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Saturday, August 7, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Les Carpenter / Times staff columnist

Searching Seahawks camp for sounds of football

CHENEY — It's not enough to put football in a computer anymore. This has to be real, big enough to fly on 60-inch HDTV, loud enough to boom on surround-sound stereo, and hard enough to leave you limping like Favre as you head to the kitchen.

In the midst of the race to see who can make the most vivid video game, there came three men to Seahawks training camp last week. They were armed with the simplest of tools — a clear plastic microphone dish and a digital tape recorder. But the sounds they caught could make your television quiver.

"We want to capture the realism," says Craig Playstead, who is a content writer for Microsoft's Xbox video games.

If you want to know how much the game has changed in 10 years, you should have seen Playstead this week running across the practice fields at Eastern Washington University. He carried a bag and a notebook, while two sound men from Microsoft, Caesar Filori and Jerry Schroeder, lugged the microphone from sideline to sideline as the Seahawks worked out.

The idea was to capture every sound that a football game can make so those noises can either be inserted straight into the game they call NFL Fever or duplicated in a studio.

The other day, the three stood near a set of portable goalposts as kicker Josh Brown worked on his field goals. They wanted to know if the ball made a sound as it left the kicker's foot and whirled through the air.

It turns out it does, though the noise of the practicing players and the wind whipping off the Cheney plains make the recording impossible to use. Still, the experiment had worked, and they have something else to add to the game.

"At least I know what it sounds like," Playstead said.

If this seems like a lot of work for a video game, perhaps you don't know much about video games these days. The technology is so good, the work so precise, that the makers of today's games are essentially putting out products that are obsolete the minute they hit the shelves. The goal these days is to create a real, live NFL game in your family room, to ultimately make it impossible to tell the difference if you were to switch between a video game on your TV and a real game.

Much of the sound for the Xbox games is generated in studios. Microsoft has one in its video game division, but the Xbox people also use a studio in Los Angeles. There they tap into a network of former athletes turned actors who exist solely to portray athletes in everything from movies to commercials to video games.

Sometimes the athletes turned actors will shout out things that they remember saying when they played ball. But more often they are given a script written by someone like Playstead who has spent days researching the exact things players will say when they are on the field.

Every day, after practice was over, a handful of Seahawks walked to an empty field and stood in front of Filori, who held up the microphone. Most of what they said can't be used — the NFL screens these games — but there are some gems that eventually do make their way into the games.

For instance, linebacker Chad Brown, when asked to come up with something he might say to taunt a player on the other team, responded with: "You make $400,000? I make $4 million. Get out of here!"

Or this from receiver Koren Robinson: "You can't teach this, it's all natural!"

Even the coaches help out. The newest versions of Xbox's football games feature talking assistant coaches who shout things to players on the field. In researching this, Playstead spent several hours with quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and receivers coach Nolan Cromwell. Their suggestions eventually go into a script that Playstead writes and then takes into the studio.

There are times when there isn't time to bring in actors or it doesn't seem worth it. At that point, the sound men themselves strap on helmets and shoulder pads and bang into each other inside the studio.

"There's nothing like a writer and a producer hitting each other with pads," Playstead says with a laugh.

Of course, it all sounds real. In fact, everything has gotten so real the players have noticed. Last year former Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs was not pleased to see he had slowed down in NFL Fever. He complained to Playstead, who bit his tongue rather than spit his reply.

"I didn't bring up the fact he got caught by Rich Gannon," Playstead said.

But you can bet it's in the game.

Les Carpenter: 206-464-2280 or lcarpenter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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