Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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Sport-like game of the day: Battlestorm

Someone called Margaret, possibly this one, posted to BoingBoing about a new physical sport-like team game, Battlestorm, that sees its public debut tomorrow. The event will take place in Biloxi, MS in the USA, a town badly ravaged by many Gulf Coast hurricanes over the years, not least Hurricane Katrina. The game is very loosely didactic, based around the theme of teaching hurricane preparedness to children.

Two teams play on an indoor, basketball-like court, and alternate between roles of offence and defence. The team on offence take the role of "the Town" going about their business; the team on defence take the role of "the Storm", frustrating the members of the town as they go about their business. The business in question is the business of transferring balls from a basket at one end of the court to a scoring receptacle at the other end; however, there are colour-coordinated baskets and balls at both ends, so a player might pick up an orange ball and ferry it to the orange target at the far end, then pick up a blue ball and return it to the blue target at the near end, ready to pick up another orange ball and recur. Balls can be transported freely by running or passing.

However, the defensive team, "the Storm", can attempt to freeze the members of "the Town", by gently tagging them while they are in the field of play and outside one of the designated safe zones ("shelters") - or can attempt to lower the offensive team's score by making distant shots (think free throws) using balls that have hit the ground during play and thus become dead. Members of "the Town" frozen in this way can be unfrozen either by being tagged by other members of "the Town", or by being passed a live ball. Keep transporting balls until time expires, then count up points for successfully transported balls, deduct points for the Storm's acheivements, swap roles around and let the defensive team have a go on offence. Higher score wins.

The game's devisors claim that the game has elements of "basketball, capture-the-flag, handball, team handball, and freeze tag". Certainly true, but I think it pays rather closer homage to a tag version of Powerball (from the Gladiators global franchise) with more than a bit of live-action Quidditch tossed in. Nevertheless, I think it's fundamentally a really solid, sound, properly balanced piece of design in a way that Quidditch so obviously wasn't. It's too involved for pick-up games, but is clearly imaginitive enough to liven up a gym class when it's too wet outside for even the most sadistic of gym teach... oh.

Now the really neat part is that the game has been designed both to be a bit of schoolyard fun as described above but also to be adaptable for tomorrow's public spectacle. The Tournament Mode of the game sees five local Boys And Girls Club field their teams, who play the Town role only, with a house team of athletically superior participants, "the Hurricanes", playing the Storm role against each set of challengers in turn. As it happens, the Hurricanes are going to be drawn on this occasion from the construction division of the US Navy. Yep, very Gladiators, but that's just fun.

To even the odds slightly, each team is given a number of tokens which can be used to buy transient advantages; the goals might be moved closer, the number of balls might be increased, the number of players on each team might be altered favourably, and these advantages all are loosely themed around items that might be found in a hurricane preparedness kit. In the social media stylee, teams have earnt these tokens by persuading their friends to post pictures to the Internet of real-life hurricane preparedness kits that they may have made. There are other minor tweaks to the game format for tomorrow's big event, not least that increasing intensities of storm are emulated by changing the number of players and safe zones ("shelters") slightly over time, making the Town's role harder as the game progresses.

In short, I'm impressed; I'm impressed enough to go out and tell you about it, despite the fact that I'm not sure that the game really has a future beyond this one event. The theming is cute yet effective and it feels like it's going to be an appropriate and sensitive way to raise a locally sensitive subject to the young. The game does have a very modern feel to it, with obvious use of video game devices (power-ups and ascending difficulty over time), the "nag your friends" aspect of modern social media games (earning tokens to buy these power-ups) and the game show element of featuring a consistent house team as opposition (the Hurricanes). It reads like it would be fun both to play and to watch.

I hadn't heard of the game's devisors before, but a tip of the hat to them. Now if I'm going to be negative, I would point out that the game's devisors are - under another guise - a local branch of another famous modern games company whose business model I happen not to like. However, I admit that that's being churlish; I am somewhat of a pinko in this regard, as in so many others, and note that the games companies whose business models I happen not to like tend to be considerably more commercially successful than those whose business models I do happen to like. (Evidently my sense of taste does not align with the masses here.) Hats off to Area/Code, whose principals' track records are illustrious and whose hearts are clearly in the right place. (As a sidenote, Area/Code are also responsible for Budgetball, another constructed sport; this one is largely Ultimate with basketball trimmings and a "public deficit" budgetary theme implemented through power-ups that teams might go into fictional debt to accrue, and pay interest on this debt, paying back the fictional debt by accepting power-downs and/or score penalties. Cute, but doesn't chime with me nearly so well.)

Pretty neat stuff. I hope that Battlestorm has a future and that history judges it kindly.

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