Velan Studios interview: Inclusiveness, social events and the future of Knockout City

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Recently I had an opportunity to chat with two members of Velan Studios; Product Coordinator, Quinn Miller and Marketing Manager, Josh Harrison. During the talk about the excellent Knockout City, we talked about a couple of different things from the recent LGBTQ+ and BLM player icons to help spread inclusivity, plans for future projects and a statement on EA’s recent talks with PlayerWON.

Let’s get into it.

Eric Halliday: Recently you’ve had an event in Knockout City celebrating Juneteenth. Icons with powerful images celebrating Unity and BLM have become a really excellent way for people in-game to make the issue more visual. How did the event come about in-game?

Quinn Miller: At a broad level, our customization system has always been about giving players diverse options to represent themselves in the world of Knockout City. More specifically, after we completed work on the Pride Icons, David Nathanielsz (our studio head) suggested that we also commemorate Juneteenth in-game.

Eric Halliday: Follow-up, how did the art come to be? I’ve been seeing a lot of people asking who the artist is but, unless I missed it, it’s still somewhat of a mystery (it’s exception art).

Quinn Miller: The Juneteenth icons were created by concept artist Carmin Gerard, with direction from myself and our art director Ben Greene. Finding creative direction for these was a little more challenging than it was for the Pride Icons: I could leverage my lived experience (as an LGBT+ person) for the Pride assets, but could not do the same for the Juneteenth icons. We relied on articles and perspectives from Black American authors to dictate the tone of these images, and we avoided the playfulness present in the paint-spattered dodgeballs that we made for Pride.

Knockout City
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Eric Halliday: The Pride Month event was also another really excellent moment and I was startled at how quickly people jumped at the opportunity to display a bit about themselves in this regard. Me, personally, I loved just how many you included because it started a conversation with my kids about what the different types or orientations are. I believe that having things like this more visible, especially in a universal medium like video games, make these concepts, that may be unfamiliar to someone, feel as alien when encountered out and about…long story short, I feel this helps grow understanding and respect. Are there plans to expand more on this level of coverage? I, personally, keep holding out for Pride and BLM cosmetics as well.

Quinn Miller: We were also pleased to see how much players gravitated towards the Juneteenth and Pride icons! The Pride assets were especially personal: while growing up, the media I consumed rarely if ever mentioned trans people, and if they did, it was usually as the butt of a joke, or worse. But here we had a mass-market game, and a great opportunity to make the gaming world just a little more aware, and maybe accepting, of LGBT+ people. Plus, it lets me be as openly-trans in Knockout City as I am in other parts of my life!

While there are no specific plans right now, I definitely intend for more Pride and BLM cosmetics in the future, and we’d love to hear more from the community about what they want! For the Pride icons specifically, we tried to “go wide”, but that doesn’t mean we’ve represented every identity under the LGBT+ umbrella!

“There will always be people who think that diversity is offensive, but those aren’t the people we want in the Knockout City community anyway.”

-Quinn Miller

Eric Halliday: How was the overall feedback towards coverage of these social issues? Are there plans for more?

Quinn Miller: It was, as expected, a little mixed. There will always be people who think that diversity is offensive, but those aren’t the people we want in the Knockout City community anyway. On the flip side, we’ve heard from dozens of people delighted to see themselves represented in Knockout City: I saved a few screenshots of the supportive tweets and DMs to cheer me up on rainy days.

“…we’ve got some ideas coming in the future that we hope people will be excited about.”

-Josh Harrison

Eric Halliday: Speaking of future plans, EA owns quite a few licenses, what are the plans for cross-over events? I know we were talking about it over at App Trigger and when Star Wars came up the visuals of Jedi’s using Force-like animations to catch and throw as well as balls the look like BB-8 were, pardon the pun, thrown around. Any plans for that?

Josh Harrison: We’ve been focused on building the world of Knockout City to stand on its own to start out, but we’ve got some ideas coming in the future that we hope people will be excited about. Stay tuned!

Eric Halliday: Out of curiosity, how much playtesting did you do before this game came out? I’ll be honest, when I saw Knockout City shown for the first time in a Nintendo Direct I wasn’t all that hyped but the very first time I got to play it myself I never wanted to let it go. The controls and the looks and everything feels so intuitive.

For example, when I first learned I could hook and lob I thought I’d never use it and then cut to an hour later when I’m instinctively hooking the ball around cars or lobbing them over shrubs like it’s second nature. The controls are perfect. I guess my question is, “how”? Haha. How much work did you put into tweaking these controls to make it so intuitive? I felt like I knew how to play the game before I even started.

Josh Harrison: Knockout City’s been in development for over four years, and while a lot of that time has been focused on polish and adding content, the core gameplay hasn’t changed much in that time, because we “found the fun” early. We knew pretty close to the beginning of development that this wouldn’t be a game where aiming was important, and we’d focus more on positioning and timing, which is part of what makes KO City unique alongside other 3rd person shooters and multiplayer games. Extensive playtesting definitely helped us fine-tune how the game feels to play, but multiple years to really polish the feeling of dodgebrawling is what got us to the point we’re at today, where playing is believing!

Knockout City
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Eric Halliday: Finally, it’s recently been announced that media company “studioWON” is working with EA to bring television-style ads to several of their video games. Is this something that’s going to affect Knockout City and, if so, where do you see this happening? In between matches? The TVs in the hideout?

Josh Harrison: We have not had any discussions about this, nor do we have any plans to integrate this kind of advertising into Knockout City.

I’d like to thank both Quinn Miller and Josh Harrison for their time and information. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for Knockout City.