Photo: EA Sports
We’re lucky enough to live in age where we can pick up a game controller and put ourselves right in the middle of sports video games so realistic that you can practically smell the nachos at the concession stands.That wasn’t always the case. Sports video games truly have come a long way.
If you're looking for a sports game pioneer, look no further than William Higinbotham. The mid-twentieth century physicist created a game called Tennis For Two and it was played on an oscilloscope. Not only was it the first video game, it may have also been the first video game ever.
Higinbotham only made the game so visitors would be entertained when stopped by his place of work, the Brookehaven National Laboratory. Although the content game was similar to pong, the gameplay was much different.
In 1967, a company that started out by creating vending machines and jukeboxes, stepped into the sports game market with a electro-mechanical pinball styled game known as Crown Soccer Special. It's several electronic components create credence for mention in this slideshow.
In 1969, Sega released an arcade game known as Grand Prix. It provided the template for future arcade racing games with it's steering wheel controller, and use of foot pedal.
These two games came out before the Pong revolution turned the video game into a household staple.
Pong was not the first video game, but it was certainly the first mainstream video game. It was also a sports game, as it is basically a crude interpretation of tennis.
Atari is the company responsible for putting Pong out there, and it's creation was somewhat serendipitous. Allan Acorn designed this game as a training exercise assigned to him by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell.
Bars would buy Pong arcade systems in order to attract patrons from miles around. A typical Pong Machine would bring in $30 to $40 a night, which was previously unheard of.
Taito pushed sports games to their next level: multi-player platforms. In 1973, the company released Davis Cup, a doubles tennis game. They also released the creatively titled Soccer which also allowed for two players to control a forward and a goalkeeper. Both of those games were designed by Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of the original Space Invaders.
In 1973, both Taito and Sega released hockey video games. Both basically resembled Pong, but there were boundaries and much smaller goals.
Scrolling graphics that we see in our more modern racing games were first introduced in 1974 by Taito (and Nishikado) when they produced Speed Race. Two years later, Sega released the first ever 2.5-D (two-and-a-half dimensional) racing game originally entitled Moto-Cross. The name was later changed to Fonz, in an effort to latch on to the success of Happy Days. Unfortunately, there wasn't a shark jumping level.
1974 was also the year Tatito's Basketball came out and tried to introduce a better concept of a team oriented video game. Sega released the first boxing game in 1976, and the first football game in 1977. Taito did manage to squeeze out a bowling game in 1978, and a rudimentary baseball game in 1979.
Right before 'Cola Wars' took off, there was 'Console Wars.'
Atari first released their flagship Atari 2600 console in 1977. Mattel came out with the console in 1979. Atari mostly focused on 'arcade' styled games, but they dabbled a bit in the sports world. Mattel, on the other hand, went after more 'visually stunning' sports games. Both companies released at least one game in football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, and racing. Nintendo's NES came out a little later.
The arcade world was still booming in early 80s. Namco, in 1982, released Pole Position, which was one of the first sports games ever to feature artificial intelligence (AI).
In 1984, games were produced on Laserdisc for the first time. Sega's GP World and Taito's Laser Grand Prix both included live-action footage.
In between 1980 and 1985, practically every kind of sport had a game released in it's honour. Included in that were horse racing, bull fighting, rock climbing, and professional wrestling.
While AI was introduced in the years prior to 1987, it was until then that they became realistic.
Electronic Arts, the company now synonymous with sports games, released Earl Weaver Baseball. No baseball game released prior to EWB was anywhere close as beautifully graphically, and the baseball was actually realistic.
The game designers consulted the legendary manager Earl Weaver to help shape the game's AI. As a result, EWB is still considered to be one of the best baseball games ever created.
The sports series we all know and love, Madden, was a product of the eighties that was held back until state-of-the-art stat tracking software, advanced graphics, and improved AI were developed. In 1988, John Madden Football debuted on the Apple II series of computers. The game rapidly evolved from that point on. The 1990 edition of the game closely resembles the layout current Madden inceptions have.
The 16-bit era of video games was ushered in during this time frame. Both the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were released in this window, and several sports titles were released for both consoles. In addition, a few lesser known consoles such as the Atari Jaguar garnered some sports titles as well.
The mid-90s to the early 2000s were the heyday of sports video games. Systems such as the Playstation, Playstation 2, Xbox, Sega Dreamcast, and Nintendo 64 hit the market and so did a torrent of sports games.
Advancements in motion capturing gave athletes the most realistic movements seen yet on our televisions. Games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey, Jr., and even extreme sports games like SSX used the technology.
Prior to 2004, several game companies released overlapping video games. ESPN, Microsoft, and 2K Sports (then part of Sega) used to make their own football video games in addition to EA Sports' Madden. There were even more companies releasing baseball, basketball, and hockey games.
On December 13th, 2004, EA Sports signed and exclusive deal with the NFL making Madden the only NFL sim on the market. 2K responded by signing a third-party only deal that prevented EA from making another baseball game for the foreseeable future.
Both basketball and hockey games can be made by anyone willing to pay for the licence.
Even though only certain companies can make certain sports games, there have been some incredible advancements in the sports game world in only the past eight years.
The graphics of the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 coupled with the advent of HD television have made games never seem more realistic.
The Nintendo Wii, released in 2006, was the first console to get motion activated controls down to a science. Their innovations have allowed for sports video games to actually be played like sports are. Previous systems such as the Atari Jaguar and the Sega Genesis tried their hands at motion controls, but failed miserably.
The next generation of consoles can be expected to come out at some point within the next five years. At that point, we might as well cancel all real sports since the video games will probably be the same thing.
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