...and it's fantastic
I've been a football fan ever since I was small. I used to head down to the nearby rec about five minutes from my house to play little pickup games with other local kids. It was typical stuff, jumpers for goalposts, rush goalies, my next-door neighbour Rich and I would always try and make sure we were on the same team, and we'd regularly beat kids older than ourselves. That often didn't go down too well.
The point is that for every sport there's a backyard alternative, whether that's five-a-side, quick cricket, touch rugby, etc. -- the idea is that as long as you have a ball (and maybe a bat) and some willing players, you can have a great time. Anyone can get involved, you don't need to know the intricacies of the game to play, positions and tactics are worked out on the fly. Sure, some people will be more skilled than others, but the idea is that organisation is minimal -- you just play.
The same idea underpins Supraball -- a fledgling eSport title described as a First-Person Sports Game, that basically plays out like a pickup game of footy, but with gravity guns to propel the ball around rather than kicking it.
Oh, and jetpacks. Because, well, jetpacks are awesome.
The makers of Supraball, who happen to be the same folks that worked on the original UT 03/4 mod upon which the game is based, describe the game as so:
Supraball is the official successor to the infamous "Deathball" mod for Unreal Tournament 2003/4 that first came out in 2002 and won plenty of awards, but in most people's eyes it was always "just a mod". We have fixed that problem.
Carl basically got a tip off from a friend, and then roped Jon and myself into downloading Supraball for this week's Game Night. We jumped in on Monday night, and we played for four hours straight. It's a team game, obviously, so the enjoyment factor is predicated on the characters you're partnered with on a team and up against in the form of the opposition. Just like a game down the park, if you find a group of players looking to play the game rather than just run about making aggressive tackles and griefing others, then it can be enormously entertaining. Sometimes, though, it can prove to be a bit of a tedious crapshoot. It's still in beta, server options and matchmaking is all very basic, and there are few ways to currently separate the more seriously-minded from the buffoons. But that's to be expected.
But I've fallen in love with it utterly. Part of the reasons I never got on with FIFA's Pro mode -- both offline and online -- is that you were positionally stuck. Players would always scramble for midfield or attacking roles, knowing that defenders would frequently be left with nothing to do. Indeed, in an 11-v-11 sport, there were so many periods I just spent waiting for the ball. Realistic? Maybe, but pretty sodding boring too. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy the NBA 2K series more, and playing sports games with smaller team sizes: once you take your avatar online, everybody is involved.
The same is true of Supraball, and that's aided not only by the team sizes (matches range from 6-player 3-v-3 games to 16-v-16 absurdities), but the simple setup too. Positions rotate naturally, the nearest defender can become the goalkeeper simply by stepping into the box and availing themselves of the GK's invincibility and extra mobility. Defensive interceptions are just as impressive and crucial as one-touch shots, blasted rocket saves, and court-long passes. That gun in your hands can be used to blast players off of the ball, steal it back at the last moment, and then launch an enormous, curling clearance high up the field to a lurking winger.
Perhaps the most laudable thing is that the game is this much fun simply as a raw beta. There are no bells or whistles here, no advanced stat tracking (no basic stat tracking for that matter), no leagues or tables or anything like that yet. There's no player customisation at this point in time, and no convenient way of sifting through the player base to start a dedicated team. These are all things that have been earmarked for the game's development roadmap, but at present Supraball is a sport played only in virtual sports halls and appropriated playing fields. No, really. There are only two pitch types at present.
It doesn't matter.
For UT fans who were playing Deathball a decade ago, this will prove to be an absolute treat. The same goes for sports fans who've perhaps wanted something a little more immersive, a little more direct from a multiplayer experience. It's family-friendly, gore-free, with cutesy, clean avatars and endearing, mischievous chuckles from the opposition when they score. For what it's worth, the number of occasions where players have helped explain things to a newcomer mid-game have, in my limited experience thus far, noticeably outnumbered the sweary exclamations of exasperation. Just remember -- RMB to pass. No-one likes a glory-hog.
The beta is currently free to download, it takes up barely any space at all, and you'll be pinging balls about the place in no time. Not only that, but there's even a Dealspwn official server to look for once you're in game. We will be running regular Supraball beta game nights on a weekly basis in the near future (currently trying to work out the best day and time window, suggestions welcome) but in the meantime look out for Fuzzy Pixels and Maleicai if you do decide to jump in. There'll be a lot more info to come in the near future.