Despite some irritating quirks - it was harder to navigate than London at rush hour, the real-time aspect was sort of clunky and awkward, and the AI could be frustratingly dim-witted – Cyanide’s 2009 board game adaptation Blood Bowl was actually pretty fun, and packed full of the ridiculous, over-the-top character that makes Warhammer so lovable. Flawed but enjoyable, would be my verdict. From what we’ve seen from Blood Bowl 2 so far, Cyanide seems to be working hard at remedying some of the most common complaints, and introducing a layer of TV sports channel polish to complement the on-field gore. I grabbed a quick chat with lead game designer Gauthier Brunet, to find out what the team has in store for the upcoming sequel.
GameWatcher: Blood Bowl 2 will ship as a turn-based only game, dropping the real-time aspects of the original. Why did you decide to focus on turn-based play?
Gauthier Brunet: In our first game we tried to make both kinds of gameplay available to players, because we had a history of realtime football in our company. But it was quite difficult to make, it was like making two different games in one. We had to make the decision to cut stuff in order to make both systems work, and finally we split the playerbase into two different games. Most were playing the turn-based one, so when it came to Blood Bowl 2, we made the decision of just going in one direction, and we quickly chose the turn-based one. The turn-based Blood Bowl fanbase is huge, and we think that the turn-based style is much more accessible these days than it was ten years ago. People have played games like XCOM, and they’re looking for more. Blood Bowl is an interesting turn-based game that’s full of potential, so that’s the way we went.
GameWatcher: One of the major complaints about the original game was that the menus and general interface could be confusing and impenetrable. Is that something you’ve been working on for BB2?
Gauthier Brunet: Indeed, yes. We worked on this a lot. Blood Bowl is basically a football game, a turn-based football game with a huge management part, so it means it’s very complex and there are many possibilites. We needed to have this as simple and as modern as possible, visually, and keeping something easy to navigate for new players. So we worked on the flow a lot, making many different prototypes and testing it on old-time players and new players. We wanted to see if they were able to navigate easily in this flow, find whatever they needed. The UI as a whole, in the match as well, that’s also part of the interface we worked on a lot to make it as modern and visually appealing as possible. In the first Blood Bowl your gameplay flow was cut a lot, by stuff like this, which is not something you see a lot any more in the video game world. We wanted to bring something new and accessible, so it’s been completely revamped.
GameWatcher: Blood Bowl 2 looks much more polished and cinematic, was that a conscious effort to replicate the crisp look of sports games like FIFA and Madden?
Gauthier Brunet: Yes. At the beginning of Blood Bowl 2 we wanted to have a real identity, and we had these two people, Jim and Bob, the commentators. We had the Cabalvision TV, which is a very important IP in the Blood Bowl universe. So we decided to completely In this TV style, you know, like you’re watching your TV. We want you to feel like you’re on ESPN, watching your match, so we looked at a lot of real-life matches to see how everything is set, the direction and the way each action is represented. That’s our main inspiration when making the game.
GameWatcher: What improvements have you made to the opposition AI?
Gauthier Brunet: Right now, the opposition AI is adapting to its own race, so they will play completely differently depending on whether they are dwarfs, elves - dwarfs will play a slow game, and try to beat all your players up before they start to play, while elves will try to infiltrate your lines. They play completely differently. But also, they adapt to your own style. If the AI is playing a human player for instance, and the player’s team is stronger than the AI, they will attempt a passing game. If they play a weak but fast team, they will go in the opposite way. Try to bash them. So it’s much more adaptive, and much more intelligent when picking out a winning strategy.
GameWatcher: The singleplayer campaign is story-driven in BB2, does that mean we’ll get unique events, cutscenes and so on? Or is it more of a tutorial to introduce you to Season mode?
Gauthier Brunet: Totally, the campaign we wanted to have a very specific feeling. We didn’t want it to be a basic tournament, so we wrote a story with Games Workshop. All the matches are very specific, you meet a certain team in each match, and each match has specific cutscenes and specific events that only happen in the campaign. When you speak with your friends we don’t want you to say “oh, I’m at match eight and it’s very cool”, we want you to say “I’m at the match where the helicopter crashes on the field and there’s burning wreckage in the middle of the pitch”. Each match has a very specific feeling, and it’s a very unique style I think.
