Rugby. If apple pie is the quintessential American icon, for us Kiwis there can be no other candidate than the much-loved winter sport. Our All Blacks are damn near indomitable at the game, typically winning every competition they enter - except for one. That particular competition, the World Cup, is coming around again and, for the first time since 1987 (coincidentally, the last time we won it), it’s being held right here in Aotearoa.
What’s also happening in New Zealand, for the very first time, is the development of a new Rugby game. You heard that right - not Rugby League, Rugby. Wellington’s Sidhe is taking the helm of a brand new Rugby game, developed in the same city as the mighty Lions and Hurricanes franchises are based.
Published by HES, Rugby Challenge (announced for “Consoles” and PC - no further detail is available, which gets us excited by the possibilities...) will be timed to release in conjunction with the World Cup itself, right about the time interest in playing a game based on the sport will be at its peak.
With NZGamer.com and Sidhe so close you could almost thrown a stone between the two, it’s only natural we jumped on an opportunity to have a chat to Mario and take a walk around the floor as the team studiously beaver away constructing the game.
Sidhe first starting working on the game in late 2009, which will result in an almost two year development phase by the time it comes out next year. Leveraging experiences earned developing the Rugby League franchise (all but Rugby League Live were developed at the Studio), Mario’s team have rebuilt lots of their tech and created new, Rugby-specific tech to handle the specific requirements of the code. In particular, animation technologies have been massively revamped in an attempt to dial the realism of all game motions up to 11.
Graphical technology too has been significantly reworked, with modern techniques (post effects, etc) leveraged to improve not only the visuals but to also improve the way in which the game is presented, with on-field guidance as to what is currently going on in the game. Sidhe’s visual direction is very much to draw players into the experience like never before - a difficult goal to be sure but the kind of stuff they’re talking about gives you confidence they may just achieve exactly that.
Mike Clephane hard at work on one of the detailed stadiums, this one in Nelson
While what we saw was very early (still pre-alpha), it’s quite clear that Sidhe intend to push the boundaries of what they’ve done before. It’s already shaping up very nicely, with beautifully modelled players and incredibly detailed stadia promising to lift the presentation of the sport. There are going to be “hundreds” of hand-modelled player likenesses too, rather than the handful (or less!) that other titles have provided in the past.
One of the most important inclusions, in my opinion, is online multiplayer. I’m not sure about you but I’ve longed to tackle some of my loud-mouthed friends from across the Tasman and prove once and for all that we’re not just the world champions at Rugby League (sorry, had to slip that in there) but that we can also take out the Green & Gold in Union, too. Oddly missing from all previous Rugby games, Sidhe’s title will finally enable players around the world to ruck & maul online. Exactly what modes will be on offer are, as you can imagine, still under wraps.
Some of the stuff he would talk about included full licenses for all the important down-under competitions, like the All Blacks, ITM and Super Rugby franchises. As much fun as non-licensed games can be, sports gamers generally prefer to have their favorite teams and players out of the box so it’s reassuring to see the teams and competitions we care about are there right out of the box. Without going into detail, Mario did mention that this isn’t the end of the license announcements - so if you’ve got your heart set on a team or competition that hasn’t been mentioned yet, don’t panic - there’s more to come.
Commentary is no easy thing to get right, which challenges around keeping it dynamic, on topic and not sounding like a robot being near the top of the list. Sidhe is stepping up their internal tech here, too, opting for multiple commentators rather than the standard (and much easier to implement) single talker seen in their Rugby League games. Who they are, though, is yet to be disclosed...
There’s a bunch of other stuff in the press release, like a franchise mode and extensive customization options. We didn’t get to see either of this in action although it’s fair to imagine they’ll leverage learning gleaned during production of similar modes in their earlier sports games. Mario also hinted that there’s more to discuss about the title, with more modes and features - some of which will surprise people when they’re announced.
As the game is still a while away from completion, there are still a lot of unknowns about the title. One of the questions we most want answered is exactly what Mario meant when he mentioned they’re looking to do some stuff that’s new to sports games in general, not just Rugby games. A bit of new thinking could be just the ticket - but what exactly could he be alluding to? Feel free to make some guesses in the comments, maybe we could rustle up a prize for the best one...
Disclaimer: I have previously been employed by Sidhe in the capacity of a producer, working on titles in the Rugby League franchise (amongst others). For that reason I’ll never be directly involved in any critical appraisal of a Sidhe title, as although I know I wouldn’t let it bias my opinion, I also know that you don’t know me as well as I know myself! I did, however, visit the studio and discuss this title with Mario as I believe that this sort of preview content is not any form of critical appraisal and is therefore not something for which any real bias could affect. Due to my previous experience working on oval-ball sports games, I’m also uniquely equipped to make assessments on how well the development is going. Your feedback on my involvement in this article is more than welcome - feel free to drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss it.