You may remember Bill Kunkel from his gig with Electronic Games Magazine in the 80's, Sega Visions in the 90's, or his work with dozens of computer games over the past 20 years. He's an insider through and through but one who enjoys sharing his experiences and insights. "The Kunkel Report" will re-live some truly memorable experiences through the eyes of one of gaming's most prolific personalities.

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 being marketed.

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 sideline shots!

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… impact?

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 FEATURES.

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.

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