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Year Released: 1988
Superstar Status: First time I saw a batter charge the mound after getting beaned in "Bases Loaded," I was hooked. Sure, the game was the most realistic brand of baseball released to consoles at the time, but it was figuring out the specific events needed in order to charge the mound that kept me glued to my Nintendo for hours. "You knew that 'Bases Loaded' was well received by Nintendo owners because it generated plenty of phone calls and letters -- and this was back before the Internet, so you really had to be interested in a game to try and contact the company that made it," Mike Meyers, who was Jaleco USA's product and public relations manager at the time, says. "Our No. 1 question was 'How do I start the bean-ball brawl?' That was one of the hidden little tricks in 'Bases Loaded' -- you could bean the opposing cleanup hitter a couple times in a game. By the third time, the hitter got so angry he'd storm the mound and start a fight -- and then get thrown out of the game."
In addition to the flying fists, "Bases Loaded" was also the first sports video game to use in-game advertising. Jaleco president Howie Rubin says: "We put the Wilson glove and logo in the game and on the game box. We got paid in Michael Jordan and Walter Payton sports posters that we gave away to customers who completed a survey. I think we gave away 50,000 posters & 45,000 more than Wilson expected to give away."
Dev Talk: Rubin adds, "I screwed up with the fight scene. They showed it to me in Japan. They elected not to use it in Japan. I insisted that we put it into the U.S. game. We never tested all of the scenarios. The game froze up if you used your 20-team roster, started a fight and had a player ejected. The computer had no one left to put in the game, didn't know what to do and just crashed. Not only did you lose the game, but the bug cleared out the season series record. So if you were three-fourths of the way into the 100-season series, you lost the stats and had to start all over again. I was working late one night. I picked up a call from a very irate customer who just lost his game stats. He wanted to know what to do. I put on my sales/ president of Jaleco hat and tried to pacify him by explaining the problem. He wanted to know who was the jerk responsible for the final Q.A. ... so I told him to blame Mike Meyers and Masao Ohata. I apologize for the hate mail."
Systems: PlayStation 2, Xbox
Year Released: 2004
Superstar Status: Seven-on-seven ironman football, in which Barry Sanders isn't only your best running back but also your best linebacker, and Jeff Garcia can fire the ball downfield 50 yards behind his back. "NFL Street" threw all the rules out the window, and it was far ahead of its time, as the read option was by far the most effective play in the game. It was especially effective if you ditched your traditional quarterback and had someone like Garrison Hearst play quarterback for the 49ers while keeping Kevan Barlow at running back, utilizing your crazy pitch plays to run a defense insane. Unless, of course, you run the option a little too wide and end up hurdling your way straight into a fence. This is street ball, after all.
Throw in pickup games in which the game would generate a random list of 40 players, such as Walter Payton and Lawrence Taylor, to choose from and you had one of the best two-player games of its generation. "The mode that we all loved to play was our Pick Up games, inspired by real-life pickup games of football or basketball," Jason Barnes, creative director at EA Sports, Tiburon said. "You had a mini draft to create your team for that game, and there was tons of strategy involved with the choices made. If there are only two QBs available and you have already picked one, did you select the other one to screw over your opponent at the cost of having a weaker defense? Choices like that were huge, because 'NFL Street' was the only football game that was ironman football, forcing every player to play every down on both offense and defense. This made this mode that seemed simple on the surface have a deep strategy layer that played on every possession."
"NFL Street's" influence continues today, as it introduced some features and control schemes in 2004 that live on in games like "Madden" and "NCAA Football."
"We used 'NFL Street' to prove features," Barnes said. "It was almost like a prototyping game for features for 'Madden' and 'NCAA' even though that was never explicitly stated. I was the lead designer for 'NFL Street' and a diehard 'Madden' fan. So anything that worked well in 'NFL Street' we immediately shared with 'Madden.'
