Whenever I talk with friends about the top games on the Amiga, a number of games by the Bitmap Brothers inevitably end up on the list. They were truly masters of the 16-bit machine, each of their releases receiving universal acclaim and setting new benchmarks in game design that other developers invariably failed to meet.
With the announcement of Speedball 2 coming to XBLA, fans of the series embraced the news with excitement, verve and a little caution. Speedball 2 epitomises the quality exuberated in the games developed by the Bitmaps on the 16-bit machines. To mess with a formula, deemed faultless by so many, would surely end in tears. Some relief ensued when news broke that Mike Montgomery was heading the project.
With the release of Speedball 2 on XBLA today, we thought it would be a good time to catch up with Mike once again to talk about the Speedball IP and attempt to gleam details on potential further XBLA conversions from the Bitmap's illustrious back catalogue.
Eurogamer: Speedball has been consistently popular ever since it was first released. Had you always intended to reincarnate it for modern super consoles?
Mike Montgomery: Definitely. We were just waiting for the right time. Live Arcade seemed like the perfect fit for bringing back Speedball 2 with the online play that people had been asking for.
Eurogamer: Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe evolved the concept quite considerably. Where did you begin with improving on the original model?
Mike Montgomery: There were a lot of things that we could not do at the time with the original Speedball. In 1990 when we wrote Speedball 2, we were able to use feedback from the original game to refine the layout of the pitch, improve the AI of the players, tighten the gameplay and expand the available game modes.
Eurogamer: Was Speedball 2 a much bigger, and more costly development than its prequel?
Mike Montgomery: Yes it was but it was not such a big step as occurs in this day and age. It was for the same machines as the original so we did not have to deal with a jump in technology.
Eurogamer: What were the most difficult aspects of its development?
Mike Montgomery: This was the first game that was developed with a team and not just the original partners of the Bitmap Brothers. That was quite a step for us. Also it was a bigger game so the main issues were compressing everything to fit it on a single floppy disk and getting the performance out of the Amiga and ST.
Eurogamer: Was there anything you wanted to include in Speedball 2 that never made it into the final game?
Mike Montgomery: That was so long ago I can't remember (maybe motorbikes).
Eurogamer: Good answer. How did the new XBLA version of Speedball come about?
Mike Montgomery: We'd been talking to various people for a while. Empire were just getting into Live Arcade development and showed a strong interest and it just went from there...
Eurogamer: Was it a difficult project to get off the ground?
Mike Montgomery: Not really. We'd worked on the original games so we knew the game inside out. Within a few months we had a playable version up and running and the entire project took about nine months to complete with a core team of three people (John Phillips and myself handling the programming and Mark Coleman providing the graphics).
Eurogamer: Was XBLA a good format for re-developing Speedball 2? Is it comparable in anyway to the Amiga or Megadrive (for instance)?
Mike Montgomery: XBLA is a long way removed from the old 16-bit days of the Amiga. You've got the full power of the 360 to play with and much more refined development tools. Also you have to dedicate a lot more time to the online aspects and the user interface.
Eurogamer: Is the XBLA Speedball 2 a port or emulation, and which format is it based on (ie. Amiga, ST, etc.)?
Mike Montgomery: The game is based on the Amiga code and assets. Rather than use an emulator we decided to port the code by hand to 360. This had the advantage of leaving the original gameplay intact while allowing us to add in the extra hooks for the 3D mode, add all the new online features. We could also expand the number of teams and leagues and revamp the user interface so it could be localized into numerous languages.
Eurogamer: Other than coming from the same origin, will there be any correlation between the XBLA Speedball and the new Speedball game due out on the PC (high score tables, online play, etc.)?
Mike Montgomery: They are two separate products. The XBLA game is an enhanced version of our original Amiga game. The PC product is being written from the ground up by a separate team.
Eurogamer: What kind of new features (online play etc.) can we expect from the XBLA Speedball?
Mike Montgomery: The online mode let's you jump straight in to a game using preset teams or a team you've built up over time in the career mode. There's all the XBLA extras like leaderboards, Achievements and downloadable content like new arenas and player skins. Also the 2D and 3D modes are fully compatible in online so you can play which ever you prefer. We've also increased the number of teams to 32 (the original had 16) and extended the cup and league modes.
Eurogamer: Is Speedball likely to see any more sequels in the future, following on from the XBLA version or the new game?
Mike Montgomery: We have a lot of ideas for expanding the Speedball concept and would love to create some further games in the series.
Eurogamer: How have you found Microsoft's rigorous XBLA testing policy?
Mike Montgomery: Generally the process went smoothly. The guys at Empire had previous experience with this so we were able to avoid many of the common pitfalls. I know people moan about it but at the end of the day it all contributes to making a solid product.
Eurogamer: Are you happy with the end result? Given more time what would you change?
Mike Montgomery: There are always time and budget constraints but I think people will be happy with the end result. Fans of the original will be able to prove their skills online for the first time and those who've never played before can find out what all the fuss was about.
Eurogamer: Are you planning any remakes or ports of any other Bitmap Brothers games? Surely Chaos Engine is screaming a remake on XBLA?
Mike Montgomery: We'd certainly like to so you'll have to watch this space...
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe is out today (17th October) on Xbox Live Arcade. It costs 800 Microsoft points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.30).