By Shaun Casey
REMEMBER the 2005 and 2007 versions of the ‘Gaelic Games Football’ PlayStation games that offered so much but failed miserably to build on it’s potential? The shockingly bad graphics, repetitive commentary, and just the all-round poor quality meant the game was short lived. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s “banana and cup of tea at half time” line was about the only memorable thing about it.
The failure of that game inspired Peadar McMahon of Buck Eejit Studios to go about making a new, improved and better standard game. The Armagh-based games developer has devoted the last 14 years of his life to creating his “passion project” since leaving university back in 2008.
“I did computers at Queen’s and there was no games industry, no games courses at all. But when I was there the first Gaelic Football games came out on PlayStation 2, that was 2005 and 2007, so that was in the middle of my university years,” recalled McMahon.
“I then went off to Microsoft in my placement year and I wasn’t working with the games side of things, but they had their games development side and I learned that. Then I came back into my final year in university and thought I needed to make a better Gaelic Football game than the one that came out at that time.
“So, my final year project was a prototype of a Gaelic Football game built on Microsoft’s XNA framework and that was great. That was 2008 when I finished university and then for the next 14 years I’ve just gone through various different things, chatting about publishing deals, funding deals and trying to get teams together to try and make a game.”
The first couple of years didn’t go to plan as McMahon set about trying to build a team of unique characters, game developers with an interest in Gaelic Football.
“Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening. Games developers are a certain breed of people, if you’re a game developer you’re generally not into sports, never mind a sport as niche as Gaelic football in the grand scale of things.
“So, trying to get a team together to work on a game, a passion project, for free, they need to have a passion to do it and it was extremely difficult to find. There was no games industry at the time that I came out of university, so I went into finance and basically stayed there for the next 14 years.
“I still worked on the game, going to different conferences and eventually in 2018, with the help if NI Screen I put together a kick-starter project to try and promote the game and try to raise some funds for it.”
The kick-starter was unsuccessful in landing some much-needed funds, but it got the word out and some good news was just around the corner. “Off the back of that kick-starter, I met a guy in Australia who was interested in making a Gaelic football game.
“We got chatting, numerous different talks over the years and then Covid happened. Talks sort of dried up and then just before Christmas there, he said we’d been talking long enough and to do another prototype for the game.
“That was before Christmas so by the time I got all the animations done on the game it was around mid-February. I thought I would give myself six weeks, to the end of March, to do the prototype and hopefully he’ll fund the game.
“I got about two weeks into it, and he said to just send him over what I had done and see where we were at. It wasn’t ready, it wasn’t perfect, but he wanted me to send it over and half an hour later he said they were going to fund the game.
“We had a number of different talks after that. At that stage I was working with my other studio, Mojopin Studios, and so it was going to be a publishing deal where he would fund the game and then that would be it. But it was only for that game.
“After numerous talks we decided, we were going to go into a partnership so now we built Buck Eejit Games with me and him as partners. So, I quit my job at the end of April, started this at the start of May and got our first members of the team in at the end of August. We got another few there two weeks ago and we’re seeing how it goes and building as we need to.”
The team are still working on a new name for the game but have planned the features and playing modes that will be available when the game is released in early 2024.
“We’re hopefully planning an early 2024 release but we’re stripping it back at the start. It’s a lot of work and we don’t have the funds of a FIFA, so we need to strip it back. We’re going back to the basics, so we’ll have a single player, single player season, local multi-player and an online multi-player which is only going to be one vs one.
“We’re going to have create players and create teams. While we might look for the counties in the first instance, people can come in and make their own club teams and add their own friends and teammates or whatever else they want.
“Beyond that for this first release, there’s nothing else we can really fit in. We want to get it out as soon as possible, in as best a condition as possible so most of the focus is on the gameplay and making sure that it all feels right.
“With the original games, it was great to see Gaelic football games coming out at the time, but they were made on a short budget and on a small timescale and that affected the development.
“That’s nothing against whoever made the previous games, it is what it is, but it just didn’t feel like Gaelic football and that’s what we’re focusing on – that the actual game feels like Gaelic football.”
