Tim Moungey
Wolverine Studios Community Manager

It seems like every year, console sports games get more and more visually stunning – the advancements in graphical technology bringing us ever closer to a photorealistic representation of the sports we all know and love. And that’s a good thing from an immersion standpoint. Where they continually lag behind, however, is their ability to create a world that comes close to reflecting reality in the game’s statistics.

Every year, the same question comes up: “What’s the best sliders set for as realistic a game as possible?” “How do the stats look?” And even when you finally find that perfect set of sliders for your skill level and that edition’s engine quirks, you’re still left with a shadow of realism. A game it is – an accurate simulation it is not.

Which is where the beauty of text-based sports simulations come into play. Freed from the need to adjust to the skill level and time pressures of the player (how many of us actually complete more than a handful of seasons per year of say, Madden?), the game can concentrate on modeling and simulating accuracy and realism of modern-day sports in precise, pristine detail. The statistics are in line with how our sports leagues play, without the need for fiddly sliders and adjustments, and at a much greater degree of accuracy than even the best set. And because games can be simulated much more quickly, seasons can be run at a faster pace.

But it’s more than just statistical accuracy. Think of the trade AI. In console sports games, it’s not too difficult to turn a collection of scrubs into a player of value through sheer quantity that overwhelms a weakly-written trade evaluation routine. In sports sims, that’s not the case. How many times, for example, have you gotten “We’re miles apart” or, my own personal most-hated, “You’ve got to come close to matching the best part of our side if you want to make a deal.” The trade AI in text-based sports simulations is far more brutal – much more like a human GM (though occasionally, like real life, you might find a specific AI GM who makes dumb deals. But that’s only rarely, rather than the entire league like the Maddens and NBA 2Ks of the world).

Another aspect where sports simulations create a deeper, more immersive world is player personalities. In console sports games, player personalities are limited – if present at all – and don’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things. This makes sense – we have the visual representation of the player on the field, which allows us to easily identify him, allowing our brains to readily construct who he is.

Sports simulations – even those with a 3D match engine like Football Manager – do not have that luxury, because they’re often programmed by smaller teams who don’t have the manpower to create such a resource-heavy representation. Instead, they used specific player traits and demands to create as fully realized an entity as possible. This leads to things like your superstar quarterback who only cares about money and could leave for another team if you don’t get your cap situation straightened out to offer him the big bucks. Oh, and he got into a locker room fight with your #1 WR, so now you have to decide who is more valuable – the QB or the WR – and then figure out a solution that keeps your team in the title hunt. It’s through this leaning on player personality traits that help create an identity for your players in a text sports simulation – without the crutch of the on-field/on-court graphical depiction.

Coaches are another area that get more attention in sports simulations. Console coaches? They’re primarily just names and systems. Beyond that, they don’t matter. In sports simulations, they’re often rated in multiple categories – how good are they at identifying talent, for example? How well can they develop the skills of your players? Are they easy-going or abrasive in their personalities? All of these items become factors in how successful (or not) your team is – above and beyond whether their preferred systems and schemes match your roster.

Finances and managing the salary cap/budget? In console sports games, they’re again given the surface treatment. In sports simulations, they’re again given greater depth and importance. The owner will only allow you to spend so much or you’ll get fired. Want to recruit that blue-chip 5 star prospect clear across the country? Better check your budget to make sure that you can afford it and that if you miss, you won’t be stuck with walk-ons because you have nothing left. And because sports simulations rely so much on creating as authentic a representation of their chosen sport as possible, they’ll incorporate more of the professional league’s CBA rules (though not all of them – at a certain point, one has to balance fun vs depth in the experience. Implementing every aspect of the NBA’s CBA, for example, would require you to become a capologist, as the league’s franchises often literally hire as a separate position).

The final realism advantage of text-based sports sims is in the actual gameplay itself. No doubt we’ve seen those situations in console games where, for example, someone takes the Golden State Warriors and their opponent takes the New York Knicks, and the Knicks player wins because of their exceptional hand-eye coordination and knowledge of the engine’s exploits – such as money/cheat plays like the Madden gamer who won a tournament by having his punter at QB and running every play.

Unlike console sports games, in which physical ability plays a major role in a player’s success, your success is based on your team-building skills and strategies. You can have the most talented players and still lose – not because of slowness in button-mashing or failure to exploit the game – but because the players’ skill-sets don’t mesh well together (such as a team of talented, ball-dominant scorers with no one to play the role of shutdown defender). It produces far more realistic statistics and results. For all of these reasons, if you’re seeking the most realistic, authentic sports experience possible, look at text-based sports simulations. We offer them in a number of sports, and you can download demos of any of them for free here.