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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Emptying Out the Shelf #3

Here's the column on Tecmo Super Bowl. If you're completely unfamiliar, here are some pretty cool YouTube videos you should check out;



Eight Plays is Enough
By John Everett

The latest edition of the popular Madden NFL video game series debuted recently to hot sales, despite mixed reviews and grumbling about the lack of substantial changes to the game. Reasonably enough, people who pay fifty dollars for each yearly edition hope for more changes than just the customary updates to team rosters. Recent versions of the game have included such innovations as Superstar Mode, where you develop your own player and try to turn him into an MVP, Owner Mode, in which you deal with such mundane details as how much to charge for parking and hot dogs, and the unpopular Vision Cone, which was supposed to make quarterback play more realistic, but which aggravated enough Madden loyalists that it was quickly scrapped.
The problem is that too often these flourishes are added at the expense of functionality. During Madden gameplay, the television screen is occupied with full offensive and defensive playbooks, helpful hints from the coach himself, statistical charts and other distractions.
This problem is endemic to society; take the new Notre Dame homepage as an example. Whoever was paid a lot of money to redesign the page has clearly bought into the idea that new necessarily equals better. The site is now a Web 2.0 hodgepodge of unnecessary videos and the background color, which is much harder to read against, has only the value of being new. The old site was highly navigable because of its sparse design and white background for easier reading. Its only flaw was that it was not flashy enough, and so resources and time were wasted simply to junk up the site to appeal to people with shorter attention spans.
“Ooh, videos, and cool graphics and new colors. Ooh!”
Facebook too, is indicative of this mindset. I know it sounds absurd to rhapsodize about the “old days” of a website that is only four or five years old, but it used to be that a person would simply signify that they were a fan of Arrested Development by listing it as one of their favorite TV shows. Information was shared in a concise, readable fashion. And we all liked it that way. Now that same person can add up to four separate applications proclaiming their preference for the show, as well as eight separate Harry Potter applications, about a dozen new types of walls, and a LOLcats picture thrown in for good measure.
Surely the people who add all these applications can not possibly realize the damage they are causing to the retinas to those unfortunate souls who navigate to their page just to leave a simple message. Buffeted ruthlessly by horoscopes and personality test results, the would-be messenger is dismayed, and gives up in shame.
No matter what, our collective consciousness tells us that last year’s product must be inferior to this year’s, and in our search for complacency through consumption, simplicity and functionality are abandoned. Advertisers spend millions to sell us on the fact that we need this year’s bells and whistles, but their work is not hard, because for the most part our brains are wired to be receptive to such messages.
There is only one hope, and that is a return to simplicity. With that in mind, I have eschewed Facebook applications, a decision I heartily recommend, and I have also reverted to a happier era in videogame history. I have forsaken Madden, and embraced Tecmo.
That’s right, Tecmo Super Bowl, the first and best football videogame to use the rosters of all 28 (not 32) NFL teams, except for those greedy few who denied Tecmo immortality by holding out for a few dollars more. I’m looking at you, Bernie Kosar, Randall Cunningham and Jim Kelly.
The beauty of TSB lies in that what seems at first to be a simple game opens up into a world of inherent complexity. Though there are only eight plays to choose from on offense, the true champion player knows he has a variety of options to attack from. Each team’s strengths and weaknesses can be utilized to near perfection. For example, Patriots quarterback Steve Grogan’s tendency to drastically overthrow ordinary receivers leads to throwing perfect jump-balls for Irving Fryar. Timm (that’s right, two Ms) Rosenbach, quarterback of the Phoenix (yes, Phoenix) Cardinals may not be the greatest threat on the deep pass, but using short passes and rollouts the advanced player can create quite a lot of confusion in his opponent.
So come on, ditch the fancy modes, much too complex playbooks, and slightly more realistic graphics and join those few of us who know that sometimes you just can’t stop Christian Okoye when you’re playing with the Colts, that your kick returner’s speed is tied to that of your left tackle, and that there’s nothing more exciting than the rare double-jump cut-scene. You too can come live in a world where Joe Montana, Boomer Esiason, and Vinny Testaverde are still playing quarterback.
Well, scratch that last one. I guess some things will never change.

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