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Defunct publisher Midway once made a game that mocked Michael Vick for going to prison and having a sexually transmitted disease.
That’s just one of the things we discovered when we went back to dig up dirt, interesting facts, and buried stories involving sports-related games. For a lot of people, gaming doesn’t get much more pedestrian than the sports sim, but we found secrets involving sex, cheating, and laziness in some of the most popular sports titles of all time. Now, let us share them with you.
Let’s get to it.
5. Midway couldn’t get the NFL license for Blitz, so it made fun of Michael Vick’s herpes
The National Football League takes itself very seriously. That’s often at odds with the on-field violence of the games and off-the-field behavior of many of the players. While ESPN can get away with covering the cocaine-snorting, prostitute-hiring antics of the ’90s era Dallas Cowboys on its SportsCenter news program, the NFL would never permit a partner company to make a licensed product (like Madden NFL) that portrays players partaking in illegal activities.
Of course, it couldn’t do anything to stop Midway from doing the same with Blitz: The League II.
In 2004, the NFL signed an agreement that gave EA Sports the exclusive license to the teams and players of the league. This left competitors in a tough situation since football fans were much less likely to purchase a game that didn’t feature their team or favorite player.
In an attempt to survive, Midway decided to make a game that stood out in the best way possible: by featuring sex, cheating, and drugs.
In 2008, Midway released Blitz: The League II. This football game doesn’t feature any real teams or active players, although it does include retired linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Instead, The League II tells a number of drama-filled stories that are clear references to real scandals.
For example, the game features a character named Mike Mexico, who is a former Washington Redhawks quarterback that is serving time in prison. In 2005, Michael Vick made headlines for allegedly getting treatment for genital herpes under the false name “Ron Mexico.” In 2007, a court convicted Vick on animal-abuse charges stemming from a dog-fighting ring that he operated. He served two years in prison as part of his sentencing for that crime.
Mike Mexico is an obvious stand-in for Michael Vick.
In addition to Vick’s STD and legal troubles, Blitz: The League II also references the 2007 New England Patriots’ “Spygate” cheating scandal and the 2005 Minnesota Vikings’ sex cruise on Lake Minnetonka.
4. A few copies of NCAA Football 04 feature an unapproved goalpost teardown scene
While the NFL couldn’t control what Midway did with its Blitz games after the NFL exclusivity deal, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) happily exercised its power over EA Sports in 2003 and 2004.
Above: Fans storming the goal post.
Image Credit: Tuscon Citizen
The thing about making a sports game year after year is that developers find it difficult to make significant improvements. This forces EA Sports to often focus on improving the atmosphere to make things feel more realistic.
In 2003, the developer came up with an idea to have the fans storm the field and tear down the goalposts after big wins in certain modes. The designers loved the idea so much that they got to work on it very early in development … and that was their big mistake.
“We spent all year working on an awesome end-of-game scene,” NCAA producer Ben Haumiller told GamesBeat. “But we had not gone through the proper approval channels, and at the very end of the cycle, the NCAA made us pull out the scene.”
EA finished the feature and was read to ship it, but NCAA didn’t want to appear like it was endorsing the destruction of property.
The thing is that NCAA made its decision so late that EA Sports actually ended up sending out review copies that include the climatic victory scene.
“The feature was even called out in a couple of reviews for how awesome it was,” said Haumiller. “But from that point forward, we made sure we got all of our concepts cleared before working on them.”
3. The courses in Wii Sports Golf are from a 20-year-old NES game
Nintendo is the master of game development and design, but it’s also the master of saving a few bucks whenever it can.
In 2009, Nintendo development boss (and Mario creator) Shigeru Miyamoto revealed that it used two generic Toad characters in New Super Mario Bros. Wii because they move like Mario and Luigi. He didn’t want to spend time and resources developing characters like Peach or Wario, since they would have to play differently.
It turns out that New Super Mario Bros. Wii wasn’t the first time the company cut corners.
When Nintendo made the 2006 Wii launch game Wii Sports, it looked to its past for inspiration and cost-saving measures. In fact, the company looked back more than 20 years to its game known simply as Golf for the NES, and it took the courses from that game and reused them in Wii Sports Golf
Check out the following gallery (via Reddit user Onus111) that compares the holes from the 1984 release Golf and Wii Sports Golf:
Of course, maybe this had nothing to do with saving money. It’s possible Nintendo thought it was an interesting Easter Egg or that it couldn’t improve upon the design of the original courses.
More likely, Nintendo decided to reuse old content just like a number of other sports franchises do.
2. EA’s answer for Madden’s dumb defense? Turn running QBs into fumble factories
Artificial Intelligence is a bit of a misnomer. The brain is way more complex than a PlayStation 2, and it’s difficult to make computer-controlled characters behave realistically.
Fans of Madden are very familiar with the shortcomings of A.I. They’ve witnessed first hand a fullback completely miss a block or a defense break down because it doesn’t understand what the offense is doing.
Above: Michael Vick getting ready to throw or scramble … the defense certainly doesn’t know.
Image Credit: EA Sports
Things are a little better now, but the defensive smarts in previous Madden games got pretty grim. How grim?
Well, no matter what Madden’s developers did, they could not get the defense to respond quickly enough if a player decided to use a scrambling quarterback to run a lot. The only way the studio could solve this problem was to drastically increase the likelihood that the QB would fumble if they decided to start running.
In Madden 04, if a player decided to start running with Vick, his fingers would magically (and figuratively) turn into buttery cobs of corn. If a defensive end even whispered Vick’s name, he would cough up the ball.
In the following years, EA Sports would continue to jack up the fumbling chances, but it would also increase the likelihood that the QB would get injured.
1. A Detroit Pistons fan rigged NBA Jam against the Chicago Bulls
Above: A dunk in NBA Jam.
Image Credit: Midway
I wish someone could explain sports to me. I’m a fan. I get really invested in my teams, but I don’t really understand why I care about the fate of a bunch of sweaty guys playing a game.
Sports fandom makes us behave strangely. We yell at our televisions. We sneer at people we’ve never met who are wearing Green Bay Packers’ jerseys. We even program NBA Jam to favor the Pistons over the Bulls because the Bulls are a bunch of punks.
OK, maybe we don’t all have the option to do that last one, but Mark Turmell did. Turmell was the lead designer on NBA Jam, Acclaim’s famous 1993 arcade basketball title, and he used his position to get a bit of revenge against the Chicago Bulls on behalf of his beloved Detroit Pistons.
Back in the early ’90s, the Pistons and the Bulls were heated rivals. As a fan of the Pistons, Turmell had an ingrained hatred of the Bulls, so he took it in his hands to ensure Detroit’s basketball team always had the edge.
“If there was a close game and anyone on the Bulls took a last-second shot, we wrote special code in the game so that they would average out to be bricks,” Turmell told ESPN The Magazine in an interview. “I was always a big Pistons fan, and that was my opportunity to level the playing field.”
That’s not all. Turmell also coded NBA Jam so the game would lower the stats of Bulls forward Scotty Pippen when he played against Detroit’s Isiah Thomas or any of the other Pistons.
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Shigeru Miyamoto is a Japanese video game designer and producer for Nintendo. Sometimes called "the father of modern video gaming,"he is best known as the creator of some of the best-selling, most critically acclaimed, most enduring, a... read more »
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