Most sports fans recognize Jim Nantz' voice. His calm, certain tone gives life to sporting events ranging from the Masters to the NCAA Final Four. The veteran broadcaster and his partner, Phil Simms, are also CBS' top pairing for NFL games, their voices making the game on the field more authentic for viewers.
This year Nantz and Simms have another audible link to living rooms as the voices for Madden 13, the latest edition of the best-selling video game franchise from Electronic Arts. The pair are just two of several well-known talking heads lending their voices to the game.
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A realistic sheen has become the hallmark of video games. Gone are the days of shooting bad guys over a boxy 16-bit corner and pixelated running backs indistinguishable from offensive linemen. As technology has improved, game makers have stretched to find the extra touches that add to the realistic experience. That helped EA sell more than five million copies of Madden 12, and that was the goal in teaming up Nantz and Simms.
A Collaborative Effort
Nantz had worked with EA before on the Tiger Woods game. Through that, the company approached him about getting involved in its flagship Madden franchise, but the broadcaster had a condition for that.
"There was only one way I wanted to do Madden; that was if it could be real," Nantz explained in an interview with SB Nation. "I wanted the experience for the guy playing to be just like they're wathcnig the big game on Sunday. To do that, it needed to be done in collaboration with my man Phil Simms."
Using well-known announcers is nothing new for the Madden games. The pairing of Nantz and Simms represents a new wrinkle in that approach.
"There've been a lot of different tandems through the previous generations," Nantz said. "It's been rare to have two guys that acutally work in the booth together to do the commentary side by side."
Nantz and his partner took the extra step of recording their work together, another part of the effort toward replicating the actual game experience.
"I didn't want to be off recording live in a studio in California and Phil goes in to a studio in New Jersey and they try to match those up," Nantz said. "It's awkward.
"Having Phil there made it much more authentic for me. I was able to play off him, to have some fun, have a few of the playful little bits that show up within a game."
Just putting the two broadcasters together could only accomplish so much. They did not watch NFL games or even someone playing the video game while recording the voice work, an unnatural process to go through in order to lend the finished product a more substantive feel.
'A Game In Our Head'
Four hour sessions, something they found to be a necessity in breaking up the monotony of the work, added up to more than 80 hours of total recording time. Quarterbacks dropping back and throwing an incomplete pass filled one day. Down and distance calls made up another day, and the work went like that until they more than enough to "fill the microchip," as Nantz put it.
The most difficult part of speaking straight into a microphone with no game in front of them meant that the announcers could not take a read on the pulse of the crowd and base their work on that.
"If I'm calling a basketball game in the Final Four, I'm trying to find that sweet spot that rises just above that energy wave that's in the arena," Nantz explained. "Same thing in a football game, even in a golf tournament. You've got to be able to match up your voice and go up and over that crowd level.
"We didn't have that here. We're voicing it imagining a game in our head."
Banking On Authenticity
In spite of the lack of a crowd, Nantz and his partner understand the role announcers play in a game, translating the action on the field filtered to an audience through television. The approach is the same for simulated NFL games.
"The goal is for people to pick up the game, put it on and feel like they're watching the biggest game of the week," Nantz said. "We've always believed this: The game is sacred. The game is not about us. "
EA and the video game industry are banking on their annual big bet with the latest iteration of the Madden game. Big hits, complex playbooks, connected careers and the prosaic tones of Nantz and Simms are all part of the strategy for making that happen.
"There's an atmosphere, a vibe to it that feels like the big national broadcast," Nantz said. "Their experience is going to be enhanced by that. All the new things that they've done this year, it's going to be authentic, and that's the best thing you can say."