Sports simulator games are the like the supermarket brand games of the video game business. We see them all the time, they aren’t that much different in their mechanics and they all cater to the idea that each one does the best they can to put you as much into the game as possible. It’s obvious that games have become more and more realistic as time has gone on while having some variations with each installment. Madden Football is the best example of this as they changed and added features over time such as the “Truck Stick” and “Precision Passing”. FIFA probably has to be the second largest title to reap the benefits of improvements to controls such as touch passes, stutter step or delayed shots, and AI followed passes where an AI teammate follows along with the ball as you run parallel to him. Improvements like this are very welcome in my opinion, but as I’ve watched and become more enthralled with live action sports, it’s not the part that excites me the most. Playing a sport is fun, but the fun one has playing the sport is carried out by the actual act itself and that’s really only one part of it to me when there is actually another significant element to it all, the crowd.
When I envision playing Madden, I think about what the player is going through at that moment. I almost imagine it as a perfectly directed movie with chase cameras, slow motion turns, detailed hits, but also the crowd. Listening to the crowd cheer, groan, yell, taunt, roar, all of the sounds of the crowd moves you as an athlete. The crowd doesn’t just exist by their own cries. They have an MC – the MC comes through by the voice of the announcer. While growing up, I followed baseball for the most part of my youth because of my father watching the New York Mets. Watching the New York Mets defeat the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series was probably one of the best moments of my childhood. Not just because it was a strong bonding moment with my father as we were both huge superfans, but because the announcer made the game come alive. The infamous words during game 6 of the ’86 World Series…“So the winning run is at second base, with two outs, three and two to Mookie Wilson. A little roller up along first… behind the bag! It gets through Buckner! Here comes Knight, and the Mets win it!” That game gave Mets fan hope that it could very well mean that they could see the New York Mets win the World Series and they most certainly did in Game 7. Those games are vivid in my mind because of the crowd and the announcer.
Of course not everyone is thrilled by baseball, and I feel I’ve sort of grown out of that sport mainly because I feel that a lot of the exciting rivalries of my youth are very much gone. I became a New York Yankee fan some years later after the Mets won the World Series because they gave life to my favorite player at that time from that time, Daryl Strawberry. Yes he was mixed up in drugs and such, but it was great to see him be great again. My love for sports grew through as well as I got to enjoy and become fans of other sports teams such as the New York Giants having watched them win 3 Super Bowl Championships in my lifetime and the New York Rangers having seen them win the Stanley Cup in 1994, their first since 1940. The excitement I felt during those moments were magnified by the crowd and the announcers of those games. Although the New York Rangers did not win this years Stanley Cup against the Los Angeles Kings, it was still an exciting series to watch with so much push and pull on both teams providing so much intensity. It’s this intensity that I feel is missing from sports games now.
My father is huge football fan, and by football I mean soccer to my fellow Americans reading this. I’ve watched a number of World Cup games in my time. I remember Brazil winning 1994 and 2002, Italy in 2006, and Spain in the most recent World Cup games in 2010, and right now ongoing are the current 2014 World Cup games with Germany projected being the odds on favorite to win the World Cup. Here in the States, “Soccer” hasn’t been all that popular but has gained momentum over the past 4 years. I apologize to my friends across the pond that have their ears bleed every time they hear someone refer to it as Soccer but I have to say that I grew up with it calling it football, or “futbol” as my father would say. There are many I know that would call it a boring sport, but I would say that those people don’t know the sport as I know the sport.
Here in America, the only time people ever really hear about Soccer is during the World Cup. Other than that, its only from the small attention paid to the MLS (Major League Soccer) in their sports round up, and I’m willing to bet that most people don’t think twice about it as they place more attention to the MLB, NFL, NHL, or NBA. One can hardly blame them because sports are followed by those locally to the sports themselves in their area. Again though, I will attest that I don’t believe that people that criticize Soccer for being boring have not watched games as I have and don’t realize how exciting it can be. Let’s not get it twisted though. Not all games are exciting and that can go for any sport. I’ve watched some boring football games, basketball games, and boy have I watched some boring baseball games. Regardless of how boring they were, the announcers and the crowd helped make the experience a better one.
There’s no certainty as to how developers can make the element of the crowd more exciting in video games but there are a few noticeable changes. I do see that crowds are fairly generic. You can usually see a pattern of audience and crowd members moving in sequence. Developers have certainly tried to make it less noticeable by spacing their groups of audience members in different patterns but you can definitely still see the patterns in the crowd.
While not actually a “real sport”, wrestling games are the most noticeable with this. Of course just like in other sports games, they are made to showcase the players and athletes, not the crowd, but details are becoming more important as games gain more depth and realism.
FIFA 2014 has taken a good step towards individualizing the crowd as the crowd does move with a beautiful rhythm of its own. There is a pattern to their movement at times but FIFA does well at tricking the player with the camera movement in the game. There is an idea I have about allowing a 3rd player to connect to a game between 2 players as the announcer where the player would be presented 2 lines on screen about the action happening and the 3rd player would choose to say one or the other while the other players are playing. This does present the idea of that these player announcers may start to haze the players actually in the game, but placing an automatic mute or kick vote for both players to use in order to remove the 3rd player announcer would work to remove that nuance. Make it randomize the game you connect to announce would also help in this instance. Of course this is just an idea after all and I highly doubt this is something on developers minds.
Sports games for the most part are generically developed each year. While I continue to enjoy playing as my favorite team or connecting with friends to play a particular game, there still more that I feel could be done. To quote Proximo in the 2000 movie Gladiator, “Win the crowd.”