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International Test Cricket

 

A Potted History by Paul Clarke

I've indulged in a bit of 'rose coloured spectacle wearing', and sent it to you on the off chance it could be used as a jump point for a debate about the future (and the past) of computer cricket.

If it is any use...feel free to edit anything you find inappropriate (however you spell it).

Well here it is

Cricket Games...a potted history.

First of all, what are my credentials to attempt an essay like this?

Well I'm a committed thirty two year old cricket fanatic (I had two e-mails read out on TMS on the Friday of the first test against Zimbabwe...my finest hour)

The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly many of these are still available now, even the old 8 bit ones on emulators etc. ...you might want to know what they're like.

Secondly its a psychological process for the over thirties. Look youngsters, you think PC cricket needs a bit of a boost now...I've been waiting nearly twenty years for good cricket games.

As far as games are concerned, I've been playing them since 1982, with a type in game called simply Cricket! for the ZX81 (yes it had the exclamation mark) in a magazine called 'Sinclair Programs'. I've played them on just about every home computer platform since then. In the mid 80s my good friend Tim (hi Blanchy) and myself even wrote a couple on the speccy (For F=1 to 6: Let a=rnd: If a<0.02+skill gosub subroutine ....) blah blah...oh yes sophisticated stuff.

So here are is my version of PC cricket history....agree or disagree, I'm not saying its truly objective, I mean how could it be?

Discounting 'Cricket!' I'll move to a game by a company called CCS (Cases Computer Simulations) for the Spectrum. One side of the tape was a one day game, the other a test match. You could change the names (it was in BASIC so you just pressed break and fiddled with the $s) and you choose the batting order. Gameplay involved choosing the bowler if you were bowling, or deciding whether to run if you were batting....that was it.

Your number one batsman had a skill of ten, your number eleven batsman had a skill of zero, and this was fixed for all teams...bowlers had a similar system (you had six bowlers) and I played it for hours and hours,it was easy to hack so you could change a lot of things within the game.

Next was 'Owzat, a one pound ninety nine game. This was BRILLIANT. The match graphics were awful, stickmen with round heads, too many fielders, but,this didn't matter.

Statistically the game was fabulous, loads of teams, edit your own, select individual batting and bowling skills from 0 to T (for ten) for each discipline. In fact, once you'd deliberately stacked three fielders on top of each other (oh yes editable fields !!) very realistic scores were possible..this game swallowed weeks (months?) and is still available ! H.M.V has a speccy emulator disk for 10:99 and this, as well as most of the other early games mentioned here, are on it.

By 1984 cricket games were flooding out (really !) Cricket captain for the spectrum, Tim Loves' cricket (thats a guy called Tim Love, and this is his cricket game...I think he played for Somerset) for the CBM 64. ASHES (another 1:99 game for the spectrum)

Cricket captain had great graphics for 1984, and had a highlight style...you could fast forward through an innings but to be fair it didn't do much for me. ASHES had you choosing line and length, then a line was drawn between two sets of stumps that changed colour to denote the pitch of the ball,the line would then continue off the bat to wherever the ball was hit. If you had imagination you could really get involved in this BUT (and it's a big but) this game with its selectable bowling was the first to have a simple wicket getting method...the off stump yorker, bowled with ease got a wicket about every third ball, this sort of problem still haunts cricket games today (more later).

Tim Loves cricket was an arcade game...the batsman moved left and right in his crease, and a little line under the bat could by tilted to 'angle' the bat to hit the ball into different areas. The front end was pretty good, skill levels and field placings were all their, but the AI was terrible. the top six batsmen could not score boundaries, but could bat easily all day (and I mean all day, and absolutely NO boundaries) the tail enders hit fours and sixes all over the place without trying (but got out caught at least once an over). hmmm

Audiogenic graced us with Graham Gooch (or Allan Border) The first incarnation for 8 bit machines was o.k Individual skills (based for the first time on batting and bowling average). As a simulation it wasn't bad. No selectable fields, and overly simplistic arcade batting let this one down.

Challenge software gave us Robin Smiths cricket (CBM64). A very good stat based game, field placings (from a selection) batsman aggression, skill levels, bowling and weather types, very accurate scores.

Many of these games came out with different titles or in 'sport compilation' packs so you might recognise them under a different title.

16 bit games...One of three reasons I bought my second Amiga (I'm not going to bore you with the other two I'd sold my first Amiga in a fit of drunken pique) was a magazine cover disk in 1991 for the 16 bit version of Graham Gooch cricket. The disk was actually for the Atari ST,but the game would be as good if not better for the Amiga. In the demo you had two overs, and batted to score about 17 runs in the demo. The graphics were (for their time) way above anything the computer cricket player had seen before.

So I got my new Amiga and waited .... and waited ... and waited. nearly two years before the final game came out, and the most astounding thing was it was exactly like the demo !! Unfortunately the gaming world (and my expectations of it) had moved on a lot...two years is a hell of a long time in computing, and the game was ultimately disappointing. The problem of the 'guaranteed wicket' ball rose its head again (and yes it was the yorker again...although the very slow ball that bounced then looped over the bat, or the quick one scooped to slip ran it close)

16 bit computers began to re-use names from 8 bit days. Cricket captain (with a very annoying blue security device you plugged into a joystick port) was a real pig in a poke. This game tried to do everything. choose teams, allocate training, I can't remember everything but can remember it being a very slow game that,in its credit, tried to be all things to all men, and sadly failed.

Cricket (without the exclamation mark) looked like an Amiga workbench screen. It generated facts and figures faster than you could think. No actual 'on the pitch' game play, but a real boon for 'stat heads' In fact this was probably the best stat generator until I.T.C came on the scene (and for the old Amiga it was damn quick as well).