"Here are just a few things from 'Madden' that got their roots in 'NFL Street.' In 'NFL Street' we had a feature called the Power Tackle. It was an all-out risk versus reward tackle. Hit the ball carrier and cause a fumble, but you did not get any steering, so if you missed, then the ball carrier was gone. This was birth of the Hit Stick. I loved 'Madden's' movement of the Hit Stick to the right stick because that felt better than 'NFL Street's' button combo.
"Getting the NFL players to not look like robots, especially post play, was always a goal of ours. In 'NFL Street' we created a new AI Assignment at the end of each play that gave each player a reaction to that previous play based on the score, the play results and a few other factors. You can see NFL players reacting intelligently to the end of play in 'Madden' today because of the initial implementation from 'NFL Street.'"
"NFL Street" moved the Sprint button to R1, which increased its functionality and changed what gamers could do with the controls. In "Madden 06" this control became default, and it's been that way since. Changing the Sprint button on "Madden" was huge, and it was made by possible by "NFL Street" pioneering it.
Dev Talk: Barnes adds, "The first prototype was an interesting challenge. We took 'Madden' and reduced it to seven-on-seven, switched the Sprint button to R1 and then tested the defining feature of 'NFL Street,' which was Stylin'. The ability to showboat at any time shaped the definition of 'NFL Street,' but the funny thing about the prototype was when we suggested the idea, it was hated and doubted immediately. The idea that you could showboat at any time, with the risk being that you would automatically fumble the ball if you were tackled, and the reward was that you got nothing other than the ability to talk trash, was seriously doubted. We heard people say, 'Why would someone ever do this?', and then they played and did it every time. At that moment we knew we had something special, an all-risk, no-reward feature that everyone wanted to use."
Pro Talk: "I actually used to love playing 'NFL Street' even more than 'Madden,'" NFL receiver Brandon Lloyd said. "All the showboating and throwing the ball behind your back and dribbling down the field was awesome. I used to play street football all the time back when I was growing up in Kansas City. I remember this one time -- I was running out for a pass, and there was this car parked on the street. It was like another defender. I caught the pass but ended up laying out and falling on the hood of the car. Everyone just stopped, but I spun off the car and kept running for the touchdown. I remember playing street football all the time, going home with my knees all bloody, and this game brought back all those fun memories."
Year Released: 1988
Superstar Status: The fat guy, the skinny guy and the average-sized guy. Nintendo's "Ice Hockey's" brilliance lied in its simplicity, as gamers were able to build their teams based on player size and skill, so a team of two fat guys and two skinny guys would enable you to have two amazing power players, with two extremely fast skaters leading the break. Some gamers preferred four skinny guys to blaze their way up and down the ice; some wanted one of each body type for balance, while others preferred four fat guys slowly bruising their way up the ice while unleashing furious slap shots on their opponent's net.
"It was one of the first hockey games on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and it featured everything people enjoy about hockey, from the face offs to the different type of players; the game even included the ability for players to get in a scuffle," Nintendo's Product Marketing Manager, Bill Trinen, says. "Even today, players continue to relive that nostalgia, as the game is available for download on the Wii's Virtual Console.
"The game was one of the most well-received sports games released on the NES. It was a fine balance between the different team members and the simple, yet deep game play that made it easily accessible and strategic."
Throw in some crazy codes like Speedy Puck, which made the puck fly around the rink at bullet speeds, not to mention the ability to play without goalies, and you have one of the all-time classics, no doubt.
Pro Talk New York Rangers winger Rick Nash says, "It was important to get a good mixture of the fat guys to rough people up, but you needed those skinny goal scorers as well."
Systems: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii
Year Released: 2011
Superstar Status: The first video game to feature Augusta National, EA Sports pioneered new technology to capture every subtlety and nuance of the famed golf course.
