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7 Comments

Paying players doesn't kill college football, but it doesn't save its video game, either

Hardline NCAA partisans, like the Big 12 conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby, will be groaning for a very long time that a landmark federal court decision yesterday will kill all college sports as we know them. That's the kind of fatuous, intellectually dishonest claim you'd expect of a cartel figurehead looking to protect a garish salary earned doing ... what, exactly. But if it won't kill college sports, the district court ruling in O'Bannon vs. NCAA doesn't necessarily save their video games, either, even if it creates the means to publish them using real players under their real names, and pay them for it. Many others are discussing the broader ramifications of O'Bannon vs. NCAA today. I'm going to deal with what brought the litigation in the first place: video games. First, let's...
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29 Comments

NFL 2K5 — sports gaming's King Arthur — launched 10 years ago today

Today is the 10th anniversary of the launch of NFL 2K5 — more formally, ESPN NFL 2K5. Killed by the infamous exclusive video game license the NFL would sell to EA Sports five months later, few other games — in any genre —have remained a constant part of modern conversation despite not publishing in a decade, and with no sign ever of returning. NFL 2K5 was an outstanding damn-the-torpedoes effort by Visual Concepts and then-publisher Sega, beating Madden NFL 2005 to shelves by three weeks, and at less than half the price. It's difficult for any 10-year old game from two console generations ago to remain timeless, and played today NFL 2K5 does show its age. Yet it is an undeniably advanced sports simulation for its time, showing an aptitude for American football gameplay features that its...
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A lawsuit isn't what really killed NCAA Football; the lack of a playoff did

Once every month or so I make a run to the GameStop in North Wilkesboro, N.C. to trade in some old discs and maybe pick up a new one. I popped in to get EA Sports UFC a couple weeks ago and noticed a row of NCAA Football 14 — last year's game, despite the number in the title — sitting on the shelf."What's that going for?" I asked the clerk. He tapped his keyboard. "Thirty dollars," he said. "Thirty," I repeated, in an I-know-what-you-give-me-for-last-years-sports-game way. "That's the used price?" "That's not us," he said. "That's catalog." Meaning that's a new disc, and that's the price EA Sports recommends for it. And, he said, they're selling copies, especially as people come in out of habit looking for the latest edition. The Second Tuesday of July — NCAA Football's typical...
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Hot foots, farts and fights — but no bites — in sports video games

It can be an agonizing wait, but if you hold the ball on the mound in MLB 14 The Show, with the game unpaused, eventually you will see baseball's most cherished dugout prank: the Hot Foot.The Hot Foot is one of a series of humorous delayed-game scenes The Show serves up whenever the user is in in the field and holds the ball on the mound, without the game paused, for longer than 30 seconds. The Dodgers busted it out in real life on reserve outfielder Scott Van Slyke on Sunday, to the delight of announcer Vin Scully, who narrated the whole thing like a kindly grandfather diverting mom's attention from the kids' mischief. It was a perfect moment for a team leading a game 6-0, having won 10 of the last 13 to catch first place in the standings. On another continent six days earlier, Luis...
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10 Comments

A warship crashes into EA Sports' golf game, but it's not a disaster

So, yes, EA Sports rammed a warship through a par 3 at E3. Do you think there was any other way golf — let's repeat that, golf — was getting on stage in Los Angeles this week?I mean, as a fan, it was nice to see golf on stage for the first time ever (I confirmed that) in EA's E3 show. Still, like many I was convinced Electronic Arts put the PGA Tour team up to this. It wasn't going to be enough to see a beauty shot of the iconic Island Green of TPC Sawgrass' No. 17. No, this is EA's stage presentation, which has to have bass, a bomb or a bro about every 30 seconds. I imagined Brent Nielsen, the game's executive producer, being told damn the torpedoes, and shove a destroyer through those greenside bunkers. Nope, he told me. They weren't forced into it. Actually, that hole is, literally,...
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32 Comments

We give them nothing: The punishment of amateurs doing professional work

It was 20 years ago this September, in the sports office of the student newspaper, that my department took one of the stranger phone calls of a four-year career that saw plenty of weirdness. The football team wanted to know if we were paying one of their players.I forget who answered the phone — it may have been me, it could have been Ted, the assistant sports editor who had a TV production class with Eddie Goines, N.C. State's all-everything wide receiver. At the beginning of the semester, Ted pitched Eddie the idea of writing a personal column for us in the upcoming football season. All three of us were seniors. Eddie agreed immediately. He was projected as high as the late first round in the coming NFL draft, and was taking television and writing courses to prepare him for a career...
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21 Comments

A golden silence makes a great game better

After the officiating, television announcers are probably the most consistently despised participants in a major sporting event. Some guys are invulnerable. The Dodgers' Vin Scully is a good example. But long tenure and major assignments don't make a boothman bulletproof. I've never understood why Joe Buck rates such nonstop anger at everything he says, down to the prepositions. It seems to stem from an overreaction to an end zone celebration in 2005, and an under-reaction to just about everything else. But I can't pretend to be above it all when there are announcers like ESPN's Mike Patrick who drive me to the same level of resentment. Once someone says something tone deaf or insipid, particularly if it walks all over an important moment, or makes you not want to watch your favorite...
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38 Comments

