You're in trouble. You need a high-tech gift for a
multimedia-minded sports fan. The sports part is no problem, but
unfortunately you don't know high tech from Georgia Tech. To
you, going digital means wearing a watch with glowing red
numbers, and the closest you ever came to getting wired was when
you plugged in your air-hockey table sometime in 1970s.
Here to help you is a guide to the best in multimedia sports
products, from reference CD-ROMs to engrossing video games. Even
if you think the new expansion ball club in your city should be
named the Luddites, when you give these gifts, you will seem
like a techno-savvy new-media mogul.
Complete Baseball '95 and Complete NBA Basketball Guide '95-'96
(Microsoft, CD-ROM for PC, $34.95 each). Sure, everyone jokes
about Bill Gates's wanting to rule the world, but if Microsoft
continues to put out products of this quality, the time may come
for people to bow down and concede it to him. These are two of
the best CD-ROMs around, sports-related or otherwise. Both discs
use a clean, smart design and offer a cornucopia of information
on their respective sports: stats and profiles of every player
and team in history; audio clips of interviews with important
figures; video highlights of famous plays; and detailed articles
that offer valuable insights into the games.
The two discs do have their differences. Baseball has a
ritualistic quality to it, while Basketball is jazzy and edgy.
As one would expect, Baseball is deeper statistically: The
program has an on-line component that lets you download the
latest stats every day. For its part, Basketball has sharper,
flashier video. But the fact is, if you own a computer and you
are a sports fan, you must have both of these discs.
ABC Sports Presents: The College Sports Series (Stella
Interactive, CD-ROM for PC and Macintosh, $59.95 each). Next to
baseball, college football lends itself most easily to
nostalgia. Remember that cold, gray Saturday afternoon when ol'
Bucky (the Hoss) Buckstein led our boys back from three scores
down? Exploiting that nostalgic sensibility is this series of
six CD-ROMs, each highlighting the history and great moments of
a top college football program. The teams featured are Notre
Dame, Michigan, Florida State, USC, Penn State and Ohio State.
ABC announcer Keith Jackson hosts each disc, jauntily guiding
you through video highlights, player and coach profiles,
statistics and records, school fight songs and team pictures.
The only thing missing is crisp autumn air and a mug of hot cider.
NFL's Greatest Plays (Turner Interactive, CD-ROM for PC and
Macintosh, $29.95). A compilation of the 75 top plays in NFL
history as selected by a panel of coaches and NFL Films staff
members, this CD-ROM is more than a simple string of video
clips. It offers you the chance to dissect these plays and pore
over the video clips with the kind of attention that was given
to the Zapruder film. For example, you can study Franco Harris's
Immaculate Reception frame by frame from two different camera
angles and view a computer-animated breakdown of the play.
Golf Digest ScoreCard (Parsons Technology, CD-ROM for PC, $49).
No snappy graphics or eye candy here, just a sleek and powerful
scorecard analyzer that could do more for your golf game than
that $300 bubble-shaft driver you bought last Christmas. Simply
enter the statistical details of your game after each round
(number of putts, penalty strokes, clubs used, etc.) and then
let the program crunch the data to produce a profile of your
game. ScoreCard will compute your handicap, analyze your
club-choice tendencies and, in general, give you a clear picture
of why you should leave that Burner Bubble in the bag and go
with your trusty old three-wood.
Madden NFL 96 (Electronic Arts, CD-ROM for Sony PlayStation,
$59.95). It may take you several minutes after you fire up this
eye-popping football simulation to realize that this is not a
videotape of a Sunday broadcast. You'll hear the familiar Fox
theme music, see John Madden and Pat Summerall analyze teams,
watch Lesley Visser report from the sidelines and check in with
James Brown at the Fox studio for score updates. Then you'll
play a game in which you control football players whose lifelike
motions were created through a cutting-edge motion-capture
process that digitized the movements of actual NFL players.
