Interview with Naughty Dog Co-Founder Jason Rubin

This is a very exciting week for us, because after 35 entries to our Top 50 list, we finally get to write about Rings of Power. It might seem a little unusual for us to get this excited about one of our Top 50 entries, but Rings really made an impression on us and was one of the games we specifically had in mind when we decided to write lengthy features for each game on the list. You could say we’ve been waiting this whole time just to write about Rings of Power, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I think I’ve been waiting to write about Rings since I first played it twenty years ago.

With that in mind, we wanted to do something a little special, so I got in touch with Jason Rubin, one of the two people most responsible for making the game. Jason might not be one of those super-famous game designers, but he and Andy Gavin really ought to be. They co-founded Rings of Power developer Naughty Dog when they were still teenagers, made Rings of Power a few years later, and then went on to make several other really successful games, including Crash Bandicoot, and Jax and Daxter.

To put that into perspective, in the late 80’s, while still in college, Jason and Andy were making Rings of Power for a company they had created themselves. Ten years later, also while in college, I was working a part time job at the mall selling some of the more recent games their company had made.

You know what? I had better get on to the interview before that starts to sink in:

Q: You and Andy Gavin made your first game when you were 15, and Rings of Power was made while both of you were still in college. How did you learn this craft at such a young age?

Jason: When we started making games there were no courses taught, and barely any books to read.  You just sat and hacked.  Andy and I were lucky enough to get computers early and we spent a huge amount of time on them.  Cracking games turned into bad games which became decent games which became good games.  Eventually we got published.  Learning in such a fashion became harder and harder in the 90’s because there wasn’t a good outlet for the games new developers made.  But today, in 2012, it has never been easier to learn to make games and get your titles in front of the audience.  I get a lot of emails asking what to do or what school to enroll in to “get into the business.”  The truth is, if you have a computer and an internet connection you have access to everything you need.  Just do it.

Q: You guys also founded the developer Naughty Dog, which has created a lot of successful games, the most famous of which is probably the Crash Bandicoot series. With so many bigger successes under your belt, does RoP even stand out in your mind at all?

Jason: I have fond memories of Rings of Power.  We spent 3 years on the game, mostly because we were developing the game by modem from two different universities.  It was a huge game, and testing it took forever.  It was also our first console game, and the first game that put us in the mainstream.

Q: Compared to most console RPGs available at the time, Rings of Power is really innovative – the game is much less linear than other RPGs, allowing you to go after the rings in any order you choose, talk to any character about any topic, and you can even fight almost anyone in the game if you choose. Was this a conscious choice to do something really different, a reflection of your PC gaming background, or just the natural result of making the game that you wanted to make?

Jason: Rings was definitely the game we wanted to make.  Back then we took development much more casually than we did later.  We were still making the games we wanted to play rather than the games our audience wanted to play.  As hard core gamers we made Rings detailed, open, and difficult.  Later games were more casually entertaining and easier to love.  That isn’t to suggest that there was anything inferior about Rings, just that it was always going to appeal to a smaller, more dedicated audience.

Q: Was it at all disappointing that not many other console games followed your lead – do you wish Rings of Power had been more influential?

Jason: Rings of Power had a single major challenge: It sold out quickly but was never restocked by EA.  There were multiple reasons for this, from the cost of the cartridge vs. other games (it had more memory and expensive storage), to our royalty (really high), to the internal competition for limited space in the print run (Madden).  Rings became the best selling used game on Genesis very quickly because it simply couldn’t be found new.  So Rings never had a chance to become a major hit.  Frustration with this led Andy and I to leave the game business… briefly.

Q: Were there any major influences for Rings of Power in terms of game design, story or art style?

Jason: Oh sure.  Rings was influenced by dozens of games, books, and other media.  Andy was the leading designer on Rings, a position I would take over there after.  This was a combination of his strong love of RPG’s, and the fact that he was the one who was writing the code and it was impossible for me to have that much influence from 1000 miles away!  It would probably be better to ask him what the specific inspirations were.

Q: During the Sega Genesis era, Electronic Arts seemed like a company that published a lot of really unique games and was willing to take some chances that other publishers might not have. What was it like to work with them back in those days?

