It's 2007. Welcome to AFL-Online

Written by and Copyright � 1994 David Sidwell

Yes, this was written in 1994

It is Sunday August 5th 2007 and I am on my way to my nieces 16th birthday party. Courtney is excited because she knows my interest in both football and computers. She has just got her password to AFL-Online and can't wait to show me the very latest in interactive football.

As she prepares the system she hands me a brochure titled "The AFL Goes Online - You Don't Just See The Game, You Can Control The Outcome"

As I start to read the brochure we discuss the last weeks round. On Monday night at the MCG our Bombers had won by 1 point against the Parkside Panthers. With 30 seconds to go, the goal umpire had seen a push out against the Panthers and had alerted the nearest field umpire. The Essendon full forward took the free with us only 2 points down. He aimed right between the windflags on top of the orange goal-posts, took 2 steps forward and executed what looked like the perfect drop kick.

It was at the precise moment of contact that he slipped. The ball went skidding wildly toward the goals. The Parkside fullback had no choice but to rush it through and the resulting 3 points gave us victory. Final scores Essendon 10.3.3 (72) to Parkside 10.3.2 (71). Even the Dryzone people in the Great Northern Stand went wild.

Actually I was only half listening to Courtney's voice as the brochure was very interesting. She realised and I half heard her trail off the conversation

The bit that caught my eye was section on "The History Of AFL-Online". To me it was like stepping back in time as the last 10 or so years of the merging of AFL and Computers was summarized.

I'll leave out the marketing hyperbole ("The people have shown they want AFL-Online, they have voted with their terminals" and "Yes, we didn't consult the players on using them in the System, but it is for the greater good of football") . Anyway, it goes a bit like this:

The first half of the 1990s watching football on TV was pretty much a 2 dimensional view of what the TV station wanted to show you.

The first real breakthrough came with the 14th Cable Television Auction in early 1995. By 1996 the chosen company has piloted the horribly named "U Chooze TV". For live broadcasts of games they had some 20 cameras around the ground (10 manned, 10 autominicams actually on the boundary fence).

The home viewer had their Cable ("UC TV") set wired up by a two-way optical fibre link to the TV Station. The home-viewer had a small hand set with 20 buttons. It was tricky at first, but viewers soon got the hang of picking which camera angle they wanted to see on their own TV. Most of the time they let it operate in Auto mode, but it proved useful when you knew camera 14 was always aimed at full forward at the Punt Road end.

Two years later this services was expanded and you could request a particular replay of a given incident to be shown. A small window would appear over the main picture and show your chosen replay. The AFL stepped in and introduced "clipping" of "sensitive" incidents. Access Age ran hot on that one for days.

In 1999 the first on-line video libraries kicked in. The line between the home computer, the video and the hi-fi systems had blurred. A single box, running OS/4 could be all three. And more.

May 31st 1999 was the first pilot of the "U Chooze Video" system in Melbourne. It has a few bugs, but was roundly regarded as a success. The home user simply used their DES (Digitial Entertainment System) and called up their local U Chooze store via their home optical fibre link. They chose the video they wanted to see (for example, last weeks Collingwood versus Redfern game) and in about 15 minutes the game was transmitted down the line and into their system, ready to view. And their bank account debited by 10 dollars.

But while all this was happening, a very different, very secret experiment was taking place at the MCG. The results would change the very concept of 'viewing' football as we knew it.

The System was code named "Singing Crystals" Which was, on the whole, a very appropriate name.

It was quite simple really. Each player on the field was given a tiny crystal about the size of their little fingernail. They had to wear it somewhere on their body. Some chose to pin them to their socks, whilst others adopted the armband approach. Later on the crystals would be imbedded in their boots.

Each crystal was slightly different in its structure from the others. The experimenters knew which player was wearing which crystal. The ball, the umpires and the goal and behind posts also had crystals. Later on the boundary line and centre square would also have them too.

Once the game started the Singing Crystal system would really show its power. The whole ground would be flooded with harmless radio waves of low power. Each crystal would pick up the radio signal and resonate; that is they would act like mini-transmitters in response to the radio waves.

Each crystal was unique in structure, so was its transmission frequency. It was exactly as if each crystal was singing its unique song and this song could easily be picked up by the 3 receivers mounted high in the stands.

Using this information a computer could calculate exactly where each crystal was and therefore where the player was. With each player, the ball and the umpires wired up this way, the exact position of each for the entire match could be known.

If we knew exactly where the ball and all players were at every given second, we could record this stream of numbers and later on digitally re-create the match on a computer.

Originally the sample rate was only once per second. So every second we knew the state of play. The first DRs (Digital Replays) used animated coloured dots; each representing a player, umpire or the ball. The dots appeared to move around the computers screen in 1-per-second jumps, but it was immediately obvious that this was something special. Anyone vaguely familiar with AFL football could recognise it as a game in action.

Within a year we had moved on to using animated stick figures and could change the point of view. This gave the game a more 3-dimensional look. As computing power increased each player was given 4 crystals to wear and the sample rate tripled to 3 times a second.

A lot has changed in the years since these experiments. Now it is time to see the state of virtual-play

With magic timing Courtney told me she was ready to show me "AFL-Online".

I put on the goggles and the headphones and watched as she used her DES-3 system to access AFL-Online. In a few seconds she had logged on to the AFL-Online system and selected last Mondays Essendon game. I watched as the little figures updated on the screen. 10GB, 20GB, 35GB. In about a minute we had our 37 GB. She said something about Spin-Resonance Memory using the spin-state of electrons and Fractal compression. I nodded, wondering what she meant.

She touched the screen and my vision went black as the goggles darkened.

Suddenly I was there. I was inside a floodlit MCG, standing just outside the centre square. Things had a vague cartoon look, but I soon got used to it. The three-dimensional effect was amazing. I could turn and look at the grandstands and move about the players (who looked quite silly as they were 'frozen' in space as we hadn't started the Digital Virtual Replay just yet)

Then things came alive. The players moved and the crowd roared. And I was there on the turf amongst them. The DVR system was in 'follow the play' mode and I was happy to sit back and enjoy the ride. It was as though I was a passive rover; always within 10 metres of the ball, but never touching it. It was exhilarating. I actually felt myself puffing from all the 'running' I was doing.

As if this wasn't enough Courtney showed me different views of the game in progress. This was done gently; one view morphed into the next one. I realised that a quick jump from the passive-rover view, to what the Essendon full back was seeing would give the viewer a headache (like the old 3-D movies of my youth did)

Then the true power of the Octium chip kicked in. We froze the image just as the Panther rover had kicked a behind after the ball had bounced to the left in the goal square. We then actually changed the bounce and let the system calculate what would have (most likely!) happened if it had gone through for a goal. As we viewed the DVR program was actually changing the result.

We could control the game.

Courtney said that for we old folk ,a very clever person had taken old videos of games from the mid 1970s onward and digitised them into the DVR format. I accessed the database of AFL-Online and quickly found the 1990 Grand Final.

With a smile I downloaded and digitally extended the 32 year wait.

Copyright © 2004 David Sidwell (Artwill Services) Back to Freelance Writing