K Zero interview with Steve Marshall, Creative Director at Cypersports

K Zero interview with Steve Marshall, Creative Director at Cypersports. The company behind Football Superstars , Cypersports kindly put Steve Marshall, their Creative Director up front to answer some questions about the forthcoming Metamogg launch.

K Zero: Given the popularity of football on gaming consoles, it’s surprising a virtual world on this theme hasn’t been created before. How did the idea come about?

SM: I was equally surprised to discover it hadn’t been done before, or being at least at a significant development stage. Virtual worlds are a natural progression from lobby based systems to join players together, there are MMO’s covering most of the major gaming genres from Real Time Strategy to First Person Shooter, but until Football Superstars was announced nobody had made the connection between sports and persistent virtual worlds.

Football Superstars was born from a conversation with Malcolm Clark my uncle, now CEO of CyberSports. We were discussing the MMO phenomenon and knowing how much of a gamer I was he asked me if I could think of a game that could leverage this platform in an area that hadn’t been explored before. Five minutes after leaving his house the basic concept for FS came to my mind and the following morning I sent Malcolm an email.

“What if you could play football online with thousands of other people in 3 to 11-a-side squads, controlling a single player from the footballer’s perspective? Play casually in the park with friends at first, then more seriously within a well-drilled team on well-tended turf.

Eventually, hard work and persistence may lead to you turning professional and earn you money with which you could buy the best that life can offer. Lead the life of a football superstar in a utopian world.

Your first international qualifier beckons….”

K Zero: Football Superstars is a sharded environment. Can you explain this aspect and why it was chosen over a linear world.

SM: Shards are a cluster of servers that form the virtual world, housing each inhabitant and everything else in the world. Each server is responsible for a particular area, where the architecture for our platform is clever is that servers can dynamically help each other out when one server is less stressed than another, thus sharing the load and keeping performance high.

There will be a number of shards and therefore a number of worlds each of them beginning life identically, capable of housing a finite number of users, the moment that a character logs onto it however it becomes unique.

Football is a very fast paced action packed game, we wanted to make a “twitch” based system that rewards players for manipulating the control system well. This requires high performance infrastructure at all times.
The best way to guarantee (as much as can be guaranteed within an online server architecture) is to restrict the number of inhabitants concurrently within each shard. We will be looking at approximately 100,000 accounts and 5000 concurrent users per shard to ensure that performance is always optimum.

It is also a game design consideration, having shards allows us to have regional based shards. This allows us to ensure that each shard is homed at a central location able to service its inhabitants with the best connectivity possible and allows us to generate shard vs shard competition in the future, our version of a World Cup.

Football Superstars has the potential to be of interest to millions of people on a global scale, having a linear world would mean that users in different regions may have varying experiences due to their distance to the server hub, it could also feel over populated in time and would require significantly more development preparation in order to create a single world that everyone would be homed on possibly resulting in an empty feeling world to begin with, we have the luxury of scaling up the content on our shards as the game becomes more popular.

K Zero: As the world will be PC-based, how will players control their avatars during matches?

SM: We have the luxury of designing a control system using a mouse, arguably providing the highest fidelity options for control when compared to a control pad or just keyboard. We set about ensuring we deliver 3 key
objectives with this control system.

  • Fidelity of movement… I want to be able to get anywhere on the pitch
  • Fidelity of camera options… I want to be able to see what is going on at all times.
  • Fidelity of ball control… I want to place the ball anywhere I wish.

We leverage the best parts of mouse control and have created a system that has 3 complexity levels, but at level 1 meets all the above requirements so picking up the game for the first time you will be able to do everything you need to do in order to play football with one key on the keyboard and one button on the mouse. Extra levels of complexity involve additional mouse buttons and First Person Shooter style strafing amongst others.

We also provide the players with a number of “feedback” solutions too, you’ll always know which team is in possession, where the opponents goal is and a number of other key factors. Making the game easy to pick up
and play for the first time and allowing the player to grow with the game and learn the more complex aspects of the controls.

K Zero: In Second Life, residents can purchase items using Linden Dollars. Will their be an in-world currency?

