Imagine a world where rugby geeks existed. These wouldn’t be sports jocks, beefing up in the gym and running drills over and over in order to be able to make the all-important difference on match day. These would be more your sit-down-and-have-a-serious-think-about-it-for-a-while kind of competitor. They would be kind of rugby connoisseur who would tell you what the best type of grass might be for a running game in a coastal climate or which sports drink packs the highest density of isotopic elements.
Rather than charging through tackle bags and going through endless reps with the heavy bar these guys would be more inclined to calculate the conversion ratio of a goal kicker, or to assess the statistical probability of someone slipping a winger in through the middle of the Rabbitohs’ defence. Rugby geeks might never complete a push up in their lives, but these guys would be able to tell you Reg Gasnier’s career stats at the drop of a hat. They wouldn’t flinch if you suggested that Nathan Blacklock was quicker off the mark than Bob Fulton. They’d simply point to the data and prove you irrefutably, irresistibly and eternally wrong. That’s the way these guys would roll. You’d either be right or wrong, and if you disagreed with them you’d be wrong anyway.
Obviously if such a creature existed they would pretty soon take over the whole edifice that is professional rugby league in Australia. And then they’d go on to conquer the rest of the known world for desert. That’s what they’d do if they existed.
Happily for us all, they are a mere figment of an over-active, under-caffeinated imagination. The President Putin of rugby league is yet to emerge. But wait a minute… there is a place in the world where precisely this nightmare hybrid is being encouraged. There is an environment that is in danger of spawning precisely this happy Frankenstein’s monster of a geek, and the bad news is things are just about to get serious. People, we are living in a dangerous age.
The Rugby League Live 3 video game is, at last, expected to be released on June 30th. That’s just rumour so far, but all the talk is that is the date earmarked for the game to give those rugby geeks precisely what they have been waiting for all year. The announcement that the game was coming out this year was made back in December, but even now developers Big Ant are being surprisingly coy about formally declaring a date. No doubt they are hoping to hit the market with a big surprise splash… if so the splash has started early.
The pre-launch publicity has been pretty encouraging and the trial version – available via Steam – has kept the geeks quietly tapping away in their bedrooms, but it seems we are now only a few short weeks away from the release of RLL3 and a whole new geekiverse – at least as far as footy geeks are concerned anyway. The hope must be that the release version of the game is not bedevilled with the sort of glitches that have got Rugby 15 a pretty damning set of reviews.
Updates and upgrades
It goes without saying that the updated version will represent an update in terms of its reflection of changing personnel and so on. Whatever happens in what the rest of us laughingly call the real world is steadily vacuumed up by the creators of RLL3. That means that in the updated game, not only are player identities and stats updated, but the 2015 rule changes are also incorporated. Don’t be tempted to argue the toss with a rugby geek on the finer points. You know they’ve got a copy of the rule book up there somewhere between the Harry Potter novels and their Lord of the Rings DVDs.
What it does mean is that the sort of odds you’d get on the Rabbitohs finishing at the foot of the table in the regular season will determine the way matches play out in the game. It’s not – as they say – rocket science, but for fans with a team loyalty and a connection with the flesh and blood game it gives the game the sort of real-world grounding that would give a Venn diagram fans an overlap to savour to their heart’s content.
Other features are pledged to include an enhanced career mode, so you take progress a forward or a back all the way through from the under 20 bracket to a full professional status. Big Ant are also promising enhanced replays and a slew of visual tricks to get you into the heart of the action. A killer gimmick is the ability to orient your own camera angle. They call it ‘a user defined camera placement‘. And there is also a super slo mo so that those rugby geeks can relive their killer plays over and over again in that slightly obsessive way of theirs.
The movable camera angle is an undeniably neat feature, but as is often the case with upgrades of this type, we are bound to ask, just what this really adds to the game itself? Okay, so visuals are important, but they never have been the be-all and end-all of the gaming experience. If that were the case, the whole genre would never have got off the ground, let’s be fair. So we see this as just another of those ‘nice to have’ add-ons that might be eye-catching in itself, and that might justify a few lines of an enthusiastic review, but which, at the end of the day, is not worth getting too excited about – pretty as it may be.
