June 2, 2011 9:08 PM | Cassandra Khaw
Kill Screen had described Hokra as 'NBA Jam for minimalist junkies' while others have called it the 'Nintendo Ice Hockey of indie games'. Regardless of how you perceive Ramiro Corbetta's latest creation, one thing's for sure.
Hokra is fun. Ridiculously fun, in fact.
The throng of people that made an appearance at No Quarter's inaugural ceremony certainly agreed. "Four people would be playing but there'd always be, like, ten or fifteen watching at any given time. " Ramiro Corbetta, best known for his involvement with Glow Artisan, had enthused during a recent interview. "The best game I saw was towards the end of the night. Two teams were playing and I think they were really good because you could hear the crowd cheering them on. I think it ended on an exciting note because suddenly, there was applause."
Seemingly incredulous of Hokra's success, it can be hard to remember that the energetic, self-deprecating game designer was a veteran of the scene. Despite the credentials associated with his name, Corbetta radiated the wide-eyed excitement of a newcomer. "I was overwhelmed! I had to have done something right to get people clapping."
Then again, the secret of the game's popularity might lie in its roots. Hokra is football distilled into its most basic components, really. Four players, divided into two teams, must manevenur a ball into their respective goals; the coalition with the most points wins. Consisting of nothing more than squares of varying sizes, the visuals themselves reflect this elegant simplicity. Yet, at the same time, the essence of football somehow remained. Watching a game of Hokra is like a trip to the stadium, one filled with rowdy fans and good-natured taunts, a boisterous affair often compounded by the shouting from the players themselves.
"I had been playing a lot of FIFA during the time." Tall and lanky, Corbetta does not fit the stereotypical image of a game developer. A self-confessed sports fanatic, he explained that the inspiration for Hokra had originated from his fascination with FIFA's passing mechanic. "I decided I'd try making that passing mechanic and so I made this top-down thing, programmed a passing mechanic in and tested it out. Eventually, I added another player just to see how well it work and because I had an x-box controller with analog movements, it was possible to aim perfectly."
He grinned. "Eventually, I found myself thinking, 'Maybe I should develop a game around this' and I did."
Ramiro Corbetta was first approached in regards to a comission for No Quarter during a Babycastles event. During that time, he had been working on another unfinished game, a multiplayer space shooter. "I was like, 'You're giving me comission to finish that game?' and they were like, 'No. This is to make any game you want.'" Their only condition had been that Ramiro Corbetta's next title would need to be shown publically at No Quarter first.
No Quarter is the New York University Game Center's attempt to foster the development of creative groundbreaking independent games. The annual event also possesses a focus on gallery games, games that encourage audience curiousity and participation. "Games are not private but they can be. It's always been about interaction between other people. I like single player games. I play them but I've also been playing them less and less. I love the idea of using games and even video games to bring people together, something the gallery space does an amazing job at." Corbetta had explained when questioned about his stance on the relationship between players and games.
"Games have been historically a way to bring people together, a kind of social lubricant. And then, it somehow became this thing you do at home. There's nothing wrong with that but I want to make games that are a social lubricant, games like the ones in No Quarter."
Corbetta cited the Copenhagen Collective and their game B.U.T.T.O.N as a definitive influence. "They're amazing guys. They have this jousting game and you have to hold the Wii-mote and move in slow motion. The idea is to somehow make their Wii mote move without moving your own. And, the Copenhagen Collective makes games that use technology but they're using technology to bring people together. "
"I tried to do with with Hokra as well. It's partially because I love sports and also because I wanted to make people yell at each other." Corbetta quickly added. "But, you know, in a positive way. Obviously, not in a bad way. But, I want people to have fun and get riled up and yell at each other. It's something that's been missing from digital games."
The development of Hokra had not been easy. "I'm not a graphic designer by training so the hardest thing for me was the graphic design component of this. It's not natural to me." Corbetta confessed honestly. "If you go back through my twitter feed, you'd see me complaining about colors continuously. At first, I thought I had found colors that worked and then, a friend of mine played it and I tried to explain to him that he had to move the 'ball' into a colored square. He paused and asked me where. Then, a second later, he was like, 'Did you use pink and green?' and I said yes. He then told me he was color blind."
"Colours are tough." Corbetta had said. "Graphic design was tough. Making things not ugly was tough. I don't know how good a job I did. Game mechanics come easy to me because that feels natural. Balancing is never frustrating, just fun. Graphic design is fun too, just a lot more difficult. However, when I decided I was going to do my own graphic design, I also decided that the biggest mistake oyu can make is to try to make things really complicated and realistic. If you're someone like the SuperBrothers, you should go ahead and cover everything in flashy graphics but if you're like me, it's better to keep it simple."
"Hokra is a game about simple movements, after all. It's a simple game."
Extensive play-testing had been a part of Hokra's development process. "I do this co-working thing with other indies around here. We get together and work on our own games. I also did a lot of play-testing with the NYU Game Center and it was all this smart people everywhere, each one giving me a little input and and the mix of that input made an incredible difference.
"For example, Zach Gage, who made Halcyon told me that he felt that when you're sprinting, you should, for 1/10th of a second, still be able to change directions. It wasn't even a noticeable difference but it somehow made players feel so much more in control. Small things like this made the game infinitely more playable."
With No Quarter now over, the line of questioning moved towards Ramiro Corbetta's future plans. "I don't know. I thought about getting it online but the moment it does get online, it loses a bit of its magic. The moment you turn it off, the person isn't there anymore and there's a certain beauty about being able to play with people who are right there." At its core, he said, Hokra was all about humans playing and their interactions with each other.
Were there any other games in the work? "Maybe! I've just started working on this new game. It's like, a side-scroller that might just end up an up-scroller. Once again, it's a multiplayer game. Players both have jetpacks they control using the R button; a soft tap will make you travel slowly while a hard tap will send you rocketing skywards. You have a certain amount of fuel and you have to go from platform to platform to get more fuel. Each of the players will have guns and shooting the other person will give them a boost."
Laughing, Ramiro Corbetta said, "I want a game that will have people shouting at each other, going 'Shoot me, shoot me. I'm going to die. Just shoot already!'"
The potential name of the game? Shoot Me, naturally.
P.S: New York music fanatics may like to know that Hokra's music originated from the highly talented Nathan Thompkins, a member of the band Ava Luna.