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Chapter 10. John Madden Football (1988): Modern Sports Videogames Kickoff

Chapter 10. John Madden Football (1988): Modern Sports Videogames Kickoff

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baseball, basketball, boxing, golf, soccer, hockey, tennis, and of

course, football, as well as how they evolved, getting into more

detail on what makes the Madden series what it is today. Let’s

begin then with a look at baseball games over the years.

Screenshot from Midway’s

Tornado Baseball.

The first major baseball videogame was Tornado Baseball,

released to the arcade in 1976 by Midway. The game featured an

overhead view of the playing field that became the standard for

a number of years. The black and white players, foul line, and

scores were mirrored against a color overlay. Like many early

games, Tornado Baseball required two players. The game’s audiovisuals were quite simple: besides the movement of the ball, there

was only minimal animation of the stick-figure players and just a

simple bat to represent the batter. What the game did have was a

nifty control panel, complete with a mini bat-like lever for hitting.

The simple two-player gameplay and perspective would reappear

in various simplified and enhanced successors, such as the modest RCA Studio II’s Baseball (1977) and the Mattel Intellivision’s

classic and relatively sophisticated Major League Baseball (1980),

which was one of the earliest examples of obtaining an official

sports association license, though it affected only branding.



The next major change in presentation and perspective came

with the 1983 release of Gamestar’s Star League Baseball for the

Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64. Star League Baseball presented

the action from the right-field stands, offering the player a type

of isometric view of the action. Unlike overhead views, which

typically avoided up-down ball movement in either pitching or

hit balls, Star League Baseball embraced it. Several other games

would copy this perspective, but the one drawback to this pointof-view, much like overhead, was the relative lack of detail in

Electronic Arts’ Earl Weaver

Baseball (1987) was one of

the early efforts to associate

a famous name with a game,

hoping to give it an edge with

fans. The Commodore Amiga

version of this game used the

computer’s built-in speech

synthesis instead of digitized


the pitcher-batter interaction critical to the sport. Games like

Hardball! and R.B.I. Baseball would address this issue.

Hardball!, first released by Accolade in 1985 for the Commodore

64, presented the battle between the pitcher and batter from a

television-style point of view, which is behind the pitcher, more

or less from the perspective of the second baseman. Though this

point of view proved popular and was particularly good for pitching, it was not quite as ideal for hitting because it was easy for batters to judge location, but not necessarily depth. R.B.I. Baseball,

first released by Tengen in 1987 for the Nintendo Entertainment

System, reversed the perspective and made the point of view that

of the home plate umpire just behind the catcher. Though modern baseball games typically allow for a myriad of perspectives in

their 3D engines, this point of view remains the default because it

provides the best balance of visibility for both pitcher and batter.

Though R.B.I. Baseball did not have a Major League Baseball

license, which would have allowed it to use official branding

and team names, it did have a Major League Baseball Players

Association license, which allowed it to feature well-known players. Games like World Series Major League Baseball (1994) by Sega



for their Genesis console would eventually bring it all together,

with every license and top-notch gameplay and visuals. Games

like 3DO’s High Heat Major League Baseball 2004 (2003; Microsoft

Xbox, PC, Sony PlayStation) and Sony’s MLB 09: The Show (2008;

Sony PlayStation, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation Portable)

would eventually bring it all together in 3D, which was a boon for

sports gaming, as the action could be rendered from nearly any

angle necessary.

The first notable basketball game was Atari’s trackballcontrolled Atari Basketball, released to the arcade in 1979. Atari

Basketball was a one- or two-player one-on-one full-court basketball game, shown from an angled side view. The side view

would be a commonly used perspective over the years, though

some games showed the full court at all times and others showed

half or scrolling courts. Electronic Arts would release Julius Erving

and Larry Bird Go One-on-One in 1983 on the Apple II (later for

many other platforms), which featured an angled top-down half

court game of one-on-one. Although the game played great and

had neat touches, like a breakable backboard that caused an

angry janitor to come out and sweep up the debris, it was most

famous for being one of the first sports games to both involve and

use the likenesses of actual sports stars, taking into consideration

the strengths and weaknesses of each. The success of the game

Box back for Julius Erving and

Larry Bird Go One-on-One.



certainly predicted the demands of future sports videogame fans

in regard to the modeling and usage of their favorite athletes. Of

course, there have been many team-based basketball games over

the years, including Konami’s Double Dribble (1986) arcade game,

famous for its scrolling court and cutscenes showing spectacular plays, and Electronic Arts’ long-running NBA Live franchise,

which besides the typical assortment of current teams, players,

and signature moves, in the 2009 edition features daily player

updates that modify tendencies, rosters, and hot and cold streaks

based on their real-world counterparts.

