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Thread: SI.com: How Sports Illustrated Covers Made It Into NCAA Football

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    SI.com: How Sports Illustrated Covers Made It Into NCAA Football


    In a nostalgia-filled week with social media and more reminiscing over memories of NCAA Football, SI.com's Eric Single has taken a look back at the PS2/Xbox versions of the game and how Sports Illustrated covers made it into Dynasty Mode.

    Starting with NCAA Football 2004, considered one of the best versions of the game, the top storylines of Dynasty Mode would be surfaced in one of the most prestigious ways possible - on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Ask any college football fan who roots for a team who has won a national championship and you'll be likely to find a copy of SI commemorating their title as a prized possession.

    “During the fall, everyone would wait and see who got on the cover of Sports Illustrated in real life—with all the big stories that were going on that week, what would grace the cover?” says Ben Haumiller, a producer at EA who worked on NCAA at the time. “And so you translate that into our world: If Sports Illustrated was just focused on college football, what would be the weekly top story that would grace that cover?”

    Continue on for some excerpts of Singles' article, available in full at this link.

    ***

    Starting with NCAA Football 2004 (released in July 2003), the popular multi-season gameplay setting Dynasty Mode used a virtual issue of SI as the connective storytelling vehicle for each season, complete with custom headlines and captions on every screen the brought-to-life games simulated just moments before.

    ***

    When Rivero was assigned to be the primary engineer on Dynasty Mode during the production of NCAA Football 2004, lead engineer Jeremy Paulding pulled him aside to drive home just how important Rivero’s new responsibility was. “You need to play it, you need to breathe it, you need to live it,” Rivero recalls Paulding telling him. “‘Dynasty is the bread and butter of NCAA Football. This is why fans love this game so much, because of all the care and all the depth and all the bells and whistles. This is a big deal. I’m not gonna pass this on to anybody, and you need to own this and drive it and make Dynasty great. Are you willing to do that?’ I was like, ‘Woooow. Yes, yes!’”

    Many of the details within the Sports Illustrated feature—standings pages, rankings, the Heisman leaderboard—had been available in past editions of NCAA Football, but there was no central hub where a player could see the context of every big game he’d missed while he was absorbed in his own team’s matchup. Complicating matters further, there was no existing program that could pass as a sports desk editor, determining which stories out of a week’s 50-plus games mattered most to the reader and pairing them with a realistic headline, caption and photo. “Our producers at the time, Jeff Luhr and Tom Vuong, pitched the idea to me, and I was kind of terrified at first, honestly, because from a technology standpoint I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is gonna be a lot of work,’” Rivero said. “But I really believed in their vision.”

    ***

    In all, the feature housed 618 unique stories, each of which had anywhere from three to 10 headline-caption combinations that could be used.

    The engineers had not yet figured out how to insert still-frame pictures into the feature, so each “SI cover photo” was actually a one-frame animation, frozen and made to look like an action shot. (Rivero says that due to the limitations of the tech back then, the animation didn’t always freeze, leading to the rare edition of SI where players and mascots moved on the cover: “We didn’t have YouTube and everything back then, so people would just think it was a myth and a rumor. ... Bigfoot is real in this case.”)

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    First, I think I would put 04 in my top three NCAA games along with 14 & 09. I had to have played an unreal amount of games on it. It was really cool seeing those covers each week.


    Second, I thought this quote from the article was really accurate:

    “This feature really still holds up in a way I think we’re still missing in a lot of sports games right now,” Haumiller says. “Just that one hub you felt like it was seamlessly integrated into the UI that you didn’t have to go out of your way to get to it. And it kind of really helped tell a quick story of what was happening in your league and let you get back to whatever else it was you were doing.”

    I don't play much of certain sports franchises, but does anyone use similar tech anymore? Last I knew NBA 2K did with some of the magazine and game covers in-game, along with fake sponsorships and ad campaigns for created players. Beyond that, I'm drawing a blank if anyone else does. Now in this day and age of quick screenshots and sharing, it seems silly for games not to have something like this.

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    SI.com: How Sports Illustrated Covers Made It Into NCAA Football

    I remember 04 being everyone’s GOAT but I thought 05 was better in every way but 1 area, hyper receiver drops, which was ironic because Larry Fitzgerald was on the cover. 05 added stadium cutscenes, create-a-fan, and stadium atmosphere. That alone made going back to 04 dull to me. After 05, I didn’t get another NCAA game until 08, I believe. The one with the Boise St. QB. That was my favorite PS2/Xbox/GameCube era game.


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