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The Evolution Of The Video Game Crowd…

Are you the kind of gamer who notices the little details in a game? I mean, let's be honest...the fact people noticed some pest control phone numbers on a bulletin board in The Last of Us, and then turned around and called them...discovering it was a functioning phone sex hotline - that's pretty observant. I'd like to think I'm one of the perceptive ones. I actually notice little details like that but would never have called it to see who was on the other end.

If there is one little detail that I always seem to notice and can't for the life of me explain why, it is the way crowds of people are represented in game. More times than not, this will occur in sports games and how the fans in the stands are shown.

I know, I know...I'm probably one of the few gamers out there who notices this minor detail...a detail that has zero impact on anything remotely associated with playing the game. I can't help it. I like checking out the crowd.

We've come a long way, we really have.

Way back when...I'm talking decades ago, I can remember when the fans were nothing more than scribbles and blinking lights. There was nothing even close to resembling a real person. My best friend growing up and I used to play a lot of a baseball game called R.B.I. Baseball for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Now, I'm not much of a baseball fan or any other stick and ball sport fan for that matter. While my buddy is considering what pitch to throw next, I'm looking at the people in stands, or should I say...the crazy pattern of indescribable shapes that hurts your eyes if you stare at it too long.

(My eyes, they burn!)

As the years passed and graphics improved, the crowds got a little better. Again, I want to reemphasize, just because I "notice" this detail doesn't mean I am criticizing the game for it. I would much rather the developers focus on gameplay and have a smooth running game than spending a lot of time making an insignificant detail look more real... But I can still notice it, can't I?

Okay, so anyway...like I was saying - years have gone by and graphics have gotten better. At least you could recognize faces in the audience now, even if they look like a kindergarten class drew them with a crayon.

One of my favorite sports games of all times - Pro Wrestling. Man I loved Starman and his somersault kick. The same friend I played lots of R.B.I. Baseball with, I played a ton of Pro Wrestling with. And while I wasn't nearly as occupied with checking out the fans, I certainly noticed them. How could you not. A little creepy, eh?

(They all have gray hair...and look creepy)

More years passed, and graphics continued to improve. But the problem then became one of two issues. Either the graphics representing the audience were recycled, so you could spot a person in the crowd, look left or right just a short distance, and see the same person in the crowd. It was almost like a version of "Where's Waldo" - look around and find three or four or five of the same person. The other issue being the people were flat - they were not 3-dimensional representations whatsoever. They looked more like cardboard cutouts just propped up to seem like they were watching all of the action.

In the most extreme cases, you'd play a game that suffered from both - flat and recycled audience members. Noooooo.

(Um, the cheerleaders look almost like the fans)

 

(Before NBA Jam, there was Double Dribble)

 

(How many ladies with long blond hair do you see?)

 

(Hey wait! The people on the left look like the people on the right)

 

(Cardboard cutouts?)

 

(Well, at least you can reuse them at your NASCAR race)

 

So, the other day I was in a store...it might've been a Best Buy but it could've been somewhere else I suppose. All I know is they had lots of electronics for sale, including big screen TVs and video game consoles. They had a few demo models set up, and if I'm not mistaken one of them was showing off MLB 2K13 (I don't know my sports games all that well, but that's what was on the display case next to it). A baseball game, for those of you (like me) that don't know better.

I'm watching, but I'm not...you know what I mean, right? It's a video game, so I'm watching, but it's a game I'm not interested in, so I'm not. Anyway, the batter hits what appears to be a for sure homerun. The outfielder is running for it, runs up the wall and makes a fantastic catch. He slides down the wall, holding the ball in his glove...with kind of a cocky strut. Hey, who wouldn't? Well then the camera cuts to the fans showing what appears to be a replay.

(Those two guys in the lower right are NOT watching the batter)

I'm amazed. They look...like real people. Not only that, they all look different. They're animated. Some are waving signs, some are cheering, and some look bored out of their mind. I'm impressed. I stop in my tracks to watch it further. And then I notice something disturbing...

The fans weren't even looking at the action. It was almost as if they were looking off in space. They were definitely not looking at the magnificent catch the outfielder just made. It makes me wonder what they were applauding for - was there a fight in the stands or something? Don't even tell me they were watching it on the big screen...I won't believe it. They weren't even close to looking.

Well, like I said...it's a little detail; an insignificant detail; but a detail nonetheless. I know I'm not the only one who notices stuff like this, and I'm thankful to see the developers put some effort into making games feel more lifelike by focusing on every element of realism. Who knows where we'll be in another few years with systems even more powerful than what we have available now - maybe there will be real players somehow superimposed and filling the stands.

"It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen." -John Wooden

Hope you all had a great weekend.

Cheers.

 

 

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