General Sports

A Low Down- Dirty Shame By Matt Waters

 “I see I said, jealousy I said” – Jay-Z, “It Was All A Dream”

In life, simplicity can rule nothing, which often results in everything. For instance, any trip to the ballpark somehow feels incomplete without the monetary waste accompanying one or more viable trips to the concession stand. However, without that six-dollar coke and seven- buck dog lying securely in both hand and lap, the three-hour vacation at any local Stadium results in an incomplete sonnet, an unfinished memory. Are we foolish for accepting this half-baked barter, memory for money?
To accept really is to deny; deny that little tingling doubt pulsating in the back of our minds. An unfair exchange can be filtered, frittered away to a point of bemusement. We sarcastically smile and hand over our hard earned green paper to unsuspecting vendors all over the country, constant, perpetual, moronic motion. I’m part of it. Maybe, if we just for one moment put our foot down and rose as one fan nation, the debt of getting drunk by the seventh inning wouldn’t reside on a National Level.

Now, I truly do believe another massive transgression has been perpetrated in the sporting world, one that has affected adversely the masses, especially in my age group, and has hurt the game of Baseball’s overall popularity. It’s an issue that could be callously disregarded by some as purely superfluous. Fine. But in my mind, the future should always be at the forefront of any real, meaningful agenda.

Look, the time for crossing hairs has definitely passed. MVP Baseball was not a good videogame, not a simple Baseball simulation, it was a great all around experience, nuance imprisoned in bits. The only real flaw I ever found with the 2005 edition was a particular, micromanagement gripe, that being the dogged insistence of the computer to not allow the virtual players to wear realistic weather wear in cold conditions, resulting in the appearance of summer attire during October. That is literally it.

Imagine that for a moment.

To design any videogame takes extraordinary talent. I consider this to be an unbelievable achievement, with math, programming, and talent all simultaneously delivered and controllable by any user. Amazing really. These programmers, forty years down the line, may be looked upon as the first true artists of a dawning technological era.

And boy, are the people at EA good. EA Sports, the company that is renowned for routinely pumping out epic sequels to the Madden franchise, seemed unstoppable as this new generation of a gaming began, with the PlayStation 3 blossoming from mere rumor to approaching hardware and Bill Gates’ X-Box 360 enjoying enormous popularity as a current substitution for Sony’s Nintendo Killer, the PlayStation Deuce.  

E.A. Sports really had only one legitimate adversary, that being Sega Sports, caretakers of the rival 2K Sports line. The height of the 2K brand had coincided with the fleeting success of Sega’s last Home Hardware Venture, the ill fated Dreamcast. Dreamcast possessed a powerful graphical engine, but lacked the valuable third party support enjoyed by Sony, and by the time P.S. 2 exploded onto the scene, it was rendered obsolete.

However, during the brief time when the first 128 Bit Gaming System was exactly that, the 2K sports line built a steady following. More precisely, the NFL 2K series carried the brand into a brief sunshine, with bulky, state of the art polygonal player models revitalizing a previously mundane football market ruled by the venerable Madden incarnations.

As the Dreamcast faded into oblivion, Sega attempted a recoup it’s copious loses by moving it’s biggest brand names onto other systems, a sort of mega collaboration. Now, Sonic the Hedgehog could blindingly collect his rings on a PlayStation 2 near you.

Sonic had company. Previously, E.A. Sports had owned the most valuable prime real estate of the athletic gaming market, spinning its economic wheels with Sony. Now, for the first time since the long forgotten prime of 989’s NFL Gameday, they had a very real and very hungry opponent.

Of course, with EA’s enterprising, entrenched, rabid fan base, there wasn’t much of a contest. 2K barely stood above fringe on the main stream, despite a strong standing within the hardcore sport market.

