Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Hardcore Hockey Heroes lead developer Christopher Atallah, who details the games and his hopes for it.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Christopher Atallah: I have been playing video games my whole life and developing games as a profession for over 8 years. While working full-time at another studio, I was playing one of my favourite hockey games Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on N64 and had the thought that “I could make this”. I then started to brainstorm what a classic arcade hockey game could be like when built with modern day technology and techniques. From then on I spent 2 years of my nights and weekends, while working a full-time game developer job, developing the prototype that I have now. A few months ago I switched to working full-time on Hardcore Hockey Heroes and trying to build a company around it. Two of my passions in life are hockey and video games, so I have truly enjoyed working on this game every day and it has always been a dream of mine to contribute to the sports video game scene. I am creating an arcade party hockey game that combines classic arcade gameplay with role-playing elements like story, character progression, stat allocation and equipment upgrades.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What is your role in the game?
Atallah: My role in this game and the company is Founder & Lead Game Developer. My responsibilities include game development, programming, design, audio and whatever art I can scrape by with (It isn’t much). I have been contracting the 2D and 3D art and animations to talented local artists in Toronto that are much much better at those disciplines than I could ever be. I also spend my time trying to keep up with Social Media to get the word out and on the business end looking out for grants and any other opportunities to help form this project into a successful company.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How did you get involved in the industry?
Atallah: I have been playing video games my whole life and after high school I attended Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada to study Interactive Multimedia and Design. I have been working on video games ever since. I started with working in a few small studios making various small games and I have now decided that I really want to focus on making the games that I love to make with my own creative control.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What has development been like?
Atallah: The development has been incredibly educational for me both in terms of increasing my ability as a developer but also personally when it comes to dealing with the emotional ups and downs of working on a solo project over such a long period of time. It has taken a long time for me to get to the point where I am confident enough to tackle this project full-time and with my full attention. Now that I have, I know that I should have done it sooner! While it is a lot of work, I have never had so much satisfaction with the work I am doing. The mental ups and downs are still there, but I believe in the project and am excited to get it finished and into players’ hands. When I started working on this project full-time, I moved to my family cottage with my wife and dog to focus on the development of the game (and to get out of the big city during this pandemic). The experience reminds me of the story of Mark Lesser, who worked as a solo developer creating one of the greatest hockey games of all time, NHL 94, from a barn in Maine.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes this game special?
Atallah: Hardcore Hockey Heroes is a 3-on-3 arcade hockey role-playing game. Players draft their team from a roster of diverse characters and travel across the country battling through tournaments. Hardcore Hockey Heroes implements role playing elements including a character class system and stat points similar to the attribute system in Castle Crashers. As players progress further through Hardcore Hockey Heroes they acquire stat points to improve their team’s talents and customize their abilities. The stat points can be allocated to any of the 6 skills for both skaters and goalies. Resembling equipment systems in a traditional RPG that allows players to equip their characters with helmets, shields and swords, Hardcore Hockey Heroes allows players to equip their characters with sticks, helmets, skates and gloves to customize their experience and abilities. The equipment not only affects the stats of the players and how they play but creates unique styles and visual effects on the ice. Throughout the game, players will progress from old hand-me-down equipment to eventually unlocking fantasy equipment with elemental powers.
On top of the traditional arcade hockey mechanics, during gameplay players can pick up power-ups that turn their goalie into a brick wall or a player on the other team into a pigeon! Hardcore Hockey Heroes also features characters of varying genders and ethnicities that players can customize and upgrade to their liking. The game has been designed from the ground up as not only an arcade hockey game but as a local-multiplayer party game. The game features pick-up-and-play controls and arcade mechanics to make Hardcore Hockey Heroes accessible while offering a layer of skill and timing for more experienced players. You and your friends can play through the story tournaments together, upgrading your characters along the way. Or create your own tournament to see who takes home the Super Challenge Cup!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced this one the most?
