similar visuals, tackles, animation fidelity and thirdperson camera. Ideaworks3D managed to pull it off, hence the game.

Is it more than a technology demo?

It's a game first and foremost. We spent ages making it as rewarding and polished as possible. We're also hoping for it to show off what's possible on the iPhone using morpheme and the Airplay SDK, but that's secondary.

What assets were used from the console version?

The game's assets (animations, character models, stadium, textures etc.) are from the console version, and the morpheme animation engine is the same that's running on PS3/X360.

We sent Ideaworks3D a build of the console version for gameplay reference, and they wrote the iPhone game code from scratch on top of the Airplay SDK. We're really quite surprised what kind of performance they managed to get out of the iPhone. The code is very, very optimised.

What do you think is the most impressive thing about Backbreaker on iPhone?

We're especially proud of the hard-hitting tackles, the fluid animation and the 3D visuals. It's pretty amazing what's possible on mobile platforms now. The tackles are based on our endorphin simulation technology and we think they go way beyond what's previously been seen on the iPhone.

What was the most difficult thing to get right?

We spent a huge amount of time balancing the game with regard to difficulty progression and scoring. A crucial part of this was repeated focus group testing, which we conducted as we do for the console version.

Can you explain how the controls work?

Steering is done through the accelerometer, while you use buttons to spin and juke around defensive players. The showboating button becomes active just before the endzone.

How much flexibility is there to customise your player?

Users can choose from a selection of teams, customise the players' skin tone and jersey number, and - most importantly - they can stick their own name on the jersey.

Why do you think the game will have replayability?

The game is seriously addictive. It's very hard to put down, either because you want to progress through the waves, or you need to beat that highscore your mate posted on Facebook.

As I mentioned before, we put a lot of effort into creating a scoring mechanic that was fun and challenging. Taking inspiration from great examples like Project Gotham Racing and Guitar Hero, we added a score combo system that rewards the player for stringing moves together.

This changed the game from being a straight race to the endzone and introduced an element of strategy. Do you take risks and try to spin past every opposing player on the field? You stand a greater chance of getting tackled but the rewards are far greater when you showboat in to score with a 6x multiplier. If you want to win the golden helmet for each challenge, you have to gamble.

Also, the title ships with a lot of content: 50 waves with ever-increasing variety and difficulty, lots of unlockables and secret content. In addition to the standard Challenge mode, we also included an Endurance mode, which lets you play through all the waves in one go, hardcore-style.

You mention Facebook integration but do you have any plans for other features?

The Facebook integration is very cool as it allows you to easily post your highscores on your Facebook wall. We are also looking at OpenFeint, Scoreloop etc., but we wanted to test the waters with Facebook first.

Will there be the option to record video clips?

Not at this stage, but the game does feature slow-motion replays of your tackles from multiple camera angles.

Is there any news on pricing?

If the economics permit it, we'll try and price the game as low as possible. It's a lot more fun if you can compare your scores with everyone around you.

Backbreaker Football: Tackle Alley is due out some time in September.