Console Sports Games:
Bringing you the WORST in Pro Sports!
Sorry, folks, I'm going to take a shift away from the nostalgia trip
and offer, instead, a Rant. I'm sure Joe won't mind and besides, I'd
hate to leave the impression that I'm this sort of old, thoughtful guy
from the dark ages of videogaming who doesn't relate to the state of the
art. Actually, as any of the students at my various UNLV game design
classes can tell you, I'm just crawling with opinions on contemporary
gaming. I am even, in some quarters, hated for my opinions. That's
right, just like Rod Smart, They Hate Me. "They" include the cargo cult
text game fans who still can't get over a bad review I once wrote
concerning my opinion that a collection of old Infocom text games,
published after the company's collapse and purchase by Activision,
hadn't aged well.
To some degree, I addressed these Minions of Satan during an
interview I did with RetroGaming Radio, but for now, I've got the
red-ass over something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the
microcosm of text game aficionados.
No, this time I'm getting tired of the way video sports games are
As far back as I can remember (on a good day, that's about 25 years,
which is only impressive until you realize I'm 54), sports videogames
have run on a different rail from their computer cousins. Now I could go
back and start telling you all what geniuses guys like Scott Orr and Don
Daglow are, which is true, but much as Scott, Don and I would enjoy
that, it is unfortunately so easy to explain the genesis of this
bifurcation that I can't justify the long-winded approach.
It's as simple as this: From the earliest days of floppy disks, it
was possible to remove one disk and insert another without causing an
interruption in the gameplay. It was most definitely NOT possible to
remove one videogame cartridge and stick in another without turning off
the system or seriously bending its silicon mind.
As a result, most computer-based sports franchises, from
MicroLeague Baseball to the Earl Weaver and Tony LaRussa brands, did
NOT produce an entirely new version of the game every season. Instead,
the team worked until the engine was as good as they could get it and it
was released. For the next few years, the development team would slowly
and carefully upgrade and retool the engine, adding obvious features and
cleaning up any lingering infelicities. During the years when no new
edition was available, a "Season Disk" containing the names and stats
from the previous season were made available to plug into the existing
software. Better still, you could similarly plug-in disks containing
All-Star teams from the past, previous season disks and even such
novelties as Negro League Player Disks.
Videogames had no such luxury. As a result, a sometimes-crazed
struggle to eke out new "Features" became the focus of each year's
design. The brain damage which this obsession has caused developers is
more painfully obvious every year. For a couple of years, the big thing
in football sims has been making the on-field players look like
simulacra of their real life counterparts. This is of dubious
significance in a sport in which every player wears a huge helmet
equipped with a humongous mouth guard that almost totally obscures their
countenance. But hey, it's great fodder for those all-important canned
Then there was the madness about duplicating whatever foolish victory
dance the latest self-marketing RB or WR had been able to show off on
the TV broadcasts. I mean, play a simulation that doesn't have a totally
accurate spike-and-pirouette replication of every flavor of the season's
unique end zone celebration (known in the pre-hype days as "Taunting"
and it was, in fact, a penalty)? Uh-unh! Well, except for those players
who are such big stars that they don't sign the NFLPA deal with EA and
thereby maintain the all-important rights to their likeness, which they
then use to front their own, generally-inferior game brand. Likenesses a
major feature in a pigskin sim? If any group of human beings look more
generic than a football team, I've yet to encounter them.
But the vampire-like need for new juice to prime the pump of the
latest Madden engine (Madden 2005, the 15th installment of
this groundbreaking brand) has clearly reached its nadir/apotheosis (I
go back and forth on this one) with the features being splashed all over
the place whenever you see or read about this year's model of the
venerable franchise. Get ready for this – there's a "storyline" mode in
which outside events effect your players' performance ("Oh no; our
middle linebacker is having girl trouble!"). Doesn't float your boat?
Well, haven't you always wanted to customize the CROWD? That's right,
the imaginary people sitting in those virtual stands! So, set the toggle
anywhere from Soccer Rowdies to Front Runners and sit back and watch…
The lust for Features has even led to seeing the worst elements of
pro sports being dragged into fantasy play. Once upon a time, computer
league managers could at least take comfort in knowing that they didn't
have to deal with the real world quirks, eccentricities and occasional
psychotic reactions of their players. Such horrible components of pro
sports as contract negotiations and a player with the sulks goofing off
due to a lack of playing time are now elevated to the status of
Of course, companies like EA have long since converted to the CD
standard on the top home console systems, so there's only two reasons to
force feed an entirely new incarnation of every game in its line-up to
the public every damned year: 1) It will make money and 2) Gamers, fools
that they are, will buy them.
End of Rant.