Most of you probably looked at the title of the post and laughed, and with good reason. It seems that their could be no similarities between a traditional role-playing game and the modern sports games. RPG’s often take place in a fantasy world filled with intricate story lines and game-play with emphasis on strategy and planning while sports games are firmly planted in the real world based on real world teams and players and whose game-play is highly based upon the stick skills of the user in the game.
Make no mistake, however, these genres of games are becoming much closer linked than you might have thought.
I started examining the similarities when I picked up this years edition of EA’s NCAA Football series and started up it’s Dynasty mode. For you non-sports gamers out there, a Dynasty or Franchise mode allows gamers to play multiple seasons of whatever the sport is and manage most aspects of the team including scouting, hiring, trades and all the other sports stuff out there. For a college football game this includes recruiting players, establishing a line-up and creating a schedule that gives you the best opportunity to compete for the National Championship, the ultimate goal is of which to win.
So how does one accomplish this said goal? Well here’s where the worlds of Sports games and RPG’s begin to intersect. Players must build the best team, or “party”, based on a variety of skills available in order to accomplish this goal.
In NCAA Football, this is done by first creating your coach and determining your “philosophy”. In the same way that no two people could play a game like Mass Effect the same way, the philosophy you determines whether you team plays all firepower (like a soldier class) or maybe mixes it up a little and isn’t afraid to get tricky (like a magic character).
Take Coach Chris Bentivegna for example. Offensively, he runs a pro style spread offense like what Bill O’ Brien at Penn St. will run this season. There is a lot of emphasis on multiple tight-end sets and a good quarterback who can pass the ball, but they also need to be able to run the ball to conserve clock. They will also be high-tempo and come with a no-huddle attack. Essentially, the longer the opponent stays in the game, the better chance they have to win. Defensively, it’s the 3-4 meaning the line-backers have to be highly versatile players who can help in many different aspects of the game.
Just as in a RPG, selecting your party and skills is going to be based on how you want to play the game. In Fallout, if someone wants to be a tank character and just take ungodly amount of punishments while wailing away at their opponents, that gamer isn’t going to waste their precious perks and skill points on things that make them better at sneaking around.
In NCAA, this is done with recruiting. When Chris Bentivegna took over as the offensive coordinator for the University of Texas San Antonio, he wasn’t going to go out and try to get a scrambling quarterback who couldn’t throw an accurate pass if he was promised free gifts for coming to the school and throwing said accurate pass. He was going to look for a smart pocket passer and he was going to have to dig deep for one. He would complement that with an all-purpose running back, big possession tight-end and a deep threat at wide-receiver for his offense. In year one, I was able to acquire only the quarterback a kid named Jacob Gross. I made up for getting a possession receiver named Melvin Welker (no relation to the NFL star, the game randomly generates its recruits).
RPG purists will still argue that the game-play still is highly dependent on the players skill at playing the game, that stats and philosophies only mean so much if the players can just rip off 80 yard touchdowns every play no matter who the player has. This isn’t really true anymore as NCAA has coach mode. Basically, the gamer picks the “attack” (the play) and watches it unfold in front of them just like one would do in an RPG. While I enjoy playing a sports game inside the game, it certainly opens up the ways that the game can be played.
Sports games are never going to be as close to RPGs when it comes to story, but in terms of game-play, sports games are borrowing more and more RPG elements in their career modes. Before you write off another sports games as another “dumb sports game”, take a deeper look at it. You might find a fun and engaging experience under all of it.