Camera Models

In one-on-one sports games, the camera model is seldom difficult to manage. Choose a spot where the camera gives a clear view of the athletes and where their movements and activities will map neatly onto the machine's input devices. As a general rule, you shouldn't do sports games in the first person. A lot of the fun of watching a sport is in seeing the athletes exercise their skills. For example, you could make a tennis game in the first person, but you wouldn't get to see your ath­lete playing tennis, and you might not even get to see your racket hit the ball. An overhead perspective, with your tennis player at the bottom of the screen and your opponent at the top, presents a much more natural view and lets you see both ath­letes running, jumping, serving, and so on.

Managing the camera for a team game is trickier, particularly when the focus of attention moves from place to place. With most soccerlike games, an end view or a side view, from a somewhat elevated position, works best. With large fields, you won't be able to get the whole field on the screen, so you'll need to design an intel­ligent camera that follows the ball.

Sports in which actions take place at widely separated locations pose a special chal­lenge in choosing a perspective. In most sports, the action takes place around one focal point: the leader of a race, the ball in most ballgames, the skier on the slope. Sports such as baseball and cricket, however, offer two focal points: on the ball and on the runners. In baseball, the two focal points can be separated by as much as 400 feet. You can't show both the runners and the ball without zooming out to a blimp view so high that it's difficult to see anything clearly.

Most baseball video games implement a picture-in-picture solution: The camera follows the ball, but a small diagram of the baseball diamond in one corner of the screen shows the positions of the runners, often indicated by colored dots (see Figure 16.4). When a runner reaches a base, his dot changes color to indicate that he is safe. The player controlling the fielders watches the main screen, and the one controlling the runners watches the diagram (keeping one eye on the main screen to see if the ball is coming). Because cricket uses only two stumps instead of four bases, this arrangement works even better.


User Interface Design

In most other genres, the controls work the same way in most situations, and if their functions change, they do so only in response to explicit actions by the player. Sports games are unusual in this regard; the user interface changes on a second-by­second basis, depending on conditions in the match itself. American football is a particularly complex example. On each play, the player on offense selects the for­mation and play to run; calls signals and makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage; and then takes the snap and either hands off the ball, passes it, or runs with it himself. If he passes it, control switches to the receiver and a whole series of new options for running, jumping, diving, and dodging defenders comes into play.

Each of these different states requires that certain moves or choices be assigned to buttons on the controller, and these assignments change rapidly as play progresses.


The hardest thing about sports game user interface design is that you have to map athletic activities—complex motions of the whole human body—onto a game machine's input device, which until recently was typically a handheld controller with joysticks and binary buttons. Of all the genres of game, the motion-sensing
features of the Wii controller (and other new devices) have had the biggest effect on sports games. Now players can swing bats and golf clubs, bowl balls, and do all sorts of other physical activities.

Think about what kinds of things the player will want to do at each stage of the game and how best to make them available. Whenever possible, make sure that similar actions in different modes use the same buttons; for example, if the athlete can jump in both offensive and defensive modes, assign jump to the same button in both cases.

In team games, the player normally controls one athlete at a time. The game generally displays a circle or a star under the feet of the athlete currently being controlled. A good many games also draw symbols on the field to help the player overcome the lack of depth perception—the spot where a flying ball is due to land, for example.

When the player's team is on the defensive, include a button to automatically change control to the most appropriate defending athlete (in soccerlike games, this is usually the one nearest to the ball). Another useful pair of buttons allows the player to cycle control forward and backward through all the athletes on the team.


Most sports games avoid pull-down menus and anything else that resembles the user interface for a computer's desktop so as not to interfere with the fantasy pop-up windows and semitransparent overlays make more sense, particularly if you can design them to look like the graphics seen on TV. Styles vary from year to year; watch matches on TV for examples of how to handle overlay graphics.

The features you will need to display vary so much from sport to sport that there isn't room here for a list of them. Generally speaking, borrow all the ones you see on TV, then add more to help the player and to compensate for his lack of depth perception. Aiming tools let the player see where a thrown or kicked ball will go; these are especially valuable.

Unless you're simulating archery or bowling (the athlete aims and lets go), a sports game is essentially an action game. No matter how complex the sport is, the user interface must be as smooth and intuitive as you can make it.


A good sports game design requires compromises. We do not yet have the comput­ing power to simulate a real sport in all of its complexity and detail on a home computer or video game console—and even if we did, we still don't have input and output devices that allow a player to feel as if he's really down on the field. Someday, when we perfect virtual reality and make home computers as powerful as today's supercomputers, we might be able to do this. In the meantime, it's the job
of the sports game designer to fit the sport to the machine. Sports game design doesn't require nearly as much raw creativity as designing an adventure game or a role-playing game. It's a more subtle process that entails endless tuning and tweak­ing to find the right balance between realism and playability. When you get it right, you have a product that can sell for years and years.

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