Back in the day, and in an age when Commodore Amiga and Atari ST computers reigned supreme, there was a little football game that made you think that you too could be just as good as footballing legend John Barnes. Indeed, so popular was the computer game, that it made its creator – Dino Dini – a veritable icon and gaming star overnight. And with no other decent competitor on the market, so strong was the game’s pull on its intended audience, that come home time, it would often send kids into a competitive frenzy after they’d congregate round each others houses with their ‘QuickShot 2 Turbo’ joysticks in hand.
That game, ladies and gentlemen, was none other than the inimitable Kick Off 2. A computer game so ahead of its time that even after its release in 1990, and even in the face of later competition (such as Sensible Soccer, PES and FIFA), it still manages to enrapture a captive audience even today. Gamers regularly hold international tournaments, while the Kick Off Association fan community relentlessly works with modders and enthusiasts everywhere to ensure that later gaming generations are also able to appreciate and experience the seminal game that is Kick Off 2.
But alas, all good things must soon come to pass. For once the videogames industry started making greater inroads in commercial acceptance during the era of Sony’s Playstation, the resultant spiralling increase in production budgets soon led to their own set of problems, with the result being a burgeoning increase in development team size. No longer was there an emphasis on the lone developer being the star. Instead however, the lone one-man development unit soon found itself being pushed aside and marginalised in the face of big business and teams spanning hundreds of faceless personnel. In short, the industry had changed, and stars like Dino Dini could choose to either take the heat or get out of the kitchen.
Many lone developers chose (or were forced) to leave the industry that they’d helped to create. Unable to acclimatise themselves to the signalling winds of change. And with the games industry’s period of infancy giving way to a more mature and regimented approach when dealing with risk averse projects, many developers soon found themselves in an increasingly alien environment that was at odds with their own DIY indie ethic.
Dino Dini chose to ride the winds for as long as he could – developing games like GOAL! in the process. But even he soon discovered that his own efforts were no longer a match against the hired army of developers whose sole purpose was to release yearly updates to either FIFA or PES – both of which were heavily supported franchises by multi-million dollar corporations. And with his very own Total Control Football game failing to receive publishing support in a market increasingly dominated by the twin threat of Konami and EA, it was all too apparent that this was a game that Dino could no longer compete in, no matter how hard he tried.
Now, and with IOS and Android devices once again enabling lone one-man developer units to flourish and take hold, Dino Dini presently finds himself biding his time as a lecturer in game programming. And although Dino Dini no longer finds himself in the games industry (per se) as an active participant, as the “Player Manger” for tomorrow’s stars, his role isn’t of any less importance. For Dino patiently watches from the sidelines, and waits to see what tactics the opposition are looking to play. All the time, taking the time to train and develop the fledgling developers of tomorrow. All the time, waiting for his moment to strike.
Enjoy the interview.
As the “godfather of the soccer game genre”, how do you think football games (such as FIFA and PES) have evolved over recent times, and what do you think are the biggest differences are between football games of the early 1990’s and those of the current generation?
I can only comment on the traditional difference between my approach and that of others. My games have always been skill based, so that there can be a very wide range of skills between players. Modern football games seem to have been more focused on creating the illusion of skill, and there being very little difference in skill level between players. But this is just my personal view.
When developing the very first Kick Off, did you ever think the game would do as well as it did once it was released, and what sort of expectations and pressures did its success place upon you when you were considering its sequel – Kick Off 2?
I believed in what I was doing, but of course I had no idea of what was to come. With the sequel, I wanted to make sure that I did not spoil the game. Audiences can be fickle.
On your personal blog, you describe your inability in being able to handle the success that was thrust upon you at such a young age. Knowing what you know now, and if you could go back in time and be a mentor to your younger self, what advice would you give to the 25 year old Dino Dini?
To ignore everyone’s opinions and trust my guts.
At the time of its release in 1990, Kick Off 2 was widely regarded as being the best football game on the market. However, and with the release of Sensible Soccer two years later, many players ended up jumping ship and siding with Jon Hare’s game. Why do you think Kick Off 2 lost its crown to (the arguably more popular) Sensible Soccer, and with the benefit of hindsight, what lessons (if any) do you think you were able to learn from Sensible Soccer‘s release?
Considering that many industry legends have often collaborated together, have you ever considered hooking up with Jon Hare and working with him in a professional capacity? If so, what kind of game would you like to make?
Why did you attempt to distance yourself from the SNES version of Dino Dini’s Soccer (which was the console conversion of GOAL!)?
There were two console versions of GOAL!, I created the Megadrive version, and another company did the SNES version. They could not be bothered to work with my source code, so decided to rewrite the entire game from scratch. I did not like the result.
