What is the greatest football game of all time? It’s subjective, but the answer you’ll often hear is ESPN NFL 2K5. Released over a decade ago, NFL 2K5 is one of the most beloved sports games of all time, and still seems to be the standard by which every football game is compared to. But why? What exactly makes NFL 2K5 stand above the rest? Why are people so attached to it? To figure that out, we need start at the beginning…
Visual Concepts, a northern California studio, is known today for their work on the many 2K sports series. However, Visual Concepts started out developing games for the Apple II and DOS platforms, before making their way to Sega and Nintendo consoles. VC developed notable games like ClayFighter, Taz-Mania, and Lester the Unlikely. But it was their work with Electronic Arts that serves more interesting to our story.
EA commissioned Visual Concepts to develop Madden NFL ‘94. Soon after that, more work was thrown VC’s way and they were responsible for Bill Walsh College Football, NHL ‘95, MLBPA Baseball, Madden NFL ‘95, and the game that kickstarted Visual Concepts move to the NFL 2K series: Madden NFL ‘96.
Visual Concepts was assigned the task of developing the first Madden game for the recently released Playstation console, while Tiburon would work on the the Super Nintendo and Genesis versions. While the SNES and Genesis version of Madden ‘96 would release on November 30th, 1995 and was well received, the Playstation version hit many roadblocks and EA was not pleased with the quality of the game Visual Concepts had produced. The Playstation version was cancelled and EA and Visual Concepts would part ways, making Tiburon the new main developer for the Madden franchise.
Visual Concepts would move on to the NBA next, developing what was essentially the same game for two different publishers. NBA Fastbreak ‘98 on Playstation for Midway, and NBA Action ‘98 on SEGA Saturn for SEGA under their SEGA Sports label. Neither game was spoken extremely well of, but that would not be a sign of things to come from Visual Concepts.
After the poor start for the SEGA Saturn, SEGA quickly started work on developing their next console: The Dreamcast. The Dreamcast would focus on innovation. SEGA wanted to break Online Gaming into the mainstream and get people connected through their consoles. To do that, they would need the support of highly successful competition-based games like the Madden NFL franchise. However, due to the failure of the SEGA Saturn, Electronic Arts refused to develop games for the Dreamcast.
Feeling they needed an NFL game for the North American market, SEGA would turn to Visual Concepts to start their own franchise…
9.9.99 was a date that gamers will remember their whole lives through. September 9th, 1999 was the launch date for the SEGA Dreamcast, and with it came an impressive list of launch titles, including Power Stone, Ready to Rumble Boxing, and Sonic Adventure. But there was one game that spawned a successful franchise for SEGA for the next 5 years: NFL 2K.