With the recent release of NBA 2K16, now seems as good a time as ever to address my growing disappointment with sports games. Now that we have systems capable of more than ever imagined, it only seems right that the games we play now reflect this. However, sports games seem stuck in rut. While the graphics have become noticeably better, the game play has not. There has been a very slow and incremental implementation of some limited physics simulation into these sports games when it feels like common sense just to have a game run entirely off of physics simulation. While a complex and daunting task, if sports game companies decided to take a brief hiatus from the yearly releases perhaps they could develop an engine that truly innovates the genre.
The biggest problem as it stands right now with sports games is the annoying unrealistic movements and reactions in game. This can be extremely frustrating as you are trying to play a competitive game but have no way of actually knowing what is going to happen. This random chance has driven me crazy on many occasions as players will clip through one another during animations or players will “slide” into position. This unpredictability makes for a game that is not about skill but more so about luck. Playing NBA 2K16, I have noticed countless clipping issues where the ball will go through a player to get to another one because of an animation. This is exceedingly frustrating and should have been fixed with the last generation of consoles.
In games that rely entirely on physics I have noticed that there is virtually no game related aggravation. Rocket League for example, operates off simple physics. When you hit the ball, you know what it is going to do. This allows the outcome to rest solely on the player and not chance animations. I have never played a game of Rocket League and felt cheated as everything is shown to me and is easily rationalized. No one likes feeling cheated, but with these canned game animations, no matter how fluid the developers make them, they will always be random scripted collisions. Rocket League is a fair and even game because of its commitment to using physics which allow the player to know what is going to happen, making the game more competitive in the process.
The next issue I have with using canned animations is that it ruins any sense of immersion or realism. While playing 2K16, two hundred and forty pound centers should not be falling over when an undersized, one hundred and ninety pound point guard collides with them. Naturally, I understand that this is not a realistic reaction and it is readily apparent that the system of animations does not account for physical dimensions. This is even more obvious as you watch the biggest men on the court move their feet as fast as the smallest men on the court. I cannot express the amount of rage this brings me as my real life tactics are voided by inconsistent game coding and lacking game engines that are short sighted and skimping on true physical realism.
Now before you start criticizing me for setting an unachievable goal of 100% physics simulated sports, I want to inform you that there has already been a system built around physics and used in a sports game. So what’s the problem then?! The problem is that this engine is more commonly recognized as the engine used in Grand Theft Auto V. The Euphoria engine is an incredible engine that realistically portrays human movement in relation to physical inputs. Anyone who has hit a pedestrian in GTA V knows how accurate this statement is. This engine was already used in the football game Backbreaker. Sadly, this game was a flop due to an inexperienced design team creating a football game that had extremely clunky controls and very poor game play tweaking. However, this game showcased just how incredible and realistic the engine looked and reacted, showing great promise for the future. Sadly, this never materialized after the failure of Backbreaker.
I would love to see the next NBA 2K game implement a full scale change from their animation driven game play to a physics based game play. This would make the game a much more enjoyable experience to play as you will no longer feel cheated by unrealistic animations and unpredictable game play. This is not an unachievable pipe dream. The technology to support this has been around for over five years now so continuously relying on animations feels like the developers are taking the easy way out. I believe it’s time to do away with the one year life cycle of these sports games and breathe some new life and innovation into them by creating a sports game around a true physics engine.