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A quick look back at Microsoft's first sports video game: Microsoft Olympic Decathlon

Microsoft decathlon

Aside from the company's many racing and racing sim games in the Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon series. Microsoft doesn't have much of a history of making and publishing sports games. There were a few editions of Microsoft Golf, based largely on the Links series. When the original Xbox console launched, it wasn't able to get any sports games from Electronic Arts at first. Microsoft attempted to launch its own sports titles like NFL Fever, NBA Inside Drive, NHL Rivals, and Top Spin, a pro tennis game. All of those titles didn't last long as EA Sports finally decided to make games for the Xbox.

Ironically, the second commercial game that Microsoft published, after Microsoft Adventure in 1979, was an attempt at a sports game sim. It was called Microsoft Olympic Decathlon, and like Microsoft Adventure, it was first launched as a TRS-80 PC game, this time in 1980.

TRS-80 has an excellent article that takes a look at the history of this game. Timothy W. Smith is credited as its creator. The article stated that Smith took several months researching the history of the decathlon so he could understand the physics of the 10 different sporting events. The final result was a game that combined great (for their time) graphics with some simulation value as well.

The decathlon is considered one of the most grueling events in the Summer Olypmpic Games. In case you are unfamiliar with it, here are the 10 events that are a part of the decathlon:

  • 100-meter dash
  • Long jump
  • Shot put
  • High jump
  • 400-meter dash
  • 110-meter hurdles
  • Discus throw
  • Pole vault
  • Javelin throw
  • 1500-meter run

The game was a hit with critics of the time, and while the graphics definitely seem primitive now, the gameplay does try to simulate these 10 events as best as it can. It makes you time out your long jump attempts for the best jump or you could get a fault for hitting the plasticine jump line. You have to have some skill on the keyboard to make the best shot put throw.

Microsoft likely wanted the game to come out in 1980, which was when the Summer Olympics was planned to be held. Unfortunately, the Olympics were being held in Moscow in the former Soviet Union that year. When that country invaded Afghanistan a few months beforehand, the US and many more countries boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. It's possible that might have cut into this game's audience.

In 1981 a version of the game was released for the Apple II and in 1982 it was ported over to IBM PCs. However, that version dropped the "Olympic" part of the title, most likely because Microsoft didn't get a license from the Olympic Committee to use that name.

That would also be the end of that game at Microsoft. The company never released a follow-up version for any of its Windows operating systems. Today, with the exception of the Forza games, Microsoft seems happy to let EA Sports, 2K Sports, and others make sports-themed games for its Xbox consoles and Windows platforms.

That's too bad, because Microsoft now has many more internal game development studios under its wing, either acquired individually or by buying companies with multiple studios like Zenimax and more recently Activision Blizzard. Perhaps this might be a good time for Microsoft to consider reentering the sports video game arena, and with a game title that doesn't directly compete with the other third-party sports developer groups. Something like Microsoft Decathlon could be a big hit, if Microsoft can find the right developer that can combine excellent graphics and solid simulation.

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