Roger Ebert once famously said that Video games can never be art. While the debate that followed is not going to concern us here but what can be said is that Video gaming has come a long way in terms of accessibility, being able to grant their users an experience which is unique yet relatable to real events or works of fiction and in general being acceptable to public at large.
The world of cricket games is neither as popular nor as streamlined as that of Football and basketball. Yet we have had big publishers (Codemasters, EA Sports) who have worked on them. Amongst the cricket games a distinct spot is held by the Cricket Captain series.
My introduction to the series took place in early 2000s, funnily enough there was nothing special about it in my eyes. I wanted a game where I could feel like a batsman and a bowler. EA Cricket 2002 had quenched that desire quite well. I had really wanted a game similar to that or the Brian Lara series by Codemasters.
When I started out with International Cricket Captain 2000/2002, I soon realized that this wasn’t what I had been expecting. There were no buttons for playing shots or delivering the ball. It was a management game where you take control of the team and play them through several seasons.
Immersion is an important aspect of video games. Fifa or Pro Evolution Soccer remain pretty highly demanded not only because you can play as your favourite side or player but also one can experience the mannerisms of a football game in the virtual world. The games are presented in the manner you watch them on television with right camera angles, optional celebrations and intense build-ups during key moments.
Returning back to cricket captain, what I felt to be an immersion breaking experience (because of lack of actual control over players or commentary by Benaud or Boycott) later turned into one of my favourite video gaming experiences.
What made it click?
Scenario Development: Whether it involved a player or a team, one could develop several scenarios in their heads in this game. In ICC 2002, A loss in Ashes 2002 led me to work extra hard towards Ashes 2005, aping the real life formidable England 2005 line-up, building it up in a similar manner, such as giving Michael Vaughan the captaincy in 2003, making Harmison, Jones and Hoggard my main attack around 2004 (though I did get KP as soon as possible, making him play tests in 2002 itself). It worked, I won 1-0 in an attritional battle.
Similarly, for individual players one had to develop an approach. It was always better to start with Sehwag or Afridi at the ‘normal’ meter in batting and eventually move up the ladder. Being over-aggressive during the death never seemed to do anything other than make one lose wickets, even if I got lucky once with Alec Stewart smashing six fours to score 24 off the last over and win a world cup encounter with Zimbabwe.
Time: Cricket games take a lot of time to finish. They tried to address this by reducing the number of overs to 5 or 10. However that still left the issue of Test matches as well as the fact that even ten over games took quite some time to complete. Also cricket like other sports comprises of seasons and it would take a lot of effort and time to get to the end of season. Cricket Captain being a management game had no such troubles. You could play ball by ball or over by over. All that was needed was to manage the batting lineup, instruct the batsmen and bowlers as to their roles and set up the fields. In a few hours, you could finish an Ashes tour or World Cup campaign.
Involvement & Realism: With licensing becoming an issue for cricketing games, (Remember Gemphir and Dhenier guiding India for a world cup win in 2011?) the immersion aspect took a hit. Of course, there are mods to save us but it doesn’t feel right when commentators can only take only licensed names.
Cricket Captain in itself had no issues with naming, also commentary was quite limited so as to never address the players by name. But since you had a game which went season by season, you could see the records of your players change after you’re done with each season. I still remember how Scott Newman did well for my Surrey side in ICC 2002 and became an automatic selection to my England side once I was chosen to manage England after a good county season (Needless to say he was splendid in that season which Surrey won). At least made me understand why certain cricketers back players they have seen for a long time and have faith in, For e.g. Joe Root backing Gary Balance.
Another aspect in older games was that they gave you the ‘Trump Cards’ feel, where the photos of players were attached next to them when they arrived at the wicket or were assigned a bowl.
The Cricket Captain series continues to date but like anything else, your first experience is always a different tale. The popularity of the series was visible in those days on various fora, where players would develop their own stories (just as they did for Cricket Coach series) about campaigns won and battles lost. Of late there have been charges against the series for not changing enough (‘if you get one of them, you’ve played all’), especially in times when Football Manager has kept itself more than relevant. (A perusal of steam ratings for the two might help)
Let us hope Cricket Captain and games of its ilk (i.e. whatever Oli Norwell is planning on next) keep churning out games which stay relevant to the age and able to create modern day cricket battles on our desktops.