Time went on, keeping pace with the technology. The years are defined on my crowded C.D. shelf, all the Madden’s stacked within a separate crew; all the 2k’s compromising a separate clique, nary an edition weaved with another. 2K1 sprang 2K2, which begat 2K3, and so on and so forth. Each new installment beckoned with new features, tighter graphics, re-sleeked play mechanics. The years couldn’t be blurred together any longer, as a legitimate street fight had broken out within the Football gaming industry.

Sega, embracing their tag as a perpetual underdog, fought with an aggressive front. In year one of their time on PlayStation, they promised a new Sheriff had arrived on the universal console market. They might have been mocked for providing such empty claims, as Madden far outmatched 2K at this point, but swagger seemed at times to be their only real weapon. Finally, years later, with both sides of the rivalry simmering in a dead heat, Sega finally struck what appeared to be a blinding blow against Goliath.

With the quality of gameplay nearing a perpetual, seasonal draw, indecipherable by 2004, acquired tastes were developed. Some preferred the sim heavy, realistic action of Madden, while others supported the high-flying, unpredictable action that had long been a staple of the 2K series. Surely, after playing a few games of N.F.L with raucous company, any switch to Madden seemed to dampen the proceedings. But, in this opinion, Madden always had the better game. But it was close, extremely close.

Close enough, in fact, that the drastic action taken by Sega Sports before their release of NFL 2K5 suddenly seemed to swing the pendulum of momentum in their direction.

 We love low prices. To have peanuts and cracker jacks during the seventh inning stretch is American, to get a good deal on them, why, that is capital industry. This was precisely the thinking that persuaded Sega to lower the price of their high quality game to a shockingly low 19.99. 19.99 was, is, and always will be retail bin status, befitting either time worn classics or present day busts.

Sega gambled that casual fans would pick up the cheaper game and nothing else, leaving Madden out in the unforgiving cold. The risk did not entirely pay off, although the lowered price resulted in the closest sales between the two games ever, 3-D noses pressed together in mutual defiance. Not coincidentally, the quality of the games had never been, and probably will never be, any higher. The battle was healthy, prolonged and full of sub-plot, and it revolved around two great products, in the most popular sports market on the planet. Gradually, it became clear to me that buying both games, which I had been doing all along anyway, would continue until an impossibly distant day where videogames ceased to matter. The 19.99 simply hammered the latter point completely home.

    EA, however, was fed up with this continued, badgering nuisance. So, in a rather duplicitous turn of events, they bought the NFL license completely and utterly for themselves, not allowing any other third party manufacturer to create a game with real players, stadiums, or even cheerleaders. And with that, it was game over.

2K bowed out of the football market for good, to the absolute dismay of old and new fans alike, and EA took the crown of king by technical knockout. 2K Sports would not allow themselves to slink off without a retaliatory consolation prize, and EA was unforgivably appeasable, allowing for the entrance of a sacrificial lamb.

EA Sports’ Baseball franchise began as Triple Play and ended as an MVP. Along the way, an entire brand name was scuttled in the righteous purpose of consumer quality, and a hugely successful rendition of our National Pastime was shut down, ripped to shreds by jagged Dead Presidents.

In the Baseball market, Triple Play ruled the late nineties in supreme, Madden-esque style. In time, the quality of the game eroded, rendering it a laughing stock recognizable exclusively only through past accomplishment. In a noble turn, EA tore down Triple Play in time for the 2003 Baseball Season, releasing the rushed but promising MVP Baseball. MVP was new in every respect, not one graphical tweak from Triple Play survived the switch, fueling the hunger for a 2004 edition that could surely blow away anything else parading out with the MLB License.

 MVP Baseball 2004 not only surpassed the hype, it indisputably lapped it, running a 180-degree circle at warp speed around the competition. Sega, 989, 3DO, none of them could possibly answer a franchise mode containing fully functioning Minor League systems, a player’s emotional security [projected with a classic happy face/sad face sidebar] either raising or curtailing his performance, witty, insightful commentary during the actual game, and silky smooth graphical touches that perfectly reflected the National Pastime. At no other time in Sports Gaming has one franchise ever made such a dramatically successful jump from average to amazing.