Sports never made a case for Kinect — but Kinect never made one for sports

Say this for Kinect: It fucking gave meaning to swear words. Kinect would get you a technical foul in NBA 2K. It could get you sacked from your managing gig in FIFA. Xbox's all-seeing, all-hearing sensor debuted to grand ideas and cooing tech demos four years ago, but Kinect's unique impact — in the mainstream video game genre best positioned to showcase it — was recognizing and penalizing the filth-flarn-filth people utter in the privacy of their homes. Last week Microsoft threw in the towel on Kinect as an integral component of the Xbox One, announcing it would offer a console bundle without the peripheral. Uncoupling the Kinect may be the right move, but it's another humbling U-turn for Microsoft, which abandoned ideas like mandatory Internet connections (or "check-ins") and a...
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14 Comments

The Graded Generation: How sports did in their next-gen debut year

It may sound like damnation by faint praise to point this out, but every PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sports video game shares the core features of its PS3 and/or Xbox 360 ancestor. And bringing that up is a reminder how sports badly failed that modest expectation the last time a new console generation launched. Madden NFL 06 on the Xbox 360 was probably the most notorious example, not even having real announcers thanks to a contract snafu with Al Michaels and John Madden himself. You couldn't create or edit players in that game, a baseline feature going back years. FIFA neither launched with the 360 nor the PS3, and when FIFA 07 arrived on Xbox 360, some 20 leagues were absent. NCAA Football's first Xbox 360 version lacked the "Campus Legend" career mode on the Xbox and PS2 editions,...
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44 Comments

How do sports video games handle scandals like Donald Sterling? They don't

Michael Jordan said he was "completely outraged." Magic Johnson said the man "shouldn't have a team anymore." And LeBron James, the active player whose star power is possibly even greater than those two, said there is no place in their game for Donald Sterling.James is factually correct. There is no place for Sterling, the despised owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, in their video game — the one whose cover James currently graces, as Jordan and Johnson did two years ago. No owner of any league franchise appears in NBA 2K14, nor in NBA Live 14. Without a doubt the weekend's number one story in sports, if not the nation at large, was the ugly, geriatric racism Sterling was caught espousing in a fight with his girlfriend. Sports video games present an idealized portrait of this business,...
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32 Comments

Whatever happened to the arcade-style sports video game?

Ten years ago, my managing editor in Denver sent me to Minneapolis for a piece of celebrity journalism: Go follow around Carmelo Anthony, then a rookie, and bring back something enlightening about his first NBA playoffs with the Nuggets.The best thing I brought back featuring Carmelo Anthony was NBA Ballers. I bought the video game, a blinged-out, over-the-top dunkfest published by since-defunct Midway, between shootarounds at a GameStop a block from Target Center. Minnesota would ultimately subdue Denver in five games that series, still the last year the Timberwolves appeared in the playoffs. Ten years later, the Wolves aren't playing any meaningful games in April, and league-licensed arcade-style sports video games, spinoffs that sometimes arrived when their league's postseason...
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8 Comments

MLB The Show's neatest trick was not as easy as it looks

Tuesday was Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball; on it, every player wears Robinson's No. 42, commemorating the anniversary of his first game for the Dodgers, which began baseball's desegregation in 1947. If you're playing MLB 14 The Show's career mode and the calendar rolls around to April 15, you'll see this happen there, too.In a video game, the layperson would assume that only requires changing a value in a database. But pulling it off is not as simple as it sounds. These things rarely are. "It's something that does seem trivial on the surface," Aaron Luke, a designer on the game, told me this week. "We have to put in code that takes a snapshot of the player, showing him as No. 42, and then restore him back to his old number when the game is finished. And if you don't do...
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25 Comments

The latest must be the greatest in sports video games

Ask a fan for his favorite sports video game and you'll rarely get a current one. You may not even get one for a console still in production. Warhorses like NHL '94, Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball and the venerated NFL 2K5 come up a lot. Among mine are NCAA Football 2004, MVP Baseball 2005 and College Hoops 2K8, and none of those series even exist anymore. Nostalgia may have a lot to do with it. In present day, however, there still is the deep, demanding expectation that the latest edition be better than anything preceding it, if not everything ever attempted in that sport before. One might think an audience that cherishes old and long-since outdated titles might be more forgiving if the latest version of FIFA or NBA 2K isn't as compelling as a landmark entry earlier in the series. I share...
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18 Comments

The people who stare at video games

Matthew Vogt did not play professional football. He didn't get the chance to play college football. He didn't even play high school football. When he turned 14, the legal age to begin working in Ohio, his father needed help in the family business, so he spent 30 hours a week in a meat market instead."I went to one team meeting. I went to work the next day," said Vogt. With a physique born for the duty of left tackle, he could have played for the state's winningest coach at Hamilton Badin High. "I really think I would have gone on to play at least at a small college." Vogt, 29, directs trucks to a loading dock today. He looks very much like a guy who went to high school cutting meat and graduated to a steelyard. But where his classmates ended their days of playing before a large,...
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15 Comments

A thousand details create a uniform appearance in sports video games

To go ahead and answer the question, no, MLB 14 The Show will not have the insane bacon pants that a minor league team revealed a few weeks ago. When the game arrives on Tuesday and your virtual minor leaguer is playing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in the Philadelphia Phillies' system, he won't be served with a couple hickory-smoked strips. Why? It's not because The Show's artists were caught, heh, pants down by the new look. They saw it and loved it and know the IronPigs are in their game. The answer is in the details, almost literally. You wouldn't think it, but the uniform files in MLB The Show are really quite large, said Jody Kelsey, the game's senior producer. "It's technically possible to patch them in," after the game releases, "but the size of them deters us from doing...
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