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However, aside from that bit of whimsy, this game is all business. Every facet of NBA play is reproduced: shot clocks, violations, turnovers, streaks, slumps, fatigue. How authentic is NBA Showdown? Golden State Warrior rookie Chris Webber was seen playing the game during Game 2 of last year's NBA Finals. Instead of watching to see which of his future competitors would be crowned the next champions of the basketball world, Webber was busy blistering his thumbs playing a fantasy game. Then again, maybe he prefers a simulation to the real thing for a reason: The video game doesn't allow you to call a timeout you don't have.
If 82-game seasons and 24-second shot clocks leave you cold, but you can't get enough of zone defenses and the four corners, then NCAA Basketball ( Nintendo for Super Nintendo, $49.95) is for you. And though the game does come complete with all the teams from five major-college conferences ( ACC, Big East, SEC, Big 8, SWC) along with their 1991-92 rosters, the real appeal of NCAA Basketball lies in its smooth play and revolutionary graphics.
Using technology unique to the Super Nintendo machine, NCAA Basketball gives you a ball-handler's-eye view. With each pass of the ball the court rotates, and you feel as though you are actually on the hardwood. You can see plays develop, lanes to the hoop open up and teammates spring open off picks. When you call for a specific play or defensive formation, you can see your teammates setting up and getting into position. NCAA Basketball may be the only video game that offers you a better understanding of the real game.
You can play an entire conference schedule for any one of 44 teams, and a good record will earn you a bid to the NCAA tournament. However, trying to reach the Final Four is tougher than penetrating a triangle-and-two (you'll know what that means once you play the game). If you're determined to win it all, good luck—you may not emerge from your den until sometime in the spring, giving new meaning to the term March Madness.
Unlike the other basketball games, Michael Jordan in Flight ( Electronic Arts for IBM and compatibles, $59.95) uses video footage of Jordan and other players rather than animated images. When you play Jordan in Flight, you control Jordan's image on the screen, not merely a cartoon of Jordan. This effect was made possible by combining traditional video-game production methods with two other seemingly unrelated technologies: special-effects techniques used in feature films and commercial flight-simulator programming.
To make the game, Jordan was first filmed performing various moves on a soundstage in Chicago. The filmmakers used a blue-screen technique, similar to the one used to generate the special effects in movies like Star Wars, so that Jordan's image could be superimposed onto a computerized basketball court. These images were then digitized and translated into computer code so that they could be manipulated by ZCT Systems, a company that designs flight simulators to train commercial airline pilots. ZCT's programming effectively made the game player the "pilot" and Jordan the "plane." Jordan then added his own tactical expertise to the video game.
The result is a stunning basketball simulation that is more akin to a virtual-reality program than to an arcade-style game. You are Michael Jordan. Playing in a three-on-three pickup game, you set picks, block out for rebounds, weave through traffic and, of course, take to the air for emphatic and artistic slams. The effect is so realistic, it's dizzying. In fact, it takes a little while to get your bearings and figure out how to move around. It's not easy being Jordan: Most of us aren't used to covering so much ground so quickly or skying the hoop or hitting the 20-footer.
When you score a basket, you can watch it again with an instant-replay feature that allows you to see the shot from any angle. You can even put together your own highlight film. It's up to you to provide the inane voice-over.
As Michael Jordan in Flight demonstrates, video-game technology is progressing by leaps and rebounds. It is probably only a matter of time before you will be able to turn on your TV, tune in to a basketball game and join in the action by putting on a virtual-reality helmet and slipping into the body of one of the players. And when that happens, video games will have succeeded in bringing the sport right where it should be—in your face.