Now in the eighties their had been the 'Bicentenary Test' at Lords, this heralded (among other things) Graham Gooch's return to the England fold following his rebel ban. The match itself was a corker. Harper's fielding, Gooch's innings brilliant.One more thing...their was a 'highly accurate computer simulation of cricket' running alongside it. with the likes of Fred 'Young Darren' Truman and Gregg 'clipped me pad' Chappell taking turns to select batting modes and bowling changes.

Frustratingly..this was 1985 (I think) and I really wanted to see this game (o.k I didn't have the hardware to run it, I was seventeen and at college at the time) but eight years later VOILA it appeared under the title 'Hit for Six' on a compilation disk..set up with the 1985 teams still in it. Now this is what you call cricket. It is a mass of variables, and requires someone with a half decent knowledge of computers to actually run it (so Fred and Gregg obviously had help) but it is fair to say that it represents a good a statistical game ball by ball as ITC does over by over.

Skipping a few years we come to the PC. The first game played on the PC was Cricket 97 Ashes Edition. Excellent front end, amusing bowling, and easy peasy batting. The front end promised a very high level of graphical excellence...which the game itself didn't have. Boundaries were far to easy to hit when you were batting,and wickets far to easy to take when you bowled. You could move out of your crease, and move while the ball was in the air which many games still don't offer.

Next was ICC. a fantastic stat based game. ICM would be a better title perhaps, but when a game is as good as this it doesn't really matter. Excellent and realistic cricket management, with all the big names, and all the little ones as well. Take your county side to success, then be offered the England job. Training, field placing, batting and bowling aggression, very different pitch conditions ...the list goes on and on. Unfortunately the game had quite a few bugs on release, and took no less than six patches to correct. Also bowlers became impossibly good in later seasons. It was quite possible to have a four man bowling attack, with each bowler averaging under sixteen. These are niggles however, and the gameplay itself was excellent. ICC2 followed, and was a steady improvement on its predecessor.

Between these two came news of two arcade games going 'head to head' The mighty Electronic Arts had decided to officially introduce cricket to their EA Sports range, (with the promise of an all new program and yearly updates) and Codemasters threw their hat in with the Brian Lara / Shane Warne license.

In March 1999 Brain Laras' came out. After waiting months, and playing several different demos, the game didn't disappoint. Similar in some ways to the old Audiogenic titles on the Amiga...but much better, it polished it's graphics until they shone. Every major test ground authentically recreated in 3D. Batting was simplistic but effective, (stand in the right position before the ball is bowled, then select an appropriate shot from the numberpad on your keyboard) Bowling was a tad dull, and fielding really a waste of time.But importantly, the game played well. realistic (ish) scores were achieved. A new phenomenon appeared though ...I call it 'one out all out' it works like this:

You bat for 27 overs of a 40 over game not losing a wicket. You're 190 for nought. You lose a wicket, you think 'I've nearly scored enough anyway, and I'm getting bored of batting' and before you know it your 220 all out...recognise this syndrome?

Other problems included batsmen who couldn't leave the crease, and pre-set fields only (you never snick it through the slip area when their aren't any slips...anyone else noticed that?) and overly effective spinners (and the need to play against the spin to be effective)

But I'm being picky, you overcome these things, and forgive the game. The one and (to my knowledge) only patch helped with a lot of these problems,as well as improving the graphics for those of us with decent 3d cards.

Electronic Arts.....hmmmmm Electronic Arts.

Well they are a big company..no doubt

OK lets be fair, Cricket World cup 99 and its successor Cricket 2000 are not really the spawn of Satan, in fact they have some very good points. The bowling is easily the best I've ever seen. The improved graphics in 2000 (by improved I mean less prone to weirdness) make them perhaps the best yet as well. The batting ideas are brave (but not very good) and the presentation isn't too bad BUT...

The front end is a bit sloppy, obviously set up for 640X480 res it 'scales' to other resolutions,leaving even higher resolutions look naff. I would have been shot by my 'Information in organisations' tutor for this sort of thing back in 1990.

Configuration screens re-set when you leave them. Camera views you can't use to play with. but above all its the batting and the AI that let this down.

Now this is a fact. I installed this game on Wednesday 31st May at 10:30. By 2:00pm I had set it to the hardest skill level, and as Kenya, I had bowled out Australia for nought. Thats right Nought. In fact their are so many ways to take a certain wicket its ridiculous. The favourite is the leg cutter to the right hander...don't even move the indicator from its original position. Bowl at full pace, he will miss...you will hit.

Set your slips and wicky closer. The ball never carries to them otherwise, and hey presto..if he ever DOES manage to hit it...you catch him anyway.

Now this game gets special mention. Not because its awful, but because for 70 quid (what 99 then 2000 would cost you) it doesn't represent any kind of value.

In fact think about it. When Eidos brought out the excellent Champ Man 99/00 it was twenty quid, acknowledging that it was just an extension of Champ Man 3 (35 quid).

Now I will finish on this. EA Sports will bring out more versions of this game, so perhaps they should take note of the above. I'm not against them, in fact I would love for them to produce the game we have all been waiting for, and then I will make a point of acknowledging it ! But what with awkward fielders, crap batting methods(sweep everything, the computer tries), weird ball flight STILL no real bounce (Donald still sometimes gets the ball to bounce twice before it reaches the batsman, and its rolling by the time the keeper dives for it) bats that go clang (bats do not go clang..one of the most satisfying aspects of B.L.C was the lovely contact noise of leather on willow) overpriced updates, a dodgy front end and AWFUL computer AI mean there is a lot for EA to be getting on with.

But for all of us waiting for cricket nirvana...keep the faith...after all if we had any of the last three or four games I've mentioned released fifteen years ago, we'd have thought it all our Christmas' had come early.

Revised: Saturday, 16 March 2013.
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