Jason: Electronic Arts was named Electronic Artists when it started.  It was completely run by development.  Developers had their pictures on every box.  But larger budgets and teams brought larger risk, and the wild west days of game development led to much more structure.  There was initially no malice in this change, and it happened in every publisher.  I would argue (and have – see my DICE speech) that the pendulum swung way too far in the other direction in the early 2000’s, with publishers believing that games were “packaged good” like cereal or bleach to be differentiated by marketing, but things seem to have worked themselves out in the long run.

(Editor’s note: for those of you who can’t watch the hour long presentation, or perhaps believe that internet video is some kind of evil magic, Gamespy has a pretty decent article on the speech here)

Q: One thing that we really enjoyed about Rings of Power was how funny some parts of it were. Was this something you had intended to do right from the start, or did more and more humorous elements and dialogue work their way in as you went along?

Jason: Andy was responsible for writing all of the dialogue and I think a combination of a twisted sense of humor, and ungodly long hours of writing led to the Rings sensibility.  There were a huge number of lines of dialogue for a game in those days.  I think over time that the humor crept in and then stayed.

Q: Is there anything about the original you would go back and change if you could?

Jason: Rings was abusively long.  While a small percentage of players got benefit of that, I would imagine that most didn’t get close to finishing.  This size led to the expensive memory chips that had to be on the cartridge, and so indirectly led to Rings being a short publishing run.  I would imagine that had Rings been split into two games that EA might have been able to manufacture more of them, and the games would have had a larger impact.  Is there such a thing as too big?  Perhaps there is!

Q: Are you surprised that 20 years later the game still has some fans posting videos, running websites and discussing it on message boards?

Jason: Every creator wishes that his or her creation is appreciated.  So of course we always hoped that this would be the case.  Having said that, there are so many great games out there, not to mention other forms of entertainment, that it is still incredibly gratifying when something I have created strikes a chord with someone. Rings was probably Andy and my last “pure” game.  After Rings, we tried to make the broadest number of people happy, rather than focusing on what we wanted to play ourselves.  So if Rings still has devoted fans, then these are probably gamers who are, or at least were, as close to Andy and my game sensibilities as could be.  Today, with connectivity through the internet it is easy to find someone who shares your tastes.  Hell, these days Zynga changes its games continually based on the audience’s feedback.  When we made Rings, that wasn’t the case.  You just put it out there and hoped that there was someone who appreciated it.  I’m always excited by the fact that we found those souls.

Q: And finally, will there ever be anything Rings of Power related in the future – a re-release for something like PSN of XBLA, or a sequel, or merchandise? I would definitely buy a Rings of Power t-shirt.

Jason: Haha.  You would have to ask Naughty Dog and Sony that question.  Sony owns all of the rights to the games that Andy and I created through their purchase of Naughty Dog.  So neither Andy or I have any say.  It would be cool though!

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

 

Brad: When we first started reviewing old Genesis games, this game practically jumped off the list as the one we’d have the easiest time writing about.  I mean, a game about Michael Jackson rescuing kidnapped children?  The jokes practically write themselves, right?  But then he went and died before we got a chance to write this article.  Now all of a sudden America remembers how much it loved MJ, and nobody wants to spend much time dwelling on some of the more unsavory accusations that surrounded the man throughout the past 20 years.  It’s almost as though jokes about children being molested are no longer considered to be in good taste.

But that’s ok, because Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is a strange enough game to poke fun at without resorting to a bunch of tired jokes like “Who’s Michael rescuing the children from?  Himself?”  This is a magical game where you get to do the Thriller dance with zombies, infiltrate the criminal hideout from the Smooth Criminal video, and kick rival gang members in the crotch.  It’s pretty much everything we’ve ever wanted to do as the King of Pop.

As an aside, I grew up in a region of the country that refers to soda as “pop”, so anytime I hear the phrase “King of Pop”, my mind automatically drifts more towards Coke and Pepsi products than to “Beat It” and “Bad”.  I tend to picture someone kind of like the Burger King mascot, except hopped up on caffeine and sugar, and with more missing teeth.  And I bet you always thought the Burger King couldn’t get any scarier.

Moonwalker is kind of an action game, in which you need to explore each level to find a certain number of children, while fighting off various enemies.  You might not think of Michael Jackson as a particularly capable fighter, but you have to remember that the guy has star power.  As in, he can throw stars at people.  Magic stars that adhere to enemies like napalm as they burn through their flesh.  Well, it doesn’t actually show that part.  But it seems like a reasonable assumption.  The important thing is that the stars kill your enemies.

