The 411 on 989SportsOnline
On the heels of the launch of 989's portal, GameSpot speaks with one of 989's senior programmers on what makes its product different from the rest.
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On Tuesday, Sony Computer Entertainment America and developer 989 Sports launched 989SportsOnline.com, a portal designed to offer community features, stats and rankings, a sports ticker, and VoIP in its lobby. The launch complements the recent release of NFL GameDay 2004 and NCAA GameBreaker 2004, which both feature voice-recognition technology similar to that of SCEA's popular SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs.
We spoke with Russ Patterson, senior programmer at 989 Sports to get more details on 989SportsOnline.
GameSpot: As a first-party sports developer, 989 Sports competes not only with Microsoft's first-party offerings, but also with EA Sports, whose online play in sports games is exclusive to the PlayStation 2 for the 2003-2004 season. What does 989 Sports do better than Microsoft or EA Sports?
Russ Patterson: We're the only sports products that support voice recognition. We also have an extensive infrastructure built to support online communities. Specifically, we have a full-featured message-board system that can be accessed by any 989 Sports online game or on a PC via our 989SportsOnline.com site. We also have user mail, polls, surveys, news, a developer feedback system, weekly roster downloads (not three or four times a season like the competition), real-time weather (if it's snowing at the real Lambeau field on a Tuesday night, it will be snowing in the Lambeau field in GameDay on Tuesday night), and a live sports ticker for up-to-the-minute real league scores. In addition, as far as we know, we are the only ones supporting a 64-player tournament system.
The two features requested most by our GameDay 2003 online players were tournaments and message boards. Part of our commitment to our online sports community is to build technology that gives us the flexibility to respond to what our users want more frequently than once a year. We have a very flexible architecture that allows us to change and add features as the season goes on.
GS: 989's voice recognition proved popular with SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs, and Sony has celebrated it as a major coup for 989 Studios to have incorporated it in a sports game. Can you explain some of the ways it's used in NFL GameDay 2004 and NCAA GameBreaker 2004?
RP: We felt that voice chat was going to be the price of entry for sports products this year. At 989 Sports we're committed to creating new technology that will enhance gamers' experiences. Voice recognition was the logical evolution. Voice recognition specifically allows gaming to take place without the touch of a button. With more than 50 voice-recognition commands available to the gamer it would be difficult to list them all here. Highlights include everything from shifting the line, audibles, play calling, and skipping cutscenes to simply calling a timeout.
GS: Microsoft has adopted a broadband-only strategy with Xbox Live. In terms of gameplay performance and design, was it a difficult concession for 989 Studios to have to support the dial-up standard in the US? Other territories like Australia are launching broadband-only PS2 services. What are the plans going forward to support the dial-up standard with compatible games in North America?
RP: Half of our online gamers are connecting with dial-up connections. Many people simply do not have the option of choosing broadband since it's not available in their area. We did not want to exclude those people from being able to experience online gaming. So we did whatever it took to make it work for them. From a development standpoint, only supporting broadband would have been the easy way out. From a community standpoint, features like message boards take only slightly longer to access with a dial-up connection, like an extra second or two. We will continue to support our user base no matter how they connect to our network.
GS: 989SportsOnline.com has beaten Xbox Live to the punch by a few weeks in incorporating non-game VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) into the 989 Sports lobby. How significant a community feature is VoIP?
RP: It gives our users the ability to communicate in a whole new way. Once again we didn't take the easy way out. We still support USB keyboards and our own virtual keyboard as well. Being able to communicate via voice lets our users get to know each other better and fosters camaraderie between sports-gaming enthusiasts. It also takes pregame smack talk to a whole new level.
GS: Going forward, what are the plans for adding more features to the 989 Sports lobby and 989SportsOnline.com, along with 989 Games?
RP: We feel like we've provided the most comprehensive online feature set to date of any PS2 game. We will be actively soliciting feedback from our users and responding to it so that our community is exactly what gamers want. I can't give away any secrets but stay tuned throughout the season.
GS: Thanks for your time, Russ.