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Behold the Kickmen: the football game from a developer who doesn't like football

He should've called it Goal Squads?

Dan Marshall's made adventure games like the Ben and Dan series, and stealthy roguelites like The Swindle. Now he's just finished Behold the Kickmen, a game about football. But what's it like to make a sports game when you can't bear the sport in question?

You've just made a football game - is it true that you don't actually like football?

Dan Marshall: Yeah, can't stand it. Don't like having it on in pubs, don't like having to hear the results on the news as though it's news, don't like how much they're paid, don't like the social stigma of not following it, the whole thing has kind of got to me after a constant 35+ year drip-drip-drip of niggling little annoyances.

To be clear I don't begrudge people who do like it, I think it's great that they've got something to enjoy, I just personally think it's a great big bag of bollocks and I wish they wouldn't drive past my window at midnight honking their car horns because their team won.

This is probably quite an unusual perspective for a football game developer, then? Do you think it's allowed you to design a game around the sport in an unusual way?

Dan Marshall: I don't know what you mean, the game is a 100 percent accurate one-to-one reflection of football as half-remembered by someone who played Sensi and Speedball 20 years ago.

Let's just think for a minute about how brilliant Barney Ronay is.

But yeah, I've definitely been able to take some liberties - every tackle is a sliding tackle for example, because anything else just felt fiddly, and sliding tackles are more exciting.

As much as possible I've ditched anything that frequently breaks the flow of the game, such as throw-ins. Little bits and bobs like that to keep it arcadey and tight.

It's an odd process because as much as possible I wanted it to feel like football - so, no power-ups or special effects - but actually the more I got into it I realised how kind of boring football is, and that it could do with some tweaks so Kickmen kind of straddles a place between a straight-faced football game and all-out videogame-y football game. It kind of worked well, because putting too much silly stuff in breaks the joke, but being all po-faced made the game a bit flat.

Do you reckon if football was being designed from scratch today it would look more like Kickmen?

Dan Marshall: Ha ha! I have no idea - I like to think some things - such as the giant laser grid to keep the ball in play - would make it through, I suspect the need to make it all serious would probably kill some of the other minor changes I've made. You know what sports people are like, they get all into the athleticism of it and try and do everything perfectly. Kickmen isn't like that.

Honestly, Barney Ronay is the best. The other day he wrote about 'human metal fatigue' and I actually applauded.

What has been the reaction from actual football fans?

Dan Marshall: Genuine anger from some, especially when they didn't realise it was a big joke. Or, even if they did but felt football was a sacred thing immune to a little ribbing. But generally people have been quite excited for it - people who wouldn't buy a football game in a million years showing interest, which is lovely. I've never had so much feedback, and so much positive feedback, for one of my games. That's the only reason it exists, otherwise I'd have given up long ago.

I love the fact that football games are getting story modes now. Can you tell me a bit about how the campaign narrative came together before I ask you if we're going to get a sequel to The Swindle?

Dan Marshall: Kickmen's story stuff actually went in before FIFA announced their Journey mode, I thought it was a really clever and innovative little thing to do, but it mainly came about because I wanted a space to share my disdain for all things football, and having some characters popping in and out seemed a great way to do that. So it was in and done before they announced their thing, but the game itself wasn't up to scratch so there was a lot of refining to do over the course of the last year, and now my story mode looks like a parody, but what can you do?

Last question. Are we getting a sequel to The Swindle?

Dan Marshall: I don't know, yet. I love that game and it did really well so I'd love to make a follow-up, if not a direct sequel. It's definitely not the next game I'm making, but hopefully the one after that. I look at The Swindle and I can see a dozen things I could have done differently to make it utterly brilliant, and my mind is constantly flooded with ideas of how to improve it. The base game and the core loop I think is really brilliant and moreish, so it's something I'd love to revisit. But yeah, I'd love to play with the concept some more.

Put it this way: I'm making my next game with a mind to keeping the tech viable for a new Swindle game, so possibly.

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