Instead of throwing, Michael usually prefers to shoot stars at his enemies using a super-fabulous kick.  And if someone gets too close to him, he’ll forgo the stars entirely and just kick them in the balls.  And no, this isn’t some kind of graphical glitch like in Wolverine: Adamantium Rage where every so often, if things line up just right, it kinda looks like maybe he might have accidentally kicked someone in the groin.  MJ is pretty blatantly blasting people in the package here.  Let me put it to you this way – Sophita from Soul Calibur thinks Michael Jackson fights dirty.

“Woooo!”

Now for the longest time, I’ve wanted to play a game with a character who ONLY fights dirty, so I would have been perfectly happy seeing Michael Jackson round out his arsenal with some eye-gouging and hair pulling, but the developers had something far more interesting in mind.  Let me ask you something – what is MJ’s real weapon?  If you answered roofies, congratulations, America now hates you.  I mean, what is the power that allows him to break windows, frame private investigators, and unite rival street gangs into one super-gang entirely under his control?  That’s right, dance.

Pressing the A button makes Michael Jackson spin in place, turning him into a tornado of destruction, not unlike the Tazmanian Devil, except immobile.  Although it only works if your enemy is already within testicle punting range, it’s still a very effective attack because your enemies have a tendency to walk into you while you’re doing it.  Perhaps it creates some kind of vortex that sucks them in.  Or maybe they’re just so overwhelmed by its awesomeness that they have to take a closer look.  More likely, the game’s AI just isn’t very good. However, just like in real life, spinning drains Michael’s life force, and too much spinning can kill him.  Which is a lesson we learned all too tragically last summer.

Still, it’s often worth the risk, because if you spin long enough – in fact, about half of a life bar’s worth – you, and every enemy on screen, will break into one of Michael’s famous dance routines from the videos.  There’s a different one for each level, so if rescuing children by becoming a human tornado isn’t already enough to motivate you to play through at least to level 3, there’s still the prospect of doing the Thriller dance.  And if that still somehow doesn’t make you want to play this game then I don’t know how you’re reading this because you’re dead.  And even then, you should still want to do the Thriller dance.

This will never not be awesome.

Besides, you gain a good chunk of life back every time you rescue a child, so it almost seems like a waste to rescue one while you have a full life bar.  You’d essentially be passing up a free opportunity to dance.

Still, it’s not easy being Michael Jackson, even in a fantasy world without tabloid newspapers.  The game came out in 1990, and in what could be considered foreshadowing of the next few years, every single person in the game is hell-bent on preventing Michael Jackson from getting near their children.  So much so that they will hide kids in the trunks of their cars and open graves.  And unlike the music videos these levels are loosely based on, criminals and zombies in this game are quite willing to do more than just dance at you menacingly.  Even cats and dogs will attack you without provocation.  That’s actually one of the lesser known problems with being a famous musician in the 1980s – animals keep trying to kill you… actually, that reminds me of one other thing – every computer Michael Jackson gets close to explodes.  Computers can be such dicks sometimes.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this game came out right at the very peak of Michael Jackson’s tendency to yell “Wooo!” and this is reflected in the game.  A creepy, oddly animated picture of Michael “wooos” before the beginning of every stage.  Pressing up on the d-pad makes Michael thrust his crotch out and yell “Wooo!” – which seems like a mildly inappropriate thing to do when he’s near children, although then again, it kinda seems like an inappropriate thing to anytime.  And when MJ needs to open a door, he doesn’t just open it, he spins to it, yells “Wooo!” and then opens it while crotch thrusting.  I only bring this up as a warning – the habit seems to be somewhat contagious, and ever since playing the game, I’ve sounded like Ric Flair with Tourette’s Syndrome.  I realize that joke probably went over 90% of your heads, and the rest of you probably thought it was pretty bad anyway, so let me try again:  since playing this game, I been sued for sexual harassment by 4 different people that I’ve opened doors for.

He’s not grabbing himself – he’s taunting one of the enemies he just crotch-punted.

Stryker: What Brad fails to mention is that both of us got bored and stopped playing by the fourth level.  Wandering around compact levels opening doors while “fighting” brain-dead enemies is decent fun for a little while, but the longer it went on, the more and more we started to lose interest.  Not unlike MJ’s career, actually.

