One of our most anticipated games releasing this month is Knockout City, a competitive team-based dodgeball title that offers players both accessibility and depth. The game is especially intriguing as it comes from Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit developers Velan Studios, and was developed with an entirely new engine to make it functional. Recently, we got a chance to attend a roundtable interview with Velan founders Karthik Bala and Guha Bala to talk about how the game started to take shape and what plans are in place post-launch.
Moving from Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit to Knockout City was obviously a huge departure for the team with them going from an AR kart racer to a competitive sports title. Guha explained to us that with each game the studio wants to surprise their audience and noted that Velan's mission statement is to "make breakthrough games that are magic." He also added: "We didn't want to be known as a studio that does one kind of thing, but as a studio that is really about invention, about discovery, about creating new ways of play and new types of play."
I was curious to hear how Knockout City had taken shape over development and I asked the team about what specific content was eventually scrapped. Karthik explained: "We tried so many different things. It wasn't entirely obvious that we were going to have a third-person camera like the way we have now." He also detailed that the team experimented with almost a battle royale style with many different players and huge maps, but the decision was made to scale things back, as they felt too "chaotic" and more "contained" maps worked better.
As we mentioned earlier, to be able to get the physics of the game to handle in the way in which they anticipated, the team ended up creating their own game engine whilst developing the game. This was a huge undertaking considering the team's small size and the fact that they intended to release the game on multiple platforms with cross-play. Guha detailed: "It wasn't with a technical goal in mind, it wasn't with the ambition of building an engine, but to make the game work and work in a competitively fair setting across geographies, across internet latencies, and across CPU and GPU on a cross-platform basis."
Something that impressed us about Knockout City's gameplay from the beta is that it's accessible but it also offers layers of depth. Players can, for example, play mind tricks with their opponents to gain the upperhand and they can perform tricky shots above and around objects. When asked about how the team was able to strike this balance, Karthik said: "This was actually a key goal from the very beginning." He continued: "We wanted to create a competitive online game that would be as equally as appealing to new players, even new gamers, but also have serious credibility and skill depth for core competitive players."
Another thing we noticed about the game is that developers seemed to want to make it as widely available as possible. The game is arriving day one to EA Play and Xbox Game Pass and Velan Studios is offering a time-limited trial at launch. During the roundtable, Guha touched upon this strategy and said: "The number one thing is getting people to play.". He continued: "One of the phenomenons that we have noticed is that if you do something unique, you can advertise the thing, but playing is believing.I don't think anybody would have believed in Guitar Hero or Rocket League or any of these types of concepts before lots of people came in and actually played."
With the game arriving on just older platformers, the question was of course raised as to whether it would be receiving native versions for PS5 and Xbox Series in the future. Karthik said: "We haven't announced anything yet. We are happy that for launch we've got naviative 4K 60fps on those platforms and its seamless cross-play, but let's just say that we're really committed to the game." Guha also added: "We have 60fps on Nintendo Switch as well as a performance mode, which was something that we snuck in at the last minute."
With similar competitive titles like Rocket League and Brawlhalla spawning esports communities following their success, the two founders were asked whether there were any plans to turn Knockout City into an esport. The pair effectively mentioned that as developers they have no control over what comes next for the game in terms of esports, that's driven by the players. They did mention, however, that a grassroots esports competition unexpectedly took place during the open beta and the studio donated an additional $500 to the prize pool.
It's now only a matter of days until we can take trip to Knockout City and we can't wait to put our skills to the test once more. The game looks to be an absolute blast with many different nuanced mechanics, and it's great to hear that the developers are committed to it for the long-haul. Be sure to head back soon for our full thoughts, as Knockout City is set to launch on May 21 on Xbox One, PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Alternatively, you can check out our initial impressions of its gameplay here.