'Knockout City' is a cross-platform dodgeball brawler from Velan and EA

No guns. Just balls.

Knockout City is what happens when the community center’s weekly session of adult dodgeball takes over an entire metropolitan spread. It’s an online, rapid-fire game built around the mechanics of throwing and catching balls, pulling inspiration from online shooters, fighting games and brawlers. It comes from EA and Velan Studios, the developer behind Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit.

Knockout City is heading to PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS5 and Xbox Series X/S on May 21st, complete with cross-play, shared progression and integrated voice chat among all platforms. It’s online-only, competitive, and it supports Clan-style crews of up to 32 players. Launch day will mark the beginning of season one, with each season lasting nine weeks. The game costs $20 upfront, and players only have to buy it once to access new seasons as they roll out. There will be a free, limited-time trial of the full game at launch, too.

There are three tiers of play: Street Play (casual), League Play (competitive), and Private Matches. On day one, Knockout City will feature five locations for dodgeball brawls, plus the Hideout, which acts as a lobby. It’ll have six ball types, five game modes, and a Street Rank progression system that unlocks hundreds of cosmetic options.

Yes, hundreds of accessories, hairstyles, vehicles and clothing options. The Crew system emphasizes building teams with matching logos and accessories, meaning members will have to coordinate their looks item-by-item. Naturally, there’s a digital store in Knockout City, the Brawl Shop, where players can purchase items using in-game currency, HoloBucks. Or, of course, they can just throw down real money.

Knockout City

“Any items in the Brawl Shop can be purchased with HoloBucks,” Velan Studios CEO Karthik Bala said. “HoloBucks can be earned through play -- or purchased with real money if players choose to do so.” Though his voice grew noticeably quieter in the second half of that sentence, Bala made it clear that the Brawl Shop contains only cosmetic items, and no skill-boosting accessories.

Knockout City is designed around everyone being on a level playing field, where there’s no way to buy an advantage and only practicing your skills, individually and as a team, can give you an edge on your opponents,” he said.

Knockout City

There is no shooting in the game, and no guns at all. It’s entirely ball-based, and like a solid fighting game, players have to rely on timing and positioning to take out opponents. There’s no aiming mechanic; balls auto-lock onto enemies, as long as you shoot your shot at the right time. Players can catch an incoming ball and return fire as quickly as they’d like, or hold onto it and strategize for a lethal throw.

This requires a hefty amount of physics processing, especially with dozens of players on a map and numerous balls flying through the air. Velan developers built a unique game engine, Viper, and programming language, V-script, to handle the load.

“Everything starts with a V around here,” Bala said. Specifically talking about V-script, he continued, “Every line of code can run backwards as well as forwards, so our entire simulation is managed that way to handle the latency across the internet. It’s rather unique.”

Latency across networks and platforms was one of Velan’s main concerns. For instance, one mechanic in the game allows opponents to “rally,” or repeatedly throw a ball back and forth, speeding up with each pass until someone flinches and takes it to the face. Latency disparities can break this mechanic entirely, and Bala said he’s pleased with the way Viper and V-script handle the issue.

Knockout City

“This is like split-second,” he said. “It’s all about timing and position. For us to be able to deal with all of that, and deal with practical internet latencies, was really difficult.”

Visually, Knockout City is a cross between Fuzion Frenzy and Splatoon, with boof and poof sound effects reminiscent of games like Candy Crush. It’s a physics-heavy, timing-based, competitive brawler wrapped up in a cartoonish package.

A closed beta for Knockout City will be available for free this weekend, February 20th and 21st, on PC only. It’ll feature a 3-on-3 mode called Team KO, three maps and three ball types. Specifically, it’ll have the Bomb Ball (which explodes), Cage Ball (which traps its target in a small spherical cage), and Moon Ball (which disrupts the gravity for any character that interacts with it). There will also, of course, be hundreds of customization options for beta players to peruse.