The Sports Desk – Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain & The Problem With Sports DLC
I recently played a large chunk of Forza Horizon 3's Blizzard Mountain DLC. For $19.99 it's a decent helping of content fashioned after the base game, with its new, snowy location. That it's similar to the rest of the game is a compliment, as it contains all the normal custom events, barn finds, challenging roads, speed cams, and online features. Nevertheless, playing through the content made me think about the sports genre's difficulty with DLC.
First off, as I already said, I liked the Blizzard Mountain DLC – the spontaneous blizzards that obscure your vision being a highlight. Furthermore, I respect the time and abilities of the developers who work on games and all their post-release content, which is part of the reason for my thoughts on the tough spot sports games are with DLC.
It's not hard to do DLC for your sports title, or any game, but which paid DLC do we remember and enjoyed most? They are usually story-based add-ons for a non-sports title like the DLC for BioShock Infinite or The Witcher 3. Very few sports games have story modes to add to, and the sports franchise's various ultimate team fantasy modes mostly occupy the microtransaction content lust of publishers, developers, and the public alike. Finally, free roster updates and fixes (hopefully) occur on a regular basis, and the fact that the games are already packed with modes and have to "save something" for next year means there just isn't a giant well of post-release content to draw from.
We already get a fair amount of free content that might otherwise constitute paid DLC. Rocket League adds new modes, Forza Horizon 3 has free loyalty reward cars, The Golf Club has updated with new themes and modes, EA updated an albeit truncated version of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour with new courses, and many sports titles and their devs deliver post-release goodies for no cost.
This puts Forza Horizon 3 Blizzard Mountain, in particular, in a tough spot. Some of the Blizzard Mountain's content may be just more events and challenges in a base title already full of them (many of which you probably aren't playing in the first place), and other titles may have given away free cars or modes in the past, but the effort the devs put into the DLC has to be repaid somehow.
So what could sports developers offer as paid DLC that isn't already free, would be interesting, wouldn't cannibalize what's coming next year, and isn't just more Ultimate Team packs? For staters, games with story modes like NBA 2K17 and FIFA 17's The Journey could offer more story-based episodes. I also like what NBA 2K17 is already doing by offering college teams with historic players. Perhaps other series could take this in a different direction and offer classic versions of their games only with current rosters (like how Tecmo Bowl lives on). Finally, maybe franchises could offer expansions that take their games in totally different directions similar to Read Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare. I know many people love games like Mutant League Football. Perhaps Madden could offer a football variant that totally skews the rules and landscape for the series in a fun spin-off.
As gamers we're often spoiled with free content and titles with high replay value. Developers work hard all year to keep us interested, and there's a fine line between what is expected as free and DLC that is alluring and worth paying for. Hopefully sports DLC in particular continues to evolve and we all get to play more can't-miss experiences.
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A few weeks ago, Sony and developer Sony San Diego unveiled the first trailer for the title, including the debut of Retro mode. Now studio game designer Ramone Russell walks through that trailer almost frame-by-frame to talk about all the details contained therein. Fans of the series are not going to want to miss this!
After we talked about Draft Day Sports: College Football 2017 in a previous Sports Desk, I caught up with two of the creators – Brooks Piggott and Gary Gorski – to chat about the studio and the game.
How big is the development team, and how did everyone get together to create the game?
Gorski: It's a three-man team with the lion's share of the actual coding work done by Brooks and another fellow named Asger who started out volunteering to help him develop his pro football game. I did the UI and graphics for the game as well as, of course, the business/promotion side of running the company itself. I develop the pro and college basketball games, so I do code on those games. Brooks was developing a pro football game on his own and I followed it for a while. I thought it had good potential, so I invited him to join Wolverine Studios last year, and we pushed out an update of his pro football game. But Draft Day Sports: College Football 2017 was really our first deep collaboration – we discussed how a number of features could work and rebuilt the entire interface structure from what he originally had done when he was working on his own – and I'm really excited to push these changes to Draft Day Sports: Pro Football next.
What aspects of real-life college football are you guys personally interested in (recruiting, different kinds of plays, programs, etc.)?
Piggott: My favorite aspect of real-life college football is the regional ties people have to teams and conferences. I grew up in the Midwest so I'm a huge Big 10 football fan, but I've lived in Austin, Texas for over 15 years now, so the Big 12 has grown on me. Seeing the history of programs like Texas and Texas A&M up close, and going back to my childhood rooting for Purdue and Notre Dame, I think that loyalty of college fans is pretty impressive.
In the game, being able to run one of my favorite teams and try to get them to famous bowls, or win championships is extremely gratifying for me. All of the systems in the game have aspects of fun in them. Putting in a custom game plan that upsets a top-five team, recruiting a five-star kid you had no business getting, winning awards at the end of the season, watching your star WR break out for a 75-yard touchdown as time expires to win a conference championship all make the game rewarding.
Gorsky: The only aspect I am interested in personally is Michigan winning!
Do you have any tips for calling plays during the game? Speaking only for myself, I am a bad gameday coach!
Piggott: As for tips on play calling, I struggle just like everyone else. The game engine is built using physics, and a bit of randomness, so all of the plays vary from team to team, or opponent to opponent. The only advice I have is during the first few games of the season try running several different plays so you get a sense of whether your RB is fast enough to hit the edge or needs to be an inside runner, or if your WR's do better going over the middle or going deep. Narrowing down to a handful of plays that work more often than not will make the playcalling a bit easier.
How hard is it to create a simulator that tabulates the results of any given play? Is this different or the same as the part of the game that sims entire games/seasons?
Piggott: Every play in the game is calculated at the time it is run. We can simulate weeks or seasons of plays to get an idea of how successful a play is in general, but it is highly dependent on the players and teams on the field. Given teams can adjust defenses, blitz ratios, etc. It can drastically affect the success of said play.
Do you have any post-release content/patch plans?
Piggott: Right now we're on version 1.0.4 and we expect to do a 1.0.5 in the next week or two. After that it just depends on what issues users are running into. We're pretty committed to fixing anything that throws errors in the game. Eventually the patches will focus on fixes only. For the updates we've done recently we've released fixes for crashes, but we've also added a lot of functionality, and addressed issues with usability. The community has been extremely positive and their excitement makes it easy for us to continue trying to sneak in one last feature, or tweak one last screen.
It seemed like there was some randomness in whether a recruit would/would not sign with you despite your efforts. Is this correct? Can you talk about what goes into whether a recruit signs with you or not?
Piggott: For recruiting there is some randomness just to keep the element of surprise there. But the bigger factors are a players personality; their desire to be close to home, to play for a prestigious program in a prestigious conference, more playing time, chance to win championships, etc. The main tips are to recruit kids that are near your school, interview them and scout them so you know their personality, and then try to keep recruiting them every week. If you skip a week the recruit may think you've lost interest.
2K Announces NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament
Form your own Pro-Am team and play for a $250,000 championship at the NBA All-Star 2017 event in New Orleans.