Earlier this year I had the dismal experience of playing this year’s NASCAR video game. These games, invariably EA products, have been put out as standard fare since the early 2000’s with a brief interlude around 2010. Absolutely none of these within the last 10 years has had any particular imagination to it whatsoever. There was a certain amount of innovation with the multiple car racing we saw in 2004, but other than that, any of the games is practically indistinguishable from any other, with the exception of graphics, which constantly improve every year and are not worthy of noting.
What all of these games lack, is what makes a game like EA’s Fight Night Champions, so worthwhile: story. Imagine if you will a NASCAR game which had a character you actually care about. In the same way that in the college football offerings you can follow a single player through his career, imagine having a driver that you create with attributes that matter. This could be a “create-a-driver” if necessary, but it may be more interesting to have an actual writer to craft a story.
With something like this, you could vastly raise the stakes on a per-race basis. You could have a story which you need to finish in the top 10 to impress your sponsors, followed by actually seeing the reaction of those sponsors. You could be trying to build team unity so you assist a teammate in a tight spot. The drama of the sport allows for dozens of stories to be told, both with influences on and off the track. Rivalries, tension, major incidents are as much a part of NASCAR as 76 racing fuel.
There is great potential here and we don’t have to go far to look for it. You could have each season have an overarching storyline and there are five or ten seasons worth of stories to tell just based on the history of the sport.
Just off the top of my head:
Season 1: A young rookie struggles to gain respect, sponsors and money within the sport (plenty of source material available)
Season 2: Controversy on the team as a rivalry begins with a seasoned and well-respected driver. Coming to a head with battles on and off the track.
Season 3: Scandal over an alleged cheating incident with officials accusing our driver of using an illegal setup on the car (come from behind in the points)
Season 4: Sponsorships become scarce unless the driver can maintain top 5 finishes. Also we see a new talent emerge as a threat.
Season 5: Expansion into multi-car ownership. We explore owning a raceteam along with driving one of the cars.
Season 6: A struggle to overcome an injury or hardship off the track.
Season 7: A company offers a special prize for winning all the big races in a particular year.
These are just a few ideas, blatantly stolen from the various movies about NASCAR which have been done over the years. There are better stories lying in wait, just waiting for a good writer to explore them.
NASCAR is one of the world’s most popular sports. It deserves a better class of game than what we’ve been seeing for the last decade. Embracing the moonshine and good-ol-boy past of the sport can serve as a fun spice to the genre. We can have mini-games based on great races from the past (Daytona 1976, Darlington 1985, Daytona 1979, Atlanta 1992). I’d love to see, (as we did in 2003’s offering) a track on the sands of Daytona Beach, with the old time cars and drivers. Ignoring the sport’s rich history and dramatic present does a disservice to all the fans who are also gamers.