Saturday, August 2, 2014

Pro Football In 10 Yard Pixels

My favorite football video game as a kid was the mental headlock, 10-yard Fight. 

I was nine when it was released, which gifted me with a suitable lack of expectation and a necessary amount of patience to enjoy such a limited game. But then again, 10-yard Fight moved video gamers beyond Atari’s raw pixilation and into, well, a slightly sharper variation of little blurry squares. 

The beauty of Fight—as anyone nostalgic about the original batch of Nintendo offerings will attest to—was its simplicity. No fancy intro featuring Kid Rock or Creed. No mistimed broadcasting on a loop. No overcompensating mini-games because the main product’s bogged down in complex playbooks. 

Instead, Fight resourced one offensive mode—the read-option. Your quarterback simply took the snap and could make three choices: 1) run, 2) toss the ball horizontally to a running back, or 3) throw the ball to your lone down-field receiver. It was the sort of stark, unscheduled, draw-it-up-the-sand approach to football that made you fall in love with the sport in the first place. 

The Fight signal-caller, hurriedly scans for space, reads the lean of defenders’ bodies and chooses an angle, by foot or by air. It’s a basic premise with an understated beauty. But 10-yard Fight is polarizing because most gamers, and even those with a penchant for anything retro, prefer the oft-heralded Tecmo Bowl. And to be fair, Tecmo seems a superb blend of dynamism and graphical prowess in hindsight. 

Fight never matched its game play, and yet made up the difference with quirky, old-fashioned touches, chief of which were its sound effects. Its mirthful audio snippets can only be described as cuts from an abandoned Casio keyboard recording session, which provided both practical and emotional checkpoints for a game that hinged on such things. Fight’s intermittent jingles signalled new downs, first downs, and touchdowns—but more importantly, success! 

Football deconstructed into 10-yard struggles posed a feasible and enticing challenge in the Eighties, kind of like the “It girls” they casted during the era’s teen movies: Cindy Mancini in Can’t Buy Me Love or Andy in the The Goonies were just the types of love interests nerds locked in their rooms with Nintendo could not attain, but hoped to. Yet, if you consider today’s It girl—Madden on the Xbox, if you will—they’re all uninhibited nymphs whose mere silhouettes are enough to unsettle the fit of your Dockers. It’s a challenge of another kind. 

Fight has its own sex appeal, though. How about, for example, when the marching defense is coming for you, with that tappity-tap drumming sound in your ear? Then, at a speed equitable to the one typically seen on scratchy CBS replays, you retreat your quarterback toward your own end zone, spinning and ducking in a Tim Tebow-esque fashion until ultimately you find yourself yards from the goalposts, at which point your only option – your only read – is to heave it back down field toward your lone receiver. 

If you’re lucky, the ball will sail beyond the smattering of defenders—who by this stage have mostly drifted toward the sideline in search of pixilated Gatorade—and will conclude its flight in the opposite end zone, in the hands of your receiver. The bird-like whistle will sound repetitively as your man leaps for joy on the spot, seemingly with no place else to go. You glance at the rapidly ticking clock and get ready to defend, where you’ll soon play the part of cumbersome obstacle, and your opponent will attempt to secure ground in highly-coveted 10-yard increments.

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