The PlayStation– thanks to the CD-ROM format– really helped to push presentation in sports video games forward. More storage space on compact discs allowed for full-motion video, CD-quality music, and significant amounts of commentary. Ideas for TV-style presentations that were birthed during the 16-bit era were refined and expanded upon during the PlayStation generation.
FOX NHL Championship 2000, developed by Radical Entertainment and published by FOX Interactive in 1999, is one of two hockey games for the PlayStation that stand out in terms of presentation. While this game generally flew under the radar (thanks to EA Sports and its NHL juggernaut), Radical Entertainment established some key presentation elements that made FOX NHL Championship 2000 feel remarkably close to a legitimate NHL on FOX broadcast.
The menus are decorated with FOX Sports Net logos and broadcast graphics fonts. Each team is given a FOX ranking, based on skill and past season performance. When playing through a season, past game box scores can be reviewed– complete with stats. The NHL on FOX schedule looks similar to what would be seen during an FSN sports desk segment. While there isn’t any commentary for game recaps, the familiar (to some, anyway) NHL on FOX theme plays in the background. Unlike the NHL games from EA Sports, this broadcast package was purposefully similar to a real-life telecast.
Once a game begins, the presentation really shines. As the camera pans the arena, Kenny Albert begins his duties as play-by-play man. Shortly thereafter, John Davidson joins him and breaks down the goaltender matchup. Each man delivers his lines to near-perfection, with genuine and appropriate levels of personality and emotion. Kenny Albert outshines Jim Hughson (who delivers play-by-play for the NHL games on the PlayStation from EA Sports), with a solid delivery and making use of some pretty funny lines of commentary at times. John Davidson, who provided some voice work and his likeness for full-motion video segments in NHL 97, has great chemistry with Kenny Albert and offers pretty good analysis at times.
After the puck is dropped, FOX NHL Championship 2000 looks and sounds like a real broadcast. Relevant stat lines for key players are shown during stoppages in play, often accompanied by insight from the commentary team. Power plays are led off by a quick review of each team’s power play and penalty kill stats, either cumulatively for the season (on the first power play) or for the game being played (all successive power plays). Goals are followed by instant replays from two angles that show how the goal was scored, with analysis from John Davidson.
While the commentary is delivered well, it’s not without a few flaws. Some lines can feel out of place or slightly after the action. It can also get a bit repetitive after playing through a few games, although this is a common occurrence with sports video games then and now. Unlike having real-time commentary, with people who can react to plays and use an almost infinite amount of words to describe them, scripted commentary is comprised of finite and limited lines of speech. The problem was more common in the early days of commentary– during the 16-bit SportsTalk era and during the PlayStation generation– but gradually improved as storage media expanded to store more data. Now, in 2016, Madden NFL 17 addresses this issue further with regular patches that add lines of commentary to the existing pool every week during the 2016-17 NFL campaign. That said, the commentary in this game was quite impressive for its time– and still impresses at times today.
FOX NHL Championship 2000 is one of the early strong examples of how to best capitalize on a network partnership to deliver a quality presentation. While games like ESPN NFL 2K5 and NCAA Basketball 10 are considered better overall examples, thanks to key partnerships and licensing deals with ESPN and CBS Sports respectively, FOX NHL Championship 2000 set the bar pretty high 5-10 years before either of these titles arrived.
It’s unfortunate that the game was generally ignored back in 1999, because few people remember and/or speak of it today. It’s understandable, as the underlying game engine is pretty average. The player models are rather blocky, and the action on the ice feels a bit floaty at times. Scoring seems a bit haphazard. These flaws don’t really make for a bad hockey game, unlike NHL Blades of Steel 2000, but there are reasons why it never won any end-of-year awards.
There may be better overall hockey games on the PlayStation, but FOX NHL Championship 2000 is still an interesting piece of sports video game history that is worth the cheap asking price if you stumble across it. Otherwise, if you’re interested in seeing the game in action, check out these three videos to get an idea of why the presentation was so impressive 17 years ago.
So… what’s the other PlayStation hockey game that delivers impressive presentation? Find out in the next installment of In The Booth.