Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gaming and Sports - Playing on the Field of Fun


Before I got into the Gaming Journalist Gazette, I used to be an official blog correspondent for my local baseball team that played in both an independent minor league and in a collegiate wooden bat league. I spent a good 3+ years reporting for that team and it was a good experience, so I figured because of this and because of the fact that the World Series will be under way (Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants, by the way), it would be a good time for me to discuss one feature the Video Game Industry can show off yearly. That would happen to be sports-themed video games.

When you think about it, sports and video games coincide with each other in a variety of ways, with one similarity being that there can be a competitive aspect to both gaming and sports. There are certain video games where a group of gamers can get together, form a team and compete against other teams of gamers in a league that features just that game. Most of the time gaming leagues mostly feature the Shooting Game genre, and in a way that is sad because I believe we could expand the market for gaming leagues to genres other than Shooting Games, but still, there exists the competitive aspect of gaming and it translates to the sports we watch in reality.

MVP Baseball 2005: Still probably my favorite baseball video game

We watch sporting events no matter what level of play and we notice some elements of these sports that can be applied to a list of rules we would see in a video game. There you go. There are plenty of roads where video games and sports intersect and when they are developed well, sports video games can leave a good impression on both sports enthusiasts and devoted gamers who just want to have a fun time.

Being a baseball fan, I have to mention this right off the bat. (Pun, I know...) MVP Baseball 2005 certainly left an impression on me as I believe it to be one of the best, if not the best, baseball video game of all-time, which in a way is surprising since it was developed by Electronic Arts, a company that goes back and forth when it comes to developing quality sports games. EA did a great job overall with the MVP Baseball series and I believe the series took an immediate nosedive the moment they stopped making MVP Baseball for North America. MVP Baseball 2005 was the last EA game to feature the MLB style of play, and right after that in 2006, they switched to NCAA Baseball, which has its moments but falls short due to the all too familiar sound of a metal bat.

PING!

One unique example of blending sports with video games is the way that sports are marketed through fictional video game worlds. Most of us have played the Mario sports installments and we get ideas of what it would be like if Mario and his friends were to play sports. Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Super Mario Strikers (Soccer), Mario Superstar Baseball, and of course, Mario Kart just to name a few. There is no doubt that cartoony video game characters can participate in sporting events and their worlds can add cool twists.

Flying with style in a blizzard! Awesome!

How about another example? Put the SSX series under the microscope and look at how well the fictional characters of that series make the sporting event feel more fun and important. SSX is basically the X Games, but it remains its own thing. Take into account the leveling up you do to progress through the increasingly hard challenges, and to be the best snowboarder in the land you gotta find a way to pull out all the stops and bust out your best freestyle moves. The player gets to have the freedom of roaming around on a snowboard in a race or in a trick run and the player gets engaged to snowboarding's competition aspect in one way.

An old school look of Madden Football

Now the most intense gaming competitions are rooted in one sports video game franchise that has had a firm grip on gaming communities since it was first introduced way back in the 1980's. I am of course talking about the Madden Football franchise and this is clearly a juggernaut in the sports gaming world. We have many gamers who also happen to be passionate fans of their favorite NFL football teams and when they combine these two interests together, business tends to pick up, as they say. To be fair, the general formula of how a Madden NFL video game is made hasn't changed much at all after so many years, but still, it is a recognizable brand that sells, appealing to an audience that would tune in to see the Super Bowl if they had nothing else to watch on TV.

I can admit that I have been fond of sports video games myself since I have played games like MVP Baseball, Madden, some NBA games and NHL games, a soccer game and the Mario sports titles. I am a sports fan and I can't ignore a good experience of just pressing buttons on a game controller to move a player into the best position to score and possibly win the game. The only thing that really sets sports video games apart from the others that rely more heavily on characters, plots and unique gameplay mechanics would be the fact that sports video games really aren't dependent on stories. We have Season Mode, Dynasty Mode, Career Mode and the like in sports titles but none of these modes really feature a drawn out story. There is a reason for this.

The sports themselves sell their video game counterparts. There is no need to throw in a cinematic story when you have sports like football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer already available for the player. If anything, the games that are played on the field, court or ice tell the stories. Not all games are going to be played out the same way, and this brings out part of the appeal for replayability. A game writer can add some nooks and crannies into whatever little story elements there are in sports video games, but these features aren't necessary in most common cases.

I have mentioned racing games before on this blog, but it is good to note this series once again. F-Zero was one series that helped revolutionize the entire Racing game genre and it led the way for more fascinating concepts to have races. Destruction Derby 64 for the Nintendo 64 is more of an obscure and lesser known game but it featured the unique element of scoring points for every hit cars made against each other. Many points were scored for eliminating another car and any laps led would reward the player with a good bonus. You can also say games like Gran Turismo and Need For Speed bring new elements to the table.

I suppose the one thing that is left for game developers to do would be to actually tackle the idea of making stories surrounding a sporting event, and furthermore, developers may even want to create a new sport right out of the blue. I think about the movie Baseketball (It's spelled that way) as a brief example. Baseketball merges elements of baseball and basketball together and as a new sport concept I like Baseketball. The movie itself? Eh... Not so much. Yeah...

Creating a new sport and implementing that new sport into a video game would be something special to see. It could be in the same breath as Slamball (basketball on trampolines), Arena Football and extreme croquet. For any new sport you make, you gotta make it fun and you have to provide a sufficient amount of rules that keep the flow of play going. Imagine what gamers would experience if they were to play a new custom sport and as a result think about the possibilities of actually playing that new sport if it's feasible.

"Introducing the most awesome new sport in the world! Gliding down the open lanes, scoring goals with the spin of a boomerang, and performing freestyle stunts! What's this new sport? IT'S CHARIOT SKATE ZOOMERANG!" Wait! The name's too long? Well, hold that thought...

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