Front Page Sports: Football. (Dynamix Inc. computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
The only thing better than playing this incredibly realistic football simulation is putting on a uniform and playing the real thing.
In a blitz of cutting-edge technology, Dynamix's Front Page Sports: Football blindsides the competition and knocks them out cold. We're not talking about a playful beating here, but a crushing blow - one so powerful that it renders almost every gridiron game before it instantly obsolete. Sporting a game plan that bursts with realistic action, in-depth strategy, and statistical detail, this is a pigskin lover's dream come true.
It's hard to believe that something this good represents Dynamix's first foray into sports simulation. After only a cursory tour of the game, you'll notice the same commitment to excellence that's marked such previous bestsellers as Red Baron and Aces of the Pacific. The design turned out so well that Dynamix has slated an entire series of Front Page Sports titles.
The game divides itself into three separate, but directly connected, sections: on-field action, coaching playbook, and team management. You can compete against the computer or head to head against another player. You can choose exhibition, single season, or career league play. The game boasts full 47-man teams, complete with injured reserve, free agent pools, drafting, training camp, and trading. Seasons can be designed in one of five league sizes divided into one or two conferences with up to three divisions each. Seasons culminate with divisional championships, postseason playoffs, and a final Super Bowl-style showdown.
Almost every detail of a team's franchise can be customized by the owner: team name, nickname, head coach, jersey colors, stadium type (domed or outdoor), and nearest city. The last two options also have a direct influence on weather conditions, temperature, humidity, and precipitation, which in turn affect field conditions and player performance.
Statistical jocks will love the game's exhaustive number crunching. More than 300 stat categories are automatically compiled, updated, and displayed onscreen or printed. Detailed box scores are available during and after games, as well as match-ups from the previous week. League leader stats compare all teams and players in the league in a wide range of categories.
Players are rated from 0 to 99 in eight performance classifications. Team and player editors are available as shareware on many electronic information services, and you can find unofficial, user-created files for the 1992 NFL season.
In career leagues, the program maintains a sharp distinction between potential and actual ratings, affected by such factors as training, injuries, and aging. This attention to subtle cause and effect not only increases the realism but also deepens the game's considerable role-playing aspects. As general manager, you attempt to handpick the best players. As coach, you're responsible for working with each player to bring out everyone's best abilities. On the field, your players are compelled to excel both individually and as a team. No other computer football simulation offers such well-rounded, personal involvement with every phase of the game.
Strategic-minded players will revel in the game's extraordinary playbook editor - which is without doubt the most comprehensive and intuitive yet seen. More than 200 stock plays are included, divided among standard offensive and defensive formations. Utilizing a CAD-style point-and-click drawing interface, you can easily alter any of these predesigned plays or create your own. Movement paths are represented by lines, ending with or segmented by logic boxes. Assembled with simple menu-driven text commands, logic boxes are instructional scripts that tell each player how to react as a play unfolds. Instructions may be absolute, causing an action to be performed regardless of circumstances, or conditional, allowing players to react logically to each unique situation.
Logic boxes offer incredible control over every nuance of play. Defensive players can be "taught" to adopt an aggressive, conservative, or balanced stance. Offensive and defensive plays can be practiced with or without opposition. Try experimental pass routes against different formations, or select a killer offensive attack and mold a defense to stop it. Much of the game's appeal comes from testing, dissecting, and fine-tuning your plays into gridiron ballets of power and beauty.
More than 8000 frames of animation were used to create the astonishingly lifelike player movement, digitized from human models with a technique called rotoscoping. Rendered from a 256-color VGA palette, the graphics are bright and expressive, augmented with bone-crushing sound effects and crisp digitized speech.
Although Dynamix recommends an 80386SX as its minimum system requirement, the game performs better on a 33-MHz 80386, and it positively smokes on an 80486. On slower machines, the players move as if they're running underwater. Luckily, most sound and graphic effects can be selectively turned off, speeding up the action considerably. The game also makes excellent use of expanded memory for reduced disk access.
The on-field action is fantastic. Three skill levels offer you full or partial control of the action and coaching duties. The game supports keyboard, mouse, and dual joysticks. The joysticks option is definitely preferred. Arcade controls are fast and reliable. Your view of the action can be changed either before or during play to one of nine fixed camera positions. These views, as well as a free-floating camera, also contribute to the game's extraordinary instant-replay system. Using standard VCR-style controls, you can easily view, edit, and save pivotal plays as a highlight film.
Like all other great works, this game has its share of problems and shortcomings. Entire playbooks must be memorized by their often cryptic eight-character abbreviations. Unfortunately, there's no provision for printing actual play diagrams to create a real coach's playbook, Missing play options include improvised hand-offs, laterals, and shovel passes, but these require realtime action that would admittedly be difficult to program. An option for shorter quarter lengths (five or ten minutes) would also add zest to pure arcade contests,
Another major inconvenience occurs when you simulate a series of weekly league games. For realism's sake, the program simulates every game - sans graphics - instead of quickly generating results. This means agonizingly long periods of computer inactivity. On a 25-MHz 80386, for example, the average computer-simulated game takes 11 minutes. Multiply this by the full 28-team weekly schedule, and you're looking at 2-3 hours of nonstop number crunching and hard drive activity. On a 66-MHz 80486, this figure drops to about 30 minutes, Regardless, players should be given the option for a quick resolve. Adding insult to injury, the only way to stop the computer simulation is to exit to DOS or reboot.
Despite these problems, a big stadium wave is in order for Dynamix's support team, especially those folks involved with the game's outstanding documentation. The indexed manual brims with illustrated examples, playbook tutorials, and suggested reading. The folks at Dynamix also earn high marks for their quick response to customer-reported bugs and suggested improvements.
Front Page Sports: Football kicks our perception of computer sports simulations into another dimension. The only thing that gets better than this requires a uniform.