What do straight-ahead kicks, busted rackets and plaid jackets have in common? They're all on a list of completely amateurish and uninvited suggestions for what should go in next year's sports titles.
This week's release of NBA 2K10 and NBA Live 10 mean the major North American professional sports have all seen their video game releases for 2009 - FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer's stateside releases to come later, as well as NCAA Basketball 10. But sports game development teams usually begin work on next year's release almost immediately after this one's goes out the door.
In that spirit, here's what an expert panel - read: mostly me and my drinking buddies and college friends - came up with in the realm of revolutionary new features and realism that sports games can deliver in the coming year, bearing in mind the current state of the art, existing game complexity, and what the market might reasonably allow.
Of course, down in the comments, feel free to drop in what you'd like to see next year in your favorite sports title.
Now, because inevitably someone won't read this preamble and will immediately run to the comments, thinking we're talking about features actually in development: These are all suggestions offered in a spirit of fun. They should not be confused for concepts actually in development.
• Madden NFL 11: The Throwback Kick Pack. This was the first thing hashed out. The fellas and I figured there should be a DLC package comprised of three features: A straight-ahead, Mark Moseley place-kicking animation; a drop-kick animation, and, most importantly, enabling the fair catch kick rule.
John Madden himself loved the fair catch kick, and would bring it up any time a punt returner made a fair catch around midfield, especially if the punt came at the end of the first half. The rulebook allows for any team making a fair catch to attempt an uncontested field goal on the spot which it is caught. Since this is a running start akin to a kickoff, it's plausible to make one from a distance well longer than a standard field goal. Of course, you give up possession whether the kick is missed or made, so the instances in which it makes sense to attempt one are rare. Incredibly, we saw this twice last season, the first time in 40 years two fair catch kicks were attempted in the same year. The last successful fair catch kick was the Bears' Mac Percival's 43-yarder to beat the Packers in 1968.
Fun factor: Is this fun? Are you nuts? Every day in America, 674 teams go for it in the first quarter on fourth and 26 from their own 10. This kind of frivolous, self-destructive special teams play would be a multiplayer sensation, especially if you dropped it on a guy who doesn't pay attention when he's punting from his own endzone and just boots it straight ahead.
Think It Could Ever Happen? Well, there's no licensing involved, and it doesn't make fun of the game, and bottom line, it does involve an actual rule in the book. It's two new mo-cap animations and one playbook formation. Plus, I honestly think people would buy it at $4.99. It's not something you tout in your halftime ad on Monday Night Football, but among the gaming and sports blogs it'd be a big sensation.
• NBA 2K11: The Trillion. The Trillion comes from the box score line of a player with one minute played and absolutely no other stats (nine zeroes, in other words.) Late in his career, Tree Rollins became synonymous with this feat, notching an unofficial record 14 Trillions. Here, the Trillion would be a mystery trophy/achievement, and you'd get it for making manual substitutions in the fourth quarter that bring in a guy rated 60 or lower for one minute and then sending him back to the bench with absolutely zilch - no foul, no missed shot, no nothing. Getting the Trillion delivers 50 Gamerscore or a gold trophy and unlocks Shade Tree in the Blacktop dunk contest.
Fun factor: Being among the first to unlock a mystery achievement is usually a badge of honor. But when it comes to dunking, Tree was more famous for being posterized by Jordan.
Think It Could Ever Happen? The achievement by itself is a low maybe. Bringing in Tree Rollins would be an outstanding touch but would require a contract and two lawyers. The 2K guys in Novato are a fun bunch and big basketball fans, but their achievement packages deal a lot with strong individual performances or emulating a superstar's big game numbers from the past. Tree's Trillion in Seattle isn't exactly Kobe's double nickel in New York. Plus Microsoft caps a title's total Gamerscore and restricts how many achievements you can offer at launch. So 2K would have to want to waste one on this, and the Gamerscore cost might be a little high.
• MLB 10 The Show: Moundball. In real life, this is a side wager in which friends at a baseball game bet on whether the ball lands on the pitching mound's dirt or the infield grass when the fielder making the last putout lobs or rolls the ball back to the mound. In the game, let's say if your first baseman makes the final out, then as soon as the post-play animation begins you get the chance to hit the square button. How long you hold it down determines the toss's trajectory. Land it on the mound for a win, and accumulate more winning tosses for a trophy unlock.
Fun factor: Could be a great Easter egg. Once word spread virally, players would be trying to get that groundout to first with two away, instead of a blow-away strikeout, just to see moundball or get another crack at it. If you set the trophy total to, like 15 winning tosses, completionists and platinum trophy seekers would go stark raving mad playing moundball.
Think It Could Ever Happen? Eh, nah. MLB: The Show is a best-in-class simulation and a very serious game, and probably wouldn't diminish that reputation by spending much time on this, much less touting it as some feature.
• NCAA Basketball 11: Different broadcast graphics packages. EA's really made a push into paid DLC with its sports titles, and here's another one that might work: a pack that skins your games with graphics from the following broadcasters: Raycom (ACC); The Big Ten Network; and then classic ESPN and classic CBS graphics. The last two would use the networks' old-school key graphics from the early 1980s, as ESPN did in some of its turn-back-the-clock anniversary broadcasts a while back. For the throwback games, players would wear high socks and belted nuthugger shorts, and coaches would have horrendous plaid jackets and pants.
