Exclusive: Inside The Development Of Varsity High School Football – Part 1

Football fans are a passionate group. That goes double when it comes to football video game fans. With so few options over the last two decades, players get restless whenever a new game is announced and in development. 

They want a game that is feature rich while being fun to play on the field. Often, however, they get something that is one or the other. With Varsity High School Football, developers Spear Interactive and Pyramid Lake Games are hoping to change that.

Varsity High School Football is taking a sport that millions love, and bringing it to the most-played level in America: High School. Featuring thousands of schools representing every county in the United States, Varsity is aiming to be one of the deepest football games you’ve ever played.

Recently I was invited up to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, where Spear Interactive is located, to get an exclusive look at the game, play some of what’s built, and talk about its development.

Varsity will be centered around its gameplay and Dynasty mode. For the gameplay, the developers are stopping at nothing to make it as realistic of an experience as possible for a studio of its size. 

Varsity High School Football
An exclusive screenshot for Varsity High School Football

They’re motion capturing every aspect of the gameplay with suits and equipment that cost tens of thousands of dollars. From the quarterbacks to offensive and defensive line interactions, what you see in game will have been motion captured. To help with that realism, they’re using actual football players from the Canadian Junior Football League (CJFL) to get the captures with thousands of different animations coming in.

Varsity On The Field Feels Smooth

When speaking to one of the game’s lead developers, it was emphasized that getting “tight motions and smooth player movement” was as important as anything else they’re working on. Even if they have to capture the same thing dozens of times, it’s something they want to make sure they get right.

One concern I had with capturing players that are as old as 22 years old – the max age for the CJFL – is the speed. Obviously, older players are going to be faster and more powerful, on average, than your typical high school athlete. To make sure the play isn’t hindered by that and it’s on par with what you’d expect, they manually adjust custom-developed sliders for things like overall game speed, agility, and more. Think of it like what games offer with sliders for play, and amplify it. It’s all being done behind the scenes within the Unity-built game.

For the sake of transparency, the build I played had just the quarterback and wide receivers on the field. There was no defense, no line, and no real challenge. What it was, however, was a solid showcase of the detail going into every position on the field. 

Seeing, and feeling, the way the quarterback moves in and around the pocket – a position they’ve spent the most work with so far – was impressive. Footwork felt and looked natural, and the throwing motions were as smooth as any independent football game I’ve ever played. 

I don’t want to hype it up too much, but it was satisfying to watch how the throws were made. Receiver animations were still being worked on, but, with what was there, the catches looked good when doing crossing and similar routes. Even how the players run, an aspect that many football games struggle to accurately create, looked pretty natural. And while playing, it was once again reiterated that it was all about getting the tight motions and smooth player movement, something that it feels like Varsity is on its way to achieving.

There’s no release date set for Varsity, and that’s by design. It was made clear during my time with the team that the last thing they wanted was to announce a date too soon and have to push it back should something come up. Instead, they’ll continue to work on the game, have playtests with select supporters from its Patreon, and share progress with fans each month.

As far as the game’s other major selling point, Dynasty Mode, there’s a lot to unpack. And unpack it we will.

Check out Part 2 of Inside The Development of Varsity High School Football where we look at the game’s deep Dynasty mode. For more Insider Gaming, read our interview with actor Tom McKay, the man behind Henry in Kingdom Come: Deliverance.