Throw in all 30 NFL teams and stadiums, complete 1995 rosters
with real stats, and more than 240 defensive and offensive
plays, and you've got a football experience that redefines the
World Series Baseball (Sega, CD-ROM for Sega Saturn, $69.99).
Baseball simulations hit the market almost as often as Albert
Belle throws temper tantrums. What makes this game stand out are
its smooth graphics, crisp stereo sound and--this part is a bit
unrealistic--briskly paced game play. All right, so Sega took a
few shortcuts: You can play in only four stadiums, the physics
of the ball are a bit curious, and all the batters have the same
swing. Still, World Series succeeds because it makes the game
look like fun. Forget deep statistical simulations and complex
managerial strategies. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the
ball. And gaze lovingly at Wrigley Field's ivy-covered brick
walls. That's what baseball is all about.
Nascar Racing (Papyrus, CD-ROM for PC, $45). You don't have to
be Richard Petty to understand the appeal of competitive racing:
speed, the thrill of man mastering machine, and speed. This
meticulously detailed stock car simulation conveys these
elements by providing breathtakingly fast action with bright,
clear graphics while offering the player an amazing level of
control. How much control? You have to decide what brand of tire
you'll race on. (Tip: Hoosiers are stickier, but Goodyears are
If you're really into this control thing, try NASCAR Racing with
the Formula T2 driving controls (Thrustmaster, peripherals for
PC, $179.95), a steering wheel and pedal accessory set for your
computer. Clamp the full-sized steering wheel to your desk, slip
the heavy-duty brake and accelerator pedals under your feet, and
you're ready for a driving experience that will have you
screaming and cursing out loud as you trade paint with the other
cars on your computer screen. (Tip number 2: Don't hook this
system up at your office unless you have a really cool boss.)
Virtual Pool (Interplay, CD-ROM for PC, $49.95). From seedy pool
halls to CD-ROM: Pocket billiards might not seem like a natural
choice for a computer video game, but after a few minutes with
this disc you'll wonder how pool was ever played before this
program came along. Sophisticated modeling software reproduces
the physics of a pool table so that the action of the balls has
a highly realistic and satisfying feel. The game's tracking mode
is enlightening: Turn it on, and you can see the projected paths
of all the balls before you make your shot. Change your aim or
apply some English with your mouse and see how the various
vectors respond. The effect is hypnotic and educational. Who
knows how good you could have been if you had misspent your
youth playing with this program?
PGA Tour 96 (Electronic Arts, CD-ROM for PC, Sony PlayStation
and 3DO, $59.95). If there's one lesson we've learned from the
digital revolution, it's that golf was meant to be a computer
game. Who wants to put up with tee times, temperamental weather
and ugly pants? It's the crisply struck irons, the beautiful
landscapes and the challenge of course management that draw us
to the links, and all of those attractions are duplicated in
this program. Why go to your local muni and hack around in the
weeds for five hours when you can pop in this disc and play a
round at Sawgrass, spanking 300-yard drives and fading high,
soft two-irons to the green? You can play stroke or match play,
or even a skins game against some of the PGA's top pros. Just
remember to keep your left arm straight and your head down when
you press the swing button.
Pro Play Golf (Thrustmaster, peripherals for PC, $799.95). Of
course, if you like your golf simulations a bit more true to
life, you might want to try out this system. First, make sure
you have room (and money) to spare: This swing analyzer works in
conjunction with your real golf clubs. Plug the electronic mat
into your computer, load the analyzer software, address the tee
on the mat and take full swings with your clubs. Sensors measure
your club-head speed, clubface angle and follow-through, and the
computer churns out a statistical profile of your swing, letting
you know how badly you sliced. Next a golf-adviser program tells
you which areas of your swing need improvement.
You can also load a version of the game Links 386 and play a
simulated round. If you hang the safety net in front of the mat,
you can actually hit balls off the tee. This way you can finish
an entire round in the comfort of your presumably high-ceilinged
den. The illusion is very convincing. Best of all, you'll never
lose a ball, wait for a foursome in front of you or get hassled
about a mulligan.
When not playing video games, new father Albert Kim writes for