Hi Wicked Witch,
I've been playing the Nintendo Switch version of RC4 this past week and wanted to provide some constructive feedback on a couple of the performance issues and bugs I've experienced, as well as a couple of gameplay suggestions that I think would help improve the core game experience. I have tried to limit my points to individual issues to help you address them and want to focus on small tweaks/fixes that can be made to the already existing mechanics to help improve the flow & quality of the game, rather than suggest any crazy new features, as I think that would be the most attainable approach prior to the full release and fixing some of these issues would really set RC4 above the previous RC iterations. I also welcome further discussion with you guys on any of the points and as well as other things you're looking at improving during the "Early Access" stage!
Overall I'm really enjoying playing a Rugby Challenge game on the Switch and think this game has a lot of potential to be great! However, given the current low frame rate of the game and its current similarity to RC3 in terms of gameplay issues, this is contingent on further improvements/development prior to the game being deemed out of "Early Access".
Frame rate: Frame rate in 15s mode seems to hover around 15-20 FPS (with Switch both docked and handheld) and in certain cases (e.g. Replays & Line-outs) essentially becomes a slideshow (~10 FPS). Given the already significant downgrade in graphics on the Switch version relative to the other consoles it's disappointing to see this and considering the other games the Switch is capable of running smoothly (Skyrim, Breath of the Wild, Bioshock etc) I think 30 FPS should be achievable with proper optimisation. I've noticed the same frame rate across all teams, stadiums, camera settings (I play using "Behind" mostly), difficulty settings etc.. The frame rate is noticeably better when playing in 7s mode (~25 FPS), although it still tends to drop during cutscenes as well.
Line-outs unplayable: One of worst things affected by the low FPS is trying to throw a line-out in straight. When playing on Hard or Pro the speed that the cursor moves left to right coupled with the low FPS/delayed inputs makes it very tough to secure your own line-out ball and immediately gives possession back to the AI after they kick it out, which obviously causes a lot of frustration. I'm of the opinion that the line-out cursor speed should never move faster than the normal mode speed as the faster speeds distract from being able to move the players in the line-out which is the actually interesting feature. I highly recommend either adopting the current normal line-out cursor speed as the speed for hard and pro or better yet providing an independent option in the settings menu for line-out difficulty so that we can enjoy playing against pro AI without necessarily messing up every line-out (i.e. difficulty = pro, line-out difficulty = normal). (You could also offer the same for kicks. People may like to play difficulty = normal, kick difficulty = hard for example.
Pitch texture: The most noticeable graphical downgrade on the Switch is the extremely low resolution pitch texture. From looking at videos of the other console versions it's clear that a lot of work has been put in on the grass, however, on the Switch version the grass is nowhere to be seen and instead we just have a noticeably pixelated flat pitch texture where the lines barely have any definition to them. This is especially noticeable during tournaments such as Super 15 where there are logos on the field as these are also incredibly low res and can actually make it quite tough to distinguish what's happening on top of them. Interestingly on the main menu (where you see players kicking/diving for the line) you can see the grass being rendered in a very small area around the players and beyond that is the aforementioned low res pitch. What I assume is happening is that you have the low res flat pitch texture and then render the grass on top of that, which on the more powerful consoles looks great as the low res texture is barely visible through the grass, but on the Switch we just see the ugly texture. Given that the Switch is less powerful than the PS4/XB1 and is already experiencing performance issues I can understand that it may be necessary to compromise on removing the grass but if that's the case then I think it would be more sensible to include a higher res flat pitch texture for the switch instead. Given that this is a sports game and 90% of what you look at is the pitch, I think fixing this would greatly improve the look of the game. Other than that I'm very impressed with the look of all of the face scanned players and kits so great job!
Players not loading in roster screen: The new pre-game roster screen is a great idea! However, in every match I play the game doesn't load several of the players faces and instead displays the default shadowed out face. It's a shame as a lot of the new face scans look great so would love to see this fixed and working properly.
Unskippable Haka: When playing against the All Blacks there is a prompt to press A to skip the Haka, however, if you don't immediately press it (and even sometimes when you do) you are forced to watch the rest without being able to skip. Again it looks great in game but gets old when forced to watch it the 10th time.
ZL + D-pad options: These options (pods, ruck commitment, & prepare kicker) are fantastic and give a lot of extra control over play style. My only issue with the current setup is that ZL is also used for set plays so the set play menu appears over the D-pad selection menu. I think either the D-pad selection menu needs to be moved up a bit or a different combination of buttons could be used for the alt D-pad menu.
Alternate control scheme: On Switch the A & B and X & Y button positions are reversed relative to their XB1 counter parts but A on the Switch performs the same action as A on the XB1 which can cause a lot of confusion for those of us who have played the previous RC games. It would be nice to have an option to use the standard XB1/PS4 button positions instead as that is what the games were originally designed for and what we are used to.
