Within just a few months of starting at Victory Point Games (VPG) we were given the opportunity to start working with Fréderic Moyersoen, a rather successful designer from Belgium with a number of published titles to his name. We were presented with a significant number of designs to choose from and after narrowing down the field we decided to go with Knockout as our first project together.
The prototype Moyersoen sent us had a rather generic look, with simple cartoons that resembled early Rocky Balboa for the boxers. The rules were fairly easy to grasp, though, so we sat down to play it and get a feel for the game. What we found was a really fun little game primarily for two players that just needed some polish and a visual upgrade. We elected to take a more relaxed approach to this title, allowing it's development to flow more naturally instead of starting off with hard deadlines.
It's at this point VPG usually gets the contract signed to publish a game. Contracts at VPG were different from most other game publishers, with the original designer(s) retaining their rights to the submitted design; VPG would have the rights to sell the VPG version of the game for a specific period of time, but the designer could try to get other publishers to pick up the game and after the publication period the designer could voluntarily pull their title from VPG's catalog. All payment to designers was on a royalty basis, with no money paid out upfront.
Due to these unique contracts, there was a slight dispute between VPG and Moyersoen. He was expecting a more traditional agreement, which was not something a small company like VPG can manage. I handled most of the dispute, trying to balance the designers wants versus VPG's needs, but in the end the head of VPG had to step in to resolve things. The end result was a (mostly) happy designer, though, so we were able to proceed.
Using the prototype art, we crafted some test kits and sent them out to volunteers. Their response was much like ours, they really enjoyed the game and it was mostly just a matter of fine tuning the mechanics and components. We maintained the focus on the two player version of the game, but did do some work on the variant that allows for up to four players. Because Moyersoen is an experienced designer this was a relatively painless experience, especially since there was no publication deadline for this particular game.
After finishing the play testing phase, we moved onto art and asset creation. Working with a newer artist to the team, Brett Mitchell, and graphic designer Michelle Ball, we decided to go with an early 20th century amateur boxing setting, using a variety of comic book and painting styles as influences.
The goal of combining these art styles was to make the visual presentation of the game evoke the sounds and feels of real boxing and the creative team did an amazing job. Initially, Moyersoen was skeptical of the direction we were heading in, but I convinced him to let us develop a few pieces so he could get a good idea of the final result; once we sent him some early concepts he was definitely on board.
There were a few issues that came up with the art style, though. The original concept restricted the color range to warm tones to mimic the sepia look of photos from the time, but this caused some differentiation issues; we later changed the defense cards to have cool tones so they were easier to tell apart. We also had to revise the appearance of the fighters; in the picture to the right above you can see that all four fighter standees were similar in color, which particularly became a problem for colorblind players, so some color correction was done to two of the fighters to resolve the issue.
What started out as a small little game ended up becoming quite the draw for VPG because of both the stunning visuals and the easy to pick up and entertaining game play. Knockout filled a void in VPG's catalog as a great game to play when you need something short and sweet to fill in a gap between other games or while killing some time. It also served as a great conversation starter at conventions and trade shows, especially when players would get really loud after a tough bout.