If You say Kick Off, the older players may have shiny eyes. It was that game that revolutionized football in video games between the second half of the 80s and the early 90s. Field and proportionate players, ball not attached to the feet and a truly open and fast gameplay. With Kick Off 2, was possible making realistic shots. Thanks to a data disk added in a second time, was also possible to use the offside and the stunts. Steve Screech, one of the industry veterans, is also one of the authors of this series, as well Dino Dino.
We got caught with Steve Screech on Twitter and we worked to realize our dream: an interview (Q&A) with one of the creators of one of the iconic series in the history of videogames.
His kindness has allowed us to carry out this interview that presents us the man, the developer, and allowed us to discover a piece of history by remembering some interesting passages of Kick Off development. He also told some interesting anecdotes about development, he told us how it started, and also what he does professionally and as a volunteer.
We leave you with the chat, that was made thanks to the fundamental contribution of DannyDSC who took care of the realization of the questions in English and helped in the translation all the texts.
We we wish you a good reading, and we remind you that at this link there is also the Italian version. Enjoy the reading.
Hi Steve! You are a veteran of the video game industry, but probably the younger gamers don’t know you well. Introduce yourself to them.
Hi there. Ok an introduction to Steve Screech then…. I was born in South London in 1966, within sight of the Crystal Palace floodlights which was probably only about 800 yards away. I negotiated my way through school being in most of the top classes but managed to fail all my exams. Around 1983 I was introduced to a ZX Spectrum by my Uncle who was tasked with looking after me one day while my parents went out for the day.
He sat me down with the Speccy with the standard brick breaker game all set up on it and i played that all afternoon. Totally taken in by this new tech I then began showering my parents with requests for a Spectrum. Eventually they gave up and bought me a second hand machine that was being sold locally but I am sure they thought it would be a passing phase.
It was not.
I began to buy all sorts of magazines with programme listings in them and by typing these in and making the inevitable mistakes I ended up teaching myself how to code in BASIC.
I took a college course in computing for a year and did well there but i really didn’t learn too much that i hadn’t already taught myself already.
I then got a job working in a local electronic power supply manufacturers on the admin side and then progressed to the sales office from there. While working here I started making my own games and trying to sell them to any company who would listen. A music business game called Power Corruption & Lies was my first sale. I think i made £50 from that one. Deathball was another, I made £150 from that one selling it to a company based in Stratford, London.
From there my next game was called Kingdom of Krell. It was for Spectrum 128K only. I ended up selling that one to Anco for £2000 and in 1987 I was offered a role to join them. So i jacked in my job to work full time on games with Anco.
Later that year I brought the idea for the Kick Off series to company owner Anil Gupta, it was around October 1987 when i pitched the idea to him. From there things changed fast of course. Kick Off went on to become a franchise along with Player Manager and Anco largely changed over night to a company really just servicing those 2 titles in their various guises for the next 16 years.
In 2003 the owner of Anco, Anil Gupta, died, actually on my birthday in May of that year. So a handful of the guys who were left scrabbled around to secure the IP for the products we had been working on and by the end of the year we had been bought by Eidos to take over from SI in making the Championship Manager series of games.
That was a tough ask as SI had a solid game that had been iterated on for the best part of 15 years by then so to come up with a contender over night wasn’t going to happen but by 2009 we had a game that we had improved and built upon that was really starting to make in roads into Football Manager. A strong product with a good match engine we were getting close but.. the company was over staffed and mis managed and so as 2010 dawned Championship Manager was stopped..ironically at the very point where we should have been kicking on.
From there I have worked on various projects from football MMO’s to working for StickSports and now to working from home on a number of projects.
What are you doing now? On what projects are you working on?
Which brings me on to what I am working on currently. I am 2 years into making a new football management game. It should be moving into Beta soon. I have worked largely on my own throughout the project so it really is my baby although there has been UI and menu work done externally which has freed me up to working on the match and management logic. The target platforms are in theory everything from Nintendo switch to mobile phone, from Mac to Xbox etc.
We are still undecided about which will be our opening format but that really depends on what deals are best suited to us at the time. So why make a football management game when Football Manager is out there across so many formats?
