Both in sports as well as life, I’ve had a reputation for being very good at seeing things well before they develop. Some might even go as far as to call me a bit of a prophet (they don’t, but what better time to start, right?).
Amare Stoudemire and Brad Faye try out NBA ’08. (NBAE Photos)
When the Phoenix Suns drafted Amaré Stoudemire back in 2002, I received a number of calls from friends and family asking my opinion on the selection. For anybody interested in my two cents, my analysis of the youngster was simple – if he could ever develop a consistent shot from about 15 feet out, he would go down in history as a better power forward than Karl Malone. So far, he’s made me look pretty good. The two-time All-Star has scored 6,016 points and grabbed 2,732 rebounds five seasons into his NBA career, despite missing all but three games during the 2005-06 campaign. It’s hard to imagine that had STAT spent four seasons playing college ball, the 24-year-old would have just wrapped up his rookie season last year.
But for all the predictions I’ve been able to make over the years, there’s no way could I have foreseen what would take place just a couple weeks ago. With Stoudemire slated for the cover of the soon-to-be-released NBA ’08 video game, Sony invited me out to San Diego for a front row seat to the motion capture process involving STAT.
For anybody not familiar with the process, it records the movements of a participant – in this case Stoudemire – and maps them to a 3-D model created by a computer artist. In the case of video games, it allows more realistic and fluid motions from the characters being controlled. Quite a long ways from Super Mario and those Dig Dug guys, right?
The technology behind motion capture definitely pays off when playing these games, as you can see the difference between a player of Stoudemire’s size, stature and ability when compared to that of a Chris Paul. It not only makes for a better look to the game, but also makes things much more realistic.
When I arrived, I met up with several people in the video game industry who were there for a sneak peak. While I haven’t been in the video game loop like I used to be, it was definitely comforting to see I wasn’t as ancient as I thought. There were still references to Double Dribble and when playing NBA ‘08 against the experts, I didn’t do nearly as poorly as I expected. Not only did I spare myself embarrassment, but I was even able to emerge victorious in one of my two contests played (thanks in large part to a Raja Bell shot at the buzzer).
While a room filled with video game experts and a web guy would already seem to scream cool (to some, anyway), things managed to go up a notch when Stoudemire made his arrival. The big man hung out, talked a little hoop and did some gaming before calling it an early night.
I also called it a night early (minus some ESPNEWS) as I knew it would be a long day ahead tomorrow. The hotel room was great and minus the radio alarm randomly sounding off at 5 a.m., definitely had no complaints.
The following morning a couple of us enjoyed a breakfast buffet before heading over to Sony Computer Entertainment headquarters where the motion capture process would take place. Although it was early, Stoudemire was his usual approachable self, chatting with Sony representatives about everything from his gold-medal-winning play in Las Vegas to his knee surgery of a couple years ago (I really wonder if seven more All-Star appearances from now that will still be brought up).
Stoudemire then went to work, and an array of jumpshots and slam dunks later, the process was nearly complete. As the animators began piecing things together, STAT and I went head-to-head on the PlayStation 3. Taking over for game designer Steve Boldener midway through the first quarter, I was forced to use the Seattle SuperSonics while Stoudemire utilized himself and the Suns. With the game already out of reach, I just had a little fun, at one point beating both the video game Amaré and the real Amaré to the other end of the court with former Sun and current Sonic Kurt Thomas. Stoudemire questioned the realism of that specific play, but other than that, the game was met with nothing but positive feedback.
Speaking personally, I can honestly say this was maybe the best basketball video game I have ever played. The graphics are unmatched and the actual game play is as smooth and as fun as any I’d experienced in a long time. I think video games went through a period where designers spent so much time worrying about the graphics that the gameplay lagged. That definitely was not the case with NBA ’08 (and no, I am not being sent out several cases of PlayStation 3’s for saying that).
My only complaints came in the fact that when playing at the US Airways Center, the team photographer in the game looked nothing like our own Barry Gossage, and the pre-game introductions were not conducted by Suns game emcee Cedric Ceballos. I mentioned this to Boldender, the game’s designer, and he commented on how difficult it would be to get that specific for each and every team in the league. I stated that it didn’t need to be done for every team and that in the grand scheme of things only the Suns mattered, but the comment wasn’t taken as seriously as I’d intended.
Following lunch, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Stoudemire. Assuming he was going to be burnt out on talking about the motion capture process and the game, I went more the route of STAT’s summer recap and 202007-08 expectations. Needless to say, the All-Star is fired up and expecting big things to come out of Phoenix this season. He was excited about the addition of Grant Hill and says the forward is in the best shape he’s been in for ages. Stoudemire quickly credited our awesome training staff for that and says a new, rejuvenated Hill should be taking the court for the new season.
I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things as an employee of the Phoenix Suns, but I may be going out on a limb here by saying this was the coolest. As somebody who has played video games since the days of Commodore 64 (thanks Mom and Dad), and for ages has been a basketball fan, there aren’t many better assignments than flying out to San Diego and hanging out with a guy whose career you’ve followed from the very beginning.
In fact, I can still remember the night the news broke that Steve Nash would be returning to Phoenix to rejoin the Suns. I actually told a friend, “The guy I predicted to be the next Karl Malone now has his John Stockton.” Never could I have foreseen that I’d someday go from discussing my expectations of Amaré and the Suns to discussing the expectations of the Suns with the man himself.