Why Rocket League deleted the ball for new Knockout mode

by Barbara Hadden

At its core, Rocket League has always been a humble game about rocket-powered cars playing soccer. But now the rules have changed with the introduction of the new Knockout Limited-Time Mode. For the first time, players will need to rethink their strats as they fight head to head in an eight-player free-for-all.               

In this destructive derby, novices and veterans alike will need to master the new attack, block, and grab mechanics to claim victory. Knockout will be part of a new in-game event called Knockout Bash, which runs from April 27 to May 10.

Why Rocket League deleted the ball for new Knockout mode

Psyonix Programmer Sky Breen was part of the team that developed Knockout. We sat down together to talk about what players can expect, the process of introducing new mechanics, and how removing the ball is a big change for Rocket League.               

Knockout is the first game mode without goals or walls. What was it like designing a mode that “broke the rules” compared to other Rocket League Modes?           

Sky: Honestly we had just as much fun making the mode as playing it. When we started designing Knockout, we saw this as an opportunity to evolve the gameplay of Rocket League further. A way to tailor fit Knockout with new vehicle physics and learnable skills, to make the mode as fun as possible. At the same time, we want to give a new experience for players, one that hasn’t changed since our initial release seven years ago. Definitely breaking the rules for sure, but we are hoping players will really love all the changes and new additions we have made.

So, how did the team decide on attack, block, and grab as new mechanics? Were there other directions you took first before deciding on this new form of car vs. car combat?                       

Sky: Initially, the prototype was built around attacking other players. It was fun, but we wanted to add more depth and variety to the player’s move set. So we tried adding a new move set for blocking to protect the player from attacks, which the team liked a lot, but it didn’t have a weakness to other moves like Attacking did. Some players would take advantage of this and would spam the Block move over and over. We came to the conclusion that many fighting games have three core move sets: attack, grab and block, which I like to call the “trifecta” because it sounds cool haha. We thought it would be fun if each move set juked another, like rock, paper, scissors. This way, it would allow players to outsmart others if they can predict what move someone else plans to use.                       

How do the different maps influence gameplay? Were they each designed with a different goal in mind?                       

Sky: The goal we set initially was that no matter what map we played, the gameplay itself still needed to be fun. When prototyping, we played on the most basic map we could create, which was just a platform with a kill zone below. We determined that if we could have fun with the most basic of maps, more complex maps would be even more fun! Once we reached that point in development and had super solid gameplay mechanics, we started to expand out with new creative maps that were custom-tailored to the gameplay. Next, we added new obstacles like Spikes to bring more life into the mode, making it even more fun in the long run.           

Did the team have any early inspiration for Knockout?                       

Sky: The initial idea behind Knockout mode was to create a new experience for players. A place where they can go to have new fun with their friends. The team had lots of inspiration during the development of the mode. Pulling ideas from various fighting games, battle royal games, all the way to its core, the game of rock, paper, scissors.  

A corner of our audience thinks demolitions (when one player bumps another at supersonic speed) are “cheap.” What does this mode mean for players who think demos are fun, fair, and a totally intended game mechanic?           

Sky: Haha, it means they now have a place of solace! Fret no more. Come to Knockout and put those skills to good use.       

And that’s the story of how Rocket League deleted the ball! If you’re interested in learning more about the development of Knockout, keep your eye out for our upcoming video series called Under the Hood, where Psyonix devs talk about the process behind the scenes. In the meantime, enjoy Knockout Bash from April 27 to May 10!