Well there is room for more than one football management game and we want this one to be more touchy feely than a big data base, more to do with moulding a squad rather than just buying and selling. This will be about tactics, squad harmony, social media and press, keeping everybody happy while you strive for perfection on the pitch as well as harmony off it.
Who is the Steve “man”?
So what makes Steve Screech? What does he like? Well my favourite football team has always been Crystal Palace and i have managed to incorporate them into my games quite often. The kits for Kick Off 2 for instance were replicas of the 1990 F.A Cup final replay between Manchester united and Crystal Palace. Palace wore a black and yellow striped kit for the one and only time in their history and so that made it into the game. As did sound effects from Palace matches and player names of past Palace legends.
These days I do volunteer work for my local football club, AFC Sudbury. I make highlight packages and documentaries for them as well as handling most of their social media. I enjoy travel, visiting new countries. I do a lot of photography, both for the football club but also personally. I enjoy military aircraft, the sights and sounds of them. I once flew Russian military aircraft out of a test base near Moscow and went supersonic at fairly low level. Quite an experience.
I am divorced now but live with my 21 year old son who like me supports Crystal Palace too. He is a wonder human being and we are best friends. We still play football together most Wednesday evenings.
You’ve worked on several sports titles, but is obvious that we all remember Kick Off series. What Kick Off gave to the history of video games?
Ok so What did Kick Off bring? Well it brought a fast open game that had a huge amount of skill involved. It wasn’t easy to control but once you managed to get a feel for the ball control then you could really put your own stamp on the game. Before Kick Off there had been football games of course but in comparison they were small and rigid. Kick Off has fast and with big open spaces. The game was to scale from the players to the pitch and although the game moved faster than real life it helped make for an exciting experience. This was football without the restraints of previous games, this was open and fresh.
Kick Off has revolutionized the soccer games genre, and Kick Off 2 also added realistic effect shots, offside, acrobatics, and new competitions. Which one was the most beautiful and exciting for you?
Well to me it was the fact that we were working on what then became THE football game. The football game that others would be judged against. It was like nothing that had come before it in terms of scale and speed and to be working on a game that was clearly going to turn into a franchise was very exciting. It was clear from the reaction of the press and fans after the release of Kick Off that we had something very special here.. that is a very exciting feeling. When ever you met a fan all they wanted to do was play you at Kick Off.
Why Kick Off 2 hadn’t the offside on the first release?
Simply because we didn’t want to take away from the open nature of the game and bring more stoppages to the flow of the game. There is a fine line between simulation and fun and if you start getting to serious with rules and how things are in real life then you can take away from the freedom the game gave the player. We added it in Final Whistle if i remember correctly and had it merely as an option. People could choose to use it or to not. I don’t disagree with the rule being there at all but i don’t think i played too many games with it on.
What do you think is the stronges point of the Kick Off series?
I think the strongest aspect to Kick Off is that you could give 100 people the game and let them learn how to play it and each of them would then come back with a slightly different style. When we held the first full on Kick Off World Cup in 2001 the styles and skills on show were just crazy.
There were skills and tricks and styles of play that a lot of us just hadn’t ever seen before. It was amazing to see.. and of course meant that some of us got beaten heavily by players with a skill set we just never knew existed.
Many players have admired Player Manager, and many other have waited for a second chapter, maybe with the “played part” of Kick Off 2. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Why?
Well it was planned but due to Dino leaving Anco it just didn’t happen. It was definitely a wasted opportunity but at the time Dino left we were looking more at Kick Off 3 than Player Manager 2. In hindsight we should have probably made a fresh Player Manager using the engine from The Final Whistle. That would have been a great product but it’s easy to say that now.
Difficult question: what happened with Dino Dini? (If You don’t want answer at this question, don’t worry).
Well it’s a difficult one really. I am sure Dino would see it one way and myself another. For my part I’d like to say that although I had the original idea for Kick Off and the graphical style etc it was Dino who did all the coding and without his amazing ability to turn that rough plan into Kick Off, well it wouldn’t have been anything like as successful as it was that’s for sure.