Mortal Kombat

Brad: Godawful digitized graphics, distorted sound, clumsy control, palette-swapped characters, simplistic gameplay that hearkens back to fighting games from the Commodore 64 days, and an AI that can be defeated simply by doing jump kicks over and over.  The only thing offensive about Mortal Kombat’s gore and fatalities is the dubious way in which the designers relied on them to cover up the game’s significant shortcomings.  Yes, your mom hates Mortal Kombat.  But so should you.

“Whoa! Did I just rip that guy’s head off?”

“…Um, maybe?”

Stryker: The Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat was censored, removing almost all of the game’s infamous blood and violence.  This wasn’t necessary for the Genesis version however, since the horrible digitized graphics made it impossible to make out what the hell was going on, anyway.

Shinobi III

The office from which this site comes to you from has space in a building that also houses a Jewish preschool.  Recently, the kids drew pictures of what they were dressing up as for Purim.  So there were drawings of cowboys, Indians, pirates, and princesses and all the other things little kids like to pretend they are, with labels written by the teacher.  Included amongst this was one completely blank picture that was simply labeled “I’m a ninja!”.  Aside from being probably the best thing a 4 year old has ever done, it’s also one of the most accurate representations of a ninja ever conceived.

Pictured: A ninja.

Anyway, Shinobi III is kind of like the exact opposite of that picture.

Ecco the Dolphin

Brad:Every few years, people take up some kind of environmental cause.These days, it’s global warming.You notice people don’t really talk about the rainforests anymore, unless its in the context of reducing global warming. Nobody cares about saving the whales (still endangered, by the way), or cheetahs (practically extinct), or rhinos (also not doing so well).In fact the only endangered animal you ever hear people pitching for these days are polar bears, which conveniently (though they might disagree) are having their habitat destroyed by… you guessed it – global warming. Deforestation, polluted lakes, extinctions, and overflowing landfills were all old environmental causes that the majority of people have largely stopped paying attention to these days, regardless of whether or not they ever got fixed. And we’ll all do the same with global warming in a few years. Just you wait.

Ecco000

These jellyfish hate Ecco.  Soon you will, too.

Back in the early 90s, our attention was focused on our overfished, polluted oceans. In the long-term, this didn’t help much – our oceans are probably as barren today as they ever have been in human history. On the other hand, this was an absolute boon for Sega who, showing an extremely rare occurrence of foresight, released Ecco the Dolphin, a game where you play as a dolphin and save Earth’s oceans from being swept devoid of life. Sega was wise to capitalize on the zeitgeist of the time, as players were so eager to take up the environmental cause du jour that they instantly declared Ecco a classic, regardless of whether or not it had any of the characteristics we might broadly define as being “fun” or “remotely enjoyable”.

Which, by the way, it doesn’t. The gameplay in Ecco primarily revolves around puzzle solving, and in the respect, the developers didn’t exactly go all out. In most stages, pathways will be blocked by giant blue crystals, called glyphs. The only way to get past a glyph is to find a different glyph and ram it, which somehow gives you the power to kill the original glyph.This is exactly the same kind of “puzzle solving” that you might find in a game like Doom, where you have to track down various keycards to open doors. Yet nobody ever talks about Doom like its some kind of triumph of brilliant puzzle-solving gameplay. What the hell do blue crystals have to do with anything?Or was that just the first thing the developers thought of?The whole thing reeks of unnecessary backtracking to stretch out the levels, and I seriously wonder if any less thought could have possibly been put into this.

Ecco001

Blue crystals?  That’s the best thing they could come up with?

The rest of the game consists of swimming around, trying to figure out what the hell you’re supposed to be doing, and getting attacked by other marine life.Apparently everything in the ocean hates Ecco – in fact, no dolphin has ever been this universally despised since Bryan Cox retired from the NFL. Enemies come at you from all sides, completely immune to the various currents that are pushing you around or – oh, I don’t know – THE WALLS OF THE STAGE, which they swim through at will. Your only weapon against this assault for the majority of the game is a dash maneuver that lets you ram your enemies. In this way, most victories are pyrrhic – you might kill your opponent, but will probably crash into some other source of damage in the process. Later in the game, you get a ranged weapon, but it’s not much more effective.

A lot of Ecco fans like to point out that the game is hard, as if that somehow automatically makes it good.Difficulty is more like a multiplier – if a game is really fun, a challenging difficulty can make it more enjoyable. But if a game isn’t that enjoyable to begin with, cranking up the difficulty just makes it even more frustrating. So Ecco isn’t good because it’s hard, and if anything, it’s hard because its not designed very well.

