Dino Dini kicks off

The man behind Kick Off 2 returns to the dugout to give his first in depth interview and talk about his first football game in ten years. And why all the other ones are rubbish.

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As you may have heard, Dino Dini is back doing what he does best - making footy games. In the days when creative mavericks ruled the roost, and Kick Off 2 was duking it out with Sensible Soccer, Mr Dini was a household name. A follow up, Goal!, appeared in 1993, but after that he upped sticks, went to work in the USA and seemed lost to gamers forever, to be remembered by a bunch of thirty-somethings who still cherish those sepia tinted days of sprites and pure gameplay. We often wondered how Dini's knack for producing pure football gaming experiences could ever be translated to 3D, but assumed that in these days of huge teams and big budgets that his purist vision was lost in the crowd, part of a bygone era that could never come back.

But we were wrong. Dino Dini actually "never left the industry", he was just determined to wait for the right opportunity to arise and to work with a company that shared his uncompromising vision of the way football should be translated to our screens. DC Studios, headed up by one of Dini's partners in crime Mark Greenshields, has signed up Dini and his Abundant Studio outfit to work on the project. But we're not there yet, for the project, codenamed Soccer 3, is only in its initial stages and hasn't even been given a tentative release date yet. It might be a while yet before we even get to see it, but we're quietly confident that with Dino Dini at the helm it's not going to be released until it plays in a manner that truly give players a "deep sense of satisfaction when you score a superb goal and you know that it was all down to you". Kick Off 2 gave the player that feeling; let's hope this carries on that tradition.

Eurogamer: What have you been up to in the last 11 years?

Dino Dini: Best thing to do is look at the website...

Eurogamer: Why didn't you carry on making games after GOAL? Surely your reputation would have been worth carrying forward into the early PSX era?

Dino Dini: I did actually try and get Sony interested way back before the PlayStation came out. But ever since the PS, the industry started thinking 'big' - it lost appreciation of individual talent. This can be seen in the way that football games have developed since... mostly with big licenses and big teams and very little focus on a core of great gameplay, of the art of video game development as I understand and value it.

The industry has focused on ever-increasing production values instead of the core essence of interactive entertainment. What use is someone like me in that environment? This deal with DC [Studios] gives me the chance to correct this, hopefully allowing me to bring the 'old fashioned' values of game development into the modern setting. This has always been possible, but the industry has increasingly forgotten what interactive entertainment is supposed to be all about. I find it odd that people question if the gameplay of my old games can work in the modern game industry. What people forget is that making a great game is no different from making a film, writing a book, or composing a song. The technology by which you make the entertainment product may change, but in the end the principles of entertainment remain, whatever happens.

Eurogamer: Why have you made a return now? Why now in particular, and not, say, a few years back?

Dino Dini: In fact I have never left the industry. However, as I've mentioned, this industry does not really champion individuals. How many people know the creative force behind GTA3 for instance? Instead, the industry has pushed the labels, the publishers, the brands. Although this works in the short term, brands generally have a limited lifespan, as we are now starting to realise. People get bored with the same stuff time and again. If you want true longevity in this industry, it has to be through the promotion of the talent behind the products, in my opinion. I think that as the industryís creative crisis continues to deepen, it will increasingly value and promote creative individuals rather than brand names. Perhaps this trend is now beginning, and companies like DC and myself will lead the way.

Eurogamer: Have you settled on a name for your new game yet?

Dino Dini: No. But it is already known as Dino Dini's next football game. The label is just a marketing decision. Internally we call it Soccer 3.

Eurogamer: When are you expecting it to be released?

Dino Dini: This is undecided at this time.

Eurogamer: What will your role be on the project? Purely design?

Dino Dini: My role is project director. In essence, I am the lead designer, the lead programmer, and the head of production. It is a lot of responsibility, but I get the work done through a good choice of team members, and delegation; in fact, we are currently expanding the team. Even so, the project is every bit a Dino Dini game even if I am not actually coding every line in it.

Eurogamer: How many people are going to be working on development?

Dino Dini: We currently have a small core team on the project, though having created the core gameplay functionality we are now expanding the team significantly.

Eurogamer: How does this compare to the old days, and how long will it take by comparison?

Dino Dini: In the old days, the team was just me, plus contracted artwork (one person, not full time). The time frames, in practice, are not a lot different. The game code is more complex however. In this game, we have to cope with much higher ball collision precision, because the camera can be right on the pitch instead of hovering overhead at quite a distance. Other football games can get around this by doing things like deciding if it will be a goal as soon as the shot is taken, and then guiding it into the keeper hands if it is decided that itís not a goal. I do not call that good gameplay. But to give the player the choice and freedom of shooting as they choose means that we have to do some pretty complex AI, the kind of challenge that very few game developers try to take on. Coordinating a far larger number of animations takes time too.

