Developers: Cyanide Studio
Publishers: Focus Home Interactive
Blood Bowl is back, and this time Cyanide are really ringing the changes. What began as a hugely successful tabletop game, parodying American football and marrying the tactical elements of that sport with a fantastical setting , became a PC game in 2009 that was taken to heart by a resurgent Warhammer gaming fan base.
And now it's getting a proper sequel. We're not talking the 1.5-esque Legendary Edition that overhauled the UI, or the paid updates that ushered in more playable races. We're talking a brand new game.
We were told by Cyanide's Sylvain Séchi, who took us through a very early conceptual build, that pre-production actually began over a year and a half ago. Essentially, the team at Cyanide scrapped everything they had for the previous game and started afresh, with a new engine and a revamped art style to fall more in line with the slightly more realistic Warhammer 40K games we've been privy to recently.
The enormously popular Madden series from EA Sports has proven to be something of an inspirational benchmark for this game, with the developers taking a number of cues from the cleaner interface employed by existing sports franchises. Player cards now deliver instant visual feedback on a unit's statistics, making it easier than ever to compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of the match-up on the pitch.. Moreover, the entire look and feel of matches has been altered in a number of small ways to better frame the action, and make things a little more cinematic.
"It's not 'cinematic' in the sense that there are loads of cutscenes, but to make the game more exciting to watch as a spectator," explained Séchi. "We really want this game to make the jump into eSports and so we wanted it to be more visually engaging. So the camera will zoom in close for a brutal hit of slow down slightly for a kick and follow the ball, like you see on TV. We wanted to get that feeling of spectacle, like you're watching this match on TV, to encourage players to jump into their friends' games and see what's going on."
With that in mind, Cyanide have implemented an enormous range of multiplayer options, leagues and tournaments, all of which of completely customisable, with a wealth of mode creation options for playing with friends online, locally, or even hotseating. The online spectator mode, however, is likely to prove popular, particularly considering that there's no maximum spectator cap. It's very much a case of look but don't touch, as there are no options to cheer or boo or interact with the game you're watching so to speak, but you'll be able to see cursor movements and strategic overlays. Although it's only being planned for PC currently, Séchi certainly intimated that the social connectivity boasted by the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony would certainly make those platforms a good fit for the game, though there's nothing concrete to report on that front as yet.
Alongside the desire to really push this series forwards in terms of multiplayer and eSports, much is being made of the solo campaign that sees you heading up the famous Reikland Reavers at a time when their player base has gone to pot and they're languishing at the very bottom of the league. Jim and Bob -- the commentators featured in the game's teaser trailer -- will essentially present the modes of the game through something Cyanide are calling "Cabalvision" -- which is basically the sporting TV network for Blood Bowl.
"We're trying to ensure that every game you play is different," Séchi stated. "We didn't want to create a campaign mode where you're just playing the same game after game after game. When you play StarCraft II, for example, no two games are the same. That's what we wanted to have for our game. So every match you play in the campaign mode will be slightly different, under different match parameters and so on.
"Jim and Bob will be there with you every step of the way, commentating the action and bringing the whole thing to life. We really wanted to make the campaign mode an important part of the game and bring that feel you get from big sports games and sporting TV channels."
Cyanide are also hoping to make the game a little more accessible. Not by dumbing things down at all, but rather by improving in one area that fans have been grumbling about for some time: implementing a decent tutorial. "We're going to have a proper tutorial mode in this game," said Séchi. "It's going to be built into the early part of the campaign, so we'll gradually introduce elements and more challenging scenarios across the first few games."
As well as aesthetic improvements and cleaning up the UI, a lot of work has gone into improving the AI, according to Séchi. When the game is done, Cyanide say that teams will change their strategies on the fly, with play styles shifting depending on team composition and the different races in the game.
These are all lofty claims, of course, and many of them exactly what we want to hear. But, frankly, it's too early to tell if Cyanide are actually going to deliver on all of this. Starting from scratch is a good start -- the last thing we needed was another iteration on old, buggy tech, and Séchi's words about the team investigating options on PS4 and Xbox One hopefully point towards a game aiming big with a high level polish and power behind it. What remains to be seen are how many races and teams we can expect to see in the finished game (indeed, the DLC strategy for Blood Bowl disappointed many), the extent to which the AI has been improved, how the multiplayer netcode will hold up, and just how intuitive the whole thing will be to play.
But the game has only been in actual proper production, we're told, for four months; so it's early days. Until Cyanide have more to show, and a working build of the game that we can try out for ourselves, then it's mainly nice words and good ideas at this point; but those are certainly promising. We'll just have to wait and see if they pan out.
What do you make of Cyanide's plans for Blood Bowl II? Got any further questions that you'd like us to fire over to the devs in a follow-up piece? Let us know your thoughts, reactions, and questions in the comments below.