That UFO you might see whizzing over Thursday night's Florida State-North Carolina State football game is not just a camera -- it's the link between televised football and the video games they seek to mimic.

When the Seminoles line up against the Wolfpack in Raleigh, N.C., ESPN's 15th consecutive night of prime-time football will use SkyCam as its eye in the sky.

SkyCam, a camera suspended on cables above the playing field, gives TV viewers a behind-the-quarterback view of the action several times during the game.

With the players arrayed in front of the viewer much like pieces on a chessboard, it's easier to see offensive linemen pushing their opponents out of the way, creating a gap for a running back to slice through.

It's a view familiar to video game players.

As any fan of "NCAA Football" and "Madden NFL Football" knows, video games are looking more like the real thing, and the TV networks are making the real thing look like video games.

But you ain't seen nothing yet.

The next generation of the Xbox and PlayStation promises more lifelike graphics, smoother animation and smarter football players.

But you don't have to wait for the new game systems to get slick TV-style presentations complete with celebrating players, fuming coaches and face-painted fans waving signs that you create. Those elements are already in today's games.

Yet the video games still continue to mimic college and NFL broadcasts.

"NFL 2K5," for instance, remembers big plays during the first half and assembles them into a package that a digitized Chris Berman introduces at halftime.

How can TV directors and producers compete with that?

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. From camera angles to the graphics on the screen, TV has borrowed from video games.

For instance, TV's first-down marker -- a graphic that appears to stretch across the field to indicate how far the offense has to go to get four new chances to score -- appeared in video games long before its arrival on TV.

"3-D graphics in `Sunday Night NFL' ultimately spawned from our grasp of the video-game presentation so prevalent among our viewers," says Mark Shapiro, ESPN's executive vice president of programming and production.

What spawned those ideas was the king of video games, the "John Madden" franchise, published by EA Sports for the Apple Computer back in 1989. Fifteen years and 35 million copies later, the word "Madden" is synonymous with video-game football.

"Our efforts in the last generation caused the TV networks to make broadcasts look more like our games," says Erik Whiteford, director of EA Sports brand.

"Our goal generations ago was to mimic TV as best we could. Now, we maybe want to offer a different insight, a different view, come up with our own video and audio expression of the sport."

Though EA Sports rules the roost, ESPN is challenging EA with its stable of sports video games, including "ESPN NFL 2K5."