The real world is intruding on the fantasy of video game play -- and that's exactly what Electronic Arts Inc. intended.
EA said Tuesday that the latest version of its "NCAA Football 08" game, scheduled for release July 17, would incorporate real-time weather conditions into the action. That means that if a violent rainstorm passed through Tucson, virtual players at the University of Arizona would have trouble keeping their footing, and strong winds reported in Ann Arbor would affect the passing accuracy of Michigan quarterback Chad Henne.
EA said its popular "Madden NFL 08" game also would get a boost of realism when it comes out Aug. 14: Players will be able to get real-world sports scores and "SportsCenter" radio clips from ESPN, plus video highlights from the National Football League.
The Redwood City, Calif.-based video game publisher has long taken pains to simulate reality in its popular sports titles, using techniques borrowed from Hollywood special effects to re-create Tiger Woods' golf swing and facial expressions.
With its NCAA college football game, EA dispatched people to 119 schools' stadiums, where they took photos at various times to authentically re-create lighting conditions. If the sun generally shines in a player's face at 3 p.m. as he approaches the end zone, that's what will happen in the video game.
The processing power of the new generation of video game consoles -- Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 and Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 3 -- opened the door to bringing the real world into game play.
"It's definitely blurring the lines of reality," said Kendall Boyd, product manager for "NCAA Football 08." "With the 360 and the PS3, there's so much more memory, so much capacity, it enables us to do these things."
Raphael Poplock, general manager of ESPN interactive, said the partnership with EA would allow the Walt Disney Co. cable network to reach sports fans wherever they were looking for the latest scores and information. ESPN's first venture into the video game world was with EA's "MVP NCAA Baseball 07," when it provided a scrolling sports ticker along the bottom of the screen and "SportsCenter" radio updates every 20 minutes.
"The initial feedback from the gaming community was, 'Wow, this is great. Within my gaming experience, I can stay connected to the real world,' " Poplock said. "That was a glimpse of what we were going to do."
ESPN has since expanded its game offerings to include radio podcasts, ESPN.com news articles and video highlights for "NBA Live 07," "NCAA 07 March Madness," "Fight Night Round 3" and "NCAA Football."
Poplock said ESPN hoped to work with EA to provide real-time information about player injuries or trades that would immediately affect the outcome of the game. "If you play 'NBA Live' and Allen Iverson got traded to the Denver Nuggets, you'd love the ability to play real time with him on the Nuggets rather than the 76ers," Poplock said.
The Weather Channel partnered with EA to offer the real-time weather conditions for the college football game.
But not everyone may want Mother Nature to rain on their fun -- players can choose to play under existing conditions or pick their own.