Vooks chats with Big Ant’s Ross Symons about “party cricket” Big Bash Boom
Following the reveal of upcoming T20 cricket title Big Bash Boom, many initial impressions centred around the rhetoric of “it’s NBA Jam, but cricket!” After chatting with Big Ant Studios CEO Ross Symons, the team behind the game he refers to as “party cricket”, Big Bash Boom will share more than just a visual kinship to the classic arcade basketball game – it will capture and exaggerate the fast-paced action of T20 cricket in a way only a video game can. Vooks contributor and Maxi-Geek owner Luke Henderson recently played a PS4 build of Big Bash Boom at Big Ant HQ, leaving considerably impressed with what he saw.
Speaking with Symons at PAX Australia 2018, there’s a grand sense of optimism from the Melbourne Stars supporter and fan of Glenn Maxwell – who has done motion capture for Big Ant – about how the Australian public will react to Big Bash Boom. Featuring caricatured likenesses of many of the stars from the Australian domestic T20 cricket competition, the Big Bash League (BBL), the inevitable comparisons to arcade cult classic NBA Jam are well and truly founded. Symons himself says Big Bash Boom is “NBA Jam meets cricket meets WWE”, leaning heavily into the larger-than-life sports category.
“The Big Bash League is so electrifyingly family; it’s fireworks and all the family things,” Symons said. “It’s actually the real-life embodiment of what NBA Jam would be for cricket, like the actual game is, six after six, Zing bails, watermelons in the crowd, all that.”
Seeing the newly released gameplay trailer, Big Bash Boom looks to live up to the highly entertaining family atmosphere the BBL generates – known for such marquee events as the New Year’s Eve game hosted by my team, who happen to be the reigning champions, the Adelaide Strikers.
Power-ups are core to the Big Bash Boom experience, with various ridiculous abilities giving batsmen and bowlers the edge over one another. In its official announcement, Big Bash Boom boasted several power-ups, including guaranteed sixes for the batting team, and that bowlers can shrink the batsmen’s willow to the size of a stump, increasing the difficulty tenfold. Batsmen can also slow down time, while bowlers are able to prevent batsmen from running between wickets by setting the pitch ablaze – in a move that must be nightmare fuel for pitch curators around the country. These abilities sound fascinating in theory, but how do they actually work? Symons explained that you’ll earn power-ups through your performance, filling up a power meter which, when filled, allows you to launch a random power-up against your opponent.
“In NBA Jam if you got a few baskets in a row it’d go ‘he’s on fire!’ and you could hit three-pointers from anywhere, right?” Symons said. “[This is] Similar.”
“Basically, your performance increases your ability to perform better. So it’s a really big exponential curve. If you’re bowling well, you’ll bowl a lot better and if you’re batting well, you’ll bat a lot better. And then it becomes rock, paper, scissors of when you use your power up.”
Hearing this, I immediately thought this model of power-ups could lead to some very lopsided results, with good players receiving a constant flow of abilities to further crush inexperienced players. Quizzing Symons about this, he confidently reassures via mixed martial arts analogy that the natural flow of the game will prevent this from occurring.
“It’s an ebb and flow,” Symons said. “So what would happen is I might have you on the mat and be absolutely killing you, but the reverse is true when you get momentum, so it’s like any sport.”
“…If you settle down, block, get ready to go and you’ll come off the mat, momentum will go your way and all of a sudden you’re gunning back at them. So it’s really a momentum swing. You go from first to last and last to first pretty often.”
You’ll also be able to change the ball to various objects based on classic Aussie sledges, such as a potato for the spuds out there, and pies for bowlers who bowl batsmen delicious six-bound treats. When asked about the recent sandpaper ball-tampering scandal which saw three players from the Australian team receive significant bans, Symons responded diplomatically, saying that sandpaper will not be a Big Bash Boom power-up, adding that “you’re not the first to ask – won’t be the last to ask”.
Considering Big Ant’s rich history with sports games, especially previous cricket titles such as the Don Bradman Cricket series and Ashes Cricket, developing Big Bash Boom has been a very different process.
“It’s [developing Big Bash Boom] different enough that it’s almost a different development team,” Symons said. “It’s a different designer so at its core the design is entirely different.”
“The outcomes in terms of the audience is entirely different. We may not pick up any of those core guys, they may look at it and think ‘that’s not for me’.”
However, Symons hopes there will be a decent crossover between players of Big Ant’s previous cricket games and Big Bash Boom. As for Big Bash Boom’s depth compared to other cricket titles, he feels comfortable there will be something for everyone.
“It’s [Big Bash Boom] probably midway from the Big Bash mobile game that we produced to Ashes, it’s probably right in the middle,” Symons said. “It’s certainly got far more depth than the BBL mobile game, but it hasn’t got the depth of an Ashes.”
