Frozen Endzone dev diary: Origin Story

Paul Taylor at

Mode 7 Games, creators of our Strategy Game of the Year in 2011, share an update on their progress with Frozen Endzone.

Welcome to the first in the series of this behind-the-scenes look at Frozen Endzone. Although it’s our third game, Endzone feels a lot like a difficult second album. Our previous title Frozen Synapse had an amazing critical reception, winning awards and exceeding all of our expectations. Following something like that that is a pretty torturous soul-searching process as you try to find the needle of an intelligent decision in the haystack of random gibbering that accumulates in 4 years of making a single game.

We were confident from the outset that simultaneous-turn-based gameplay was something we wanted to continue. Here’s Lead Designer and Programmer Ian Hardingham:

“Two years before I even started coding Frozen Synapse, I spent the Christmas break playing Chaos League's simultaneous-turn-based mode. I was spellbound by the idea of a turn-based sports game,and absolutely loved inventing different formations and plays for every match. "Competitive geometry" might sound dry, but the thrill of both you and your opponent viewing the exact same field,but often seeing totally different things, is very exciting to me. I soon got frustrated with Chaos League's flaws--much as I did with Laser Squad Nemesis--but the idea for Frozen Endzone was born that holiday season.

I wanted to make a game which was more creative and a bit less punishing of lapses in concentration.  But it had to be as deep, if not deeper. The sports game idea that came from Chaos League was perfect.”

The first phase of making the game was to prototype the gameplay, and this happened inside Frozen Synapse itself. The mechanics, though pretty different, required the same framework to operate so this ended up being a great choice.

“It took six months of full-time prototyping to come up with the core mechanic,” says Ian. “Originally the game was to be based around allocating points to Speed, Power, and Reactions for each of your players; maybe gambling on making a player run at full speed for the next turn, but if he was tackled the result would be disastrous. There was promise in this but it was too fiddly. I spent all day every day tweaking rules and playing against (Level Designer and Tester) Bin, and eventually found the core mechanic: when you're stationary, you're powerful; when you're moving, you're vulnerable. It sounds extremely simple but I believe the best game mechanics are.”

At the same time, our Lead Artist Rich Whitelock started concepting. Initially, we wanted a VR-like, almost Tron-style look again but as time went on we decided to move away from that as we felt like we had a chance to do something more unique. We wanted the robots to seem like machines and have a real physicality to them. Here’s one of the first concepts:

“I was trying to create a concept that didn't fall into typical tropes of concept art,” he told me. “This utilised techniques (lighting, rendering, materials etc.) which were feasible for the eventual realtime game engine and showed the game in a state of play.  Readability was a priority.  Exploring different ideas led to towards a strong kind-of-tech-fantasy atmosphere in both the stadium locale and the lighting and FX.”

We decided to use Torque 3D for this project mostly down to Ian’s familiarity with it and the ease with which we could add new features. Our ninja freelancer Martin Johnson was brought into work mostly on rendering stuff to see if we could execute Rich’s concepts.

Ex-Sony animator Martin Binfield was brought in to work on early animation stuff. We wanted the robots to have a big and characterful style but also a heavy realism: it needed to be impactful when two of them clashed in a big tackle or block. Martin’s distinctive animation style now pervades the game.

Over the next few months, I’ll be letting you know what’s currently happening with Frozen Endzone as we reach beta and beyond.

Follow Paul Taylor on Twitter @mode7games.