Tuesday, February 5, 2008


BattleBall puts me in the unique situation of wanting to praise a game I don't really enjoy at all. It's not really pretty, it's missing a bunch of features that it should have, and it's not even fun. But the idea behind it is amusing, and there's the solid core for a really fun game here.

Basically, it's soccer played with combat vehicles. The players are all tanks, divided into teams, and each team has a headquarters. Points are scored by running into or shooting the ball, so as to move it down the field to your opponent's headquarters. Your gun doesn't destroy anything, but if it hits another tank, it causes that tank to spin around out of control for a second, and if it hits the ball, the ball bounces off of the projectile.

And you can turn into a helicopter.

How could it go wrong? The sad and simple truth is that the game is just annoying to control, to someone whose been using mouse+keyboard or dual-analog controls for way too long to go back to the keyboard. If I could mouse-aim, or alternately have one analog-stick for movement and one for aiming, the rest of the faults of this game would be forgiveable. I'm sure when it was new, it was awesome. I remember thinking my friends were crazy for trying to play some old FPS with the mouse (I think it was the first Quake, but it could have been something else; long, long ago, y'know?).

The other problems are legion, but excusable, because they don't affect the fun of the game, just the friendliness. The biggest one is that all aspects of game-configuration are via command-line. Which is normal for Linux software, but not normal for modern-day gaming. Some sort of front-end for the game would mitigate that completely, without even changing the code. I have no idea how the multiplayer would work - apparently that's all handled via Linux command-line programs somehow.

I thought the game had no options at all, but then a quick look at the man file (another way in which this game shows itself to be part of the Linux, rather than gaming, community; most of these Linux games have no man file at all, or useless man files with no real info) showed that it's configurable as all-get-out. Up to six teams, with the number of players limited only by the processor of the machine it's being played on (apparently, rather than a bunch of clients connecting, it generates the graphics for everyone playing, and does all the software-running, on one machine; everyone else plays on connected terminals).

But you set up all of that via the command line. It doesn't appear to even have a configuration file of some sort that you can set it up in; you have to type out a half-dozen flags, the names of the team-members, and all the options every time you begin the game, from the command line. Unless you want to play it one on one, one human player against the AI, so that was how I played it.

BattleBall has no sound, and very primitive 3D graphics that are actually quite charming. It shows its age (at least, I hope it's old; I can't find a website for it anywhere, and there's a new game from a commercial developer with the same title, which made the search confusing) but it's easy to interpret and looks fine.

With a configuration utility or internal game setup, and the ability to use a modern control system, this would actually be a great game. It's bizarre, and intriguing, and would promise a lot of multi-player fun. As it is, it's a distraction for ten minutes while you take in the premise, and then it's not really worth touching ever again.

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