On April 5th, Dan Marshall — a game developer best known for witty adventure games like Ben There, Dan That — joked that he was going to make a soccer game. Then he took things a step farther. "You thought I was joking," he tweeted less than an hour later, "but I genuinely just spent six minutes making a football game and it's like 90 percent there tbh." He continued working on the concept, despite the fact that he doesn't know about the sport and has no intention of learning its rules.
Eventually Marshall's game got a name, Behold the Kickmen, and some unique rules. Its pitch is round instead of rectangular, and goals from further out are worth more than those shot from up close. It also has Matrix-style bullet time maneuvers, and when a player scores, the referee will walk up and give him a kiss on the cheek. In spite of — or perhaps because of — his ignorance of soccer, Marshall is making one of the most curious sports games in quite some time, all while publicly documenting the process on Twitter.
I had the chance to talk with Marshall, learn how the idea went from joke to game, and discuss what kind of future the kickmen can expect.
Has anyone else accidentally started making a Football game today? Mine has the 'going around' and 'jumping' done pic.twitter.com/qY6xjKkV3V— Dan Marshall (@danthat) April 5, 2016
Andrew Webster: Is it actually possible to be English and know nothing about football? I say this as a Canadian who knows far too much about hockey, not necessarily by choice.
Dan Marshall: Oh absolutely. I played it a bit as a kid, but had more important things to do than sit around getting fat and watching other people get paid vast sums to play it. It's not that I know nothing about football; it's more that over the years I've been worn down to the point that I guess I just now totally despise the game and the entire culture surrounding it.
So it started out as a joke, but at what point did you realize it had the potential to be something real?
It was all from Twitter. I started out making some stupid jokes about how I was making a football game without caring what the actual rules were. It kind of struck a nerve and took off.
Normally when you're making a game, you scrabble around for any crumbs of attention you can muster. [You're] hoping and pleading that your GIFs and videos will take off. You're always thrusting them at people in the vague hopes of a retweet that never comes. It's a slog. To my genuine surprise, with Kickmen it all happened organically. Which is something that only ever seems to happen to other indie devs. I made no effort whatsoever, and each GIF just started getting more and more attention. I think once that started happening, it seemed silly not to do something with it.
So it went from being a kick-a-ball-against-a-wall thing to a full-on football game, God help us.
Uh oh. Drift Kicking with a little Bullet Time and it's actually suddenly quite fun :/ pic.twitter.com/Xf81sRS4fc— Dan Marshall (@danthat) April 12, 2016
What did you actually know about the sport going in?
I know it has a ball, and some very rich men run around in an arena trying to kick at [the ball] with their feet. Sometimes the ball goes in The Net, which means you've done a goal and win a score. Beyond that, I'm pretty clueless because Jesus have you seen how boring it is? It's the same thing week-in, week-out.
What are the key changes that you hope make a "boring" sport more exciting?
I've tried to make it more like speedball, that's helped. But there's no making football exciting, I'm afraid. Deep down it is what it is, and I'm afraid Kickmen is a football game and therefore at some level it's pretty much doomed to be unutterably, intolerably dull.
Why do you think people are latching on to the idea? What are some of the best suggestions you've heard so far?
I think people are latching onto it because they either hate football as much as I do, or they're football fans with a sense of humor.
My favorite audience suggestion was that the umpire should run up to whoever scores a goal and give them a little kiss on the cheek. That went in today and it's amazing. Beyond that, there are loads of ideas coming at me, most of which won't work. People are obsessed with the idea of a multiball mode, which I've tried and is just unbearable madness. There's a reason it's not called "footballs," and that's because multiple balls is not at all fun. If you're reading this: don't suggest "multiballs." It's awful. It makes a bad game worse.
Have you ever been tempted to look up the real rules to see how they compare to what you're making?
God no, I'd claw my eyes out with boredom.
What are your plans for the game once it's done?
The plan is to get the actual "game" part done, and then to add some sort of progression. I think football has these little spreadsheets where your team goes up or down depending on whether you've done more goals than the other teams. I'm not sure, I'll put something like that in.
Honestly, the problem is I suspect people enjoy the frisson of a flippant football game being made over Twitter more than they do the idea of having one to sit and play. I can't imagine it'll translate well sales-wise, but you never know. So the plan is to make it strictly single-player, PC-only, maybe Early Access to test the water, and if it takes off I'll look at adding to it.
But just because it's popular on Twitter doesn't mean it's going to buy me a gold helicopter, so I'm being cautious.