Interview with Henrique Alonso of Pocket Trap, Creators of Dodgeball Academia

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It’s been a while since we last posted an interview from our friends at Pocket Trap and a lot of you have been waiting so impatiently to hear from them. Well, here’s your chance because Henrique Alonso from Pocket Trap recently sat down with us at bfcentral.com to talk about their current project, Dodgeball Academia. Here’s what Henrique had to say:

I recently had the chance to interview the developer behind one of my favorite games of the year, Dodgeball Academia, a top-down dodgeball arena game.

The “Dodgeball Academia” anime series is a great way to teach Japanese children about cultural diversity and acceptance. For example, the series features characters from Brazil, Japan, France, the United States, Russia, and more. It’s not often that one sees an anime that makes such a giant effort to bridge the cultural gaps of the world, so we had to ask: Are you going to keep up the series’ trend of diversity, or is there a chance it will devolve into a stereotypical “pick a country, pick your character” approach?

Dodgeball Academia grabbed me in a way that few other games in 2021 have. I had never heard of it before playing it, but its mix of arcade-style sports action, JRPG gameplay, and cartoon-like visuals quickly won me over. Especially because I was playing it on the Nintendo Switch, which is the ideal platform for this kind of game. After playing the game, I wanted to learn more about it, so I asked Henrique Alonso, co-founder and producer at Pocket Trap, the game’s creators, a few questions about Dodgeball Academia’s production process, sources of inspiration, and future plans.

 

First and foremost, I’d want to express my gratitude to the whole Pocket Trap crew for a great game. I’d want to learn more about the creation of Dodgeball Academia. How long did it take to create the game? When did it all begin? What made the developers decide to make a game based on dodgeball, of all things?

Henrique Alonso: I’m Henrique Alonso, and I’m Thank you sincerely! We’re happy you had a good time with the game. The idea began in 2016 with a few informal discussions between Pocket Trap and Ivan Freire, who also helped us create the game. We were already buddies, and we were talking about games that brought back memories for us, such as Camelot’s Game Boy versions of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, with Ivan throwing in some dodgeball video games from his childhood. That got us thinking about how a game that combined both genres might look and play. Dodgeball Academia was born out of this desire to bring these minor subgenres back to life for both old and new fans.

For a long time, the game was just a prototype, until we were eventually able to figure out its mechanics and general structure. In 2017, we received financing from SPCine, a city-sponsored program aimed at assisting with the production of films, television series, games, and other forms of media, and subsequently signed a publishing deal with Humble Games. We finally have the resources to bring our plans to reality from that point forward. The game took approximately five years to finish, although I’d estimate that full-time development took about two years.

 

The fact that Dodgeball Academia takes place in a sports-focused boarding school reminded me a lot of Camelot’s Game Boy Color adaptations of Mario Golf and Mario Tennis. Were these games a source of inspiration for you while you were working on your game?

HA: Well, I guess I answered this question unintentionally in my prior response (laughs). Yes, these games were definitely some of the greatest influences on Dodgeball Academia, and we’re thrilled to see so many people recognizing that; we’re very proud of it! These are games that we adore.

 

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Could you identify any additional sources of inspiration, both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics, outside Camelot’s sports-inspired JRPGs?

HA: When it came to the combat mechanisms in Dodgeball Academia, the Kunio-kun series, as well as a specific Neo Geo game named Super Dodgeball, were major influences. We’re also huge fans of Nintendo and Capcom games; we spent a lot of time researching their titles when creating Dodgeball Academia, and I believe it’s fairly clear to see how they influenced the game.

 

Despite being a 3D game with polygonal backgrounds, Dodgeball Academia includes 2D-style characters and NPCs, as if they were taken straight from a cartoon. What was the process like for these characters in terms of design and animation?

HA: In terms of visual style, Ivan (Freire, the game’s co-creator and art director) has a lot of expertise and a background in animation, as do the artists we hired to assist us with the project. It was critical for us to explore these artists’ finest characteristics, and I believe that this opened the road for all characters to be drawn out and animated in 2D, in a frame-by-frame fashion.

 

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The visual style of Dodgeball Academia reminded me a lot of Cartoon Network’s more recent programs, but the concept reminded me more of sports anime and shonen in general, such as My Hero Academia. Was it intended for this contradiction to exist?

HA: In certain ways, yes. One of our main goals in developing the game was to create a nostalgic feeling, which we achieved thanks to our main sources of inspiration. I believe the game has a significant impact on Ivan’s life, as well as the lives of the entire team. For example, Otto is the same name of Ivan’s dog, who tragically died during the game’s production.

Ivan and the Pocket Trap crew both grew up watching Western cartoons and shonen anime. We weren’t looking for particular references, but I believe that the combination of cartoons and anime runs throughout the whole game.

 

Otto, the protagonist of Dodgeball Academia, can curl himself up into a ball and roll across the map with ease. Given the game’s concept and setting, it seemed strange, but I found that feature to be so enjoyable (and helpful) that I appreciated its inclusion. I’d want to know what led to the decision to include what was basically a “spin dash” in the game.

H.A. : (Laughs) This mechanism arose organically from a proposal made by one of our programmers, Henrique Lorenzi. We knew the game’s maps would be large and that backtracking would be a part of the experience, so we knew we had to make getting from one place to another enjoyable in and of itself. We were looking at various methods to make Otto move quicker, and we ended up using a backflip motion that Ivan had developed for use during fights. Lorenzi then opted to utilize this animation in a rolling mechanic test, which we liked so much that we decided to retain it in the game’s final version. Lorenzi is a huge lover of Mario-style platformers, and I’m sure it was one of his inspirations!

 

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One of Dodgeball Academia’s coolest features is the ability to enable an alternate translated subtitle in another language while playing the game in your preferred language, effectively allowing you to learn another language while having a blast. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this feature in another game (though I may be mistaken), therefore I’m curious where that brilliant idea came from.

Henrique Lorenzi, our programmer, also came up with this concept! I’m fairly sure it just came up naturally. Lorenzi is a huge language fan, therefore he worked extensively with our contracted translation partners to make sure this mechanic was as fantastic as it turned out to be.

Because text boxes make up a large part of the game, we wanted to make the most of this feature. We always strive to include elements that we like or would want to see in our games, and we’re thrilled with how well this concept has been received. I also thought it was a great match for the game’s concept!

We all grew up studying several languages, particularly English, in order to fully appreciate all of the games we used to play as children. I’m fairly sure this has happened to every single Brazilian player at some point in their lives. I really hope that tools like these encourage gamers to learn other languages!

 

Finally, although I realize this is a difficult topic to answer so soon after a game’s debut, what are Pocket Trap’s future plans? Are you working on a brand-new project right now?

HA: We’re currently focusing on the release of Dodgeball Academia, but our long-term goals remain the same as they always been! We aim to keep developing new projects that will make people smile whether they are playing or watching them. We’ll have to wait and see which concepts we’ll pursue next, but I can assure you that we won’t stop here!

 

As an example:

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Look at them!

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