ESBC Gameplay Continues Slow Development

ESBC released gameplay footage and official player model screenshots via its official social media accounts last week. The build in the footage presents varying and inconsistent grades of visual fidelity at smooth framerates. Here’s what we think it means.

A trend is emerging from Steel City Interactive, the studio behind the upcoming boxer, ESBC. Previously, the footage following the Summer 2021 gameplay videos dipped in graphical prowess. The poor-quality graphics and gameplay changes in those follow-up videos prompted many of us to wonder what the team at Steel City Interactive was up to.

The reliability of SCI’s videos is now rightfully being called into question, and it prompts us to ask: “do the latest gameplay videos accurately reflect the latest build of the game?” It looks like SCI is feeding us more confusion.

ESBC Gameplay, Player Models
Ryan Garcia high-resolution player model, ESBC. By Steel City Interactive and Ten-24 Studio.

This past week’s video shows fluid ESBC gameplay, footwork, and snappy punch combos. But graphically, the lighting in the opening segment’s over-the-shoulder camera angle is 100 percent static. Moreover, I argue it looks as though the fighters were copy-pasted into the arena. But when we shift to the final scenes of the video, the lighting becomes more dynamic, almost as if the lighting is being rendered in real-time. The incongruity of it all is easily identifiable. It is strange to see inconsistencies found within the same video.

The player models, textures, and lighting shown in the opening scenes are a significant downgrade from the Deontay Wilder model showcased last Fall, 2021. And they are a downgrade from the player model screenshots that went out on SCI’s social media last week. The high-resolution screenshots and the downscaled gameplay look like two different games from two different generations. This leads me to believe that the previously developed technology, i.e., the lighting engine, remains in place for the game, and it may be just a matter of SCI turning on all of the environment’s lighting in a given scene within the game engine.

In SCI’s defense, one reason to scale backlighting is to combat frame rate drops. We know that the game suffered from various clipping and glitches in the community play-through — SCI is still working out the bugs.

Continuing, it is worth mentioning that SCI continues to search for developers on its title. A trend that began last year. The game looks like it is very much still a work-in-progress. I can’t help but wonder if the turnover at SCI is impacting its sustainable progress. The game’s development appears far from linear. And that’s okay so long as it lands with the right final build.

Balancing ESBC gameplay

Aside from the new video, which does show off some nifty footwork (it is difficult to discuss the gameplay without testing in hand), the ESBC team continues to hype its roster. While this is welcome, it leads me to believe SCI is still building core components to its game. Otherwise, any killer game modes would have certainly been featured in the marketing hype already.

One of the big points of emphasis for me is learning how ESBC will balance its gameplay. The greats balance the pace of play with precision and intense action. EA Sports generally lands with the right formula for broad market appeal — its games concentrate the action of two-hour competitions into 30 to 45 min play sessions. 2K Sports comparatively takes a slower pace of play approach in favor of precision and execution, with a deep library of animations. Both developers allow for extensive gameplay customization via sliders.

The 2K Sports simulation-approach may be the preferred model and is my personal preference, but that might not be the healthiest financial decision for SCI. For the ESBC gameplay to succeed financially and with a spectrum of gamers alike, it will need to find the sweet spot for the pace of play. Fight Night Champion is an excellent formula to look at and emulate (yes, I know, an easy comp., but it is so good!) FNC features visual audio cues for intense, action-dense moments like counterpunches, power-punches, or stun-inducing blows. The camera rattle, white light flash, and heavy-hitting sound effects blend together to deliver satisfying feedback to the player. Rumble feedback also plays a role in FNC, mimicking a boxer’s heartbeat in intense moments, or to cue a boxer’s extreme fatigue.

Such subtle design elements take FNC, which is a technically-sound, balanced fighter, and give it the arcade-action feedback that can create an enjoyable experience for any player. It will serve SCI well to have a game that is appealing to various audiences, and this is why I believe the FNC-like gameplay can do good numbers.

We are closing in on year two of the ESBC gameplay development. Soon, we will begin to have a better picture of the longevity of this ambitious indie startup studio and its new fight game franchise.

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