GameWatcher: How in-depth can you go with player and team customisation in Season mode?
Gauthier Brunet: When you create a team you first choose the basic things like a name, a motto for your team, team colour. Not only colour but a pattern, so you can have a ‘flower’ team for example. So this is the basic style of your team, and then you buy every kind of player you want, so if you want a fighter team you can buy warrior-type players, so you can choose a very specific roster. And finally, match after match your team will earn gold and your player will earn statistic points and will start to level up. As a manager you can level your players up however they want, making some people into certain styles; if you have one player who you like a lot, you want him to be the best at a passing game you can choose which passing skill you want for him. You can grow him in a completely different direction, if you want him to be very resistant you can put points into the resistance skill. You have many different options as a coach. You have to adapt to certain situations too, because a player might get injured or even die, so you have to use your experience to keep a good roster going.
GameWatcher: Can you hire other races for your team? If not, have you considered a kind of Fantasy Draft mode where the race restriction is lifted?
Gauthier Brunet: In Blood Bowl when you choose a race you have to stick to it. It’s something which is very important to the lore – races have stopped making war and are playing football instead, but dwarfs and orks can never play in the same team. It’s something that in the Warhammer universe can never be reconciled. We have our solution to go in this direction by making a new roster, a new faction roster. Like you have the famous roster called the Chaos Pact – that’s for evil races who are playing together, creating a new team, but it’s not mixing in dark elves, goblins, ogres, it’s a brand new roster where this merge has been done.
GameWatcher: Do you have lots of gory, brutal animations for each race and for the special characters? This is Warhammer, after all.
Gauthier Brunet: Yeah, we have many animations for each player, and it’s also a funny thing that each player in Blood Bowl has access to every skill, you know? Some skills are completely crazy, like jumping – when the player has this skill he can jump above the opponent, so it’s something that’s usually for agile teams like the high elves. But if a coach wants to give this skill to his troll, he can do it, so we have animations for this! We have a lot of fun making these crazy animations.
GameWatcher: With Blood Bowl 2 you’re definitely getting the game setup for eSports play, with the Spectator Mode and so on. What makes it a good game for competitive play?
Gauthier Brunet: Something interesting in Blood Bowl is that you have a very balanced game. All the rosters and teams have been played by the community for many years now, and they have been balanced. Each race has their own strengths and weaknesses, and all the different races have their own chance in a multiplayer match. For eSports you have many kinds of strategies, so as a viewer each match will be really different. You have random events that happen during the match that will happen and impact the game, and every match you’ll have some crazy situation happening. All these random stories are very good for the viewer. All the races have their own soul, their own style, and they all have something fun and original to them.
GameWatcher: You’re actually adding entirely new teams to the game, like the Bretonnians. How did Games Workshop respond to that idea? Do you work with them closely when designing new teams?
Gauthier Brunet: Games Workshop was quite confident when we were working with them on Blood Bowl. We’ve made the first game with them and they know how we work, and they know we are the game designer – we are making video games, they are making board games, and let us be totally free when making the game itself. It’s really cool, they just give us the universe and they help us with that. They also give us advice as players, because they are all huge game players, so they bring us their advice and how they feel about races. But they are really open when we propose a creation for the game, they just are there to help us keep it relevant and fun for players.
GameWatcher: Blood Bowl had several different edition released, which I think confused some customers and perhaps didn’t go down well with those who wanted you just to refine the original version. Is that something you’re hoping to avoid with BB2?
Gauthier Brunet: Blood Bowl 2 is definitely going to have more content added to the game, because we already see that players want more. We want more because we love the game and we’re excited about its future. Right now we don’t know what way we are going to bring this content, but we know the history of the first game, we know how people received it, and we know the video game market this time. Nothing is set in stone yet. We’re working on it, but we’re not decided on how to do it just yet, so I can’t say any more.
Many thanks to Gauthier for chatting to me. Cyanide is currently running a Blood Bowl 2 closed multiplayer Beta for pre-order customers, with a full release expected this September 22.