The History of Computer Soccer

Intellivision's Soccer 1979Pong from the mid 1970s

 

 

 

  

 

Those of us aged more than twenty-five may remember the old Binatone/ Grandstand consoles with their tennis/ squash/ soccer games (Pong) in the mid/late 1970's. The games consisted of two or four moving sticks on a lifeless screen. Then come Intellivision with its superb soccer simulation and this proved to be the major turning point for soccer games. I can still remember the excitement of seeing my 'matchstick' men run up-and-down the pitch in glorious 3D. This game, however, was a two player game only - but there is no denying it's good looks and feel (In 1986 Intellivision released a follow-up called World Cup Soccer; this had the option of a one/ two player game and also had fouls and free kicks.) Soon, Atari and Acetronic consoles had their say in the soccer games market but these attempts made no notable leaps.

 

International Soccer - 1983Now, this is where Andrew Spencer comes into the picture! In fact, for five years he ruled computer soccer games with his International Soccer, released in 1983 with the then new Commodore 64. It introduced the 'bouncing ball' to computer soccer games and also boasted nine computer skill levels. This game was quite simply a 'revelation' and within two years it conquered Europe. So, what became of Andrew Spencer? He followed-up his soccer achievements with a basketball game called, yes you've guessed it, International Basketball, and shortly afterwards emigrated to America.

 

The Spectrum, which was in competition with the Commodore 64, needed a game to compete with International Soccer, so when Artic Software announced the imminent release of World Cup Soccer, expectations were high. However, the game proved to be very poor. When in possession of the ball, all you had to do was run in a zigzag fashion towards goal and shoot past the advancing computer-controlled keeper. Easy! Jon Ritman from Ocean Software produced Match Day in 1985 and this proved the game all Spectrum owning soccer addicts wanted. It shot to the top of the charts and stayed there for two months. This game introduced the shot power-bar to computer soccer. Jon Ritman followed his success with Match Day 2 which appeared not only for the Spectrum but also the Commodore 64 and Amstrad 464 machines. He then decided to leave the home-computer games market to concentrate on producing arcade games. He returned to the PC market with Supermatch Soccer.

 

5-a-Side SoccerAbout this time, the best-selling game of all time (helped by the fact that it was released on most computer formats) was Football Manager by Kevin Toms of Addictive Software but we do not wish to stray onto management sims so enough said! Soon Anirog released 5-A Side Football. This game added a crowd chanting " 'ere we go', 'ere we go', 'ere we go', " and players fought when a foul was committed (Anirog later changed their name to Anco and would later have a big say in the development of computer soccer).

I feel morally obliged to mention an occurrence in 1986, so here we go ('ere we go', 'ere we go', 'ere we go'). US Gold obtained the rights to publish the official 1986 World Cup game. They actually advertised this game nine months in advance and when it finally arrived, it shocked the gaming world. They acquired the rights from Artic Software for their World Cup 2 game which was around two years old and then added a 'skills section' to the game whereby the player tried to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible. This was sold along with some stickers and a badge for fifteen pounds (a lot of money in those days). I can recall that when playing against the computer-controlled teams, they were never sure which end to attack (the right or left goal). I can laugh now but believe me, it was no laughing matter at the time.

EH Int. Soccer - 1987In 1988 Audiogentic released Emlyn Hughes International Soccer for the Commodore 64. This game set new standards! It was, basically, an updated version of Spencer's International Soccer with added frames of movement to the player's sprites thus giving a more fluid look. The options and menus within this game was mind-blowing! The sliding tackles and long/ short passing and shooting added to the skill aspect so you could play like the one-touch Brazilians or the long-ball Dons (Wimbledon).

 

Kick Off 2 - 1990By 1989, the 8-bit machines were replaced by their 16-bit counterparts notably the Amiga and Atari ST. Steve Screech and Dino Dini from Anco software (formally Anirog Software) produced Kick Off. "The original Kick Off took us about eight months to produce which is not very long at all", explains Steve Screech, "Dino and I were inspired by Ocean's Match Day 2 but we wanted the players and pitch to be correctly scaled ... allowing players to show real skill." Kick Off was different in more than one way to any other offering at the time. First of all it gave the player a top-down view of the pitch rather than the popular side-on view; also the ball did not 'stick like glue' to your sprite when in possession thus you had to control the ball which was not easy to begin with. Both these aspects added a new dimension to computer soccer. Kick Off 2 was released in time for the 1990 World Cup. It was a big improvement over its forefather but a little of the smoothness was lost. Nonetheless, it was a world beater and was the benchmark for all new soccer games, until the release of Sensible Soccer.

 

SWOS - 1993In many ways Sensible Soccer copied Kick Off (same top-down view and 'glueless ball') although the top-down view was slightly more angled than in Kick Off. SWOS (Sensible World of Soccer) was released in 1993. This was the  Sensible Soccer game engine with the added element of managing. The aim is to get job offers which the later incarnation of SWOS allowed up to international level i.e managing international teams and taking them to the World Cup etc. Prior to this, in 1992, Electronic Arts released FIFA Soccer for the Megadrive. It was a costly license but has since proved a good one. The original FIFA seemed to try to win fans over through the brilliant graphics. Konami released International Superstar Soccer for the SNES in 1994 which also had a massive following. Similar to FIFA Soccer, it too has had regular upgrades. The original I.S.S. can be traced back to a game called 'Soccer' released on the M.S.X in 1984.

And this is really the end of the early history of computer soccer. 

I wish to add this paragraph to the end of my article to give - an ever so slightly - current feel to this page. Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer is generally credited as the most convincing video game representation of the world's favourite sport. This game first released in Japan as Winning Eleven 5 in 2001 has since been updated - and named (shock, horror) winning Eleven 6 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2. Not to be confused with ISS, PES differ to both Electronic Arts' FIFA and Konami's other soccer game ISS games in that it is a simulation (and takes time to master) whereas FIFA/ ISS are more pick-up-and-go arcade games.

By Crispin Salfarlie.


Pivotal dates in computer soccer history:

1975 Pong
1979 Soccer (Intellivision)
1983 International Soccer (C64)
1988 Emlyn Hughes Int. Soccer (C64)
1989 Kick Off (Amiga)
1993 SWOS (Amiga)
2001 Pro Evolution Soccer (PS2)

 


By CRISPIN SALFARLIE.
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