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Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame series (from 1988). The Bitmap Brothers (TBB).

The Speedball series is a line of violent sports games (see Videogames), frequently evocative of the film Rollerball (1975). While there have been a number of well received sports Videogames with a fantasy theme, mostly derived from the American football inspired Wargame Blood Bowl (1986 Games Workshop) designed by Jervis Johnson, the Speedball sequence is a rare case of a successful science-fictional example. The first game in the series was Speedball (1988 TBB, Amiga, AtariST, DOS; 1989 C64; 1990 MasterSystem; vt KlashBall 1991 NES), in which teams of twenty-first century Speedball players wear steel armour to kick a steel ball around a steel arena. Gameplay focuses on training players and bribing referees between matches and putting the ball in the opposing team's goal during them; the opposition can be controlled by the computer or by another human. During a match, human players automatically take control of whichever member of their team is closest to the ball, while the remainder are handled by the game. The visuals are two-dimensional, seen from above. This design proved to be too simple to hold the interest of most players, so the Bitmap Brothers released a sequel that came to define the series: Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe (1990 TBB, Amiga, AtariST; 1991 C64, GB, MasterSystem, MegaDrive; 1992 DOS; 1995 CD32; 2001 GBA; 2002 Win; 2005 Phone; rev 2007 XB360) designed by Eric Matthews.

Brutal Deluxe is set in the twenty-second century, after radical changes have been made to the rules of its eponymous sport. Teams are larger than they are in the first game, and points can be scored in a variety of ways, including hitting targets spaced around the walls of the arena as well as scoring goals. Unrealistic elements are used to add to the intensity of the brief matches, with tokens scattered on the ground which allow a player to immobilize the opposing team or instantly win possession of the ball. The resulting bouts are frantic, unpredictable and occasionally disorienting; this is very much a game which concentrates on providing constant action rather than on allowing players to execute carefully planned strategies. In essence, the version of Speedball depicted in Brutal Deluxe resembles a cross between ice hockey and pinball, with the attitude of an exceptionally aggressive game of rollerball. The society in which the game is played is only cursorily drawn, as in the more routine Comic strips included in contemporary issues of 2000 AD.

While written sf has typically viewed its ultraviolent future sports with horror and (occasionally rather prurient) contempt (see Games and Sports), Brutal Deluxe glories in its simulated carnage. Notably, players are awarded points for injuring members of the opposing team as well as for scoring goals (though the small size and stylized nature of the character depictions greatly reduce the emotional impact of this). Arguably, the key difference here is not so much a moral division as a disagreement about the nature of representation. The designers of Brutal Deluxe saw it not as an instructive story about the possibility of hyperviolent sports becoming real, but as a virtual (and thus inherently nonviolent) game which used brutal competition as a provocative disguise for its basic design.

Related works: Speedball 2100 (2000 TBB, PS1) is a variant of Brutal Deluxe which uses three-dimensional graphics; reviews were mixed. Speedball 2: Tournament (2007 Kylotonn, Win) is a loose sequel to the first two games. Gameplay is generally similar to that of Brutal Deluxe, but there are differences; notably, there is more diversity in the types of players which can be selected to make up a team. Also, it is possible to play Tournament against human opponents in a temporary Online World. Reviews were again mixed. Speedball 2: Evolution (2011 Vivid Games, iOS) is another remake of Brutal Deluxe, this time for handheld devices. [NT]


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