Interview: Jon Holmes Talks About HyperBrawl Tournament

By Lilly K. 14.11.2020

HyperBrawl Tournament, created and developed in the UK by Milky Tea Studios, celebrated its release at the start of 2020. Available for several platforms, this title is a sports-themed brawl game for one to four players. Catching up with Jon Holmes, the Game Director of HyperBrawl, Cubed3 was able to gain some insight about the inspirations and development backgrounds of this title.

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Cubed3's Lilly K, Lead Editor: What inspired you to make this game?

Jon Holmes, Founder and Studio Director of Milky Tea Ltd: To be honest, quite a lot inspired us really. So, I think the first thing that inspired us was obviously a game called Speedball, from back in the day, from the 1980s. I must admit, we never really set out originally to go "Right, we're going to build a new Speedball 2." We were looking for a kind of party game to play, basically. The other thing that inspired it was an ancient Italian sport called Calcio, which takes place in Florence every year. I think it's a 16th Century kind of brutal sport and basically a game of no-rules handball. It's a completely free-for-all in terms of brawling and everything. There was an old school movie called "Rollerball" that was quite influential in the game, as well, and then there's one other thing that has probably inspired it. We always felt there was no kind of "Guardians of the Galaxy" of the video gaming world, so we wanted to make our own kind of "Guardians of the Galaxy". So, all these ingredients came together in HyperBrawl.

Cubed3: What is, in your opinion, unique about your game?

Jon Holmes: There are a couple of things that are unique about it. Obviously, we've gone for this kind of science fantasy art style; there's probably Overwatch being one of the only games that really nails that kind of science fantasy theme.

I think the biggest unique feature is what we call the "Hypercurve." It's the ability that when you throw this heavy metal ball through the air, you can actually develop your skills. You can control it mid-flight. It's a little bit like using your kind of magical power or a kind of Jedi force, for instance, but you can spin the ball in multiple directions, meaning you can create these amazing escape-shape bends that allow you to swerve the ball around obstacles or take out people in the arena or score crazy goals. It's something that everyone just becomes so addicted to because it's a balancing act between this power and skill to be able to score these crazy goals.

The other one, they call it the "Hyperforce," is the ability to come back in games. So, at its core HyperBrawl is a bit of a brawler, so it's obviously a bit combat heavy. If you get knocked out a lot and you get beaten down a lot, we want to give players the ability to get one back over their opponents. So, we've given it this kind of rage power-up inside. It allows you then to become super strong and you can use that super strength ["Hyperforce"] to either just to launch people out the arena and embarrass them, or you can use it to go and get the ball, knock everyone out of the way, and score a goal and come back into the game. So, it's interesting to watch people and how they play the game because some people like to wait until that perfect moment to go "Right, I'm currently getting beat" or "I'm drawing right until the last 10 seconds, I'm gonna trigger it, take everyone out and score that goal." So, it's a really interesting ploy.

Cubed3: What challenges do you encounter when developing a game like this?

Jon Holmes: I think there have been numerous challenges along the journey. We've been developing the game nearly four years now. The first challenge was when we first took a prototype of this game to GDC in 2017. We were already a really small team, and probably at that time a very unknown team, as well, so we only had a limited budget. But what happened was that when we talked at GDC play, we became one of the busiest games at the exhibition and, all of a sudden, we had loads of big publishers, investors, and even a lot of the big esports companies all coming to us, asking to be involved. So, that was the first big challenge to go: "Well, okay you know, we can't do this on our own." Weirdly, we got at that time partly acquired by Tencent. They decided to buy a minority stake in the business, but that was an investment into our business plan and that allowed us then to go: "Okay we can invest, we can build our team a little bit and we can invest more money in HyperBrawl." I think that was the first thing: making that decision that we were going to invest more time or energy.

We had the Psyonix team come over to see us at GDC and go "We absolutely love this game!" You know, the guys behind Rocket League and they're giving us tips and hints about what we can do with the game. So, that gave us the confidence that we needed.

