Erik Asmussen wants to publish on consoles, and Zen Studios wants to publish stylish, physics-based video games. That explains Disco Dodgeball Remix — an adaptation of Asumussen’s Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball from 2015, coming to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 22, the studio announced today.
Zen is well known for its pinball suites and Asmussen’s Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball, which first launched on Windows PC, delivers satisfying long shots, trick shots and bank shots across its glowing “skate park” maps. Zen has been on the lookout for ways to broaden its publishing catalog, and Asmussen, literally a one-person studio making the original Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball, needed publishing help if it was to spread beyond Steam.
“When Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball came out on Steam, I think I was among the first people to download and buy it,” said Mel Kirk, Zen’s vice president for publishing. “My kids came in and loved it. A few minutes later, I wrote Erik; we wanted to work on it.”
Asmussen’s original game launched in February 2015, and it’s sort of hard to describe. But the wide-open playing space and the big projectiles help give players the feeling of being in a futuristic dodgeball arena, using familiar first-person shooter controls. A throbbing dance-club soundtrack, over-the-top announcer and wildly variable power-ups complete the feel.
It helps that it’s a visually appealing and understandable game even for those who are not watching; it’s racked up hundreds of thousands of views since its launch. Hit-making remains inscrutable as ever for video games publishing, but something with streaming appeal is always a plus.
That evokes comparisons to Rocket League, which likewise descended from a lesser-known game under a much longer title and became a breakout hit in 2015 on PlayStation 4. Asmussen isn’t charting his game as the next Rocket League, though — he’s just glad to get it to consoles, something Asmussen says he couldn’t have done on his own.
“It was a pipe dream, like, man, it would be great to have it on the market, but it would be just a mountain of work,” he said. “There are so many skills that I don’t have,” that it takes to get a multiplayer focused game like his onto consoles. “Especially as the Switch matures. The only way it would ever happen is with a publisher,” he said.
Kirk may have reached out to Asmussen about Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball shortly after its launch, but it took time to get the title console-ready. “We started from scratch on the multiplayer and network code,” Asmussen said. “Each of the platforms have their own solutions and code and such.”
Zen, Kirk noted, has four internal development teams, and at least some of those developers could be peeled off for a new project. “We saw this as an opportunity,” he said. “I’ve seen games come out on Steam and thought, ‘This has to come to consoles,’ and Zen knows how to do that.”
What became Disco Dodgeball Remix was more than just a port job. Zen supplied the muscle getting the multiplayer support for consoles locked down. In the time it took to firm that up, they put in new customizations, nuances and cosmetics to modernize the game. “It was a big effort. It was not just a two-months kind of thing,” Kirk said.
Asmussen says Disco Dodgeball Remix retains the easy-to-play nature of the original. Console controls in particular should be a better fit for the kind of long, leading and wild bank shots one makes, as opposed to the precision expected from a traditional FPS.
Unlike Zen's dozens of licensed virtual pinball tables on three suites across several consoles, Disco Dodgeball Remix will be something of a departure. Zen developed and published the tower defense game Castlestorm in 2013 and then Infinite Minigolf last year. “But Disco Dodgeball Remix fits in Zen’s wheelhouse,” Kirk said. “We know physics-based gameplay. This is not a crazy experiment; it’s an awesome game.”