Screenshot from Activision’s

Boxing for the Atari 2600 Video

Computer System.

Boxing has been one of the most consistently translated sports,

making an appearance on even the most obscure platforms,

though it has never achieved anywhere near the popularity of its

close cousin, the fighting game (described in Chapter 17, “Street

Fighter II (1991): Would You Like the Combo?”). Notable titles

include Activision’s Boxing (1980) for the Atari 2600 VCS, which

displayed the action from an overhead view; Mattel’s Boxing for

its Intellivision, which displayed the action from the side; 4-D

Sports Boxing (1991; Commodore Amiga, PC, and others) from

Distinctive Software, which featured a crude, but effective freeform 3D fighting engine; and Sega’s Greatest Heavyweights (1993)

for their Genesis console, which featured licensed likenesses of

famous boxers, a close-up side view of the top half of the boxers,

and a rotating ring. Of course the biggest challenge with boxing

games is balancing button-mashing action with the sport’s inherent strategic elements, and one of the best at combining these has

been Electronic Arts’ Fight Night series, which began back in 2004.



Fight Night sets the bar for boxing videogames high, offering a

robust and responsive 3D fighting engine, custom and licensed

boxers, career modes, and the usual polish of EA Sports titles.2

Box back for INTV Corporation’s

surprisingly advanced successor

to Mattel’s PGA Golf, Chip Shot:

Super Pro Golf, released in 1987

for the Intellivision.

Golf would seem at first glance to be one of the more difficult sports for early hardware to simulate, with its myriad clubs,


Though considered sports entertainment rather than an actual sport, the evolution of wrestling games have many parallels to both fighting and boxing videogames, with a similar important and beneficial transition from 2D to 3D. One of

the best 3D evolutions of wrestling has been the WWE SmackDown! series, which

began back in 2000 and featured the usual mix of licensed wrestlers, customization, and assortment of moves.



distances, and long and short driving and putting games. Of

course, as our discussions throughout this book have shown, it is

not always necessary to re-create a complete experience to have a

fun videogame, and in fact golf titles were available fairly early on.

Atari’s Golf (1978) for their VCS and Mattel’s PGA Golf (1979) for

their Intellivision are two good examples. In Atari’s title, there are

nine different full screen holes that switch to a closer view when it

becomes necessary to putt. Mattel’s title, besides having licensed

Box back for Links: The Challenge

of Golf (1992) for the Video

Information System (VIS) platform.

The multiclick swing system was

the de facto standard until fairly




branding, takes a similar approach to Atari’s, save for changing

the point of view when putting. What really differentiated PGA

Golf, however, was its surprisingly advanced features for the time,

including aiming, swinging (don’t slice!), and ball trajectories—

all in the interest of avoiding standard hazards like sand traps,

roughs, and trees. The videogame golf experience would remain

virtually unchanged until Access’ Leader Board Golf, first released

in 1986 for the Commodore 64. Leader Board Golf featured a thirdperson behind-the-golfer viewpoint, with the course redrawn each

time the ball changed its resting location. Leader Board Golf would

eventually morph into the long running Links series. Incredible

Technologies’ Golden Tee series of popular arcade games debuted

in 1989, eventually making the successful transition from 2D to

3D gameplay. With its intuitive trackball controls and solid pacing,

the Golden Tee games continue to be popular bar fixtures, even

inspiring regular tournaments. Like many of the other sports in

this chapter, Electronic Arts presently has the strongest showing

in golf videogames with their PGA Tour series, which started back

in 1990 on the PC. It later became the Tiger Woods PGA Tour series

starting in 1998 on the PC and Sony PlayStation. The latest Tiger

Woods games feature an assortment of control schemes, tournaments, and real-time events based on the platform’s internal clock

and showcases the expected group of licensed professionals.

Commodore’s International

Soccer for the Commodore 64.

