DeathBall is a 1v1 arcade game developed by Tony Hauber, and it is elegant as hell. Each player controls a small wizard that must attempt to knock the “DeathBall” into the other players goal, i.e. the classic game of wizard soccer loved around the world. If you’re not already sold on the phrase “wizard soccer” you may be a joyless chump, but not all hope is lost for you yet. Let’s try to briefly break down what makes DeathBall so damn exciting. The game (mostly) consists of these rules and mechanics:
- Player has infinite jumps – let’s call each jump after a ground jump an “air jump“
- The DeathBall is a physics driven object
- Every air jump creates a bubble that can collide with the Deathball
- Bubbles are stationary and immovable as long as they exist
- The bubble only lasts until the next air jump is made – this means the player can land on the ground, make ground jumps, and leave their bubble spawned during that time.
- Each goal is surrounded by a spherical slow-mo zone (best I could do) that reduces game speed when the DeathBall enters it
- Players can perform a slide tackle by holding the jump button and pointing the control stick down. This gives them a speed boost and will hit the ball up at an angle
- Most of the play fields employ curved surfaces and screen wraparound
- The slide tackle can be used on curved surfaces to launch the player
While games like DeathBall can seem simple at first blush, there are usually more rules in place than are immediately obvious, as evidenced by the list above. Still, DeathBall achieves elegance by having a lean design that is not overstuffed with mechanics for its purpose, and having those mechanics interact with each other on a moment to moment basis. To demonstrate this point, here is a totally scientific, definitely accurate, completely comprehensive and infallible diagram connecting the rules and mechanics:
While not perfect, the diagram does demonstrate the idea that these mechanics interact and collide constantly. There isn’t a superfluous or unused idea either – every part of the design is on display through the act of play. Players are constantly jumping; jumping creates bubbles; bubbles collide with the DeathBall and send it flying; flying DeathBalls frequently end up near goals; DeathBalls near goals cause the player and DeathBall to slow down; palms sweat profusely; players use bubbles to deflect ball out of goal; yelps of relief (or frustration) are heard; bystanders glare; repeat.
Not only do these mechanics constantly interact, they are recognizable and easy to understand. The average person understands the basic rules of soccer, and the same average person will likely understand the basics of a platformer (e.g. “Mario moves and jumps”). The core mechanics to the game are familiar so when the unfamiliar mechanics do show up, they aren’t overwhelming.
The final result is a game that feels chaotic and frenetic, but precise and accessible. The elegant and lean design is the catalyst for a multitude of emergent situations between two players, shoulder to shoulder at a cabinet. I’m incredibly eager for this game to grow further. Check out some gameplay below, or if you’re lucky enough to have a cabinet near you, play it for yourself.