Draft Day Sports: College Basketball Review (PC)
Amid the barrage of pre-March Madness coverage, I listened to a Podcast of the Stephen A. Smith show and the topic turned to the alleged “over-ratedness” of Texas head coach Rick Barnes. According to one host of the show, Barnes was a man who excelled in luring top recruits to Hook ‘Em Horns country but he is not great at crunching the correct X’s and O’s once they all put on their burnt orange jerseys. He wasn’t a basketball genius—just a great salesman.
Now contrast that with the University of Illinois’ coach, Bruce Weber, a man who is known as a brilliant strategist who can strategize with the game’s best and can summon the best out of his players. However, despite his run to the national title a few years ago (mostly with now Kansas head coach Bill Self’s players), Weber has failed to reel in boatloads of highly touted prospects. He is (allegedly) a basketball genius, but he couldn’t sell beer to Homer Simpson.
This year, Barnes’ Texas squad grabbed a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance, the results of remaining anchored in the nation’s Top 10 throughout the season. Weber’s Illini, well, only muttered “We’re No. 2” after losing by double digits in the Big Ten Conference Championship, finishing their year losing more games than they won.
I bring this up because it is the core philosophical issue in Wolverine Studios’ addictive Draft Day Sports College Basketball text simulation game: Do I put priority on grabbing five-star recruits and letting their pure talent bull over the competition, or do I pour over basketball fundamentals, like whether or not to press full court or sit back in a 2-3 zone? In a perfect world, a coach would successfully balance both worlds, the player recruiting and player developing, but there is only so much time…both in reality and virtually.
After playing Draft Day for a solid week, the game has proven to be a very fun recruiting simulation, though the learning curve due to a clumsy interface is very steep. The complete lack of licenses means you’ll have to find or edit all the team names, conferences, and tournaments yourself (i.e., I am the proud coach of the Kentucky Tigers of the Southern 12 Conference). That said, as the euphoria of March Madness is at an all-time high now, I believe the same fans who have called in sick this past week to watch all the tournament games would also enjoy thoroughly Draft Day’s college basketball game.
The (inter)Face is important: How does it look?
The learning curve for any text sports sim is always tumultuous. The niche of the text sim genre is that it appeals to the uber statistics freak who, when reading Moneyball, ooze their pants from excitement. That breadth of detail and statistical analysis also brings with it an inherent interface design conflict: Where do you put all this stuff? And, where and how can you find all this stuff? At one moment, I am fretting over a potential recruit blowing off my phone call to go eat. A few clicks and seconds later I am analyzing whether to play more high-post or flex offense versus my next opponent of towering interior players.
The design, while not clunky, has just so many logos and colors that it is, at first, overwhelming. The game tries to help you by pointing to where you should click by having a little blue blinking light (it’s the size of a Pez), so I did a lot of squinting before I figured out where everything was. The interface has a very similar feel to the Total Pro Basketball series that the same developer (Gary Gorski) released four years ago.
At the base of all your moves is a Coach’s Office, which if you’ve played any of the EA Sports games recently, you’ll be familiar with. Imagine a fictional basketball office and by clicking on one of the items—clicking on the computer accesses coach email, while the newspaper accesses your team news—you get to accomplish one of the tasks. If one of the items in the office is connected with a doable task, a small exclamation point pops up. For the statistical analysis screens, they have the typical spreadsheet format and you can sort all of the statistics.
Here’s my gripe with the interface overall: You can’t multi-task, bringing up multiple windows at the same time. For example, I would really like to view my team roster, while scanning potential recruits. It’s funny—I played Gorski’s Total Pro Basketball (an NBA game) four years ago, long before we had multi-window Internet browsing, Facebook, etc., and I loved it more than any text game, just about ever. But now with that time passed, I am less patient to click and click and click.
