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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    EA Sports hits from all angles to create Über-realistic game experience for latest edition of ‘Madness’

    The days of “”Pong”” and “”Pac-Man”” are gone. Today’s video games strive for a realism aimed to make consumers feel like part of the game.

    The creators of the EA Sports video game “”NCAA March Madness 08,”” due out Dec. 11, have done everything they could to do just that, giving those that play it on Playstation 2 or 3 or XBox 360 a television-like experience.

    Working with ESPN and Arizona Athletics to gather reference photos and videos from past Arizona men’s basketball games, EA Sports has made McKale Center look like the real deal.

    “”We strive to recreate everything about Arizona basketball,”” said game producer Sean O’Brien. “”Everything from the rafters to what the walls look like, to what the court looks like, to how the seating is. Every single nut and bolt.

    “”We use information like, ‘Where does the student section sit? Where is the band and where are the cheerleaders?’ “”

    But that’s just the setup to make the atmosphere look authentic. Measures have also been taken to make the crowd as real as possible. ESPN provided EA Sports with audio from real games to capture the authentic sounds of the cheers from the student sections of more than 320 schools. More than 400 fight songs and chants are featured in the game, including “”Bear Down.””

    During games, crowds react differently to swings in momentum and for rivalry matchups like those featuring Arizona and ASU. Attendance also increases as teams win more, an often real-life trend.

    “”All these things that mean so much to an Arizona student or grad student or the alumni,”” O’Brien said. “”When they load up the game, they hop in there and want to see what Arizona looks like, what it sounds like. Having that authenticity there really resonates with all of our consumers and is an important part of our game.””

    Player realism and rankings

    Though Wilbur the Wildcat looks a lot like the real mascot, from the red Converse sneakers to his trademark cowboy hat, the players bear only slight resemblances to their real-life counterparts – the game does not have the rights to use college players’ names or photos.

    For example, Arizona’s No. 5 – representing UA guard Jawann McClellan – does not sport facial hair and No. 34 – representing UA forward/resident redhead Chase Budinger – is depicted with dark hair.

    Outside of the players’ looks, they are accurately represented. Each athlete is ranked from 1-99 in 20 categories – such as blocking, jumping and passing – based on a formula derived from season statistics.

    “”If you’re a five-point, three-rebound guy, but you’ve only played eight minutes a game,”” O’Brien said, “”that’s actually quite good, so we’ll adjust the ratings accordingly. If you have the same stats but you play 20 minutes a game, you’re ratings will be lower.””

    The game gets input from Web sites like Scout.com and ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb, a former player at Oklahoma State who is an avid gamer, O’Brien said.

    “”He gives us some insight on incoming freshmen like (UA guard) Jerryd Bayless, how good they really are,”” O’Brien said of Gottlieb.

    With a roster of 12 – missing the representations of its three walk-ons and freshman Alex Jacobson – the Arizona team is led by the Budinger replicate, which rates the highest overall with a score of 83. He also leads in free-throw shooting (99), jumping (80), offensive awareness (99) and 3-point shooting (79).

    The replicate of Bayless leads in the most categories on the team, seven, including passing (93), dribbling (98) and quickness (99).

    All-time Arizona teams

    More than 70 classic teams are featured in the game, including 1993 Arizona and the 1997 national title team. Current Arizona assistants Josh Pastner and Miles Simon are represented on the ’97 team. Pastner’s replicate is rated a 70 overall, Simon’s 87.

    An All-Arizona team is also included, which features the replicates of Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, Sean Elliott, Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton. Gilbert Arenas, Steve Kerr and Jason Gardner – the latter two of whom have their jerseys retired by the Wildcats – were left out of the all-time team.

    “”We leverage ESPN with how players should be rated and who the key players are on each team,”” O’Brien said. “”You think of a guy like Jason Terry. He was a good college player, but he’s evolved as he’s gotten older and he’s playing in the NBA (with Dallas) now. You have to look at tape and see what his strengths and weaknesses were at that time in his life.

    “”It’s cool to take a classic Arizona team and put them up against a present team and see who would win,”” he added.

    ESPN’s Andrews lends her voice

    Adding to the sound, sportscasters Dick Vitale and Brad Nessler have lent their voices to the game, along with ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews. Making her video game debut, Andrews said she spent about eight hours in EA’s Vancouver, British Columbia, studio, creating more than 300 tracks.

    “”It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,”” Andrews said. “”When we cover a game … you get a feel for the storyline. When I went to the recording studio, it was all generic. We had to make it up on our own.””

    After a while, Andrews said recording became easier as she created scenarios about everything from the vibe of the crowd to what athletes were saying on the bench to injury updates.

    “”Everything that I did in the recording studio are things that I look for on the sidelines of a college basketball game,”” Andrews said. “”Everything that I do on ESPN is translated onto the video game. So it’s like you’re watching a game on ESPN.””

    Though she’s never covered an Arizona men’s basketball game, Andrews said she met head coach Lute Olson at a UA football game a couple of years ago. She will cover Arizona’s game at UCLA on Feb. 2.

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