In terms of the delivery of the rugby aspects of the product there doesn’t appear to be that much that is new. That said, the one thing that they are making a fuss over is a new dynamic tackling system. This will, they claim, enable players to fend and break-tackle their way through defences, and there is what they insist is a dynamic Struggle and Drag system that will add drama to plays close to the line or – from a defensive standpoint – the touchline.
If we’re being serious for a moment, this is a pretty neat development. The trouble with digitized rugby games has been their inability to truly reflect the way that what happens in contact is so variable and so crucial to the way a game plays out. To put it bluntly, there is a whole load of technical skills that are absolutely vital when it comes to the real game but that – until now at least – are simply not reflected in the digital version. Things like ball position and the angle of tackle, which are the meat and drink of the real game, have been largely taken for granted in the digital world. The effect has been to limit the ability of those games to match the drama and intensity of the actual game itself. Big Ant’s move to build some of that close up competitive muscularity into the game is perhaps the best upgrade the system has to boast.
There are the – by now – fairly standard multi-play leagues, including filters to play by locale and to join online tournaments, and all in all the game looks like being a sufficient upgrade on what has preceded it to keep its existing fans happy (that’s those rugby geeks we were taking about)
The commercial aspect
The game is being rolled out across PS4, XboxOne, PS3 and Xbox36 as well as steam, so the developers can’t be accused of hiding their light under a particular console. But as they freely admit, they simply don’t have the manpower, the money or the marketing clout of the likes of EA who produce the far more widely selling major titles in soccer, basketball and American football. The natural constituency of those games means that they are dealing with a wholly different set of numbers. And when we say ‘different’ that means a heck of a lot bigger. For example, according to VGChartz, December’s holiday boom in games sales saw FIFA 15 reach the dizzy figure of 14.3 million copies sold globally (if you’re not aware that is a soccer game it really is time to broaden your horizons). By comparison, the figure for Rugby League Live is around 30,000. Extending the picture beyond the sports market, the same source shows that in a single month the PS4 version of Bloodborne turned over 731,407 sales.
So despite the name, if they stick to footy, Big Ant are always going to be a small-scale developer, and that inevitably impacts the scale and the scope of what they are able to deliver to market. That’s just the way it is for rugby geeks – so much for taking over the world! But to be fair, Big Ant are happy with their little corner of the world. They also produce Don Bradman Cricket. It will have become obvious that when we say their little corner of the world, what we really mean is Australia.
— Stevivor.com (@StevivorGaming) April 7, 2015
So far their other big product, Jetpack Joyride, is yet to really take off (sorry, but when there’s such an obvious pun staring you in the face it would take a better man than I to be able to turn it down).
There is a natural tie-in between rugby league and cricket, and it is highly likely that fans of the one game will crossover and enjoy the other. Those Venn diagram boys are really going to have a field day with this.
For their part, Big Ant, who were set up in 2001 and who are based in Victoria, are looking to go from strength to strength. They are steadily refining what they do and although they have so far pitched themselves modestly at the Australian market they are currently recruiting new games developers and looking for their next big idea.
For those fans who are impatient to get their hands on RLL3 they have been quick to point out that the release date is not something they control. That is in the hands of their publisher Tru Blu Entertainment and although they have not been categorical they have been teasing fans with suggestions that the title will be launched ‘between April and June’. That casual treatment has not gone down entirely positively with fans, some of whom have taken to Facebook to air their frustrations. The hope is that the failure to nail down a release date is not indicative of a glitch somewhere in the system that they have so far failed to mention – fingers crossed!
It’s hardly the perfect start for RLL3 – which is saying something since it hasn’t even hit the shelves yet. But they do say that the best things in life are worth waiting for. There is undeniably a small section of the world’s population for whom the release simply can’t come soon enough – and that’s not just the Tru Blu marketing team. There is an army of rugby league geeks out there who go to sleep at night dreaming of a whole new set of player stats, heightened visuals and happy and content in the knowledge that soon Struggle and Drag will bring a whole new dimension to their gaming experience.
To sum up, it may be that what we’ve imagined for the rugby geeks as masters of the universe was a bit fanciful. Maybe. Maybe we’re just ahead of the game and it is only a matter of time before this whole scenario plays out. In the meantime – all being well – they will get their hands on RLL3 sometime in the next few weeks. So for the time being at least we can all sleep comfortably in our beds, safe in the knowledge that the rugby geek’s world takeover is on hold.