Old School Gamer Magazine chats with ‘Super Blood Hockey’ creator Loren Lemcke, who lets us know why the tribute to NHL ’94, Ice Hockey and Mutant League Hockey, may be the best current arcade hockey game on Steam. With an Xbox One version on the way as well, the game’s legacy is just beginning to take shape.
OSGM: How was this game born?
Loren Lemcke: My friends and I enjoy getting together to drink some beers and play retro hockey games, but we desired a new take on the retro formula with modern features (plus our NES controllers were thoroughly worn out from aggressive button mashing). So we went looking for just such a game, and after a quick search on Steam revealed essentially nothing fitting the bill, I realized that it was an opportunity to fill that gap in the market myself. So I set off to make my own violent, arcade-style hockey game that had been brewing since my childhood.
OSGM: What has development been like so far?
Lemcke: Development has been nice and smooth so far. I tend to be rather picky and self critical about the stuff I make, so a portion of the content I have made for the game has either been cut or redone several times over (I had an entire story-mode in the game, but decided to cut it, because I ended up just not really liking it). I am under little pressure to pump out titles, so I tend to focus on making sure things end up exactly the way I want them to. “Game feel” is very important to me, so a lot of development time goes into make sure everything feels nice and crispy.
OSGM: What makes this game special?
Lemcke: Super Blood Hockey is all about arcade-style action, not simulation. Lately sports games have been entirely about simulation, which doesn’t necessarily translate to the best gameplay and can be rather alienating to all but the most hardcore sports fans. Super Blood Hockey has no official league affiliations, so I am free to make it as crude and violent as I please, unlike, for example, NHL ‘94 which back in the day was forced to remove fighting and the very modest amount of blood that was featured in prior games because of pressure from the NHLPA. Super Blood Hockey is the game that my ‘90s kid self would have wanted at the protest of concerned mothers everywhere.
OSGM: What games influenced this one the most?
Lemcke: Super Blood Hockey is an homage to classic arcade style hockey games that follow a pong-hockey style formula of gameplay. Specifically, it draws influence from Blades of Steel, NES Ice Hockey, NHL ‘94, Sega Great Ice Hockey, Mutant League Hockey and a few others to a lesser extent, like NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat.
OSGM: As an indie studio, what do you think you guys do differently than the big studios?
Lemcke: I like to think that as far as developers go, I am very accessible. If you tweet at me, I will respond. If you make a post asking for technical support, I will respond. If you offer me a suggestion, I will respond.
Oh, I don’t view the people who want to play my games as cows waiting to be milked for cash. You won’t find any shady DLC schemes, micro-transactions, season passes, loot boxes, etc. in any of my games. If you purchase the game, you will get all the content the game has to offer from now until forever. I don’t have any investors or publishers who are concerned with maximizing their return on investment. Granted, I still intend to make a living, but my art takes priority over commerce and I strongly feel that there are people who will appreciate this and as a result, I can carve out a small amount of success for myself.
OSGM: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Lemcke: Nothing too wild or crazy, but my friends and I have had some fun evenings drinking some beer and beta testing the game. There is no better feeling as a developer seeing a group of people having a blast playing your game and shouting taunts at one another and just genuinely really getting into it.
OSGM: There are no hockey games on the Nintendo Switch. Any thoughts on a release there?
Lemcke: As of now I am porting the game to Xbox One, but after that I am definitely willing to consider a Switch port, assuming Nintendo accepts the game (and doesn’t want me to cut the violent bloody seizures, pixelated male nudity in locker room brawls, executions via anti-aircraft guns, defenestrations and sausagefications among other things).
OSGM: Why do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics like the ones in Classic games in new games is important?
Lemcke: As modern sports games become more simulation heavy they slowly bloat with unnecessary complexity that doesn’t translate into satisfying gameplay. This can be unpalatable to most everyone but the most hardcore fans of the sport. If you invite a friend over to play just such a game who has no experience with it nor the sport itself, it can be a rather unfun experience, due to the swollen complexity. Also the more you try to simulate, the more is required from the player in terms of input and controls. Super Blood Hockey is much more simple to learn, you pass, you shoot, and you punch. Like many older hockey games, it basically plays like a more complicated version of pong (One of the central mechanics of the pong-hockey genre is the goalie-as-a-pong-paddle mechanic, which is deliciously classic and fun at the same time). However, there is still a tasty layer of complexity and challenge. A cursory reading of the Steam User reviews will show some people find the game to be difficult, as many retro games tend to be in comparison to modern ones, but I maintain the game is fair and therefore obtaining victory is meaningful and rewarding.
OSGM: What’s your favorite memory as a gamer?
Lemcke: On occasion, my dad would take me to work with him (He worked at the now-defunct Acclaim Entertainment Studios), and I would be free to explore their extensive video game library, play some new unreleased stuff, and then enjoy their large in-house arcade. I was certainly spoiled in this regard, but ultimately it helped cultivate my curiosity and passion towards game development.
OSGM: How does this game disrupt the video game landscape?
Lemcke: Sports games lately have been trending towards a “family friendly” image, due to pressures from leagues that license their players and teams to the games. They want their product to have broad appeal, which means appeasing groups like concerned mothers. This personally disgusts me. Super Blood Hockey represents a step in the completely opposite direction. While the amount of blood is adjustable in the game, and can be indeed reduced to zero, you won’t find any family-friendly elements to the game, so don’t be fooled by the cute little sprites. Still, I maintain (perhaps contrary to the advice of video game content ratings organizations), that kids of all ages can still enjoy the game. I don’t think fantasy depictions of violence harm children in anyway (or maybe my mind too warped to grasp what constitutes normal).
OSGM: Who will enjoy this game the most?
Lemcke: I strongly feel Super Blood Hockey bridges the gap between the average gamer and the hardcore sports fan. There is a little something for everyone. Whether you are a fan of retro hockey games or you have never played one before, I feel many people will enjoy the challenge and the humor that the game has to offer.
OSGM: How do you want this game to be remembered?
Lemcke: I just want people to have fun with Super Blood Hockey. I don’t care if I sell the most copies, or get the highest score from reviewers. I hope I can create some fun experiences for people to remember for years to come.
What are your goals for the game? What’s next?
Lemcke: Currently the Xbox One port is the top priority, after that, I will be looking to create more content for the game. I already have a bunch of ideas lined up and some new stuff fleshed out, but I am open to considering ideas and suggestions from the fans, so please do not hesitate to share them! After a content update or two, I will try to see if I can online multiplayer a reality, but I must stress that I cannot guarantee I will succeed (I will not release subpar multiplayer just to placate the persistent criticism of “Where is the online multiplayer?”).
OSGM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Lemcke: I would like to thank everyone who has supported me in some way or another, whether you have purchased a copy of one of my games or even just retweeted something for me. Seriously, thanks for making my dream job a reality. I promise to keep improving and to deliver something of quality.
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the author of the upcoming book, “The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews With Cult and Classic Video Game Developers,” from McFarland And Company. Featuring interviews with the creators of 36 popular video games–including Deus Ex, NHLPA 93, Night Trap, Mortal Kombat, Wasteland and NBA Jam–the book gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of the most influential and iconic (and sometimes forgotten) games of all time. Recounting endless hours of painstaking development, the challenges of working with mega publishers and the uncertainties of public reception, the interviewees reveal the creative processes that produced some of gaming’s classic titles.