Column: We need less stuffy sports games

Column: We need less stuffy sports games
Although my favorite games are more like RPGs, Jump & Run or strategy, I also have a weakness for the occasional sports game. Whether on console or PC - if I look at my game collection, there are also some parts of the FIFA series, a few racing games, several Tony Hawks and a whole bunch of WWE wrestling between the Dragon Ages, XCOMs and Marios. Despite feeling nostalgic for all of these ranks, I would still think twice about buying a new piece of these institutions at launch.

The reason for this is likely that sports games rarely really develop or change radically. Players know what they want in the new FIFA and that's why they buy it. A break with the established would be highly risky and financially irresponsible for Publisher EA. Besides, football is football. What big changes do you want to change, except increase the level of detail every year, revise the mechanics a bit and adapt the squad?

Well, I have a few ideas ...

Eggs , we need eggs

I don't want to argue here that fundamental changes need to be made to FIFA, NBA and Co. These games are mechanically fine and just as they are they absolutely have their right to exist. What I would like is simply a counter-movement to the licensed products, which shifts the focus away from an accurate presentation and expands it to include events outside of the matches.

It's nice that FIFA now looks and sounds like a real football broadcast and the arcade Tony Hawk Pro Skater captures the spirit of the 90s skater hype, but I think sports games could do so much more if they just spun completely free.

My favorite sports games of the last few years are not FIFA or UFC, but Golf Story for the Nintendo Switch and Supergiant Games' Pyre. In my admittedly quite broad interpretation of the term sports games, I include all games whose core gameplay loop consists of completed matches or which are based on a real sport.

Is that still sport?

In Pyre you control various characters who are trapped in the underworld and who want to escape from it. To achieve this, you play a kind of rugby in which an orb has to be carried into the campfire (= pyre) of the opposing team. That sounds like a banana, but it makes sense in the context of the game world. The mechanic that amazed me most about Pyre is the impact small strategic decisions can have on the game's story. For example, you will learn more about a figure the more often you put it up. If your relationship has advanced enough, you can then send the character from the underworld to the surface and she is permanently eliminated from the game. Such moments are really emotional.

But relationships are not only intensified with your own team, but also with the opponent's players. If you meet the same team several times, you will also learn the background story of these characters. Depending on the outcome of the match and your decisions, the way you deal with it becomes friendlier or the rivalry greater.

Pyre Source: PC Games

This makes the match corset a fantastic storytelling tool, a technique also uses the Supergiant Games very well in the follow-up game Hades. There the son of the eponymous Greek god tries to break out of the underworld (what else?) And when he tries to escape he repeatedly encounters the same opponents who speak to him about past runs and whose story continues to unfold.

That could can also be transferred well to all other sports games. Pre- and post-game interviews could lead to hostility or friendship, as could in-game actions. A goal in the 90th minute is really bitter and stays in the minds of fans, players and coaches. A bad foul draws the hatred of the entire north curve and leads to long rejection between two clubs. A tennis duel turns into an endurance test for two bitter rivals. Two brothers meet in an ice hockey cup final and hug each other after the game. A boxer meets his mentor in the ring. Sport lives from such little stories and rivalries.



(11) You have to be friends

Golf Story is a more conventional sports game, but it is in the same line. Here you play an underdog who stirs up the world of golf. The individual NPCs, opponents, tournaments and the game world, in which everything really revolves around golf (and occasionally Frisbee), have such a thunderstorm charm that one is more interested in developments away from the court. But Golf Story actually offers a damn good golf experience that is also fun outside of the campaign solo and in multiplayer mode.

Here, too, I see a lot of potential for other sports simulations, some of which is already being explored. In the Football Manager series, for example, as a coach, you get more extensive options for acting in interviews with the press or talking to your own players. This is how you define your own character and you get the impression that coaches, players and reporters are not robots but have different character traits. But wouldn't it be much more interesting to be the coach of a team whose different player personalities are not only calculated from statistics?

Golf Story actually lets you participate in the problems, hopes and fears of the characters, which in the Games are more at stake and you as a player are additionally motivated because you want to know how the story will go on. Rocky wouldn't be a classic either if the characters only boxed for 90 minutes.

The successor to Golf Story Sports Story has already been announced and may appear in 2020. Source: Sidebar Games

I would imagine a system similar to the one in the Fire Emblem range. In the latest part, Three Houses, you take on the role of a teacher and have to train a handful of students at a kind of Hogwarts military academy. You can build relationships with the individual students and even poach characters from other companies.

The feeling of responsibility that you feel for these characters increases and you develop a real bond with your own team. The same concept could easily be applied to sports. I would like to get to know the members of the women's volleyball team I have trained and celebrate with them on the club bus after a trophy has been won or have a beer with my opponent after a tennis tournament.

Sports storytelling is by no means new

In both Pyre and Golf Story, the basic mechanics and challenges are absolutely solid and yet varied, just as it should be in a sports game. With their focus on characters and game world, they offer so much more. I'm not saying that FIFA would be better if each player had a unique personality. What I am saying is that it also needs games that address other aspects of the sport and exploit their narrative potential. Or, as in Pyre, use sports game mechanics and put them into a completely different context.

Wrestling Entertainment has always made use of this sports corset as a storytelling tool and impressively shows where video games can start. The implementations of the WWE wrestling format by 2K Games and Yuke's or Visual Concepts are already going in the right direction, but offer too little innovation from year to year and are generally a bit run-in and conservative. But there may be movement there soon due to the rise of rival wrestling leagues.

But regardless of whether it's about sports performance or the real thing: For me, it's time for developers to think outside the box and get on with themselves Get inspiration from all sides. Maybe a whole new target group would soon become enthusiastic about sports games.

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