While I was writing about Super Soccer, a thought occurred to me. Sports games generally have crowds, and with the advent of the 16-bit consoles, they were generally crowds detailed enough for you to pick out individuals. Drawing these groups of sports fans was someone's job. A person was tasked with creating fake people to watch other fake people play a digital version of a sport. It is perhaps a symptom of reading too many horror novels - or simply more evidence that I need to grow up - that this concept feels kinda weird to me, and strangely fascinating. So, with the expectation that no-one but me will be interested in this article, here's a look at some SNES sports game crowds.
I'll start with Super Soccer, as seems only right: it was a launch title (in the EU, anyway) so it was probably the first crowd many SNES owners saw. It's a slightly sinister scene of blank-faced clones trapped behind a pock-marked concrete wall. If the people at the front paid full price for their tickets, they got thoroughly screwed. Mind you, this screenshot is from a match involving Germany so maybe those fans are going to knock the wall down while a sixteen-bit version of "Wind of Change" plays in the background.
90 Minutes - European Prime Goal
Another football crowd and another giant concrete wall that completely blocks the view of anyone who isn't sitting at least ten rows back. In this case the wall seems appropriate, because this group of fans is even more unsettling than the featureless Super Soccer spectators. These fans have a feature, alright - it's the one bright red pixel in the middle of their faces. I know it's supposed to be their mouths, but it doesn't look like a mouth. It's too bright, too strong a contrast against the paleness of their skin. More than anything it looks like a glowing crimson eye that takes up half its owner's face, an eye that gleams with terrible cruelty whether it's watching the inferior humans being herded into the Disintegration Vats or a third-round FA Cup tie between Rotherham United and Leyton Orient.
International Superstar Soccer Deluxe
ISS gets the look of a football crowd right through the simple trick of having almost everyone involved wear the same colour. The first two examples in this article look like Gap catalogues, but ISS knows that football crowds, when seen from a distance, generally take on the colour of the team they're supporting. Konami have done a great job here, creating a crowd so lifelike that you're expecting to hear them question the referee's parentage at any moment.
Capcom's Soccer Shootout
In this entry from Capcom, the crowd once again lack a coherent colour scheme, although the amount of bright yellow jackets on display point to a possible attempt to change that by some spectators. It was a plan doomed to failure from the start. The only person who can pull off a yellow coat is Dick Tracy, and he's not real.
Also, some sections of this crowd scene tend to resolve themselves into letters if I stare at them for too long, wondering why I thought it'd be a good idea to write an article about this topic.
See, doesn't that look like it says "EDL" to you? Are Capcom showing their support for far-right scumbags the English Defence League? No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. Why would you even think that? Seriously, man, get a grip. Actually, the middle letter looks sort of like a P. That's it, I've decided it says "EPL" which of course stands for the English Premier League, an acronym that makes much more sense given the context.
Super Ice Hockey
Okay, time for a different sport. This time it's ice hockey, a sport that somehow ended up being seen as macho despite being a schoolgirl's game played on ice skates. For any ice hockey fans out there, I'm sorry, I don't really mean to besmirch the sport you love. I know it's a tough, dangerous game full of excitement and missing teeth. Ice hockey can get so exciting that there's a constant danger that the spectators, their wild passions inflamed by the brutal ballet in front of them, will riot at the slightest provocation. To counteract this tendency, the operators of this ice hockey arena have done away with the usual fold-down plastic seats and instead dropped each fan into a waist-deep trough filled with a specially-formulated tar-like substance which traps them in place while leaving their upper bodies free to enjoy the game.
ABC Monday Night Football
American Football. The Football of the Americas. Well, North America. Okay, so just the USA really, but that's fine, totally fine, I've got no problem with American Football. I understand that sports can get tiring, so it makes sense to invent a game where you get plenty of time to stand around and recover between plays. All the armour that the players wear just seems downright sensible, too.
