|Venue: Hippodrome Stadium Date: Saturday May 28 To start up: 12:30 GMT|
|Cover: Live on BBC Radio Wales FM and digital radio in North Wales, BBC Radio Humberside, BBC Sport online and BBC Radio Cymru. Match report on the BBC Sport website and app.|
With red carpet owners, social media sponsorship and a surge of stardom, Wrexham’s recent history feels like a little virtual reality right now.
A non-league side with growing global fame, it was no surprise that the club were quickly catapulted into the latest edition of the biggest current football computer game franchise.
So when Fifa 22 launched last year, Wrexham – to paraphrase the tagline of makers start-up EA Sports – was on board.
What is surprising, however, is to learn that a former Wrexham player is one of the creative brains behind the game itself.
“Specifically, I’m on the game team, which I guess makes the game fun for people, makes it realistic,” says Shaun Pejic, now 39 and based in Vancouver, his base for his role as a live gameplay producer. at Electronic Arts.
Quite a world away from his previous life before trading boots for bytes.
Coming from the Wrexham youth system and the son of longtime former player-turned-physio Mel Pejic, he made over 200 appearances for the North Wales side.
There have been six Wales Under-21 caps along the way, teaming up with Robert Earnshaw and James Collins, a Football League Trophy win at the Principality Stadium and promotion, as well as two relegations – including dropping to non-league. 14 years ago.
An honorable CV, but which does not really explain the transition to career mode.
“Changing from gaming to office work was a difficult task”
“It’s strange,” Pejic agrees, speaking ahead of the high-profile announcement that EA will stop producing Fifa-branded titles after next year, but instead focus on its own games under the EA Sports FC banner. .
“Like most professional footballers when I was younger I played video games, played football on consoles, and even as a youngster I was a bit of a nerd and also played a lot of board games.
“But getting into (game production) wasn’t an ambition or anything like that.”
Instead, a move to the Vancouver Whitecaps a year after Wrexham withdrew from the Football League produced an example of what happens when opportunity and intrigue collide.
Pejic began dating his current wife, who was working for EA on another title, and began chatting and connecting with those in the tech industry so prominent in the Canadian city.
“I found myself sitting in a room with part of the team that worked on the Fifa title,” he says. “They knew I was a player, knew my experience as a professional player and I had ideas.
“It was difficult the first year or two of going from the world of football training once or twice a day to then sitting on your back in a desk all day learning how a game is made, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Pejic doesn’t code or program, nor is he involved in the art behind the animation, but says he helps be part of the vision for what EA wants to build.
“It highlights some of the issues that aren’t authentic to the real game,” he says. “It can be something simple, like it’s not the right way to hit the ball, but then introduce it into play…
“There’s a huge team of very smart people, the smartest levels I’ve ever known, rocket scientists – and I’m going there from Wrexham, not the smartest footballing brain, but I’m trying to teach smart people the way football is played, which is obviously not their area of expertise.
“I guess it’s fine.”
So much so that he describes his playing days not as the pinnacle of his professional life, but as the foundation for where he is now and the fulfillment he derives from his work.
Indeed, Pefic says he’s moved past the point of being tempted to head to the studio to record his game data, with the latest version now using fully formed matches rather than one or two players in a studio to capture. the movement of the game.
“It’s a new technology that we used this year, called the Xsens suit,” says Pejic. All the cameras are around the pitch and we went to see a few teams in Spain play a professional game and we captured all the information and data from that.
“We’re using that in-game now, which is really cool, whereas before we were limited to the studio, so you lose some of that authentic movement, like naturally colliding with players at full speed.”
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, with Pejic currently working on the title’s live commentary and having to “try to figure out how to make it better for everyone”. .
But he adds: “There’s a fine line in making it realistic and then on the other side of things making sure you feel the fun, things like making it super responsive.
“You always pull that line to make it look really good, but also to make sure you’re able to play and enjoy it. That’s the biggest challenge, but the gameplay team is huge with a lot of experience – and whatever we’ve been doing is working so far.”
Pejic wonders if the future will see bigger blurs between the live games watched on TV and the video game played alongside “when it looks the same you can’t tell the difference, that would be the end goal, we would have finished it then”.
And the news of EA’s breakaway from the Fifa franchise that followed his speech also intrigued fans of the sequel, just as Pejic is intrigued by Wrexham’s sequel after admitting he was ‘crushed’ when his club lost its league status.
He laughs but assures ‘no’ when asked if he’s been tempted to insert a boost for players selecting Wrexham in the ‘Rest of World’ option in the current version, but adds: ‘It’s so cool for me with my history to be able to play with them, to see the badge and the kit.”
Likewise, he’s proud of the new profile his former club has gained since their Hollywood takeover, hoping to run into Vancouver native Ryan Reynolds to buy him a drink.
He could toast to success if the Red Dragons fight their way through the National League play-offs over the next few weeks as Wrexham aim to step up.