Interview with Henrique Alonso of Pocket Trap, Creators of Dodgeball Academia
Dodgeball Academia captivated me like very few games have in 2021 so far. I knew nothing about it prior to playing it, but its combination of arcade-like sports action, JRPG mechanics and cartoon-like graphics won me over almost immediately. Especially since I was playing it on the Switch, which is the perfect platform for a game like this. I needed to know more about the game after playing it, so I asked Henrique Alonso, co-founder and producer at Pocket Trap, the developers behind the game, a few questions about Dodgeball Academia‘s development process, sources of inspiration, and ideas for the future.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate the entire team at Pocket Trap for such a fantastic game. I’d like to know a bit more about Dodgeball Academia‘s developmental process. How long did the development of the game last? When did it start? What led the team to create a game centered around dodgeball of all things?
Henrique Alonso: Thank you very much! We’re glad you enjoyed the game. The project started in 2016 from a few casual conversations between us at Pocket Trap and Ivan Freire, who also developed the game with us. We were already friends with him, and were chatting about games that were nostalgic for us, such as Camelot’s Game Boy versions of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, with Ivan adding some dodgeball video games he used to enjoy back in the 90’s. That led us to discuss about what would a game that merged both styles look and play like. Dodgeball Academia came to be through this willingness to revive these niche subgenres, both to old-school fans and a younger audience.
The game stayed in a prototype state for a long time, until we were finally able to come up with its mechanics and overall structure. In 2017, we managed to get some funding from SPCine – an initiative sponsored by the São Paulo city hall, which focuses on helping out with the development of movies, TV shows, games and other kinds of media – and later on we managed to sign a publishing agreement with Humble Games. It was from that moment onwards that we finally had enough resources to bring our ideas to fruition. The game took about five years to be completed, but I’d say that full-time development on it lasted for about two years.
The fact that Dodgeball Academia is set inside a sports-focused boarding school reminded me a lot of the Game Boy Color versions of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, both developed by Camelot. Were these games a source of inspiration during the development of your title?
HA: Welp, I ended up inadvertently answering this question on my previous answer (laughs). Yes, certainly, these games were some of the biggest inspirations for Dodgeball Academia, and we are delighted to see so many people identifying that, we’re really proud of that! We are huge fans of these games.
Besides these sports-influenced JRPGs developed by Camelot, could you name other sources of inspiration, both in terms of mechanics and visuals?
HA: The Kunio-kun franchise, as well as a particular Neo Geo game called Super Dodgeball, were big sources of inspiration when it comes Dodgeball Academia‘s battle mechanics. We are also big fans of Nintendo and Capcom games, we have researched a ton of their titles while developing our game, and I think that it’s pretty easy to notice their influence while playing Dodgeball Academia.
I loved the fact that, despite being a 3D game with polygonal environments, Dodgeball Academia features 2D-esque characters and NPCs, as if they had come from an actual cartoon. How was the design and animation process like for these characters?
HA: Regarding the art style, Ivan (Freire, the game’s co-creator and art director) has a ton of experience, as well as a background on animation, and so do the artists that we brought in to help us with the project. It was really important for us to explore the best qualities of these artists, and I think this paved the way for all characters to be drawn out and animated in 2D, in a very traditional, frame-by-frame manner.
Dodgeball Academia‘s art style reminded me a lot of more modern shows from Cartoon Network, but its premise actually reminded me more of some sports anime and shonen in general, like My Hero Academia. Was this paradox supposed to be intentional?
HA: Yes, in parts. One of our main objectives when developing the game was to offer a nostalgic sensation specifically because of our main sources of inspiration. I think that the game has a lot to do with Ivan’s life, as well as the entire team’s. Otto, for instance, shares the same name as Ivan’s dog, who sadly passed away during the game’s development.
Both Ivan and the team at Pocket Trap grew up watching a ton of Western cartoons and shonen anime. We weren’t aiming at specific references, but I think that this mixture between cartoons and anime permeates naturally through the entire game.
Dodgeball Academia‘s protagonist, Otto, can curl himself into a ball and start rolling in order to move around the map with ease. That felt a bit odd, considering the game’s premise and setting, but I found that mechanic to be so fun (and useful) that I ended up appreciating its inclusion. I’d like to know the decision and thought process behind including what was essentially a “spin dash” in the game?
HA: (Laughs) This mechanic came up in a somewhat natural manner from a suggestion from one of our programmers, Henrique Lorenzi. We knew that the game’s maps were going to be somewhat large and that backtracking would be part of the experience, therefore we knew we had to make the process of going from one place to another fun in itself. We were researching different ways to make Otto move faster, and actually implemented a backflip animation which had been originally created by Ivan for use during battles. Lorenzi then decided to use this animation into a rolling mechanic test, we loved it, and decided to keep in the final build of the game. Lorenzi is a big fan of platformers like Mario, and I’m sure it was one of his sources of inspiration!
One of the coolest features included in Dodgeball Academia is the possibility to enable an alternate translated subtitle in another language while you play the game on your language of choice, effectively allowing you to learn another language whilst having a ton of fun. I don’t think I have ever seen this mechanic in another game (I may be wrong though), so I’d like to know where did that excellent idea come from?
HA: This idea also came from our programmer Henrique Lorenzi! I’m pretty sure it came up in a very natural way. Lorenzi is a big language enthusiast, and he worked closely with our contracted localization partners in order to ensure this mechanic would end up being as good as it ended up being.
Since a good chunk of the game is comprised of text boxes, we really wanted to take as much advantage of this mechanic as possible. We always try to implement features we either like or would like to see in our games, and we’re beyond happy with this mechanic’s positive reception. I also think it fit perfectly with the game’s premise!
We all grew up learning different languages, especially English, in order to properly enjoy all the games we used to play back in our childhood. I’m pretty sure this is something that every single Brazilian gamer has had to go through at any point in time. I really hope tools like this motivate players to seek out and learn new languages!
Finally – and I know a question like this is quite hard to answer right after the release of a game – what are Pocket Trap’s plans for the future? Are you already working in a brand new project?
HA: We are still focused on Dodgeball Academia‘s release, but our plans for the future are still the same ones that have guided us so far! We want to keep on creating new projects that can bring a smile on the faces of whoever plays or watches them. We still have to see which ideas we’ll work on next, but I can promise you we won’t stop here!