Since the earliest gaming platform came out, programmers and designers have always been trying to one-up each other (and themselves) each year by delivering a more interactive and realistic gaming experience. Sports games are notoriously difficult to make playable, which is perhaps why every year studios attempt to hone their pre-existing model with something even better. Both hockey and soccer seem to have pushed themselves to the front of the line in recent years, with corporate sponsorships from the NHL and FIFA allowing them to push the boundaries.
The most notable changes to hockey and soccer games has been advances in how a player is able to control and entire team. This has involved easier methods of switching between players (for instance, when you pass the ball to a designated player, being able to switch to the receiving player with the click of a button). Many games have suffered from clumsy interactions between the players on the screen, especially soccer games where the gameplay is constantly shifting and which makes for difficult transpositions.
Another has been trying to incorporate the feel of the sport into the game – many golf games are successful not just because of their gameplay, but because they’re able to take the player onto the golf course and give them the impression of actually being there. Likewise, the audio in FIFA and NHL games is crucial. When you bicycle kick the ball into the net, not only do you hear the fans roar with applause, but the announcer is just as excited.
Another key movement in the world of sports games has been, again thanks to sponsorship and the assistance of actual athletes, realistic portrayals of players. Using mapping techniques and with graphics that are unprecedented in terms of being able to render human faces, you can now in a very literal sense step into the skates of Wayne Gretzky or golf shoes of Tiger Woods. Although perhaps this appears as a merely decorative addition, the ability to play with players who actually look like the real athletes makes for an increasingly immersive experience.
On top of this, sports has always had a certain psychological niche in the minds of fans. People have been betting on hockey-pools and fantasy leagues since the game’s inception, and it will be interesting to see where technology will take us. It’s conceivable that in the future fantasy football, hockey, basketball, and soccer could just as easily be rendered for us in a videogame.
Although we’re still a long way off in making gaming completely digitalized, the level of realism we’ve seen in the past five years can only be expected to increase, and both gamers and fans alike are at the forefront of this experience. However, it’s also interesting to think about how this will affect the actual sport itself, if at all. There is little chance that we will start to enjoy the virtual more than an actual soccer match, and it’s the relationship between the two – being able to see a soccer game, and then play it – that allows both the sport and its videogame counterpart to work so well together.
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