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SWOS: A Sensible interview
For a whole generation there has only ever been one football game; never mind your Fifas and your Pro Evos – these people grew up with players comprising only a handful of pixels, had one button to control everything from slide tackles to a diving header and shouted at a referee who has earned a second career as a T-Shirt personality.
Rejoice, you retro fans, because Sensible World of Soccer has made it into the next generation with Xbox Live Arcade – and this time it’s exactly like the original.
Sensible Software was perhaps the most influential game maker in Europe when the Amiga was at its peak; the likes of Mega-lo-Mania and Cannon Fodder live on in the memories – but it was their football sim Sensible Soccer that caught the hearts and minds of a huge slice of gamers.
Jon Hare was the co-founder of Sensible Software and, of course, part of the team that created Sensible World of Soccer, which is now all set to earn a new lease of life on a console a thousand times more sophisticated than its first home, and he believes that the original playability has lost nothing in translation.
“It was deliberately done to be authentic to the original version and I think [the publishers] Codemasters have done that very well,” he told Tech & Gadgets.
“They went and asked the original team what version they should use, they updated the graphics but left the old ones in and they used the music that we had composed.
“Everyone who worked on the game had worked on the original at some point."
The essence of Sensi Soccer’s success was always in its playability – it was and remains a game that was easy to pick up but difficult to master, and it is this core gameplay that Hare believes makes the XBLA version the best remake to date.
“We wrote the game engine back in 1991 and the first time we played on it properly it just worked. Chris Chapman – who wrote it – admitted that he didn’t know quite why it worked so well or why it was so immediately balanced so we left it alone.
“For all the sequels we did we didn’t touch that core of code, it was just something that you didn’t touch, and the emulation on this XBLA version, I think, keeps that core, which is why it works.
“Has it got a place in the modern world? I don’t know, it’s a bit like asking if classic literature has a place in the modern world or 50s rock & roll.
“I think the modern tendency of games being sold as products rather than as something for fun has given us a different focus on gaming, but if you go forward 30 years then you will only look back and see the great games from all different eras.
“I think what we did at Sensible will be remembered as some of the better stuff of that era."
In the same way that Sports Interactive’s football management sims, first Championship Manager and then Football Manager have won legions of fans through their accuracy, it was clear from the outset that Sensible Soccer had been written by genuine football fans.
From the comical posturing of the referee to the substitutes benches and the often wry football references in the teams you could select, fans appreciated the little touches in the original, and Hare believes that it was this enthusiasm for the game that added to its appeal.
“The attention to detail shows that we loved football, played football and understood football,” adds Hare. “I think it plays into the whole mentality of real life football as well.
“You have to make split second decisions to weigh up the best thing that you can do, pass into space or shoot.
“Even with something like Pro Evolution Soccer, which has been the best of the lot in the past few years, it sometimes feels like an exercise in button-press timing.”
Hare’s enthusiasm for the impact that Sensible Software did on the Amiga is tempered by the current problems faced by smaller developers in the gaming industry.
“I think that games are bought by software retail buyers who say that they are buying what the public want, but in actual fact the public wants what the public gets – to quote Paul Weller.
“Buying something with an established audience is safe so you can understand why it happens, but I think we have become very Americanised as an industry.”
More of this interview will be published in the new year