The Sensible Game
These days it’s all about Fifa and Pro Evolution, the two titles fighting it out to see who’s top of the league. But we’d have neither without one of the best, and simplest, football simulations ever made. Jon Hare reveals the drive and inspiration – direct and indirect – for the beautiful game that became Sensible Soccer
Passion, excitement, competition, innovation and diversity. Football videogames had the lot. Nowadays it can be argued that football titles are like a severe form of the Scottish Premier League – two titles vying for the top with other developers having seemingly given up trying to topple them. But while FIFA and Pro Evo rarely offer anything startlingly new from one year to the next, they dominate the charts and are as expected by fans as a Ronaldo wink and a dive.
In the early days, however, football games were radically different from one another. Developers tried hard to capture the spirit of the game and few succeeded as well as Jon Hare, who not only created Microprose Soccer in 1988, but also went one better with Sensible Soccer four years later. And then, his Sensible Software development house surpassed both with Sensible World Of Soccer in 1994 and became a worthy champion.
In some ways, Sensible Soccer then lost its way a tad. It had a couple of ill-fated forays into 3D, but in 2004 a mobile version produced by Tower Studios was nominated for a BAFTA. More recently the magic of Sensible Soccer was rekindled when it was dusted down and spruced up for Xbox Live Arcade. It seems gamers just can’t get enough of playing as tiny players on a pitch viewed from the sky. Not for them, it seems, the realistic stadia, near photorealistic players and television-style commentary.
If there is one thing Hare had on his side, it was his love of football. A Norwich City fan, Hare, now 43, is still a regular at Carrow Road and is still interested in producing soccer games on many platforms. He was a consultant on Football Superstars and Real Madrid: The Game and he has been working with Turkish developer Sobee on a 3D multiplayer online soccer title called I Can Football, which is still at the beta phase. More excitingly, he is currently designing and developing a game called Fingertip Football, which promises to follow on from the successes of Microprose Soccer and Sensible Soccer and is being designed specifically for the unique features of the iPhone, just as Microprose Soccer and Sensible Soccer were designed specifically for the C64 and Amiga.
The iPhone game will be made by Hare’s own Tower Studios. “We’re working on perfecting the controls,” he tells us. “The iPhone offers a fresh way to play and it’s an exciting platform.” And much of this is born from his feeling that football games have become rather stale. “The feel of the game of football is being lost,” he laments.
He is determined not to see true innovation in football videogames “do a Norwich” and become relegated, lost amid gloss and hype. He believes he made a truly great football game back in the day and he drew inspiration from the titles around at the time. In some cases, he looked at football games and dismissed them out of hand but even in doing that, he helped to shape what became Sensi. And here he tells us how…