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The Designer's Notebook: How to Write Sports Commentary
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The Designer's Notebook: How to Write Sports Commentary

September 29, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

Check It All Over

Once you have everything written, sit down with the other people on your team and read through everything aloud so everyone can hear what it's supposed to sound like. You'll need to check for a variety of possible errors:

  • Missing content. Are there any important game events that you forgot to include? Are there team or player names, or numbers, that are missing from the script?
  • Unusable content. There's no point in recording material for events that are too complex or improbable for the programmers to detect. Normally you should have checked these with the coding team before starting to write the dialog, but double-check them again now.
  • Improper vocabulary and style. If you write a word or a line that your talent would never use, you reduce the total material you have and waste precious time in the recording session.
  • Grammar and spelling mistakes. Again, these will trip up your talent during the recording session and waste time.

That includes the step-by-step portion of the process. I want to address two more issues, interruptions and the Telestrator.


Occasionally, something dramatic happens in a sports game that causes a play-by-play commentator to interrupt what he was saying and change topics to address the new event. In a video game, we play back audio clips of a fixed duration, and if we want to switch to a different clip in the middle of playback, there will be a noticeable pause as the disc seeks to the new clip. It also won't sound like a smooth transition in the speaker's voice. To cover this, you can record your color commentator making a variety of short generic exclamations ("Wow!" and "Did you see that?" etc.) and keep them in RAM. When something happens that merits an interruption, play back an exclamation over the top of the play-by-play man, which will hide the seek time and provide the break needed.


A Telestrator is a device that lets a commentator draw lines on top of the broadcast image, and John Madden is famous for using one to analyze football plays. When I went through the transcripts of the recorded games, I highlighted Madden's comments as he was using the Telestrator.

Because it's one of the things Madden is so well-known for, I was interested in trying to create a simulated Telestrator as part of the color commentary. After all, we knew what play both teams had called, where each athlete had gone and what the outcome was, so it would not have been difficult to draw circles and arrows on the screen to illustrate the results after the fact. The trick would have been getting the dialog right, and it would have required a great deal of broadcaster AI. Above all, it was essential that it work correctly; if it made a mistake, it would have made Mr. Madden look stupid, and we didn't want that.

In the end we never implemented it while I was there. It was not a high-priority feature and the additional coding workload was not worth the effort. The recent Wii games let the players draw on the screen, and Madden NFL 09 offers an automated Telestrator that comes up when the player makes a mistake to show what he should have done, but it doesn't include Madden's unique narrative style. That was what I had really hoped to supply.

If you're going to do Telestrator commentary, first figure out which events what you want to illustrate. Normally they'll be things that were either very good, very bad, or very unusual. Then you'll have to write commentary to describe the event, again using interchangeable content to supply the names of players. (In Madden's case I would have simply used "this guy" or the name of the player's position -- defensive end, etc. -- because we didn't try to have Madden record interchangeable content.)


Interesting, accurate sports commentary is an integral part of the experience for serious sports simulations. Although it's necessarily less important than gameplay, a modern game would feel wrong without it. The early sports games were infamous for providing too little material, and players would often turn it off to avoid hearing the same dialog over and over. To do it right, start early, devote someone to it full-time, write masses of material -- as much as you can afford to record -- and check and double-check everything. The ideal result is a game that is indistinguishable from the real thing to a listener with his eyes closed.

Attention friends and fans: the next Designer's Notebook column will be "Bad Game Designer: No Twinkie X" -- number 10 in my long-running series of game design gripes and gaffes. Check out the No Twinkie Database and then, if you've got a new one, write it up and send it to me at [email protected]

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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