It's a typical day in L.A.--75 degrees, clear sky, calm winds, no precipitation in sight--as the University of Southern California Trojans football team takes the field. It's a great day to play football, in real life or with Electronic Arts's (EA) newest online sports game, NCAA Football 2008. Scheduled to be released on July 17, the game has an entirely new feature: live weather data, played out on the field. Now when you sit down to play, you will get up-to-the-minute weather conditions for the location where you choose to play.
"If you are playing in a cold-weather stadium, you are going to realize it, whether it's through the snow on the field or seeing the breath of players," says Ryan Balke, the editor of Sportable.com, a sports news site. Balke previewed the title at EA Sports Tiburon Studios in Orlando, FL, last month. He says it was an incredible experience. "Football is a game that's played in some brutal elements, and this new feature is a nice way to bring that realism into the game and take online gaming to a more realistic level."
With online play increasing in popularity, EA developers are focused on improving the user experience. "We try to add whatever technology, feature, or function to games that gives the player real-world experience," says Kyle Hanley, a producer for EA Sports. With broadband Internet now widely available, the company decided to try to incorporate dynamic data into the games. "We thought, wouldn't that be cool if we could play with the real-time weather?"
Developers at EA Sports made this capability a reality in NCAA Football 2008 by integrating a live feed from the Weather Channel. Hanley says that this will be the first game equipped with such a feature.
Once a player selects a team for the game, the weather conditions are displayed on the screen. The game is set to automatically default to the Weather Channel feed. (Players can also turn off the weather feed and select their favorite weather conditions, as is done in current games.)
Just as weather conditions have an impact in the real world, they will have an impact in the game. For instance, if it's raining or snowing, players might not run quite as fast as normal, or if it's extremely hot, players might fatigue quicker. The weather will have a significant impact, but Hanley says it will not be the deciding factor in games since it affects the skill level of players on both teams equally.
"To have realistic weather conditions happening while players are playing the game is a clever feature, and makes it different from other games," says Michael Moore, game department chair at Digipen Institute of Technology, a postsecondary school in Redmond, WA, that focuses on video-game design. "It will enhance game play for sure."
The weather conditions are not updated throughout the game, however. If the skies are clear at the start of the game, they'll stay clear for the duration, even if it starts to rain at the real-world location. The weather will not be updated again until a player starts a new game. According to Hanley, the games last roughly 20 minutes, and developers assumed the weather would not change that dramatically in that time period, thus decided not to keep the feed persistent.
Beyond the Weather Channel feed, EA Sports has incorporated many other new features into NCAA Football 2008, such as new trick plays, a highlight reel, and advanced animations. According to NCAA Football writer Bob Greene, gamers are counting down the days until the product's release.
"NCAA Football 2008 has been innovative this year," says Balke. "The game is playing far smoother than it [was] a year ago, and the improvements will be well received."