While Big Bash Boom won’t contain the same level of intricate mechanical detail as Big Ant’s hardcore cricket games, it won’t be lacking in entertainment and character. You’ll be able to unlock different outfits and equipment for players to really ramp up the silliness of the game’s arcade feel and design. Plus, there will be lots of celebrations to unlock in the vein of Fortnite, which you’ll be able to pull off when taking wickets or hitting sixes. According to a let’s play session with IGN Australia, there will be approximately 65 celebrations in total, with no microtransactions in sight.
This more accessible and family-friendly approach is based on lessons Big Ant has learned from developing the likes of Don Bradman and Ashes, in that they’re not for everybody.
“The biggest thing we learnt about those games is how inaccessible they are for the general public,” Symons said. “That taught us that the more casual cricket fan, and perhaps the younger fan, and the family that goes to the cricket for the BBL – we left them behind.”
Much in the same way the sport of cricket adapted to changing audience needs in introducing the shorter T20 concept, Big Ant discovered they needed to follow suit.
“We’ve learnt that the same is true for us,” Symons said. “That we need a game that can be consumed by a broader audience that wants the fun of cricket, loves cricket but doesn’t want to get so intricate into the stats and so on.”
For Nintendo fans, Big Bash Boom will mark Big Ant’s first game on a Nintendo console since the 2011 on-rails shooter Pirate Blast, where you had to soak robot pirates with water guns. Big Ant’s history with Nintendo can be traced back to their work on the Game Boy Advance version of The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning released in 2006, following which, Symons points out the studio has developed for every Nintendo console since the GBA except for the Wii U – ironically, his children’s favourite console.
Previously, Big Ant considered bringing Ashes Cricket to the Nintendo Switch, but nothing eventuated at the time. We now know that their next cricket and tennis games will be coming to Switch, which will follow the relationship built with Nintendo during Big Bash Boom’s development. Symons believes the Switch’s motion control capacity was a major factor in getting Big Bash Boom on the Nintendo platform.
“Your traditional cricket match that goes for a very long time, not so suited to motion controls – this thing will be,” Symons said. “This thing, full-on you can bowl and bat with it and you can’t do that with the other platforms.”
“We saw the opportunity that there’s a point of difference, and there’s a reason – that’s the key. There’s a reason to bring it to the Switch. There has to be a reason, it’s not just because there are a lot of Switches and people are starting to buy Switch games.”
When asked about the motion controls’ accuracy, Symons stated it “feels reasonably one-for-one” and that facing a 150km/h delivery is genuinely intimidating. Arguably most satisfying, Big Bash Boom taps into the HD Rumble, which gives tangible feedback when batting.
“There is nothing better than smashing something out of the park – it’s just really nice, Symons said. “When you connect with the ball it feels good.”
“You feel when there’s a bad connection and you feel when there’s a sweet connection. It’s just that it’s a nice feeling.”
Barring the 4K visuals Big Bash Boom will display on other platforms, the Switch version will achieve complete feature parity, including online play. There will be various ways to play, including tournaments, one-off matches, and a challenge mode where you’ll be able to replicate specific BBL games, such as chasing down a score in the last over of a game or holding on as the bowling team. In addition to the motion controls, the Switch version will be fully playable in handheld, where Symons’ grand vision is to see people playing it at BBL games during breaks, playing one another in the crowd via wireless connection.
“We’re actually proud that we’ve been able to pull the quality of the other platforms into the Switch,” Symons said. “So that’s actually a big achievement for us in terms of just getting it so that it performs as well on the small screen of the Switch, whether it’s docked or not docked, it performs well on that.”
Presentation-wise, Big Bash Boom is scrubbing up nicely, with player likenesses looking spot-on, even with the goofy large heads. Big Ant has put numerous players through the photogrammetry treatment, capturing their faces with impressive accuracy, including the likes of star players Pat Cummins and Ellyse Perry. Impressively, Big Bash Boom features a one-to-one ratio of players from the BBL and the WBBL (the women’s league).
“About three or four years ago we took a stance that every game we make, where there’s a women’s equivalent, we will make them equivalent in-game,” Symons said. “So every single game, whether it be cricket or tennis, or any of our sports that we do you will find women equally prominent.”
“It is pretty important and it came to me right between the eyes when my daughters basically said they can’t play themselves in any of the games I’ve made. So it’s something that we needed to address.”
No doubt this renewed focus on gender equality and diversity in Big Ant games culminated in the studio supporting the NEXT Exhibit led by Ally McLean at PAX Australia, which showcased six games made by underrepresented developers.
Big Bash Boom smashes its way to the Switch on November 29, where I will be taking the Adelaide Strikers to back-to-back BBL titles.