The Crowd Goes WildSensible SoccerThe Crowd Goes Wild - RSS 2.0
Meanwhile, thanks to its perspective and one-button control system, Sensible Soccer was Audrey Hepburn elegant. In Sensible, you were instantly passing the ball around the pitch in ballet-like movement, from player to player to player.
It took me time - I was young - but I eventually worked out why Sensible Soccer was so extraordinary. First, the initially odd camera angle: Taken out so far, you saw most of the pitch. You were aware of the positioning of all your team at any moment. You could see who was free. You could see who was covered. You could just see. And since you could see, you could actually choose who would be best to pass to. Yes, other games had radar. But no one ever used radar.
Secondly, the basic button press: In Sensible, the ball was kicked the second the ball was tapped. An instant, accurate pass at whomever you chose. Tap. Tap. Tap. The ball moves from one to the next to the next, in perfect movements. While there was very little skill in performing the action, with it automatically choosing the appropriate player, this freed the player's attention to considering the higher level matters. Passing was easy, so - yet again - people were free to choose who would be best to pass to.
The result was strings of passes that had the geometrical perfection of cheekbones.
There was more to the game than passing, of course. It allowed for impossibly dramatic aftertouch to the ball, allowing it to swerve past the outreached pixel-fingertips of the keeper. You could abandon the passing, and just play the long hoof, but even that was more tactical than in a game with a closer view, and in practice proved an ideal way to take advantage of a lapse in the defense. Enormous leaping headers and sliding tackles allowed a sudden thrust to reclaim a ball or turn a cross into a goal-threatening shot. You could play with formations for strategic effects.
But the passing was always the skeleton around which the game was built, what everything else was built upon. Even the basic skill of dribbling the ball up the pitch was - in game terms - defined in how it's not passing the ball. When doing this, your players basically bobble the ball at their feet, a far, far trickier proposition than a pass, risking a loss of control. Your ability to risk a run was based around a tactical commitment of giving up the ability to easily slide into a pass. You believed you could swap flexibility for a tactical gambit.
Which means that, compared to a modern football game, Sensible Soccer had much fewer moves. In terms of "If it's in the game, it's in the game," it was a far less accurate simulation of a football game, but I suspect more accurate games wouldn't have taught me to understand football in the way Sensible Soccer did. Sensible Soccer was a cartoon of a football match, and cartooning is the art of magnification by removal. What remains is what the artist considered important. And in this cartoon simulation of football, you're left with what is - basically - the core of football.
And over those first few months with Sensible Soccer, that's what it taught me. The core, the reason why people watch this bloody game. Yes, the atmosphere is one thing, but not the only thing. I'd been to matches before as a kid, and even then got the intensity of tens of thousands of people staring at a field of grass and desperately wanting a small ball to go one way or another, but that didn't explain why they were doing it in the first place.