Sections

Rocket League's appeal isn't rocket science | Why I Love

Milky Tea's Scott Swarbrick examines how Psyonix took a simple concept and made it soar

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Scott Swarbrick, Game Designer at Milky Tea Studios, which is releasing its high-adrenaline arcade-style sports brawler HyperBrawl Tournament, on PC, Xbox, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch today.

At the time of writing this, Rocket League has been out for just over five years! It's a testament to how well Rocket League has been supported in that time, that it still feels like a fresh, exciting game after so long. I'm going to jog my memory back to 2015 when I first played the game and try to pinpoint why it has stuck with me and so many other people during that time.

I must admit I wasn't aware of Rocket League until it was released; it took me by surprise. The first thing that drew me to the game was the simple concept of taking a serious sport and combining it with these little rocket powered cars. I almost felt like I'd been transported back to the types of games I would play with friends when I was younger. It was a remnant of games like NBA Jam, Sega Soccer Slam, Speedball, etc. Over-the-top sports games with a unique twist. I didn't realise it, but this is exactly the kind of experience that had been missing from my life for quite a while!

Most of the multiplayer games I was playing in 2015 were very competitive, serious games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. The genius of Rocket League is that in many ways it offers just as much depth, competition and tactical scope as those titles I previously mentioned, but wraps it all up in a package of inviting, arcade-y and outrageous fun.

Among the many things that Psyonix mastered with Rocket League, one that really stands out to me is the 'easy to play, difficult to master' nature of the game. The game's concept itself is simple enough: players are divided into two teams, there's two goals, and a ball. It's football (soccer to you Americans) but without any of the additional and more complex rules on top. It controls similar to a racing game but with the added quirks of the car's rockets allowing you to boost in any direction you like, including vertically! All of this is simple enough to understand, and while controlling the car takes hours to get used to, it feels unique and incredibly fun right away.

Whether you hit a spectacular shot on purpose or totally by accident, it makes you feel special

I love how the cars control. They feel similar to RC cars I used to play with when I was younger. The jets that temporarily allow you to fly around are so satisfying once you get the hang of them. Psyonix engineered a unique and intuitive way in which the game controls and feels and without it...well it just wouldn't be Rocket League. Whether you hit a spectacular shot on purpose or totally by accident, it makes you feel special.

It's one of very few multiplayer games that dare I say - are fun to be bad at! Rocket League is fun for everyone, I could play it with any of my friends and family members, not just those that consider themselves gamers. I remember playing my first matches, launching my car into the air and powering up the rockets to collide with the ball at full speed in mid-air for a beautiful shot… and completely miss. Despite the natural deflation of failure it still, most importantly, felt fun. Eventually it all begins to click together, you start to subconsciously understand how to time boosts better, which angles to aim your car before jumping or boosting, how to ensure you hit the ball at the apex of your boost, etc. It's incredibly satisfying once you begin to get it right.

Rocket League grows with your own ability. You're always improving and the skill ceiling is limitless. This means you can keep coming back to the game hour after hour; it's always satisfying as you notice yourself improving, doing awesome things, and actually meaning to do them.

It's a game which doesn't feel rigid or animation-driven in any way, I feel I'm in total control of my car - for the better or worse! But it always feels fair. I can never complain about the timing of an animation, or an action which I can't cancel. It's a super unique system which I can't really compare to many other games. It's a mix of a racing game, a flying game, and a sports game bundled into one, but balanced so delicately as to feel completely distinctive and fun to control.

It's like watching some sort of high-octane monster truck ballet dance

I love sports generally. I spend a lot of time watching sports, and a lot of my gaming time playing sports games. Naturally, I was drawn to Rocket League right away. But one thing that was instantly noticeable was that the game was accessible and interesting for those who don't like sports, too. Matches are really quick, lasting about five minutes. If you're having an awful match, you can quickly play again and redeem yourself. if you've had a great match…well you can have a shot at repeating your success!

There's also a simple replay system for each goal, which is such a nice feature. During the chaos and scramble of trying to score a goal it's quite difficult to take in everything going on around you. But when you get a chance to watch the replay, you can take in all the insanity in full. It's like watching some sort of high-octane monster truck ballet dance.

To think all of that was there at launch is already an incredible achievement, but Psyonix had the nous to see Rocket League's innate potential as a platform rather than simply a great multiplayer game. Since release, there has been a ton of new content and modes. I absolutely loved the inclusion of the Ice Hockey game type with icy floors and a hockey puck. Or the Basketball mode, which changed the nets to oddly shaped hoops. Or the Rumble game mode which gave players random weapons that allowed players to freeze the ball, or make their opponents' cars harder to control, for example. The basic foundations of Rocket League work so well on their own, but it's also a great example of a game that is very adaptable.

The progression and customisation system in general have been a major factor in keeping me playing the game so long. There's always another car or accessory that I want to unlock. Psyonix have adapted their progression system using the now popular Battle Pass system, so every match you play you're working towards unlocking new content; even if you're quite the opposite of the MVP in the match, you're still progressing. Knowing this content will disappear as the season ends keeps you playing match after match to work towards these goals. This has allowed the game to remain fun and engaging to play even after putting hundreds of hours in.

I must admit I don't play Rocket League anywhere near as much as I used to. But I still return to it once every month or two. It's one of a handful of games which have lasted so long in my gaming rotation (the longest being Tetris which I've played for over 20 years at this point!). I hope Psyonix continues to evolve Rocket League into the next generation of platforms, continuing to set the standard for how to support a game that rewards players for their investment of time and (optionally) money.

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

More stories

Crown prince of Saudi Arabia's foundation to buy 51% stake in SNK

Non-profit organisation starts with purchase of 33.3% stake for $223 million

By James Batchelor

Cyberpunk 2077 pre-orders "visibly higher" than any Witcher title

CD Projekt Red expects at least 50% of early sales to be digital

By Matthew Handrahan

Latest comments

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.