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More Sports Games Should Have Story Modes

Between F1 2019's career mode and Madden's Longshot, we're craving more authored stories in sports.

by Ricardo Contreras
Jul 2 2019, 3:55pm

Image courtesy of Codemasters 

Jessie Owens at the 1939 Olympics, "The Catch," The Fight of the Century, sports of all kinds are filled with stories like these. While many may come to sports for "the love of the game," it's the dramatic moments, inter-personal rivalries, and years long "plots" that are often the real draw. So why is it that so many sports video games eschew traditional narratives in favor of rote career modes? While rivalries and underdog narratives can spring from just playing game after game in a season, the real drama happens both on and off the field. Players change teams, personal issues give rise to inter-teammate tensions, franchises rise and fall, and risky choices are made when both the team's and support staff's livelihoods are on the line. With such a rich pool of story beats to pull from, it's surprising just how few sports games present us with authored narratives.

The Waypoint Radio crew discusses this and more in this episode about, um, NBA free agency, James Dolan's band, how FFXIV broke Austin, and the latest season of Riverdale. But also there are video games! We talk about them too! We talk about Mario Maker 2, and have some question about that boot that Mario uses (but Patrick doesn't). Rob talks about F1 2019 and its interesting but too-sparse narrative, before getting sidetracked by describing the plot of Draft Day. Listen to the full episode and read an excerpt below:

Rob: It's a really good racing game and it feels dangerous in a way I'm not used to these games feeling. Driving an F1 car in this game feels intense and scary I think in a way I don't remember being scary in previous years. These things feel [dangerous] when you open up all the power, 'cause the cars have a bunch of power settings where you can discharge more of the battery power on a lap, you can enrich the fuel mixture.

When you open it all the way up the car feels like a different car. It feels like you're basically running in like Fast and the Furious turbo Nitro mode and it's terrifying because like everything you've been doing, all the breaking points you know, all the angles you know, are all subtly different because you were going like 30, 40 miles an hour faster sometimes. It's just enough to throw you off in the worst way, and so it's it's pretty harrowing and pretty cool.

Austin: I want more sports games to lean into story modes so bad, and to capture that thing that you were just describing in terms of like,

Patrick: Isn't Madden getting rid of their's this year?

Austin: Yeah, as far as I can tell it's gone,

Rob: Longshot's gone.

Austin: And that's such a bummer. I had mixed feelings about parts of that first season but really liked it all said. I never played the second one because I heard such mixed things about, I heard it was kind of flat and there weren't many choices and it felt like they moved the focus away,

Patrick: Agh, but that was not a reason to get away from it. I just feel like ... there was a lot of untapped potential there.

Austin: Me too, agreed 100%. And I hope people keep experimenting with it because there are so many good sports stories to tell. That's such a thing that is part of our collective storytelling apparatus, and we should just do more of it in video games. I don't know.

Also it's a good way for someone like me, because like I am not going to pick up F1 2019, I'm probably not going to pick it up no matter what, right? But there's a world in which if you told me that there is actually a really good story mode in a sports game for a sport that I have some interest in, but I'm not necessarily going to like play a full franchise mode or something, I'll [be] like "Yeah you know what? Maybe I'll play just long enough to get through the story mode, I'll mess around with some multiplayer." Maybe I will get into the franchise mode or like a larger campaign mode because I've had this on route from the story stuff, I don't know. I feel like maybe this is a thing that people who make these games have heard a thousand times, and maybe they've been like "No it doesn't work, we tried it." But it seems like a thing I would want.

Rob: Well Codemasters have always been interested in that. That's the funny thing, Codemasters were actually early to this. So if you go back to like the early, like the Toca Race Driver series or [Race Driver:] Grid they were very big on this idea of "You have to climb the ranks and there are characters."

Now a lot of the times what they would end up doing was sort of what they did in Grid 2 which is really underwhelming which is, I think we've seen a thousand games like this, the career progression was like "You need to get more fans on social media with your cool driving skills!" And so it's this idea of "Wow you had a really great race. You got five hundred thousand engagements on Winstagram" or something like that.

Austin: A lot of racing games tried that shit, like Need for Speed was trying it, Forza obviously has played in that space, Forza Horizon specifically. This is so much different than that to me. This is "there is a character who is my rival who I fucking hate" I can get into that so much easier that I can get into "I have followers."

Rob: And you just got to lean into it. Like if you're going to fictionalize part of F1 go all the way! Why not create fictional teams with fictional like owners like just go all the way in.


Discussed: FFXIV: A Realm Reborn, Super Mario Maker 2, F1 2019, Hardcore Mecha

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