How to create sports games?

I got most interesting question which I didn’t reply via email, but thought to bring the question here:

I’m addicted to sports games, like you (NHL11), and wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes to create such realistic graphics.

Do you know how the developers go about actually creating these games? Do they hook up individual athletes to a system that creates the code? What about non-marquee named athletes; how do they get the movements just right?

If you can direct me to a website or blog or anything that could help me, I’d greatly appreciate it!

Even though I’ve said that “everything except NHL series is just hype/trends that die away” and even though I’ve been playing those games since ’93 (*cough*) I hardly consider myself addicted. (After all, I didn’t play those 2001-2009, since ’95 emulation version was much better)

Now with that being sorted out, I’d like to say that:

  • Graphicswise I could imagine indie devs being able to simply do different skating, shooting, passing (etc.) animations. There’s talented artists who can handle them, so it doesn’t get any more difficult.
  • Similarly there’s physics libs and engines (Shiva, Unity, Leadwerks come to my mind at first) can help create stunning systems.

Technically, I believe it is possible for indies to create a such hockey game that it could somehow compete with the big studios. How much money there is to be used of course affects how minecrafty players you’ll see.

The bigger issue – in my opinion – is getting licenses. It’s quite far fetched to get real NHL player names & faces in the game. And that’s where indies need to be creative.

Creative as in what one small Finnish studio has done. They created a floorball league game. To get idea about the quality, check this demo video:

These guys managed to snatch the licenses for player names both in Finland and – I think – also in Sweden. The reason is that floorball isn’t not a such big sports as for example football (compare number of hockey games: 100+ and floorball games: about 1) and from what I heard (from a gaming magazine – might be wrong) is that the league guys wanted to support that these kind of games gets done which might help make the sports also more popular.

If you have any other opinions, please feel free to share.

Juuso Hietalahti

One Comment

  1. 1. Sports games usually have huge animation systems that support anim blending. Games are now even going towards a mix of motion capture and procedurally animated ai driven systems.

    2. Major sports games often use motion capture, which about requires it’s own studio. Often this is not in house.

    3. You will not be “competing” with the major studios unless… Oh wait, that’s my job.

    4. Licenses? That’s just a subset of marketing, which is why you will not be “competing.” Wait, you’ve got $10 million? Ok, nevermind!

    5. You could make a small animation system, and if you have a “talented animator” it would look good (although a frightening number of animations are often required.) Gameplay code isn’t too bad, and might work well with a state based implementation. You’d need to be a bad ass, though, and if not already a professional game developer this would be out of scope. Backgrounds are easy at least, as long as you don’t write a crowd rendering system…

    6. Do not “compete” like that. Make a fun sports game with good gameplay. Nintendo’s ice hocky kicked ass. NBA Jam, too. They are within scope.


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