To Draft Day’s credit, they have put in a number of built-in help screens that explain some of the more difficult stuff, but you learn most of the game’s intricacies through trial-and-error. For some of the simple interface stuff (it took me forever to find the fast-forward button-esque advance day/week button), I would have preferred a larger flashing icon showing me where to work. Or, as I once saw in Bowl Bound College Football 2005, you simply get a to-do list, where you clicked on the item and then you were taken immediately to that screen.
Also, in text sports games, you often have a design where you must access everything linearly. By that, you can easily go from A to B to C, but not from A to C. Draft Day has made all types of multi-task screen jumping easy by having a banner of 14 small logos at the top of the screen, which never go away. Due to that, you are always just one-click away from your team roster or team schedule.
Where $5,000 is the expense to bribe players with celebrity meetings
As mentioned above, a bulk of your time is spent on recruiting. This has always been an issue with college sports text games—how much should the game simply be about recruiting? Unlike professional games, where you can have 10 or even 15 years with the same star quarterback or shooting guard, you have constant turnover in college games. Also, the nature of recruiting is much different than a professional draft/free agency.
In this area, Draft Day really provides a fun recruiting experience: The season starts every year with the team buying scouting reports, regionally and nationally. Then, you choose which national summer tournaments to scout in-person, and thus get more accurate player ratings. After that, you must become surrogate girlfriends with the players, as you must call them, invite them to your school, visit their homes, and watch them in live games. Also, in a clear nod to the Kelvin Sampson school of recruiting, you can still woo players who have committed but not yet signed Letters of Intent.
As for the phone calls, Draft Day has brought a new innovation, in that when you call a recruit, you can choose among three categories: General (get info about parents and interest in your school), Pitch (what is important to the recruit), and Bribe (you can offer a celebrity meeting $5,000 or even an apartment $20,000). The Bribes will get you busted with sanctions from the NCAA if you offer it up too much, but offering a new car to a hot recruit may not even lasso them in, as the player may remark that is “not my style.” The whole thing screams Nick Nolte and "Blue Chips."
The recruits seem to have a believable balance of skills and the talent seems to be spread accurately across the country, though the No. 1 recruit my first season was a 5-foot-9 point guard.
Meet me: TeGregor Martin
You start a season by assigning coaching attributes, then selecting a school. I landed at Kentucky, with a multi-million dollar contract. I could pick everything from temper to aspiration to integrity. You also set your coaching skills and preferences. That said, you are not allowed to bring in or select your assistant coaches, who basically affect player development and recruiting.
As for the gameplay, you can choose to monitor a game or tinker with the pre-game strategies. The scouting report for each opponent brings up opposing player statistics, suggested team strategies, and highlights the opposing team’s best player. As mentioned above, I enjoyed this game most due to the recruiting, so I spent less time on the day in, day out tasks. That is perhaps the strength of Draft Day, that, like in real-life, you can choose what style of coach you want to be.
The sim engine is strong, even allowing you to keep box scores from every game. Also, an in-depth almanac of all your previous seasons allows you to chart player progression and how your program stacks up over time. A full-season sim will take about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how fast your computer is and how many programs you are running at that time.
In conclusion, Draft Day has me hooked with its recruiting system, and should you take the Bruce Weber approach, there are enough strategies and details to tinker with that you can have an equally thorough game experience.
On the Field: Do you want to emphasize recruiting or in-game tactics? Either way, you will have a very detailed and comprehensive experience.
Graphics: The Coach’s Office menu screen may seem cluttered at first, but as you adjust to all that is available, you’ll be satisfied. I would have preferred a more exaggerated menu interface, with more highlighting of the tasks you must complete, allowing for you to more easily find what you have to do.
Sound: Band music will play in the background, but I immediately turned it off.
Entertainment Value: If you are a recruiting fan, you will be sucked into this game.
Learning Curve: Immense. Be prepared to spend the first five or so hours acquainting yourself with where everything is. Beyond that, expect to go a couple of seasons before you feel comfortable with how much you must woo a recruit before you know he is ready to sign on the line.
Online: Online, multi-player leagues are available.