Scrum-Half behavior at rucks: From what I understand in RC4 you have changed rucks so that the Scrum-Half is always acting as the distributor (rather than Forwards pretending to be the Scrum-Half as in previous RC games) which is a welcome improvement. In general this has been great, however, it is not uncommon to win a ruck and then have to wait 30s for the Scrum-Half to slowly jog over from 20+ metres away. All the other players just stand still and wait for the SH which looks weird so it would make sense that if the SH is 20+ metres away then another player should step in to pass it out, otherwise stick with the SH.
Support at rucks: It is incredibly inconsistent whether Players will actually join a ruck even if they are standing directly in front of it. This means that regularly you can take the ball into contact directly in front of your full forwards pack, add several forwards to the ruck (either heavy or quick), see the yellow/red lines indicating players entering the ruck, then watch as they all just stand there like lemons for 10+ seconds as a single opponent walks up and immediately wins the ruck/strips the ball. I can understand why the opponents can turn the ball over either if they get more players to the ruck first or your player gets isolated and no support is but this shouldn't happen when all of your forwards are next to the ruck and have ample time to secure the ball. On these occasions joining the rucks should be the forwards top priority and it may be worth looking into whether the AI is getting confused as to which player should be joining/player pathing for joining.
Set Play setup time: I really love the addition of set plays to the game and think it adds some interesting attacking variety. One issue I've found when setting up for a set play is that all of the players will quickly get into position and I can select the target player (e.g. set up classic and select B to go wide). I will then start clicking L or R for the SH to pass and begin the move. However, the SH will not respond for 5-10 seconds before passing, by which time the opposition defence have completely lined up and the opportunity for quickly performing the move to take advantage of the positioning of the defense has long passed and the move loses a lot of its spontaneity. Not to mention the fact that it's awkward and spoils the flow of the game to see everyone just standing still and waiting.
Full-Back regularly abandons position: The issue here usually occurs when in the opposition half and the FB joins the attacking line. It's a great idea in concept as it allows them to get involved in the play and create overlaps, however, in reality what happens is that once he joins the attacking line he will remain there and even once the opposition turn the ball over he just joins the regular defensive line rather than returning to his position to cover the clearing kick (with no option to force him to head back). In actual rugby typically when the FB steps into the attacking line one of the wingers will head back to cover his position and once the fullback has been in the attacking line for one or two plays he'll head back for a couple phases. This issue can prove incredibly frustrating as it allows the opposition to just clear directly up the field and everyone has to sprint back to the ball rather than someone being back to catch the ball and run it back. Suggestions would be cover FB with winger, after 1-2 phases in the attacking line return the FB to his correct position, and if the opposition turn the ball over whilst the FB is in the attacking line then it should be his No.1 priority to head back to his position to prepare for the kick.
Highly likely to lose ball when recovering opponents clearing kick (This follows on from the previous point when the FB is out of position but also occurs when a player is in position to receive the kick): When the opposition performs a clearing kick the camera will be behind the opposition and once you catch/recover the ball the camera will spin around to be behind the player. As this happens the player with the ball will stand completely still/barely have time to start moving before the opposition are on them and since the player with the ball is not moving the opposition will typically instantly jackle/turnover the ball, essentially gaining ~70m & possesion with a clearing kick and leaving the player with no real way to deal with this. I personally think the simplest way to fix this is to just decrease the pace at which the AI chases down these kicks so that the camera has time to spin around and the player has a couple seconds (doesn't have to be long as you still want the player to be pressured) to decide whether to kick back to the opposition, kick to touch, or run the ball back. Kicking battles for territory are such an integral part of rugby and allowing the player to make these decisions (which are already in game there's just no chance to do it) would drastically improve RC4.
Line-Out "Jump and Catch" option is completely redundant and results in instant turnover: There are 2 issues with this line-out option. The first is that 90% of the times I try and use the "Jump and Pass" option (B on Switch) to get quick ball from a line-out the player performs "Jump and Catch" option instead. Having the wrong option occur is annoying enough as is but the frustration is compounded by the second issue. "Jump and Catch" is a completely pointless option and invariably as the catcher hits the ground they are standing completely still and are immediately tackled which, combined with the forwards aforementioned total aversion to joining a ruck immediately in front of them, results in an immediate turnover of your own line-out ball to the opposition. In real rugby, (ignoring fancy line-out moves that are out of the scope of what's currently in RC) I have never seen anyone do anything other than "Jump To Maul" and "Jump To Pass" so unless someone has a compelling use for, or a way to salvage, "Jump and Catch" then it should really be cut.
No.8 pick up: When performing a No.8 pick up from a scrum the No.8 just stands up straight without moving and can either pass immediately or get tackled backwards, which is hardly the big driving run you would expect. The animation of the No.8 pick up needs to allow the No.8 to peel round the left or right of the scrum (dictated by the direction the player pushes the left analogue stick) and give him some initial forwards acceleration so that when the player regains control of the No.8 they are able to run forwards and take on the defensive line (see Rugby 08). This same animation could also be extended to maul peels and function in the same way.