Atallah: This game’s biggest influences include a lot of the fantastic modern indie party games like TowerFall: Ascension (PS4) and classic games like Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (N64), NHL Hitz (PS3) and NHL 94 (SNES). I really like the way that modern developers have been able to bring out classic game mechanics and design with today’s art and technology. I love the way that sports games were designed in the earlier days of video games. Games like NHL 94′ with its tight gameplay and simple controls, or the absurd high scores in Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey that just focused on tons of goals. The number of goals that would get scored in the last minute of play was ridiculous and always tons of fun. Another big inspiration was NHL Hitz with its over-the-top wackiness, such a great game! I am a huge fan of anything and everything that Midway did with sports games, either arcade or home console. I am extremely interested in all the different types and implementations of hockey and sports games from earlier on in the gaming scene. Back when multiple companies and development teams would try out different mechanics and techniques to see if they can create a different gaming experience. Even some of the games that failed at what they were trying to accomplish, brought some really cool elements to the sports gaming scene. I think there is a whole world of non-simulation style sports games that has been completely abandoned in the last 15+ years that I would love to tap back into.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Atallah: Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to have as many local-multiplayer sessions and testing as I would like. However, I have been able to play the game a lot within my family bubble. So it has been pretty funny and affirming to have my mom, dad and wife, who all do not play video games, pick up the game and learn how to control it very quickly. One of the best moments was when my mom and dad connected on a pass that led to my mom scoring her first one-timer goal in the game or when my dad would chase my wife around the rink repeatedly checking her to the ice. I have also added a boxing ring that appears on the ice when a fight starts and the players drop their gloves. When players see that for the first time they generally have a funny reaction.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What were the major lessons learned?
Atallah: I think some of the major lessons have been with tackling all parts of not only game development but creating and running a company. I have dabbled in all different parts of game development over the years but it obviously steps up to another level when you are making the entire game yourself from scratch. From my research, all of the tips that I see are about making sure you do not forget about the business and marketing side of running a company. For example, I spent pretty much all of the last month writing grant applications and speaking with publishers which completely takes me away from the development, but is all integral to making this game and company a success. So, I feel like the biggest lessons have almost come from everything surrounding the development and not just the development itself.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Atallah: I think it is incredibly important to preserve old gameplay mechanics because old game mechanics are the core of what today’s games are and the core of the player experiences they are trying to create. In a lot of ways, the older mechanics are the basics of what games have evolved to now. I have a buddy who constantly argues that every game is “basically pac-man”. In my opinion, the older gameplay mechanics focus on the core of the experiences, jumping, running, shooting, attacking which are simple for the majority of players to understand. Mario is forever successful because it sticks pretty closely to its core-mechanics that most players generally understand, running and jumping. Another risk in my opinion of getting away from older gameplay mechanics is that if games keep getting deeper and deeper with mechanics that increase in complexity we will get to the point where very few casual players will be able to pick up a game and play it without a fair amount of instruction or time spent learning the mechanics. I have a lot of friends that are die-hard hockey fans that can no longer play the newer hockey games because the controls and mechanics are so complex to them that they just get frustrated and stop playing. Those types of players need accessible games that still give them the fun and joy of checking their friends into the boards, scoring a bunch of goals or beating them up in a fight without having to learn a super deep control scheme or difficult mechanics.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Atallah: Definitely, the memories that come to mind are playing PS1 and N64 games with my friends as kids. Lots of Army Men 3D (PS1) on the couch, playing through Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64) with the strategy guide and Donkey Kong 64 (N64) together with my neighbor. For some reason, I will also never forget holding my first Playstation 1 game, Cool Boarders 2, while walking through the store in my local mall.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want this game to ultimately be remembered?
Atallah: I hope that this game will be remembered as a fun and accessible game that highlights the best parts of hockey and hockey culture while bringing back the arcade experiences from the 90’s. I also hope that the inclusion of many ethnicities and genders will help players see better representations of themselves in sports video games. Because it is not a licensed NHL game, I want players to build a connection with the team they draft and upgrade in the same way they would while playing through the story of a traditional role-playing game. I am a huge fan of what Golf Story accomplished when it combined traditional RPG mechanics with a golf game and I hope to continue with a similar experience with Hardcore Hockey Heroes.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Atallah: I am just starting to wrap up the basics of the gameplay mechanics and the player drafting system. I need to focus on upgrading the graphics and visuals, build the AI and some of the first power-ups. I am hoping to have an early-access playable prototype ready in the next few months and continue to work towards the full release on PC (Steam) and PS4 in late 2021.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Atallah: The game is currently in early development with a lot more polish and features coming. I really appreciate the support so far but I will have a lot more to show off in the coming months including a playable demo. The best place to keep up with development would be through the games social media channels and getting more followers and input is extremely helpful! I am open to suggestions from interested players and would love to get your ideas into the game!