SM: Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a virtual world without any kind of currency. In Football Superstars we have FSB and FSD, Football Superstars Dollars and Bonds, Dollars are earned by playing football and are our virtual currency, Bonds will be purchasable with real world money and will allow you to access additional content in the game, how this split works will be detailed fully in the future.

We will be allowing conversion of bonds to dollars, but this will be a one way exchange to prevent potential money laundering and other abuse.

K Zero: Will Football Superstars be a global platform?

SM: Although the full details of our roll-out are still being formulated we fully envisage Football Superstars to be implemented in every region globally, we will be initially launching in Europe and will probably hit the US and South America after that, but it’s a little too early to discuss our full strategy.

K Zero: Clearly there are major opportunities for advertisers. Which types of companies do you think are most suited?

SM: The Football Superstars world is both utopian in style and aspirational in nature, we would like to ensure our advertising partners reflect real world aspirational companies. There will be fashion houses, vehicle manufacturers, restaurants etc that fit this model immediately and others that simply won’t. There will also be areas where brands can be more generic, fast food chains may appeal to everyone regardless of their social standing or depth of pocket.

K Zero: To you foresee tie-in’s with real world football clubs and organisations?

SM: Absolutely, we have design for bringing real world football clubs into the game, but we didn’t wish to compromise the implementation by avoiding the copyright/trademark regulations, making minor changes to the name and strips in order to incorporate them at launch. We have enough content and competition for our launch product to not have to integrate them immediately, but it is definitely a target we wish to hit eventually.

We intend to leverage the dreams of every would be footballer, being a player in your favoured club, it will be a powerful pull and create massive competition, also allowing supporters to gather in an environmental replication of their teams grounds would be a great place to discuss the Saturday afternoon game and further the community aspects of the game.

K Zero: How do you think Football Superstars will compare to Sony Home?

SM: The key difference to Football Superstars is that it’s obviously focused on the beautiful game, and is the first of many sports homed in a single virtual world. Otherwise there are a great deal of similarities, real world companies having a representation online, possibilities of turning virtual purchases into real world delivery, and all of the community aspects from voice communications to clubs and developing groups like-minded individuals. However, we will also be leveraging the internet outside of our online environment, managers will be able to scan profiles in order to scout for their team on the Football Superstars portal, mobile technology will bring aspects of the game to phones and other devices. Above all there is a bigger picture purpose to life in Football Superstars, rather than just an online community.

K Zero: The launch is scheduled for Spring 2008. Is their a development timetable beyond that date, in terms of adding additional functionality?

SM: Absolutely, we have several lifetimes of content updates for Football Superstars already planned, and that will only continue to grow. The game at launch will provide solid scaleable foundations for every aspect
we wish to expand on post launch, from player owned housing to improved management opportunities, being able to play as the goal keeper, referees even commentators are areas we will explore after our initial release. We will of course expand on the world, creating further towns, cities and additional casual content to occupy the players whilst they wait for their next big game.

K Zero: How will players create their names? Will you allow them to take the names of real world footballers?

SM: We will be reserving all the names of the top real world players so that should they choose to they will have the choice to participate as themselves. We are being fairly open however so long as it isn’t abused.
Players will be able to create a first and last name and an alias, subject to confirmation by our code team, we will be aiming at only the alias having to be unique, therefore allowing as many “John Smiths” to play as themselves should they choose to, but each one having a unique alias or nickname.

K Zero: What do you think is the single most compelling aspect of FS?

SM: This has never been done before, exploring new territory is incredibly exciting.

The fact that you will be able to play a very simulation style yet fast paced game of football with friends or strangers anywhere in the world, then being able to enjoy the fame and celebrity status off the pitch.

We are the first to bring the most popular sport to the masses with a virtual world that could grow in so many ways its almost impossible to predict how huge Football Superstars could become. The myriad of
possibilities for replication of a virtual world cup… sponsorship deals for individuals… even the possibility of having your favourite sports personality actually playing in your virtual team… it’s endless and very exciting for everyone involved. Marry the player opportunities with the commercial and things spiral quickly.

I just can’t wait to see where the community takes us, and it will very definitely be their path to tread, we will follow bringing them the features they ask for and continue to develop virtual sports in virtual
worlds.