Fanhub Most Popular Sorting: The custom players/teams on the most popular pages of the fanhub should be sorted from highest rating downwards to allow people to quickly find the best reviewed teams and avoid a lot of the spam that is already appearing there.
Allow the AI to occasionally give away hands in the ruck penalties: Considering how often the AI perform instant jackle turnovers I think it's only fair that the occasionally give away hands in the ruck penalties. It would also have the added benefit of giving a couple more opportunities for kick penalties and therefore scorelines that don't end in a multiple of 7.
Kit logos: A very small tweak that I would suggest for the kit customisation (In general I'm really liking it) is to allow the player to add one of the logos that you can select for a team (e.g. animal/flag/etc.) to be placed on the left breast of the shirt. I think you can get a lot of mileage out of this as it would instantly take a kit from default looking to a proper custom kit.
Set Play variety: As previously mentioned I really like the set plays in the game at the moment, however, claiming in the marketing/game description that the game contains 10 moves is somewhat disingenuous. The game contains 3 moves with a total of 10 receiving options (Classic = 4 options, Dummy Skip Pass = 4 options, Cross Kick & Wing = 2 options). Given that the players run pre-set lines it would be great to see more of these (perhaps a Switch move and a Loop move each with a couple options). Rugby 08 already had several moves that worked in a similar manner to RC4 so these could be used for inspiration. There are also several sources online where you can find great example moves to implement (e.g. https://www.rugbycoachweekly.net/rugby-drills-and-skills/backs-moves/page/2/). I think given that this is the big USP of RC4 over the previous games and the system for implementing it is already in game it would be great to develop further on these. Once additional set-plays are added you can access them by holding LZ to bring up the set play menu as per usual and then use the right analogue stick to scroll between move pages (3-moves per page). That way you don't need to amend the existing UI layout (minus the aforementioned LZ + D-pad menu overlap)
AI Dummy Pass Spam: I think this is by far the most ridiculous and broken holdover from RC1. I regularly use the dummy pass when running with the backs as I think it looks pretty cool and at time can let you pull of some great moves, however, I don't think there is anything more annoying than coming across the field to make a big covering tackle and the AI throws a dummy pass to no one and your defender just stops dead in their tracks and refuses to make the near certain try saving tackle whilst the opposition strolls over the line. I think the dummy pass should remain in the game but the code that makes the defender stop when the attacker uses it should be removed and it should be left to to whether the player themselves is actually fooled by the dummy. If the player isn't fooled then there's nothing stopping them from making the tackle. This then allows it to be used in online as a genuine way to try and trick an opponent rather than a cheap and unfair tactic to score. Looking through the forum I'm far from the only one to have an issue with this move.
New/Advanced Features Tutorials/Demos: I think it's fair to say that some of the coolest and most in depth features that you guys have developed have gone under the radar for a lot of people (myself included) and who can blame them considering the only place to learn about things like forwards pod options and playing styles is in your forum posts (https://www.wickedsports.com.au/community/rugby-challenge-4/thank-you-for-your-feedback). I think you're doing yourselves a disservice by not properly introducing the players to these advanced tactics/details and if players aren't aware of them then they will continue to play in the same basic pass & offload style of RC1 which then results in people saying the game hasn't been changed since the previous iteration. I would highly suggest adding some in depth tutorials on these topics into the game and better yet it would be great to see you put together a video with a couple of the devs just showing off how you guys utilise these features and the impact they have on the game. I for one still don't fully understand the best way to commit players to a ruck in different situations other than lots of heavy binds or when/how to use the pods (and I've been playing since RC1) so there's a lot of scope for improving peoples experiences just by demonstrating/making us aware of features.
A few game highlights for me so far:
Scanned players and kits look great!
Assuming the performance issues get fixed it's pretty neat being able to play rugby challenge on the go!
Player, Team, & Kit creation all work great and can produce some pretty good results. There are a couple good teams coming through on FanHub already!
Official rugby balls! Noticed this while playing with England the other day and it's a nice touch.
Full Premiership teams licensing and most Super Rugby teams (if there's any possibility of securing the Waratahs licensing before full release that would be amazing).
Set plays add some welcome attacking variety and if built upon further can really set the game apart.
AI does feel more challenging relative to previous entries.
My defensive line no longer seems to run offside and give away penalties without my input which is a big improvement over RC3
Hopefully this feedback is useful for you guys and you are able to incorporate some of these ideas into the final product. Remember to focus on the issues that affect the flow of the core gameplay experience (e.g. instant turnovers, line-out speed, players out of position/etc.) as when it is all working smoothly RC is a great experience.
Let me know if you want any further details and I'll post any additional bugs/issues in the comments as and if they arise.