"Course scanning brings an unparalleled level of detail to golf games, allowing us to deliver every millimeter of detail on a course," the game's executive producer, Nick Wlodyka, says. "Although it was easily the single most-requested feature throughout the history of the 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour' franchise, many thought it would never come to be. After years of negotiation, EA Sports was finally able to realize a dream and bring Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters [Tournament] to millions of golf fans around the world. The development team immersed themselves in the lore of this storied tournament and course, giving players the opportunity to play at Augusta National Golf Club -- built to exact specification -- a crowning achievement for the 'Tiger Woods PGA Tour' franchise."
And "Tiger's" course-scanning techniques now extend beyond the golf course, as the same technology is being used in games like "NCAA Football" to better capture the game's stadiums to deliver never before possible levels of authenticity in other sports games.
Pro Talk: Tiger Woods says, "It's truly amazing to have the opportunity to add the Masters into the game. This is the most sought-after tournament gamers wanted in our sport, and the thing is it's so realistic the way they laser scanned the course. It's pretty close to being absolutely perfect. So for us to have the Masters Tournament in there and to have Augusta National in the game -- a course most people are never going to play for real -- and to give them that opportunity to experience the course the way we do, this is something special.
"I've actually been trying to explain to everyone how steep the slopes are on that course. That's something that doesn't come across on TV, and you don't realize it until you actually go there. But now when you play the game, for the first time, I think people will realize how steep these slopes are. I think for gamers, they're going to be shocked the first time they play the course. You go on the greens and you see the arrows to help you out in the game, and it shows you how big the slope is and it tracks how much the ball breaks, and you'll be amazed. Plus, we have some new features in the game, as well. We have a new career mode where you start out in amateur golf -- just how I started -- then you go to Nationwide Q school and make your way on the PGA Tour. Then, some of the cool things about Augusta is you actually get to compete against the history of the Masters Tournament. Whether it's my chip-in at 16 or Phil Mickelson's approach shot on 13 hitting from between the trees, you'll need to hit those shots. It's a cool little feature."
Systems: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Year Released: 1992
Superstar Status: You know you're old school when someone mentions Tom Chambers, and the first thing that comes to mind is the way his character could dunk from the 3-point line in EA Sports' "NBA Playoffs" franchise. Back in the day, every superstar in the game featured his own signature move, from Shawn Kemp alley-ooping the ball to himself off the glass to Michael Jordan's air reverse to, of course, Chambers' insane slam from just inside the arc.
"The concept for Signature Moves began in the head of my boss at the time after we had built the Slam Dunk Contest in 'Jordan vs. Bird: One On One,' and were going to build our first NBA game which would become 'Lakers vs. Celtics,' the game's producer, Happy Keller, said. "Since Michael had many dunks in 'One On One,' we wanted to do something similar for each of the star players in 'Lakers vs. Celtics,' so Signature Moves were born. As we built more games, we saw what worked and what didn't. Each team had a 'Star,' and that player would receive that team's Signature Move.
"We also did what we could, given the primitive graphics at the time, to make the players look like they did in real life. Yeah, they were blocky sprites, but our graphic artists did a tremendous job to make the players and game look as realistic as possible."
From John Stockton's short shorts to Larry Bird's floppy-looking hair to Horace Grant's goggles, I still remember playing the game for the first time and being completely blown away.
Dev Talk: Keller adds, "'Bulls vs. Blazers' was also the first game to have our new [at that time] 'EA Sports' brand. Up until that time, our games were released with an 'EASN' [Electronic Arts Sports Network] treatment. Some silly company from Bristol, Conn., sued us and took our branding away. No big deal ... EA Sports flows off the tongue easier, anyway."
Top 25 Sports Video Games Ever:
Introduction: The changing sports video game landscape
Nos. 21-25: Bulls, Blazers and Fat Guys
Nos. 16-20: MLB, Mountains and Madness
Nos. 11-15: Blitz, Boards and His Airness
Nos. 6-10: Stars, Showdowns and Street Ball
Nos. 1-5: Punches, slapshots and Tecmo Bo