Stryker:Usually, when we eliminate a game that’s generally well-thought of, I don’t hate it so much as I am bored by it. You play it for a little while, thinking it must eventually get better, and then if it doesn’t, you cross it off the list and wonder what people liked so much about it in the first place. For an example on this site, check out Earthworm Jim or Vectorman. So make no mistake when I tell you that this was not the case with Ecco the Dolphin. I hated this game when it first came out, I hate it still, and I hate all you people who keep insisting that it’s great. There’s nothing inherently brilliant about making a game where you play as a dolphin, and the entire game does little more than try to coast by on this thin premise.

Ecco002

Hey look, it’s one of the few obstacles that’s not a blue crystal!

Mr. Do!:As a wise man once said, “If dolphins are so smart, why have I eaten so many of them?”

Minnesota Fats: Pool Legend

Stryker: Unlike most pool games, Minnesota Fats: Pool Legend comes with its own story mode in which you strive to defeat the legendary pool hustler.

Brad: And if you win, you get this shiny pool cue made of gold.  But if you lose, the fat man gets your sooooouuuuul.

Stryker: Of course, one does not simply challenge the great Minnesota Fats to a game of pool.  Explaining that he doesn’t waste his time on rookies, Fats sends you away to get more experience first.

Brad: Um, I’m not quite sure the fine folks over at Data East fully understood the concept of a “pool hustler”.

Stryker: No, Minnesota Fats is more like a “pool agent”.  He calls all the other players in town and sets up games for you.  I guess maybe your character is too shy to do it yourself or something.

Brad: Actually, given that half of his friends are hot women, I almost wonder if maybe he’s actually trying to set you up on dates.  Sure they’re all pool players, but that’s just the circle he runs in.  If you wanted to date tennis players, you’d go talk to Jimmy Connors.

Stryker: He sets you up with some guys, too.  Minnesota Fats doesn’t make any assumptions.

Brad: And he doesn’t judge.  His only love is pool.

Stryker: Minnesota Fats: Dating Simulator.

Brad: Now there’s a title destined to sell tens of copies.

Stryker: Let’s talk about the ending.  After you defeat all his friends, you get to take on Minnesota Fats, and if you win, he gives you his favorite pool cue as a souvenir.  What did you think?

Brad: Honestly, I felt a little bad.  People talk about games with endings that aren’t exactly happy, like in the Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy games, but here I am on a quest to rob an old man of his most prized possession.

Stryker: Yeah, I really didn’t expect a morally ambiguous ending from a Genesis game about pool.

Brad: Then again, there’s no telling just how valued that pool cue really was.  He called it his “favorite stick”, but he might have a closet full of cues that are a close second place.  It could be like me picking out a favorite pen.

Stryker: No, I prefer to think of Minnesota Fats as defeated, alone, his friends no longer speaking to him because he sent you up with them and then you never called after the first date.  Robbed not only of the only material possession that ever meant anything to him, but more importantly, his pride.  Feeling old and vulnerable, he will never play pool again.  You did this to him.  And all he ever wanted to do was help you.

Brad: Sure, he puts on a brave face and acts gracefully in defeat, but deep inside we all know that the gregarious man who used to yell out “Fancy Dance” before taking a shot is no more.

Rugby World Cup '95

How on fire was EA Sports back in the fall of 1994?  Looking back, it was one of the strongest lineups the brand has ever assembled:  Madden ’95, FIFA ’95, NHL ’95, and NBA Live ’95 are all arguably the best entries for each of their respective series during the 16-bit era, and while each of those franchises has had other successful years since, we’ve yet to see another season where so many of their games were peaking all at the same time.  Hell, these days, it seems like Madden and NHL are taking turns being good for each generation on consoles, and NBA Live seems like a punishment being inflicted on NBA fans for reasons we may never fully understand.  Maybe EA programmers are all Milwaukee Bucks fans.

Nevertheless, 1994 was a golden age for the EA Sports brand.  And it was during this time that EA decided to release Rugby World Cup ’95. It was certainly an inspired choice, with most of the brand’s other franchises being relatively “safe” bets, you know, in that they were sports people in this country might have actually seen before.  Who knows?  Maybe the world was really clamoring for a Rugby game back then.  Perhaps it was one of those short-lived 90s fads nobody even remembers anymore, like Y.B.T.  Or maybe EA, drunk on success, got cocky and assumed that they could make an awesome game about just about anything, although that explanation seems kind of unlikely.  I mean, it had only been a year since they released Power Monger, so they should have still remembered that lesson.