Fourteen years is a long time to work on something and if it doesn’t come off, it won’t be a waste of time says McMahon, but if it does work, the Armagh native wants it to be just right. He’s a Gaelic football fan first and foremost, which helps when shaping different parts of the game.
“At the end of the day if I make the game and it doesn’t do well for whatever reason, it won’t feel like 14 years wasted but it won’t feel great either! I’m coming from a fans perspective; I want to play the game the way that I want to play it.
“If someone else was leading this that didn’t have a background in Gaelic football, you’re not going to get the feel right but I’m at the heart of this. I’m talking to my animator and I’m saying, this walk cycle just feels a bit wrong, that’s not the way Gaelic players would walk, and the rest of the team thinks it looks alright but it’s wrong.
“For the prototype, the animator that I got for that was a different one than we’ve got working on it now, but I was chatting to him about the different types of kicks, the hook kick, outside of the boot, the punt pass. He thought they all looked the same, but I was explaining that they’re all completely different.
“It’s kind of driving from my thoughts about it from playing games, making games, from watching Gaelic football. It’s just all my experience that is being drilled into this so if it is wrong, it’s all on my head.”
It’s sure to have a real feel to it. Back in 2014, Tyrone’s Mattie Donnelly and Monaghan’s Darren Hughes pulled on the motion detector suits and tackled, kicked, ran and brought some authenticity to the production.
The Buck Eejit Studios team used the Athletic Grounds in Armagh to capture real life images that will help as a guideline when building the game.
“Mattie and Darren did the motion capture, so we did that down in Queen’s. They’ve got a big studio down there but all that is kind of outdated now. We’ll use that for as a reference point, but we are waiting on the delivery of a motion capture suit at the minute and we’re going to find someone else to come and help us record some more actually motions when that arrives.
“Within our team there isn’t a big number of fans of Gaelic football so I have to show them what it looks like, bringing the team out here to take photos of the posts, of the seats, of the grass even, just to get the actual proper feel of the ground is invaluable.”
The one stumbling block in delivering the perfect game is the go ahead that must come from the GAA for permission to use such features as the players’ names and county crests. Sure, the game can still have a Kerry team that plays in green and gold, but David Clifford and Seanie O’Shea won’t be included.
“I’ve been in lots of conversations with the GAA over the years and it’s not really a snag – it’s just about nailing them down. When I started out, the GPA and the GAA were completely separate and now there’s more of an integration there and that makes discussions a bit easier.
“It’s just one of those things with the GAA, it’s a long process trying to get things over the line and that’s understandable. Because it’s built off the amateur organisation, there’s lots of committees and lots of people that have to give the green light and the go ahead for this to happen and we just have to give them the space to do that.
“If it doesn’t come to pass that we get them over the line in time, then we’re happy to release an unlicensed version and use it to show people how the game plays. We mightn’t have all the licensing; we mightn’t have all the modes and features that you might want but go out and buy it and we’ll show the GAA that this is a good avenue to go down.”
In terms of the development of the game, like a lot of things around the world, it was slowed down during the Covid years, but the post Covid times has helped McMahon and his team continue to build the game.
“It’s a big thing getting back into in-person meetings. We’re meeting loads of game industry people, over Zoom you don’t have these random chance meetings I met the creator of NBA Jam at a coffee machine and that wouldn’t have happened during the Covid years.
“There are other meetings as well that we just randomly came across people that will be hugely beneficial for us going forward. We’ve been out in the industry and meeting people again and everything is going towards the same goal of making the game as good as it can be.”
And it’s not only a football game, but that is the starting point. The plan is to get the first one finished and over the line and create a hurling game along with a sequel in the next few years.“A hurling game will be on the cards, but we need to make sure that this game is right. If this game doesn’t do well then that’ll be the end of it but we’re making sure that this game’s right and the hurling game is certainly on the cards. It’ll probably be around 2026 for hurling and a sequel to the Gaelic Football game.”