Soccer, better known outside North America as football, has of

course received countless treatments over the years. One of the earliest recognizable videogame conversions was Atari’s Atari Soccer

(1979), which—like their other early sports titles—made excellent use of the trackball for more realistic control. Supporting up



to four simultaneous players, Atari’s game presented the blackand-white action from an overhead left-right perspective, and featured well-paced two-on-two (plus goalies) play. A good portion

of the playfield was shown onscreen at one time, with scrolling as

needed. Commodore’s colorful International Soccer (1983) for the

Commodore 64 used a similar scrolling technique, but this time presented the action from an angled side perspective, which allowed

for the ball to bounce in a more realistic-looking fashion, as well as

increased the number of players on the field. The popular Sensible

Soccer series from Sensible Software, first released in 1992 on platforms like the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, used a zoomed-out,

top-down overhead view, and offered full season, quick play, and

management modes. Electronic Arts’ FIFA series debuted in 1993

and initially featured a zoomed-in, angled, isometric perspective,

though on the marquee 3DO version, it sported greatly enhanced

2D graphics and a pseudo-3D camera. Perhaps the most popular

soccer game today is Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series, which

was also known by the name Winning Eleven. The latest versions

of the game, which include a bewildering array of features, continue to receive accolades. IGN’s Alex Simmons mentions the series’

“instinctive controls, the way you almost feel at one with your team

when you’re playing well.”3

Hockey was perhaps the most popular sports variation on Pong

outside of tennis, so there were of course many games released

Sensible Soccer was one of the

more popular games for the

Commodore Amiga platform. Its

smooth animation, superb audio,

and bright graphics even made it

popular with many gamers who

didn’t enjoy the sport.


See http://ps3.ign.com/articles/828/828327p1.html.



Konami’s Blades of Steel arcade

game from 1987.

in the paddle and ball format both in the arcade and at home

that called themselves “hockey.” However, the first major realistic hockey game appeared on the Intellivision in 1980, in the form

of Mattel’s visually rich NHL Hockey. It was a two-player game

of three-on-three hockey, plus goalies, all shown from a singlescreen angled side perspective. Nintendo’s Ice Hockey, released in

1988 for the NES; Bethesda Softwork’s 1989 Wayne Gretzky Hockey

(Commodore Amiga, NES, and others); NHL 2K (starting in 2000

on the Sega Dreamcast); and Electronic Arts’ long-running NHL

series (starting in 1991 on the Sega Genesis) competed for the

affections of hockey fans. Although NHL started out as a popular companion to the Madden series on the Sega Genesis with a

similar top-down overhead view, eventually morphing into the

feature-rich 3D experience it is today, NHL 2K was always based

on a 3D engine.

Tennis videogames often made use of a left-right overhead perspective that became increasingly popular, though in its more



Electronic Arts’ NHL Hockey

series has proven a videogame

mainstay. Shown is NHL 95 (1994)

for the Sega Genesis.

Gamestar’s On Court Tennis (1984)

was a highly accessible game,

mostly because the computer

automatically controlled the

competitors’ movement about

the court. All the player had to do

was focus on hitting the ball.

common top-down form. Tennis videogames are often thought of

as “Pong with window dressing,” but that’s a bit unfair to the freedoms many such interpretations of the sport (particularly later

ones) offer. We again turn to the Atari VCS and Mattel Intellivision

for two very different early interpretations. On the VCS, Activision

released Tennis (1981), which features a simple angled top-down

view of the action for one or two players. Although there are no

out-of-bounds shots and each of the players automatically hits



the ball, the angle can be controlled based on player location. On

the Intellivision, Mattel released Tennis (1980), a two-player game

with an angled side view that offered full control over each player,

as well as ball velocity and placement. Many future games would

experiment with both the viewpoint and level of interaction, with

most choosing some type of modified top-down view and full

control over both the player and racket. There are two main series

worth talking about that are still going strong today: Virtua Tennis

and Top Spin. Sega’s Virtua Tennis started out as an arcade game

in 1999 and soon made its way home. The series is known for its

quick, intuitive gameplay and—in the home versions—its quirky

training minigames. PAM Development’s Top Spin started out in

2003 for the Microsoft Xbox before seeing release on other platforms, and featured a robust create-a-player mode and online

Screenshot from Atari Football.

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Chapter 10. John Madden Football (1988): Modern Sports Videogames Kickoff

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