This is about 90% of the gameplay in Rugby World Cup ’95

Whatever the reason, Rugby World Cup ’95 was thrust into EA Sport’s otherwise spectacular lineup that year, not entirely unlike Don Beebe’s stint on the Super Bowl Champion Packers a few years later.  Yes, we are full of obscure references today.

If during the course of this review it appears that I don’t know a lot about rugby, it’s because I don’t.  My experience with the sport is limited to the few times I’ve caught glimpses of it on that cable channel that usually talks about the Mets but switches over to English sports after 11pm, and a British acquaintance of mine who once tried to get me to join a game by telling me “It’s just like your American football, only more violent.”  Most European sports are described to us in ways that make them seem more sophisticated than ours.  Soccer is the “beautiful game”.  Cricket is like baseball, except for smart people with a whole lot of free time.  But rugby – that’s just football with the violence cranked up to a catastrophic level.

That’s a simplification, but it’s still a pretty apt description, at least as far as describing how the sport is represented in Rugby World Cup ’95.  If American football is kind of an abstract simulation of war, then rugby is closer to a simulation of a riot, except there’s nothing abstract about it at all.  Which probably is a big part of its popularity worldwide – after all, New Zealand or Ireland isn’t going to win a war against Britain anytime soon, but a riot?  That’s 50/50.  Rugby is basically like watching two street gangs murder each other, with occasional attempts to move a ball up and down the field as a nominal means to justify this violence.  I’m convinced that 90% of Rugby players are clinically depressed people who have committed to killing themselves in the most spectacular way imaginable.  The other 10% are dumb American kids who didn’t fully grasp the apocalyptic scale of something that had been described to them as “like your football, only more violent.”

Oh, and they play without any kind of protective equipment.  Well, a few of them wear wrestling headgear, but they’re considered pussies by all the other players.  Hell, these guys would probably play naked just the avoid the minimal protection offered by a shirt if they could.  But of course that’s a terrible idea in a sport that sometimes involves tactics that the announcers describe as “jiggery pokery”.  To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what that even means.  I just know it’s the kind of thing I would want to have pants on for if it were going on around me.

Once you start playing, you’ll begin to see that the description of rugby as a more violent form of American football is pretty accurate.  However, a more precise description – and again, this in in the video game version, I’ve yet to see much “real” rugby – might be to say that it’s like a version of American football that has been fine-tuned specifically to maximize the amount of devastation.  Between two evenly matched teams it’s a nonstop barrage of assaults.  As the guy with the ball is getting tackled, he throws it to a teammate, who then immediately gets tackled and throws it to another teammate, until eventually everyone is laying on the ground with injured spleens.  Should a player fail to get rid of the ball before hitting the ground, players from both teams form what is known as – no joke – a maul, which is basically a big pile of guys murdering each other, until one guy emerges with the ball and the whole cycle starts again.  Unlike American football, it’s actually considered advantageous to kick the ball off to the other team and let them have possession of it, much in the same way it might be advantageous to allow your opponent to start with possession of a pork chop if you were both trapped in the lion cage at the zoo.  Speaking of lions fighting over scraps of meat, if the ball should go out of bounds, play is restarted by having both teams line up 3 feet away from each other, and then throwing the ball into the middle of both teams and having them kill each other for it.

This is actually a different picture than before.  This just happens a lot.

As I said, that’s what a game between two evenly matched teams is like.  If two mismatched teams should play, things are a little different, as the better team will have more more time and space to work with the ball.  This is closer to what I believe rugby is supposed to be like, with teams passing side to side, moving the ball up and down the field, and actually scoring points.  I assume this is closer to “real” rugby, as evidenced by the fact that real rugby games occasionally have survivors and scores higher than 0-0.

In the end, I suppose that’s the problem with Rugby World Cup ’95.  If you want to take a really good team, and play against a really bad team, it can be fun for a little while, at least until the score gets out of hand.  But between two teams that are fairly close to one another, the entire thing is just a series of instant tackles, mauls, and other moments where it really feels like the computer is playing the game for you.  Oddly enough, you can actually get a much more satisfying “rugby-like” experience playing Pigskin Footbrawl, which is set in Medieval Europe, is endorsed by Jerry Glanville, and isn’t even meant to be about rugby at all.