Electronic Arts and 2K Sports need to go back to the basics

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By H. Jose Bosch

NBA 2K10 is the latest of the four major sports video games to be released and not surprisingly the electronic players can do just about anything other than take illegal substances or get into domestic disputes. (Although if a real player is negatively affected by either, your electronic player will suffer, too. So, maybe off the court issues are part of the game after all?)

Each year Electronic Arts and 2K Sports roll out titles with new bells and whistles and each year those games lose something from the previous titles, whether it’s infuriating quirks or unnecessary features.

But while sports video games become more complex, sport video game makers seem to forget some of the finer things in sports video game life that we all grew to love. Here is a list of some of my (and other TSBers) favorite game features that no longer exists.

College football playoffs
I’m no conspiracy theorist, but this is the closest I’ll ever come to believing that the NCAA truly is an evil organization hell bent on protecting the bowls at any costs. Do you remember the playoff option in old NCAA games? Hell, you could customize your season to have more than 11 weeks and end in a playoff instead of bowl games. This was before the video games could use official bowl names, so doing away with the bowls was a more attractive option for sports fan.
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But today? No such feature exists, which is disappointing. When I had NCAA 2K2: Road to the Rose Bowl (yes, I owned a Sega Dreamcast), I look up the top eight BCS teams in the rankings and create my own playoff. Could the NCAA be discouraging this to quell a hypothetical groundswell of support for a playoff? Who knows. But bring this feature back EA! And let the people enjoy a college playoff, even if it’s only on their PS3’s.

He’s on fire!
Jake McCormick reminded me about the popular three baskets and you’re on fire aspect of NBA Jam. Games like The Bigs and NBA Ballers still fill that arcade-esque sports jones that we occasionally get but has there ever been arcade sports games as culturally ground breaking as NBA Jam or Blitz? Not even close. Just because you make players oddly shaped or have a screaming play-by-play guy, doesn’t mean you can live up to these two classics. The very fact that they were nothing like real life is what made them so much fun (Oh my gaaaawd! He’s actually on fire!!!)

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Developers should go back to making these classics. In fact, they don’t even have to improve on the original graphics. Just update the rosters! EA Sports makes about a gazillion dollars since there is pretty much no one left to compete with them. How about the sports game world encourages EA to buy the rights to Midway’s original games and reproduce them with new rosters? Imagine playing NBA Jam with Kobe and Lamar Odom v. Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis? I don’t even know if that would make a good match up. I just want to dunk NBA Jam style with Howard. It’s enough for me to put down real money for this hypothetical video game.

Taking out your frustrations

Along those lines of arcade style games, remember when games use to have that awkward period after play stopped when nothing happened? Well, if the opposing team had just, say, completed a 3rd and 24 to keep a game-winning drive alive, you could do something about it. From Paul Schmidt: “Madden early nineties, late hit to injure the qb, ambulance comes onto the field to take him away. Next to the old school nhl 93 fighting, that was my favorite feature.” The ambulance! Oh, and the ability to just pummel people when play was dead.

Paul M. Banks also was a fan of the ambulance. His thoughts from a post in 2007 that tackled this very same topic:

“In earlier versions of the game, an ambulance came on the field to take away injured players. However, it ran over other players on the field in its path. It did not cart these players away though.”

Watch this and don’t laugh. I dare you.

Maniacal ambulance drivers that have no regard for the safety of the players? Um, yes! Did it do anything, other than the occasional ambulance on the field? Probably not. But it was definitely more satisfying than throwing a controller — and less costly. Even if no one wants those awkward pauses anymore, could we at least get the ambulance back in Madden?

There will be blood

In NHL 09 for Xbox 360, I can create a player with such great detail that I can choose what kinds of scars he has, how much of a black eye he sports and where his freckles should be. And we can’t get one single drop of blood on the ice? Not even for fights?

When NHLPA Hockey 93 debuted fighting and blood, we freaked in the best way possible. If stats of the country’s households were kept, I guarantee you penalties minutes soared that year thanks to would-be goons just begging for fights to show off the blood to their friends. It was simple yet incredibly entertaining. Would the blood be too real today? No way. But I have an even better solution. Anytime a fight breaks out, there is a cut away to an NHLPA 93-style fight, blood and all. Not only would this be nostalgic, but the comedic value alone would be worth it.

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Keep your eye on the ball
Baseball has always been a difficult game to transfer from real life into video games and probably the toughest aspect of the game to mimic is the ability to recognize a pitch out of the pitcher’s hand. When EA was still making baseball games, they had an interesting approach to this problem: the batter’s eye.

Various pitches were given a color and then the batter could identify the pitch by the flash of color that appeared in the pitcher’s hand as he threw. Can anyone else see the beauty in that? Today’s game can toy with the concept — better hitters get the flash of color a little bit longer while terrible hitters are left clueless. It’s better than completely guessing, which is what we’re left to do now. Sure, real batters sometimes guess pitches and locations. But some of the best can identify a pitch as it’s being thrown. Players should be able to, too. Right? OK, this technically makes a game more realistic than going back to basics but damnit I love that hitter’s eye.

Sometimes it’s better to just keep it simple. With the advent of downloadable content on new consoles, we could just see these simpler games resurrected with up-to-date rosters. And then it won’t look ridiculous to pay $300 for a system just to play a 16-bit game.

More memories that I completely missed? Just comment below!

And if you like talking about sport video games, stay tuned. We here at The Sports Bank hope to speak with someone at EA Sports and/or 2K Sports in the near future for another post on sports video games.

Yes, we’re jumping on this bandwagon before the industry explodes.

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