Fun factor: It doesn't change gameplay any but then, sports titles have a strong appeal based on aesthetic touches like this. Hardcore fans who live or grew up in the regional markets included would love it.
Think It Could Ever Happen? Assuming the licensing could be worked out - and they already have CBS and ESPN aboard - I could see it happening, at least for the classic graphics. Getting paid for it doesn't hurt, either.
• NCAA Football 11: New formation - Kickoff Return Reverse. You see a lot more gadget plays in the NCAA where teams have a wider disparity in talent and certain coaches have greater risk tolerance than their NFL counterparts. With a two-returner formation, you can call this play to hand off to the left or right. If the kick comes to the wrong direction, the handoff is faked. Granted, wide receiver reverses rarely work, but part of that is because the defense starts three yards from the handoff. If you manage to call this in the correct direction it could reap a huge gain. I know I've been waiting six years to see this play in NCAA Football.
Fun factor: Depends, as always, on what kind of blocking the AI gives you but kickoff and punt return touchdowns are absolutely electrifying. Why not give them some razzle dazzle?
Think It Could Ever Happen? Yes, and if not this, something else will. NCAA Football constantly updates and tinkers with its plays and formations.
• NHL 11: There's so much in EA Sports' NHL series that we were at a loss for what to add in, and I'm not even sure these aren't already included. I've just never encountered them. But anyway: 1) Goalie fights. These were a possibility in earlier versions of the game but they seem to have disappeared. The problem is, for realism, they only happen when both teams' entire on-ice personnel are engaged in a fight. 2) Shattering the plexiglass. Wild pucks take out a couple panes a year; unlike real life, this wouldn't require a 30-minute play stoppage to correct, just a cutscene. Offer a gold trophy or 50 gamerscore achievement for shattering the glass with a check. 3) Allowing your goalie or defensemen to deliberately dislodge the net from its posts. In real life, if the refs spot this being done intentionally, that's either a delay-of-game penalty or a goal depending on the circumstances. It's cheesy at best, but it does stop play and cause a faceoff if you want to reset your defense and shove an opponent into the net.
Fun factor: Like I said, the NHL game already has most everything you'll ever see in a hockey game, so these suggestions are largely atmospheric. Although a goalie fight, the rara avis of hockey brawls, would get everyone off their couch chest-bumping and winging punches in the air.
Think It Could Ever Happen?: Offhand, I'd say in this order: no; maybe if EA Vancouver's bored; and probably not, respectively.
• Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11: Incorrect scorecards. There are dozens of ways to sign an incorrect scorecard on the tour, most of them dependent on the sport's honor system and self-policing of stroke penalties. In this case, let's follow the example of Sergio Garcia at the 2007 PGA Championship, in which he signed an incorrect total kept by his playing partner that round, and was disqualified for the tournament. So with this multiplayer feature activated, the stroke count display is turned off. Players must keep track of and manually enter their playing partner's score after every hole. At the end of the round, you get your scorecard, inspect it for accuracy and sign it. Signing an incorrect card invalidates the score and disqualifies you. Collector's or tournament editions of the game would come with a stack of scorecards and novelty pencils for keeping track.
Fun factor: Unfortunately, this would also enable deliberately erroneous scorekeeping, and to do so in real life would definitely get you sanctioned by the Tour, if not suspended from it altogether. But it'd be hilarious if you manage to pull it off. The first time. The second time your playing partner drives to your home and murders you with a shovel.
Think It Could Ever Happen? Considering the potential for abuse, ragequits and destroyed controllers, hell no. If it really did carry a DQ penalty, this would be probably be implemented only if you were responsible for entering your own score, not someone else's. And even then it's kind of petty. But in real tournament golf, these details are no less important than hitting a 7-footer for birdie.
• Top Spin 4: Code violations. Whenever the next version of this comes out, let's say players have a temperament rating. Make a few unforced errors in the second set, or play poorly in general - or, especially, get victimized by bad officiating, and uh oh, a rage meter appears. As you stand there contemplating your horrid play or how best to tell the chair umpire his lines crew has been f—-ing you all day long, your objective is to stop the rage meter within a blue zone whose size and placement depends upon how levelheaded your player is. Fail to do this and you smash your racket or cuss out the ump, resulting in a warning the first time, a point penalty the second, and ultimately a match default.
Fun factor: Adds some realism and some hilarious animations, I'm sure. Most everyone would actively try to make the situation worse the first few times. Would be best paired with an achievement or trophy titled "You can NOT be serious!!" earned during Grand Slam play.
Think It Could Ever Happen? It's funny, but no. People who fixate on tennis tantrums are not the kind of core fans who'd go looking for a serious simulation in the first place. Serious tennis fans tire easily of this stereotype. Plus, any of the real players who license the use of their image likely wouldn't approve of being portrayed this way.
So, there you are: Stick Jockey's wish list for the sports titles you'll see in 2010. Obviously, you've got ideas of your own. Feel free to share 'em below.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Saturdays at 10 a.m. U.S. Mountain time.