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The Microfiber Ball Will Be Preserved!

In video games!

Lemme explain. When co-worker David Betancourt decided to write about the Gil-Zeros making an appearance in NBA Live, he also mentioned that the new ball was prominently featured in this year's game. Problem is, the new ball is going the way of Gheorghe Muresan: you'll always remember that it existed and that it looked sorta funny, but the particulars will quickly get fuzzy, and before you've even gotten used to the novelty, it's gone. And it doesn't absorb sweat. And if you send it to Spalding you'll get a refund.


Guess it even happens when he's fishing. (By Angus Phillips For The Washington Post)

Ok, so maybe it's not that much like Big Gheorghe, but I wanted to point out that the man is a 79-inch human camera magnet. Especially for parents with young children. I watched him during halftime on Wednesday night, and kid after kid tromped over to pose dutifully with a smiling BG. "There's what's his name," someone said as they walked past. He might as well go over to the White House near those people with the GWB and Bill Clinton cut-outs and charge $1 per picture. And why isn't Peanutbutterand Jelly Ramos around to pose for pictures?

Anyhow, with the ball, the obvious question is, when did the NBA Live folks at EA Sports realize that their ball was suddenly an anachronism?

"Pretty much right away," said Brent Nielsen, senior producer for basketball games at EA Sports. "All of the sudden that's a collectors item, sort of like hockey cards or baseball cards if there's been a mistake, a guy wearing a wrong uniform or whatever. I guess it's kind of funny, you can look back at the '07 simulation basketball products, and it's your only opportunity to go back and play with the short-lived new ball experiment."

My analogy was the stamp with the upside down airplane. If I were you, I'd wrap the game in plastic wrap immediately for safe-keeping.

Now the back story. The EA folks were told about the new ball last spring, and were sent images of the ball before the rest of us had seen it. A video game basketball is made up of something like 1,250 polygons, so the EA folks had to reprogram their balls to look right. And eventually, as players started to complain, the EA people wondered whether they couldn't make their virtual ball reflect reality. They tried to make the virtual ball bounce differently, or slip differently, and began fiddling with the physics of their game, but they sort of shelved those plans, "because you're not touching the ball in the game," Nielsen said. "There was no real way to really convey a sense of the ball being a little more slippery or not."


And here the microfiber ball shall live and prosper forever. (David Betancourt)

The game was locked down over the summer, and as the season got underway the programmers joked about increasing the number of hand injuries to ball handlers for next year's game, because of all those nasty cuts and abrasions. And that was supposed to be that. Until David Stern got involved. Now, the programmers are rushing to figure out whether they can offer a patch for people to download that would bring back the old leather ball. They should know more within a few weeks. Also, NBA Street was about to finish production when Stern-o got involved, and so the programmers rushed the old ball back into that game, which will be available in February with the old ball.

"As a fan myself, kudos to the NBA for listening and realizing the new ball wasn't the end all and be all," Nielsen said. "On the lighter side of the things, we put the ball in the game and the virtual players didn't seem to have a problem with it. They seemed to play with it fine. There were no complaints from them."

And even better, the whole ball switching thing and virtual experimentation thing has led programmers into some new pathways that might lead to weird video game vistas in the future. Brent couldn't really give me any specifics--it's far too sensitive right now--but what he said was enough to pique my interest.

"We're exploring some fun different ways you could potentially play the game," he said. "What would it be like to play with a dodge ball? What would it be like using a volleyball in a basketball game?"

Which, naturally, got me really, really excited. "A pumpkin?" I suggested. "Do you think you could use a pumpkin?"

"Probably not a pumpkin," Brent said.

By Dan Steinberg  |  December 15, 2006; 3:27 PM ET
Categories:  NBA , Wizards  
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Comments

Anyhow, with the ball, the obvious question is, when did the NBA Live folks at EA Sports realize that their ball was suddenly an anachronism?

"Pretty much right away," said Brent Nielsen, senior producer for basketball games at EA Sports. "All of the sudden that's a collectors item, sort of like hockey cards or baseball cards if there's been a mistake, a guy wearing a wrong uniform or whatever. I guess it's kind of funny, you can look back at the '07 simulation basketball products, and it's your only opportunity to go back and play with the short-lived new ball experiment."

My analogy was the stamp with the upside down airplane. If I were you, I'd wrap the game in plastic wrap immediately for safe-keeping.

----

Dan, a better local analogy would be those 1974 Topps "Washington, N.L." baseball cards of San Diego Padres players.

Posted by: Vincent | December 16, 2006 12:19 PM | Report abuse

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