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Playstation One of the screenshots from Gaelic Games: Football 2.
# cautionary tale
This is the inside story behind the Gaelic Football and Hurling games on the Playstation - Part 1
“We didn’t intentionally set out to make bad games. I just want to make that clear”.

THE GAMING LANDSCAPE was vastly different in 2005 than it is now.

The Playstation 2 had built upon the great success of its predecessor, gaining an iron-like grip on the market, Microsoft had launched its successor to the original Xbox, which would later signal a shift in dynamics and Nintendo couldn’t convince the world that the Gamecube was anything but a kiddies device.

Yet for Irish people, that year was significant as it saw the first release of a GAA console game. Developed by the Australian studio IR Gurus (which later became Transmission Games before folding in 2009), it’s probably fair to say that the memories surrounding Gaelic Games: Football (and its 2007 sequel, Football 2 and Hurling) were less than positive.

Yet the story behind its development and release was anything but straightforward. To understand exactly how it came to be, you have to go back to 1998, when the idea was first put forward.

RazielsFateK87 / YouTube

In the beginning

Back in 1998, the GAA started exploring the idea of releasing a Gaelic Football game on the major consoles at the time. Originally, it was an Irish development company, Pooka Games, who first held the licence to develop a GAA game between 1998 to 2003. However, it failed to get past the funding stages.

Dermot Power, who was then the commercial and marketing director for the GAA, recalls the search for a development team once the deal with Pooka Games fell through. He has been retired from his position for three years now.

Dermot Power: The problem was the cost of [developing it from scratch] was horrific and the limited scale of the Irish market. Pooka Games were the first ones we talked to before we ever went abroad. When that fell through, we didn’t give up which tells you how long we were at it, but the cost of developing this from scratch was horrific.

We thought we would get a small Irish company to do it, but we realised very quickly that it wouldn’t be fair to saddle somebody with that knowing they were going to have financial problems with it.

After the license with Pooka Games expired, the GAA started looking further afield. It came close to striking a deal with a UK developer, but that deal fell through after it was acquired.

After that, the idea to look at the Australian Football League was suggested, which is when IR Gurus, who developed the official AFL games from 2003 to 2007, appeared on its radar.

Both Power and Feargal Mac Giolla, currently the GAA’s head of Media Relations who was the Assocation’s Press Officer at the time, recall the reasons why the partnership made sense.

Dermot Power: Then we came up with the idea to look for someone who done an Australian game. If they had done it for the Aussie rules, then they might be able to adapt it for GAA and that’s who we got to do it in the end.

So that was the key. The fact that they could produce it without the investment that other companies would have required because they had already invested in the engine for the Aussie rules games.

Feargal Mac Giolla: It would be very hard and very costly to produce the movement of GAA players, the actual physical movement, but the movement of Gaelic footballers were pretty much identical to those Australian rules footballers, so all of a sudden you had the mechanics in place once the AFL game was produced… allowing a GAA game to happen.

With Sony Computer Entertainment Ireland acting as the lynchpin between the two parties, an agreement was reached in 2003 for IR Gurus to develop the first Gaelic Football game exclusively for the Playstation 2. IR Gurus had released AFL Live 2003 and 2004 so had experience in the field. 

Because it was for a niche market, the focus wasn’t going to be on generating a profit, but to help further promote the GAA.

Dermot Power: This was never going to be a huge money spinner for us. We weren’t trying to skew anybody in terms of getting huge licence fees or anything like that. For us, it was a marketing ploy that we would be able to get our games on what we thought was a good platform.

I think we’re very conscious of seeing kids, your own kids and people like that, playing the FIFA games and obviously it was something we wanted to get GAA to do as well, if we could do it at all.

The Development

Once the deal was announced in late-2003, IR Gurus begun development on the first game for release in November 2005. If the game was successful, it would look at developing a Hurling game as well, one that would eventually be released alongside the second Gaelic Football game in November 2007.

At the time, IR Gurus was a relatively small team – roughly ten to fifteen developers worked there – and was known for both its work on AFL games and equestrian. The small size meant that splitting up the team to work on different games wasn’t a possibility.

Justin Halliday, who worked on the second Gaelic Football and Hurling games, recalled the development process for the 2007 release.

Justin Halliday: In 2006, we got this contract from Sony which was a continuation of the AFL 2005 [which Gaelic Games: Football was based on], but was basically doing AFL 2007, and then Gaelic Football and then Hurling and it was these three projects all together. The actual investment wasn’t huge… in the end, we ended up with a $900,000-$950,000 AUS budget [€560,000 - €600,000] for those three games

That game [AFL 2005] was effectively rushed in time for the final season that year because they were running behind on the development and everything was crunched at the end to get it out. Frankly, the game wasn’t great.

So in 2007, because we didn’t have a great deal of money, we couldn’t go back and redo a lot of stuff so it was a case of taking the engine, re-optimising it so the frame rate was good on the PS2 and then making a bunch of gameplay tweaks to improve the gameplay.

