August 21, 2009

Video Games Get Real-Time Weather

While thunderstorms and other adverse weather conditions have long been known to disrupt real-life sporting events, they are now beginning to impact virtual players in sports video games as well.

Game publishers have nearly perfected the ground visuals in video games, and simulating actual weather conditions is a logical next step in making the games even more realistic -- be it on a virtual golf course, baseball field or football stadium.

EA Sports has partnered with The Weather Channel to include real-time weather into its "Madden NFL 10" videogame. As a result, if a hurricane or other bad weather should hit the U.S., players may now find certain stadiums more challenging to play.

"Tropical systems typically bring with them strong winds and heavy rain, so hurricanes on a path closer to a stadium would certainly affect gameplay, creating a wet field, wind gusts and more," Tom Moore, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel, told Reuters.

Consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 allow the new "Madden" game to receive continuous weather updates through a broadband Internet connection.

"Our teams at The Weather Channel provide a data feed that allows EA to pull real-time weather for any location chosen as a venue within the game," Derek Van Nostran, director of marketing for The Weather Channel Interactive, told Reuters.

"We also provided historical data for the past three years so that the EA producers would be able to match realistic weather conditions at every venue for games played at any time of year."

"Madden" players will see their virtual NFL players fumble more balls, drop more passes and slip and slide amid gale force winds and rain that come with a hurricane or tropical storm.

"We basically have the traditional weather conditions covered," said Phil Frazier, senior producer of "Madden NFL 10" at EA Tiburon.

"We even support extreme heat and cold, where extreme heat has a huge impact on how quickly players fatigue as you play the game," he told Reuters.

The weather conditions have a visual affect on the game as well, he added.

For instance, rain and snow games have a much different effect because of changes in lighting and fog effects.  Meanwhile, snow games feel colder because of the additional blue tint to the lighting.

Subtle lighting adjustments in rainy gives games a dirtier feel, with players' uniforms becoming muddy when playing on grass fields.

Gamers who play EA Sports' "NCAA Football 10," will also experience real-time weather effects such as rain and snow.

Ben Haumiller, the game's designer, said bad weather will cause wide receivers to slip while running, while winds affect everything from long punts to field goals.

While football is typically played in any type of weather, the PGA TOUR halts play during rain.  However, EA Sports' "Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 10" lets gamers play through virtual rain and windstorms.

"At one point during development there was some really extreme tropical weather hitting northern Florida," Mike Cayado, supervising producer for "Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 10" at EA Tiburon, told Reuters.

"When we entered the game onto the TPC Sawgrass course, we were playing in 30-40 mph winds. That has never been experienced before inside our game."

In addition to the visual impact, the ball sticks and doesn't roll as far when the grass is wet.

"As a player you have to be making constant adjustments to these changing conditions and it really adds a lot of depth to the gameplay," added Cayado.


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