Brews and bruises: Frozen Codebase’s JamCity Rollergirls

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Like most good things that come out of Wisconsin, WiiWare title JamCity Rollergirls started out with a great idea and beer with breakfast.

It wasn’t too long after the Green Bay-based developer Frozen Codebase was founded in 2006 that the company’s president, Ben Geisler, pitched the idea. Unfamiliar with the sport at the time, the team wasn’t sold on the concept until it did its research.

“For our first corporate outing, we were together for like a month, we went to see the Brewcity Bruisers in Milwaukee Wisconsin,” recalls vice president “Reverend” Norb Rozek. “A lot of beer was drank, and we were yelling, and we were like ‘Holy crap, this has absolutely, positively got to be a videogame. We can’t believe no one has made this into a game yet.”

For those with sharp memories, you might recall the project’s genesis as an Xbox Live Arcade title. The game was announced back in 2008, relatively quietly by the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association, Frozen Codebase’s partner on the project.

“[We] met with this group of ladies before their tournament, it was like nine in the morning,” Geisler remembers, “and they were all impressed because we had beer for breakfast. So I think that impressed them enough to give us this license.”

“I don’t think they realized we were from Green Bay, Wisconisin,” adds Rozek, “and [drinking beer with breakfast] isn’t very noteworthy whatsoever.”

Early on in its design, the title had a more “realistic” slants, powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine, with a focus on simulation and real world physics. In talking about it, Geisler drops big name franchises like Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL games, and even Skate, as reference points.

With derby seemingly about to break out to the mainstream — the roller-film Whip It starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore was about to hit theaters — Frozen Codebase thought it was time to make the jump to a full retail title. After pitching the game to some of the big leagues like Electronic Arts and Eidos, the project hit a wall; with the stock market crashing in 2008, Frozen Codebase found finding someone to back its project to be a fruitless effort.

New plan: do it on their own. For them that meant scaling back the project, publishing it themselves, taking a different approach, this time a more “arcade-y” title for Nintendo’s Wii downloadable service, WiiWare. The changes in tone and feel, says Rozek, is simply a matter of “the right tools for the right job.”

Jam City Rollergirls for WiiWare is something that’s probably closer to Mario Kart than Madden or Skate, still true to the sport, but with a distinct arcade feel. This means that all of the strategy of the real sport remains, but expect a full suite of power-ups and over-the-top locations and track designs. For instance, the Mad Rollin’ Dolls of Madison — their persona that of milk maids — will skate in a barn. The Rat City Rollergirls of Seattle compete on a track inspired by the city’s fabled underground passageways, with wild ramps and jumps.

The game features what Geisler refers to as a “fantastical art style,” headed by ex-Naughty Dog artists Andrew Gilmour. As if the rollergirls themselves aren’t “fantastical” in their own right — fans of the sport will see plenty of familiar faces across the game’s five real life teams: Rat City Rollergirls, Mad Rollin’ Dolls, Brewcity Bruisers, Gotham Girls Rollerderby, and the Texas Texecutioners. In the game’s multiplayer mode, you can hop into the skates of fan favorites like Suzy Hotrod or the Texecutioner’s Bloody Mary.

Want to live your own rollerderby fantasy? You’ll be able to design your own girl in the game’s single player mode. Geisler seems impressed by how much customization the Frozen Codebase team managed to cram into the title.

“It’s hard for me to imagine another WiiWare game that has this much interchanging of body parts,” he says.

Three years after the initial pitch, Geisler and Rozek aren’t just developers making a rollerderby game — they’re part of a community. If you’re ever in Wisconsin, check out a bout featuring the Fox Cityz Foxz, the area’s local rollergirl league. You might just run into Geisler and Rozek, or at least hear their voices: they’re announcers for the league.

What this means, of course, is that Frozen Codebase’s ties with the WFTDA aren’t simply severed with the release of JamCity Rollergirls. The developer is already thinking about adding post-release content, including more venues, more tracks, and even teams. While there’s nothing set in stone on that end, a European release for game is confirmed to be coming within the next few months. If Frozen Codebase does get around to adding content, it seems like UK favorites the London Rollergirls would be an obvious addition.

As for future rollerderby games, Geisler seems confident that there’s definitely a market for that original “simulation-style” title they had to abandon. 

“We’d definitely consider it,” he says, “I mean, there’s more than one rollerderb game that could be made, if you know what I mean. It’s just like, you look at football as a sport and there’s tons of types of footbll games. You’ve got stuff like Madden vs. Mutant League Football vs. Blitz. Each one is different in some way, so I think that there’s potential there to bring that back.”

“I think there’s a market for that kind of [rollerderby] simulation, and I’d love to do that kind of game, too.”

Maybe they’re just a few “beers with breakfast” meetings away from making it a reality.

JamCity Rollergirls is available on North American WiiWare now for 1000 Wii Points.

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Nick Chester
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