It is May 2021. The Saúl Canelo Álvarez cover announcement pushes Undisputed to Cyberpunk 2077-grade hype. Fight fans have been hoping and wondering if an unknown studio can deliver an AAA-grade boxing game since. The graphics indeed suggest so. But critics wonder if Undisputed is too good to be true.
There is still so much unknown about developer Steel City Interactive, like why its social media went quiet for months in 2021. Yet, we do know how Undisputed got its start.
Undisputed was born from a programmer’s unique ability to code in the Unity engine. This story is according to Ten24’s owner James Busby, via a 2020 interview with graphic artist Siamak Roshani.
Undisputed reportedly came to fruition when SCI founder Ash Habib decided to write a game demo in Unity just before the pandemic swept the globe. According to Busby, Habib wrote the initial demo of Undisputed alone. Ironically apt, since boxing itself is often a singular pursuit.
“…Ash had already made this boxing game by himself. He is a really clever guy. He built this entire prototype in Unity,” says Busby. “…He is sort of the brains behind it… He’s a bit of a genius Unity coder as well…”
There are brilliant coders out there in the world. Naturally, many of them get scooped up by big tech and thrown into the apparatus of machine conglomerates. Case and point: Sebastian Stark. EA’s AI data scientist just joined META. Contrast this with Habib, who had no house affiliation when he wrote a potential life-changing software – Undisputed. In this sense, the game should keep its independent status even if it looks movie-studio grade.
According to Busby, Habib began shopping for character models once Habib’s demo was operational. Located 140 miles northwest of London, the indie coder found James Busby and Ten 24 Digital Capture in the same city. The two tech entrepreneurs were both working in historic Sheffield, England. Busby recounts the first visit from Habib.
“I got a phone call from a guy called Ash from Sheffield,” Busby notes in the 2020 interview. “The same city. And he just wanted to come in and have a chat…He said he needed an office and I said: ‘well we’ve got an office here next to ours. You can rent that one.’ So he came in and rented this office…”
Ten 24 Digital Capture
Ten 24 Digital Capture is a studio specializing in creating realistic human character models across various genres. Its work is remarkable and simultaneously unnerving – the models might look too lifelike for the comfort of some. Suffice it to say, Ten24’s models are photorealistic.
According to his 2020 interview, Busby worked endless hours to save and open up his online storefronts. After years of saving, Busby had enough to launch his business ventures and build a photogrammetry rig. Ten24’s scanning rig, consisting of dozens of high-megapixel cameras, is also a perfect solution for sports game creation. So when Habib approached Ten24, Busby welcomed the opportunity. According to Busby, Habib rented studio space and quickly realized Ten24’s capabilities.
“Originally, it was going to be like an indie game. But [Habib] [thought] if we can do the scanning, we can bring it up like a AAA title…” says Busby. “…So now the room next to ours is a studio. Working away on it. It has got around 13 people in it. And we are invested in it, and we are doing all the scanning…and producing the models for [Undisputed].”
As fate would have it, the two indie devs now represented two studios in the same camp, SCI and Ten 24 Digital Capture. Together, they have a full-fledged studio capable of animating AAA visual-grade athletes. They began scanning professional boxers to drop in Habib’s Unity boxing sandbox.
Inside Undisputed – The Partnership
Impressively, the game came to fruition thanks to two passionate, collaborative individuals from different disciplines. The partnership perhaps required a degree of modesty – both individuals recognized the skills of one another. Fortunately for fight fans, Busby is not only comes across as humble, but perhaps he also defines himself by it.
“I think doubting yourself is a good thing,” says Busby. “You have to, to some extent; otherwise, you are never going to try to be better. If you think you are brilliant at the start, you are never going to want to do more…So yeah, it has just gone from strength to strength. It went from a small indie to an AAA title in about four months.”
Shortly after the collaboration began, the SCI-Ten24 duo began dropping new trailers of the concept game. The internet accordingly took notice. Next, professional boxers took notice. Even Unity itself took notice and began assisting in developing Undisputed. Busby confirmed this point in 2020.
“…It is Unity because that is what Ash wrote it in,” remarks Busby in the 2020 YouTube interview. “We’ve got Unity on board now. They are actually helping to develop it themselves. The actual company.”
SCI did not respond to SGO for confirmation, but the Dec. 2022 PC beta launched through a Unity application, all but confirming Busby’s comments from almost three years ago. Evidently, Undisputed appears to run in Unity, and not Unreal Engine, as previously speculated.
Interestingly, Busby himself calls Undisputed AAA. Busby’s most significant projects likely influenced his thinking here- Hellblade II, Halo 4, and Death Stranding included. It follows that Ten24’s resume lends credibility to any project across many mediums. And fight fans can credit Habib and Busby for their willingness to trust in what looks to be a fortuitous partnership and to do it all independently.
Undisputed goes live on Early Access on Steam for PC on Jan. 31, 2023.
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