Dino wasn’t a football fan though and I would advise on such matters as simple playability and tactics as well as constantly being on hand to play test and push ideas on ways to make it more like football. Take for instance the corner delivery technique with the ball and it’s 9 possible strike points. Anyway Dino was never easy to work with, he was very intense but that is all good, he is his own person and works in a certain way. I ended up doing the vast bulk of the PR work to do with Kick Off simply because I was more of a people person and easier to get on with. I would forever be visiting Magazines and work articles on the game and thus ended up probably as more of a face for game than Dino liked.
There came a point where the game was going to be ported to one of the Nintendo devices and Dino was going to go out to Japan to help with this. From the way i was told it by the owner of Anco at the time, a lot of demands were made about the trip from Dino and so the owner grew frustrated with Dino and sent myself out to Japan instead as an easier option. I don’t think that went down well and relations between Dino and Anil degenerated quite a bit until Dino decided to leave to work on a football game for Virgin (GOAL, NDR).
This left me to take over Kick Off which was always going to be a tough ask. Dino tends to distance himself from any mention of myself regarding Kick Off. We met back in 2015 I believe at a Kick Off World Cup in Dublin, Ireland and he largely blanked me the entire time.
It’s fine, he is a superb coder and technically very gifted… but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a diXX head 😀
There was something missing (in your opinion) in Kick Off 2?
Maybe the ability to be able to make your keeper to run out for the ball. That would make the keeper less predictable. if that was within your control to do that then it brings a whole new dimension. It’s something that we did with Kick Off 2002 and when it was implemented straight away it felt good.
At the beginning of the 1990, started the real duel between Kick Off and Sensible Soccer. How did you experience that period?
You know it was just a duel in the press more than anything else, we never felt like we were head to head at all. I think it’s similar to when Blur and Oasis were meant to be head to head… that was never the case really but in the press they like to push the side of things. It’s more dramatic.
You were worried or you respected Sensible Soccer?
I hardly ever played Sensi. I know that sounds crazy but we were so wedded to kick Off and had our heads so much in that that really we didn’t look outside very much at all. I should have looked at it more, should have played it more really in hind sight but that’s not the way it went. We were Kick Off and that’s all that mattered. We didn’t feel threatened.
There was any feature you would have liked to “steal” from Sensible Soccer to apply on Kick Off?
Maybe a diving header would have been nice but there’s not much else there we’d have taken that’s for sure. I felt to us like a more comic version of Kick Off.
There are many indie project that “pay a tribute” to this game, others that mix the best of both. Is there any game that you enjoyed during this time?
I haven’t really played too many football games in the Retro style. yes i have checked some out and they look good but it’s not something that i really look too deeply in to.
What has changed since the dualism between Kick Off and Sensible Soccer?
I am not sure. We have that dualism these days with PES & FIFA but FIFA has a bigger budget, player names and likenesses etc FIFA was always going to win that one even if PES was playability wise a better game for a lot of that time.
Now, the challenge is between Fifa and PES, wich is your favorite?
As i say i don’t really choose to play football games these days. Probably because i don’t have to patience to learn all the button presses that are required. I used to play my son at FIFA from time to time, he would have all the tricks but i would just play solid possession football. If we ever played with rubbish teams then it would be a very even game as his tricks wouldn’t work so good but the solid possession football remained a constant.
There is room for a new Kick Off?
There is always a room for a good football game, one that is simple and doesn’t require a full on manual to be able to learn but it is difficult to get the playability of Kick Off without using Joysticks. I think a large part of the Kick Off success was you fighting with a joystick to pull off moves. That is lost these days so the difficulty is always going to be the control set.
If so, how would you like it?
I am always up for a challenge like that but there would have to be money there behind it to make it happen. not a silly amount but enough to enable a good amount of development time.
Thank you so much for spending your time with us, we are honored to have interviewed you. So, many greetings from Palermo and from the whole of Italy.
You are welcome. I did visit Palermo about 16 years ago on a trip to Sicily. Like a lot of Italy..very beautiful and Rome… well Rome is just my favourite city anywhere.