The 05 Edition was simply an updated model, still worthy of high praise. MVP 05 only opened more eyes to the future, where a possibly perfect baseball videogame could be born. It had not arrived yet, but if it ever would, EA Sports would undisputedly be the company behind it.

 Everyone loved MVP. Some friends of mine who can’t stand watching Baseball played the hell out of the game, their opinion being overmatched by their senses. It got them talking Baseball, whether they liked it or not. MVP was reaching out and grabbing a new generation of fans, people who will make or break the MLB now and in the future.

This vision of the future served only as a vanishing mirage. E.A. must have estimated a profitable gain with the shiny NFL License all to themselves, without competition in sight. Now, the ability to churn out a useless mind numbing sim where one could pretend to be an out of shape, sleep deprived head coach moved to the front of their mission statement.

MVP, it’s fans? Collateral damage.  Three years of hard work, dedication, and impossible improvement were rendered instantly meaningless. Legacy arrived in a distant second to any slight, substantial monetary gain.

I was left this spring in the unenviable position of replacing MVP with an inferior product. Two actually. Due to the fact Sony is a first party proprietor of the PlayStation, they could once again bring out their new edition of an MLB series. The first Baseball game released for the 2006 was stunningly similar in value to a six fifty Yankee Stadium Beverage. I couldn’t resist.  

MLB: The Show is an OK game. Nothing extraordinary. The player’s movements are realistic enough, but a tick robotic, almost seedy in their intention. Not once was I under the influence of an authentic experience. Rather, I became mesmerized by one particular animation, rebooting again and again in veiled sloppiness, on ground balls to second base, a constant chug of computer muscle memory.

After a quick loss of interest with the Show, I purchased MLB 2K6 with nothing but high hopes. I reasoned that 2K Sports, with the pressure of a jacked license looming over they’re every modification, would unveil a dynamite, glitch free game worthy of MVP status. No such luck. The disappointing graphics, sound, design, everything could best be summed up with one dispiriting, all encompassing word:


  EA countered, sort of, with a no frills, bare bones College Baseball game, tantamount to a single, desolate shot in the lonely woods left unheard by the majority.

We, Baseball fans, are left with no real game to play this year. My friends, allergic to the allure of the Diamond, return to Halo or whatever the hell their obsession is this month.

The residue, a staining after taste of what could have been, what should be, seeks to overwhelm the emptiness, sweep away the dust of my quickly aging P.S. 2.

I pop in MVP, listen to the first fluid, obnoxious strands of ” Tessie”, and go about my laborious, two day, eight hour mission.

Carlos Delgado is moved to the Mets.
Johnny Damon, beard and all, joins the Yankees. I can’t edit a shave.
R.A. Dickey does indeed discover the knuckle ball, with limited success.

This manual trial of faith is all I have left.

Madden NFL: Head Coach is due out soon.

Its value will never transcend the retail price.

By mw2828

Matt Waters is a screenwriter currently living in New York. He has been writing about sports since age seventeen, about the time when it became painfully apparent that his athletic dreams would go unfulfilled, due to terrible luck and an obscene lack of talent. His favorite movie is “The Thin Red Line”. His favorite band is “Modest Mouse”. His favorite sport is baseball! With an exclamation point.

One reply on “A Low Down- Dirty Shame By Matt Waters”

MVP I own every Madden game made since 2001 (when I first got a PlayStation), and love the series to death, but in my opinion MVP is the more entertaining game. The franchise mode is absolutely untouchable, and after playing 2005 day in and day out, I was ready for future installments of the game. Naturally, I was hugely dissappionted when EA lost the license. I think video game licenses in any sport are awful and should be removed. Let the consumer decide which game is better; don’t just force a monopoly. What a disgrace.

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