Eurogamer: Why are you releasing it on seven platforms? Does that present extra challenges?

Dino Dini: All the games I have ever written have been portable, although admittedly, in the early days they were written entirely in assembler, so they were only portable on systems with the same CPU. Kickoff and Kickoff 2 were written by me for ST and Amiga. GOAL!, was written by me for ST, Amiga and Mega Drive. All these versions used 68000 CPUs, but had vastly different hardware. Cross-platform development is meat and drink to me, although the industry in general has often shown a poor record of doing this.

Some platforms, such as GBA, will probably require a lot of rework because they are too different in capabilities from the current generation hardware. However, the feel of the game can always be retained, even if some features are cut back.

Eurogamer: Tell us about the game - will it be top down again?

Dino Dini: It will be whatever view the user wants. The default view, however, is side on in the manner of the current crop of games. I take a great deal of care over the camera AI however, and have implemented some innovations in this area.

Eurogamer: How do you expect to translate your ideas on the gameplay to the programmers?

Dino Dini: The principle is to provide a basic framework that can then be tuned. There are a lot of algorithms, but each one is quite self contained and relatively simple. I have developed a very strong rapport with Stefano, the AI programmer, so that it is enough to discuss and algorithm with him, and he will go and implement it. Later, I tune the parameters so that the game has the right feel.

Eurogamer: A huge number of people love the 3D approach mastered by Konami in Pro Evolution Soccer, and to a much lesser extent in FIFA - are you taking them on at their own game or going at it your own way?

Dino Dini: There is nothing wrong with the 3D approach, and in fact way before FIFA came out with it, I was trying to get a team together to make a 3D version of my football games. However, 3D presents many challenges in programming and design; I do not feel any game has yet been released that gets it exactly right. I have been trying to get this game made in one way or another since 1995. I am hoping that when this game is ready, it will really show what has been missed out all these years.

Eurogamer: What do you feel games like Pro Evolution Soccer fundamentally lack, and what will your game do that theirs don't?

Dino Dini: For me, there is no real feeling of being in control, of it being up to you. Anyone who has played football for real knows that the game is exciting because when you get a chance, you have to pull yourself together, focused in one instance, to perform an action flawlessly in order to score (unless you get lucky!). There is no feeling quite like it in the world; when in that moment - when it really counts - you become calm, focused, and entirely living in the moment, without any thought of the past or future. And then you score the perfect goal. It is why sports are so addictive. My game will give you that feeling, that deep sense of satisfaction when you score a superb goal and you know that it was all down to you.

Eurogamer: Do you enjoy any of your rival's footy games? What do you like or dislike about them?

Dino Dini: I keep up-to-date with latest developments in other football games, as part of my work.

Eurogamer: What feature from their games are you likely to implement?

Dino Dini: I take as my lead the features I feel are important from the real game of football. As we are all copying the same sport, there will no doubt be features that are shared, but I have a very long list of ideas of game features that I have never seen implemented.

Eurogamer: Are there likely to be any completely new features in the game?

Dino Dini: Yes, but they are secret.

Eurogamer: What was it that made Kick Off 2 so popular, do you think?

Dino Dini: The fact that you were in control, that the game was designed to be a sport in its own right, and that nothing really like it had existed before Kickoff.

Eurogamer: Do you believe the game will be a commercial success - how do break the EA/Konami stranglehold?

Dino Dini: With the correct backing, it will do for the genre what Kickoff did in 1989. It is no fluke that my games won several awards. It is a shame that I have been unable until now to find the right backing to take what I do forward. DC has now provided me with that opportunity.

Eurogamer: How important will licensed player names and teams be to the overall product?

Dino Dini: Licenses are a marketing issue. They help to market and sell the game, but in the end, I am here to put you on the pitch, not famous names. This will be the essence of our approach.

Eurogamer: Will it have an online component? Explain your justification either way.

Dino Dini: It is likely to have an online component. In fact online play has been tested out on GOAL! and has been found to be quite successful.

Eurogamer: What happened to the ill-fated E-Kick Off project?

Dino Dini: E-Kickoff was an experiment I conducted while working in the US. It was self-funded, and done in my spare time. I gave it up because I did not have the time to devote to it.

Eurogamer: How did you feel about Anco continuing to milk the Kick Off brand?

Dino Dini: Anco is no more, as sadly Anil Gupta passed away last year. I feel sad that the Kickoff name was devalued through the creation of inferior products. However there was very little I could do about this.

Eurogamer: Do you play any other games - if so which ones?

Dino Dini: I enjoy many kinds of game, ranging from RTS to RPG to FPS.

Eurogamer: Dino Dini, thank you.

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