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I think the next phase was, all of a sudden with the esports market, we had all these pro gamers coming to us, and I'll be perfectly honest and frank that we weren't pro gamers or esports enthusiasts. We didn't know really that much about esports and we didn't want the game to be an esports game from the off, for us. Our kind of core was that we wanted it to be a party game, first and foremost. A game that you can sit around a big screen TV with your friends and family and play a four-player arena base game… so, we had to learn a lot about esports to make it esports-friendly. For us, to be a successful esport you have to be a fun game, first and foremost. We wanted to let it naturally evolve into an esport if it was possible.

So, that was the second biggest challenge, and then the third biggest challenge throughout this journey was when we were about to launch the game in 2019 on PC and console and, out of the blue in summer 2019, Apple came to us and said "we want this game to be a launch title for Apple Arcade." So, when you've been working with all these PC communities and console communities on a game and then someone like Apple comes along, it was sort of like taking what was a heavily engineered game for PC and console and taking it to nearly every Apple device. That was a big engineering challenge, but we felt that, for us, there are not many opportunities in your whole career where you can become one of 100 games on a new platform. Also, Apple Arcade was pitching it as an arcade title and that was true to our original kind of brief, so we decided to do the deal with Apple. Obviously, a lot of people were disappointed by us going to Apple Arcade first, but what it did with going to Apple Arcade was that it allowed us to take the game and put it into peoples' hands and see how they react to it. So, what we found is, we've got a huge fanbase now on Apple Arcade! We've got lots of people playtesting the game for us, and we've used that data and those analytics to go "Right, when we come to PC and console, how do we make it bigger and better?" So, we've reinvested an awful lot of money this year to try and make the game far superior in lots of different ways.

So, that's been a big challenge again and, then, the final big challenge of all is probably trying to simultaneously release in a pandemic year on Xbox, PS4, Switch, and Steam, while everyone's been working remotely at home!

Cubed3: What challenge does it pose to release a game on multiple platforms?

Jon Holmes: It's very, very difficult. I think the biggest thing is that every single platform has its own terms and conditions, so when you open a set console or device, you have to have set prompts and set graphical elements and the game has to work within that required specification. So, at some point in time the game gets branched into four different branches. You're working on four different versions, which are tailored to each of those platforms. At the same time, you'll find that there's a set problem with one of them that you're going to have to fix on all four.

For us, it's interesting to know that the Xbox and Switch versions were done by a company in Scotland, while the PS4 and Steam versions of it were done here in Liverpool. So, for us, we have to obviously connect with that team in Scotland; it has to be in constant communication with Liverpool. We have to be working together on every aspect of it, and, especially while working from home, it's a communication nightmare, as well as a kind of code and building nightmare at times.

Cubed3: What is your attempt to deter people from things like rage quitting?

Jon Holmes: We try to minimise punishing people and we tried to give credits to the person who stays within the game. There are a couple of different things that we put in to encourage people to not rage quit. Number one is, you've got a party mate in your team. The second thing is a three-round system, so you've always got the ability to come back. The third thing is to keep the rounds super short, so the rounds are only 1 minute 30 seconds each round, meaning that even if you do get to the end of the game and someone rage quits, you're not disappointed because you've only played for the best part of maybe four minutes. Then what we've done is, instead of punishing people, we just basically give credits to the other player who stays in.

Cubed3: Do you have any tips for new players of this type of game?

Jon Holmes: Firstly, find the team that best suits your abilities. A lot of people go into the game and go "Right, we're going to be the heavyweight characters!" Heavyweight characters are great, if you just want to involve a lot of close combat, but they're not great against the fast ball. So, for me, everyone is slightly different; so, find your team - a good mix of speed and of broad strength. You've got such a variety and they're all well-balanced.

The next thing is: land the "hypercurve!" If you can master "hypercurve" then you can master the game. Also, you have got to remember there are 12 unique arenas in this game and each of the arenas pose different obstacles. There are all little tactics and little things, so essentially learn the tactics for the arena.

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