GZ Interview: EA Sports Rugby 2004 Development Manager Andrew Wilson Takes Gamers into the Scrum

EA Sports Rugby 2004 Development Manager
Andrew Wilson Takes Gamers into the Scrum

By Michael Lafferty

"It is a fast-paced hard-hitting game that translates into
very compelling game play"

You wear pads when you fly through the air and tackle people? A
helmet to protect your head? And the ball carrier wears pads as well? What’s the
fun of that?

While there is denying that the hits in the American sport
called football are indeed huge, and can cause shudders of sympathetic agony
from even the toughest of viewers, there is another game the bears some
semblance to this sport, though it predates the American game.

The origins of the game are a little murky, and shrouded in the
mythos attributed to most sports. What is known is that in the 1830s a school in
England, aptly named Rugby School was playing a markedly different brand of
football (known in the U.S. as soccer) than other schools of the time. At Rugby,
players actually were carrying the ball and the field was adjusted to issue a
greater challenge in lieu of this style of play.

Other teams gradually gravitated to the game and in 1871, 21
clubs formed the Rugby Football Union. The rules of the time were haphazard and
it wasn’t until 1898 that the rules and regulations, which govern the sport
today, were put in place.

American football grew out of the sport of rugby, though it
appeared not long afterwards and evolved a little quicker. The
first-ever game of college soccer football was played in 1869 between Rutgers
and Princeton using modified London Football Association rules. The rules were
formalized in 1876 and American football was well on its way to becoming a
national institution.

While the games do bear some similarities, they are, quite
different in strategy and overall structure.

Ok, ok, this isn’t a history lesson or analytical comparison of
the two games – this is the preamble to an interview on the latest Electronic
Arts installment of EA Sports Rugby 2004.

Much like American football, rugby is a violent struggle for
real estate, with bodies slamming viciously into each other. Unlike American
football, rugby players disdain the use of pads and that makes for a much more
intense experience.

EA’s Rugby 2004 Development Manager Andrew Wilson took time to
talk with GameZone.com about the title.

Question: What do you think makes the sport of rugby such a
viable target for a video game?

Andrew: It is a fast-paced hard-hitting game that
translates into very compelling game play. The other factor is that the Rugby
World Cup is the third biggest sporting television event, (the Olympics and FIFA
World Cup are one and two), with nearly 4 billion people watching, so the
worldwide following is huge.

Q: While the game may have a large fan base throughout the
world, it almost falls into the clique circle of sports in North America. It is
not as widely known or understood as some of the more tradition sports such as
football, baseball, basketball and hockey. Does this game have a big
learning/educational curve? What did you have to do to make this game accessible
to gamers who may have little understanding of the game?

Andrew: Yes, to really get into the game the learning
curve is quite steep. However, we have included an ‘easy’ mode along with a
great training level that will have people all over the world rucking, mauling
and kicking for touch like champions in no time.

Q: While the game does bear some characteristics to American
football, it is a much more fluid game. There are no time outs, no playcalling
per se, or other halts in the action. How difficult was it to actualize the
persistent action inherent in the sport?

Andrew: Rugby is a very difficult sport to replicate.
There are 30 guys in the pitch running at each other constantly for 80 minutes.
However, we took the lead from Madden and broke the game up into the key
components and ran them together. The result is the most compelling rugby sim to
hit the market to date.

Q: On a related note, but in the graphical department, rugby
players do not wear the pads of football players and thus are more
individualistic looking. How were you able to create the broad base of player
models something like this would use? Did you use motion-capture for the
animation and, if so, what were your models?

Andrew: Motion capture played a huge part in the
development process. Rugby players vary dramatically in size depending on the
position and as such we had to mo-cap a wide variety of players. Watching them
run head on into each other in the name of game development was one of the
highlights of the whole cycle.

Q: Because of the lack of pads, and yet still ferocious
hitting, there is a real chance for injury. I know of players who suffered
broken necks in scrums. Does the game take that aspect of the sport into

Andrew: Absolutely!! Protecting your players against
injuries or in turn inflicting bone-breaking tackles on the opposition is often
the only way to get through a game.

Q: What was your source for the sound track of this game?

Andrew: Rugby crowds are very different the world over,
so we had to record different sounds in all regions of the world. With regard to
music, INXS, a great Australian band, have launched a brand new song, "I Get
Up," in EA Sports Rugby 2004.

Q: In developing a game on this sport, what do you think were
the key elements that had to be dead-on to make this game realistic and
entertaining? What were the hardest elements to realize and render?

Andrew: There are a few key elements that no matter where
you are from you would say are directly related to rugby:

  • Scrums

  • Lineouts

  • Huge hits

  • Lightning-fast passing

Scrums were possibly the hardest to realize as they are made of
a bunch of 300+ pound guys pushing/applying force from a variety of different
directions. With that said, it is one of my favorite parts of the game.

Q: What do you think will be the draw of this game?

Andrew: That everyone everywhere in the world can pick
this game up, put in some big hits, and experience the body-ramming,
bullet-passing try-scoring best-of-the-world rugby!!

EA Sports Rugby 2004 is scheduled for release September 23 on
both the PC and PlayStation2 platforms.