Later Kick Off games came to be spearheaded by your one-time Kick Off 2 collaborator Steve Screech, whose active involvement led to the games not performing as well (both critically and commercially). How do you feel about the Kick Off series under-performing after your departure to develop GOAL!, and if you could go back and advise Steve Screech on anything, what words of wisdom would you impart to him so as to enable him to (responsibly) carry on the Kick Off legacy that you helped establish at Anco?
If you could ever win the rights to Kick Off, how would you go about relaunching the series? What steps would you take so as to have the series compete effectively against genre leaders PES and FIFA, while ensuring to retain its classic feel, and not alienating long-standing Kick Off fans in the process?
I do not need to compete against PES and FIFA. My games are about something different to those games. I have and always will be an indie game developer; that means I play by different rules.
Which do you think is the better game between PES and FIFA, and why?
I really have not analysed the two games so I can’t meaningfully answer. I avoid playing football games.
If you could be Project-Director for either PES or FIFA, how would you go about continuing the success of these franchises into future generations?
I don’t think there is any point in speculating over something that will never happen.
In 2001, you started working on a new football game with DC-Studios called ‘Soccer 3’ (later to be renamed Total Control Football). What were you hoping to achieve with your new game, and can you shed any light as to why, even after 4 years of development, the project was cancelled in 2005?
The project was cancelled after two years of development because the developer, DC Studios, who were funding the project, ran out of money and basically tore the contract up. They were supposed to publish the game themselves, but instead showed it to other publishers who were not interested in competing with PES and FIFA. It was very sad, because I was doing some of my best work. But that’s all lost now.
You’ve often stated that the consolidating nature of the games industry, driven by its increasing reliance on larger production values, is leaving it vulnerable to another crash. Given that publisher business decisions are often slanted in favour of monetary gain, where the human cost of job security and employee welfare isn’t always taken into consideration, how would you run a company if it were operating in today’s business climate? How would you ensure your company’s profitability, while making sure that employee standards of living weren’t compromised, and where you weren’t responsible for creating a creatively barren and soulless product?
Start small; keep it simple; don’t crunch; trust that quality brings its reward if you are patient; keep trying out different ideas until you find something that works; ignore what people say about you, follow your heart.
Considering that mobile devices have fragmented the market, and allowed lone one-man development outfits to thrive once again, have you ever thought about getting back into game development and making a football game for IOS and Android devices? The runaway success of New Star Soccer and Score both show that a viable market does exist for football games on handsets, and with crowd-funding platforms (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo) making greater inroads as legitimate means for acquiring finance, surely you can make a football game now via your ‘Igneous Entertainment Limited’ company. If you were to take this opportunity, and develop for handsets, what kind of football game would you choose to make, and what design decisions would you make so as to cater your football game towards the mobile market?
I would love to make a new version of Player Manager, but it is not time. I do not feel there is the awareness and support to make it viable at this time, and as you say there’s plenty of other games in the market.
Any news on the Player Manager remake/update?
It has been halted until I feel confident enough that I am not wasting my time.
With Captain Sensible composing the opening theme for Sensible Soccer, and considering that modern bands (such as Blur) help define football game soundtracks of today, why haven’t we seen more of your songs be featured on videogame soundtracks – especially given that you have a long-standing passion for song-writing?
No one has asked.
Although you carved out your reputation with the football game genre, and assuming that you no longer wished to develop football games in the future, what (non-football) game would you choose to make? Can you tell us a little bit about the game (such as genre etc) and how it would play, as well as the system that you would wish to have the game be released on?
I have always wanted to make a space sim.
In the face of more modern and bigger budgeted football games, and even after your own GOAL!, why do you think Kick Off 2 still retains its cult-appeal today?
Because some people still yearn for excitement that comes from within, instead of excitement that is thrust upon them. Generating this internal excitement is what I do with my games.
Out of all the games that you’ve ever been involved in, which game do you hold up as being your proudest achievement, and why?
Player Manager, because it is probably the deepest and richest of the games I have worked on.
Given that your day job is Lecturer in Game Design and Programming at NHTV Breda University, what’s the single most important piece of advice you’d give to design and programming students, as well as those who are looking to join the games industry and be the stars of tomorrow?
Learn from your predecessors and then follow your heart.
What is your favourite videogame of all time and why?
It is hard to say, because there are so many. Right now I am getting a kick out of playing the original Magic Carpet.
Finally, and given that for many people you are a hero of heroes, do you have any last words for your adoring fans?
Thanks for the support you have given me, and if you want to show me that you would like me to make new games, follow me on twitter.