Justin Halliday - Development Notebooks Justin Halliday The notepads containing the beginning of Gaelic Games: Football 2 and Hurling. IR Gurus/Transmission games also worked on Equestrian games as well as WW2 flying game Heroes of The Pacific. Justin Halliday

While there are similarities between Aussie Rules and Gaelic Football, dealing with Hurling was an entirely new prospect for the developers. Of the three games, the order of development was AFL, then Gaelic Football, and then Hurling last since it was the most complex of the three. 

Justin Halliday: We didn’t have a lot of money and then at the same time, gearing up to do a Gaelic Football game and a Hurling game. The football game was ok because we had the assets from the original game so we had all the motion captured animations.

We hadn’t done a Hurling game before so we had to go out and do a bunch of mocap for Hurling. We had to find a group of Irish lads here in Melbourne who were enthusiastic, take them down to the motion capture studio and you know, put them through their paces.

There’s so many similarities which allowed us to do the two games but at the same time, they’re also vastly different. How the ball is handled, the way the ball moves, many of the intricacies of the rules were different.

That was good for us as it allowed us to do the games but we still had to go and make these three different games ultimately. An AFL game, a Gaelic Football game and a Hurling game. all using the same engine. So swapping out rules, swapping out animations, making the controls work and making all of the things work.

The first two, we knew were pretty straightforward and progressively, we put people onto Hurling which we knew was going to need the most attention because it was going to be the most difficult of them.

That viewpoint was also shared by Thuyen Nguyen, who was then a game designer with IR Gurus.

It wasn’t the case that they were not familiar with the rules, but with the culture as well, meaning Nguyen would regularly email the GAA about certain aspects like the new Championship format, and rely on videotapes and DVDs to bring themselves up to speed.

Thuyen Nguyen: Hurling was brand new. Most of the team never seen a Hurling game before and some of the team were involved with the previous Gaelic Football game. We were very unfamiliar with both sports and the timeline and the lack of resources didn’t help us.

I think that particular year, at least for Hurling, they changed the way the championship worked. This was the first time I had seen Gaelic Football or Hurling so I spent a lot of time watching DVDs and getting up to speed as quickly as possible but I do remember sending emails to the GAA.

I’d fire emails to him every week or so just to get him to explain the rules to me, not so much the physical rules of the game, but the tournament and how it was structured and how regulation worked… back then, the internet wasn’t great so there wasn’t a lot of sites or particular things I could look up.

Justin Halliday: We would have had video tapes of a bunch of matches that we would have to go off. We had some familiarity with Gaelic Football because we played the international rules against you guys… I was totally unfamiliar with [Hurling].

Thuyen Nguyen: It was just really hard to understand what bits you could leave out of it to make the game and still make it play like the real thing, but also make it fun as well. That requires a lot of intimate knowledge of the sport and not quite a hardcore fan but just being around it, living in the same country so it was a difficult challenge in many respects.

All I do know [about the original] is it was based on an AFL game, I think it was based on AFL 2005 and that was considered by everybody involved to be a horrible experience, which was why we kinda started from scratch with AFL 2006 and Gaelic Games: Football 2.

RazielsFateK87 / YouTube

Not having an intimate knowledge of the two sports wasn’t the only problem faced.
Other issues like the rocky relationship the GAA’s had with the Gaelic Players Association meant they had to avoid using official player names and images. A workaround was quickly thought up of.

Thuyen Nguyen: What I did was got the top 100 Irish surnames and I put them into a spreadsheet and I put random letters and mixed it all up and that produced the teams. In that randomisation, it happened to hit a couple of real player names so they would say: “Change this because that’s a real person”, change the first letter or whatever.

What I also did was I put all of the developers surnames into the list. Obviously, my surname isn’t Irish and I do remember it was called out, and asking us to remove my surname from the list.

Justin Halliday: It was a shame and that was the strange part about Gaelic – well, strange to us. Our footballers are all professional and then there was this situation where your footballers were amateurs and I’m not sure whether that’s changed or not.

While the actual development was a painful process, the authenticity of the games was vital to the GAA.

Getting the heritage and the feel of it right was important and getting the details right and ensuring the presentation was up to scratch. Part of that was the commentary, which was done by Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh.

Feargal Mac Giolla: That [the commentary] was a huge task because there were a couple of phrases associated with every county. We had to help them with those phrases so, for example, when Kerry got a score, Mícheál might come on the game and say: “That was a great score for the kingdom there,” so we had to sift through all of that make sure it was accurate.

It was this level of detail that we had to do, we had to proof all of the commentary to make sure it all made sense and more importantly, there were likely to be things that Mícheál or any other commentator would say.

This was hugely important because we knew the game would end up under the microscope when it came out because in this country, you can’t do anything relating to the GAA without it ending up under the microscope and the partnership with Sony and the GAA bringing out something like this was always going to be massive.

So we were nervous in terms of making sure that this wouldn’t lead to any reputational damage for the association or that people wouldn’t say: “Look at the GAA just doing something commercially there and then half arsed doing it” so there was a little bit of pressure there.

Justin Halliday: We just really take it as read. We give a script and they give us back a bunch of sound files and it was so unique, we’ll just put this in and assume we’re right. That was always fun.

This article was originally published on 21 February 2015. Read Part 2 here

Read: Apple has finally revealed exactly how much its watches will cost in Ireland

Read: The eccentric founder of Megavideo is fighting extradition to the United States

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