Thursday, May 16, 2013

When a Video Game is More Than A Video Game

I wrote this blog post a long time ago for another site, but since I love it so much, I figured I'd re-post it here (Cop out, right? I've just had nothing noteworthy to write about in a few days). But to be fair, I added a few additional notes in this one. Enjoy!

We all played them growing up. Sports games were a part of our lives. The thrill of rushing home to start up the new release of a game was a feeling like no other. All of us didn't just play the game. We lived the game. There were two in particular that set the video game bar in my life.

The NHL Series (The Sega Genesis): If you watched the movie Swingers, you have an even better understand of why these games were great (Especially NHL '94 and '96). What was better than playing on ice that was too small and with players that were too quick?

The best features of this game were the little ones. I loved the Spin-O-Rama move that they instituted later on (I think in 1995, don't quote me). I found it hilarious that you can do a little ballerina twirl and get by three players. Best of all, the Spin-O-Rama was the Start button. How stupid is that? Somehow, it worked.

What also worked was the wrap-around goal. You can have a player go behind the net, come around and score. The goalies were always too slow to react to this. They did make it a little harder in NHL '96 to pull the move off, but if you were down 4-3 with 5 minutes left, it was your best bet.

Now I don't know if this was just a glitch or it was just my game, but anytime I popped in my game after a long period of not playing and tried to load up my season as the Rangers, it would always vanish. It was like the game was punishing me for not playing. It was telling me "You ignored me for so long? You will pay for this!"

The older NHL games didn't really have a franchise mode. You could play a whole season but once it ended, it ended.

One of the more underrated features is the moment after the Stanley Cup is won. A random player will come out holding the actual cup with the team surrounding them. I thought that was beyond cool.

I just loved getting a quick game with my buddies and just playing to see who allowed the most goals. I can go three years without playing it, pop in my Sega Genesis, and my night is fulfilled.

The NHL series was simple and to the point. It was money and everyone knew it.

The Madden Series (Any system): I could spend about 25 posts just on the Madden series by itself. I mainly went the Sega to Playstation route, with a little Dreamcast and XBox thrown in there. I don't know one male under the age of 25 who did not have a Franchise mode that lasted less than three seasons. Not only could you play a season, but you could draft and scout players, building them up into future superstars. My teams became grouped into my favorite teams. If I lost a game, I'd be miserable the rest of my night.

One of my favorite all-time athletes (Right below Derek Jeter and Patrick Ewing) was my RB in Madden '02: Doug Hamilton. He was an absolute beast and was about 90% of my offense. With Ogden Traylor manning the QB position, my team would dominate any level (Yes, his name was Ogden. A hilarious feature of Madden is the made-up player names, which would just shuffle first and last names of existing players). When Madden '03 came out, I felt just a little sad getting the new game, because that meant I had to start a new franchise (I haven't played Madden in about six or seven years, but I think they allow transferring of rosters from one game to the next. If they don't, then that is just stupid).

I was also one of those losers who played online when if first came out (PS2 in 2004 or 2005, forgot the year). I could pop in your game and play against someone from another country. My ultimate goal was to beat the top players. My claim to fame was beating the 9th player in the world. I felt proud than getting into college.

I also loved the players that were great in Madden but awful in real life. I could make a list of guys who had 98 Speed or 95 Throwing Accuracy but were fourth stringers rotting on the bench of a real team. Trung Candidate had the skills of Barry Sanders. Michael Bishop had a cannon of an arm. Jerome Mathis had about a 99 in everything (Coincidentally, it's probably the amount of receiving yards he amassed as a pro).

Were there plenty of bugs? Of course there were. You could run the same curl route with a big WR and he'll catch it 9 out of 10 times. Ten years ago when Michael Vick was on the cover, he could run around all day and find a way to get 20 yards. I was able to routinely kick 59-yard FGs as if my kicker had the leg of Pele. My biggest issue with the whole online thing was people would cheat. There was some weird bug where if someone toggled their Internet connection and if it was done just right, the player could disconnect from their game and not suffer a loss. It was absurd and happened against me a ton of times (I'm STILL getting fired up over this).

But even the flaws is what made the game unique. Madden became its own sport.

This was part of my life growing up. Unfortunately, when you grow up, you are too busy to play video games. But there's always that one rainy Sunday afternoon when you can pop in that old video game and remember the days of your childhood.

Everyone had a franchise that lost the Super Bowl two years in a row or a Jari Curri who scored 65 goals in your season. If you could go back in time to play one more season as the St. Louis Rams, you'd do it in a heartbeat.

Everyone has a story.

But now the most pressing question. Do I draft Pete Welker or Hardy Barnes with my first-round pick?

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