Basketball games used to be about more than basketball. More people play basketball than professionals and, in the 1990s, basketball games reflected that. These games were about the sport, but were also about the life and style of everyday lovers of the game. A project on Kickstarter is funding a VR basketball game that returns to that spirit.
Vinci Games and Blacktop Hoops
Right now, Vinci Games has one thing on its mind: Blacktop Hoops. The VR basketball game is inspired by earlier arcade-style games like NBA Jam and the NBA Street series. These games were about scoring points at the hoop, but also gave out points for the style of play – and the style of avatars and courts spoke to people playing in public parks rather than packed stadiums.
“We all grew up in the ‘90s and early 2000s. For us, NBA Street and all of those games were really nostalgic,” the game’s producer, Alannah Forman told ARPost. “The fashion at the time, the hip-hop music culture, what was actually happening on the streets – they really spoke to people in an authentic way.”
The Vinci Games team is only seven members, but they’re not rookies. Co-founder and CEO Nathaniel Ventura’s last three roles were management positions with Unity, Google, and Facebook Reality Labs. Co-founder and CTO Maciej Szcześnik is best known for his role as lead gameplay designer on The Witcher video game series.
“We carefully crafted a team that has very strong backgrounds in particular disciplines,” said Forman, herself also an advisory board member of a Vancouver-based enterprise XR consultancy firm. “We’re able to have very important conversations early on in the game that set us up for success later on.”
Building a VR Basketball Game
The VR basketball game is built around simple mechanics that are “easy to pick up but hard to master.” Animations in the game were produced through motion capture of real ball players. Courts are also virtual replicas of real courts in locations like Venice Beach and Harlem.
However, the design of the game is very stylized – a deliberate move by the team, led by creative director Derek Ng-Cummings. Ng-Cummings was also the lead animator on NBA Jam.
“There’s not a lot of risk being taken in games,” said Forman. “Everyone wants to go hyper-realistic.”
Players will have single-player campaign and training modes, as well as a cross-platform multiplayer mode. Throughout the campaign, players will be able to unlock and equip clothing items designed through collaboration with indie brands and designers, as well as famed Nike designer Gemo Wong.
Players play to a ‘90s-inspired original soundtrack and the commentary of WNBA star Renee Montgomery, and Bobbito Garcia, who announced on NBA Street Vol. 2. Also on board is voice actor Dante Basco, who dunked on Robin Williams in Hook and more-recently voiced Prince Zuko on Avatar: The Last Airbender.
“It was really important for us to bridge the generations together,” said Forman. “There’s a lot of opportunities to bring generations together in this release.”
Social connection is one of the priorities of the team, believing that multiplayer games have greater capacity to keep people coming back to a VR title. That is also why the full VR basketball game will be cross-platform, in VR as well as on major consoles.
From Alpha, to Kickstarter, and Beyond
Blacktop Hoops is being supported by Y Combinator, the same startup accelerator that launched Reddit. There is already a game in alpha testing on Steam and Quest. While the VR basketball game’s Kickstarter campaign is an important source of funding, Forman says that one of the biggest benefits of the crowdfunding campaign has been building and strengthening the community.
“If anything, I think it’s bringing a lot of buzz around what’s to come. … The Kickstarter is really an opportunity for us to talk to our community about what they want,” said Forman. “This game is not just a game to sell. We want it to be something people can love and champion.”
That might sound like things that someone would say when their Kickstarter wasn’t going well. But, as of this writing, this VR basketball game is within $6k of its final goal with over two weeks left to go, having raised more than $5k over the weekend following my interview with Forman.
There’s still time to get in on the funding, with rewards ranging from free copies of the game, to custom apparel, to becoming a playable character. According to Forman, the company needed to continually add supporter tiers as people pledged above the highest existing reward categories.
See You on the Court
While I am (somehow) already older than the VR basketball game’s largest playing demographic, it’s easy to get excited about the passion and direction behind this project. But, you don’t have to be a ‘90s kid to support the game.
If you’ve read my articles in the past, you may know that shooting hoops in AltspaceVR is a favorite pastime of mine, and a dedicated VR basketball game sounds a whole lot better.