Still, I'm not sure I'd wear those giant shoulder-pads if I was sitting in the crowd, as the miscreants I have circled in the picture above seem to be doing. It's just rude. It betrays a lack of respect and courtesy towards to your fellow fan of The Grid Iron. Yes, I'm sure they do help you get through the crowds more quickly when you're trying to reach the toilet at half-time, but what if everyone decided to wear shoulder-pads? Then where would we be, huh? That's right, the eighties.
No complaints about this one, some classic pixel onlookers from Nintendo. The guy at the bottom-centre looks like he could be a mad scientist of some description, but there's nothing wrong with that. Just because you're an educated man, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy boxing. Albert Einstein even sparred with Rocky Marciano once. No, he didn't. I've just made that up. That's what happens when you play Super Punch-Out, you begin to imagine a world where elderly men are allowed to box against much younger and far fitter opponents and jumping off the top rope and kicking your opponent in the face is considered a legal move.
All that waffle was an attempt to distract myself from looking too closely at this particular face in Super Punch-Out's crowd. I was confused and frightened by it at first, because it has some disturbingly canine features and the cold black eyes of a merciless killer.
Then I got over it because I realised it looked like Jake from Adventure Time. you see, Jake loves boxing. He once sparred against Rocky Marciano...
Foreman For Real
Another boxing title, another spectator right at the front who looks like a mad scientist. I think I'm onto something here.
Riddick Bowe Boxing
No mad scientists in this one. Disappointing at first, but closer inspection reveals plenty of interesting characters - the most interesting of them all being found in the top-left corner, where you can see that the ghost of Abraham Lincoln has left the White House and travelled here via the spectral highways of America to watch a boxing match. You'd think he'd want to avoid being anywhere that makes him feel like he's sitting in a theatre, but there you go. In the top-right in a man with a face that resembles, if you'll forgive my crudeness, a close-up photograph of an arsehole, and at the bottom-right is either the villain from a silent movie or an Easter Island statue in a suit, I'm not sure which. Maybe both. A moai that ties women to train tracks, and then stares inland with an enigmatic expression. Oh good, another movie that I have to set up a Kickstarter for. Fantastic.
NBA Give 'n Go
Basketball: a sport no-one seems to enjoy, at least when it's on the SNES. Some people in this crowd would rather stare at a blank piece of cardboard than watch the game in front of them. Is this some form of protest? I hope not, because if it is it's a bloody awful one. You've already paid to get in, doofus. You might as well watch the game. Maybe they're protesting against the advertising so prevalent in modern sports by refusing to look at it. Maybe they're just reading the newspaper. Maybe they have all been stricken with a disease that takes the form of extreme narcissism, a neurological condition that compels sufferers to gaze into a mirror at all times, and their desperate family have brought them to this basketball game in the hopes it will snap them out if it.
NBA Hang Time
NBA Time to Hang Yourself, more like. If the fans from NBA Give 'n Go could find no pleasure in a basketball game, then this crowd looks as though it could find pleasure in nothing besides the sweet embrace of death. They're just so grey, so emotionless, so utterly lacking in the usual vivacity associated with a sports crowd. The three guys at the front look like accountants in purgatory.
Super Dunk Star
Not like these basketball fans, who are so excited to be here that they have, almost to a man, ripped the sleeves off their shirts. Finally, a little passion! Of course, their flailing arm movements speak more to a passion for the ancient art of semaphore than anything else, but I'll take what I can get. I think the blonde woman with her arms spread wide is signalling that a plane is clear for landing.
Al Unser Jr.'s Road to the Top
Suddenly I'm hungry for Skittles.
Wakataka Oozumou - Yume no Kyoudai Taiketsu
To finish, a crowd that just looks good. Detailed enough to be interesting without distracting from the action, this sumo audience is mostly a well-proportioned bunch aside from the kid who look like their shoulders have been grafted directly onto their hips. It seems cruel to take them to a sumo match, really, given that they don't have stomachs.