Madden NFL - title

I had previously written about how the Madden NFL video game series from Electronic Arts has failed to simulate football by using a shortened quarter length to keep games around 30 minutes long. These shortened games lead to a rushed pace of play, fundamentally change the strategy of football, and also affect other aspects of balance and game design that are not easily fixed by simply setting the game to 15-minute quarters.

This time, I'm going to move away from the rules of the game, and look at more specific game mechanics that fail to simulate how real football players actually play football. This installment, and the next, will look at how real NFL quarterbacks make reads and go through progressions, and then at how defensive pressure packages are used to disrupt those reads and progressions to force the quarterback to make bad decisions. Then we'll look at how Madden completely fails to model these aspects of football, and the various ways that EA and Tiburon have tried to fix or cover up these problems over the years. Some have worked; others have been little more than band-aid solutions.

The companion isn't the sole focus of the narrative this time around.

How Madden succeeds at simulating football: pre-snap reads

Let's start with some good faith towards EA and Madden and talk about the things that the game actually does get fairly right: pre-snap reads. As a QB in Madden, you'll be looking at whether the middle of the field is open or closed before the snap, and this will give you a reasonably accurate idea of whether the route concept that you called will be successful. If you call a cover 2-beating post or dagger concept, but the defense comes out in a Cover-3 look, with a safety in the middle third, then you will be well-served to either adjust the routes using hot routes, audible out of the play entirely, or call a timeout to regroup and come up with another play.

Madden players can make sure
that a blitzing Mike LB is blocked.

Over the past few years, Madden has also gradually introduced concepts such as reading the Mike linebacker. This determines who the blockers will prioritize blocking, which can be important if the defense sends multiple blitzers. Identifying the most dangerous blitzer as the "Mike" ensures that someone on your offensive line will try to block him. Usually, this will be the inside-most blitzer (the one lined up closest to the center). You can also slide pass protection left or right to deal with an overload blitz, and can also assign a double team in order to neutralize a particularly dangerous pass rusher.

To Madden's credit, it gets most of this stuff right. Hopefully all the mechanics that I just mentioned are still in the game by the time you're reading this, and they haven't been stripped out by Tiburon in order to make room for some new gimmicky feature...

A Madden user can make many of the same reads that a real NFL quarterback would. The game will even highlight the key reads before the snap on certain plays to remind the user how to execute the selected play. Good stuff. I don't have many complaints here. Defenses can even disguise coverages, can fake blitzes, and use other similar tactics to try to fool the human user and force a bad read. Again, good stuff. The problems begin when a CPU QB steps on the field, and only get worse when the ball is snapped.

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This review was originally published 06/21/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished (and updated) here for archival purposes.

Backbreaker

Backbreaker cover art

Less like a game of pro football, and more like a pick-up game with 100 people who don’t know what they’re doing.

I’ve been waiting for Backbreaker for years, following every dev diary, watching every trailer, drooling over every new tidbit of information, all the while, fully expecting that it is going to unseat Madden by revolutionizing the football video game world and force EA to relinquish its NFL-exclusivity deal. And while Backbreaker delivers in terms of its revolutionary new game engine, it fumbles the game of football.

Back-broken gameplay

The Euphoria Engine is the driving force being this game, calculating and rendering every action and every collision on the field using its simulation of physics and human motion. Momentum is well-respected, and the game is full of "you’ll never see that again!" moments that will make your jaw drop. The action is in your face and intense, and when things get exciting, you might find yourself bouncing up and down at the edge of your seat like you did last year when Drew Brees was engineering the Saints’ come-from-behind victory in the Super Bowl. You may even jump up and cheer after breaking a long touchdown run or blindsiding a QB for an 8 yard sack. And you’ll be loving the game.

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EA Sports logo

Just saw this article in the online version of the Wall Street Journal. According to the article, Electronic Arts (EA) has settled a class action anti-trust lawsuit that alleged their exclusive contracts with the National Football League (NFL), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and Arena Football League (AFL) constituted monopolistic behavior. If the settlement is upheld by the court, EA will owe a small sum of money to consumers who purchased any of their Madden NFL, NCAA Football, or Arena Football video games for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, Wii, PlayStation 3, or Xbox 360.

I doubt that many gamers will be able to actually claim the money owed to them, since I'm sure EA will demand receipts that show a new purchase of the games (and honestly, how many people actually keep receipts for every game that they buy?). I'm also not sure how the settlement will treat consumers who purchased applicable games used, or consumers who resold the games (i.e on eBay or to GameStop).

The most disappointing thing though, is that although EA is agreeing not so sign exclusive deals with the NCAA or AFL, there is no mention of the status or future of its current deal with the NFL. If EA is not forced to relinquish its exclusive deal with the NFL, then this settlement is a very hollow victory for football gaming fans.

I still have a lot of questions, but the prospect of a return to open competition on football video games should be very exciting for football fans! Even if it doesn't apply to the NFL. I hope that companies like 2K, Natural Motion, Sony, and Microsoft will release competitors to EA's NCAA Football over the next few years. I'm disappointed that NFL 2K, NFL Fever, or Backbreaker NFL don't seem to be any more likely, but I hope companies will step up to the plate with new titles like NCAA Football 2K, NCAA Football Fever, and Collegiate Backbreaker.

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Madden NFL 13 cover art featuring Calvin Johnson

Just came across this article on Kotaku about the new "Infinity Engine" that is supposed to introduce real-time physics simulation into Madden NFL 13.

Let me give you a minute to piece back together your blown mind.

That's right, Madden NFL is finally throwing out it's more-than-a-decade-old animation engine (developed for first-gen PlayStation 2 versions of the game) in favor of real-time physics simulation.

EA Sports has been releasing a series of "Madden 13 playbook" videos since May, but I haven't really been paying too much attention to them until now. The early playbooks were focused on presentation and relatively minor gameplay tweaks (the kind that we're used to seeing every year). Today's playbook (number 4), however, has me very excited!


Madden NFL 13 Playbook 4 of 7: Infinity Engine.

I've been pretty harsh on Madden the past few years, but this video has me more excited about the game than I've been since Madden 10 (which turned out to be a flop).

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This April has been a busy week for video games, and a very weird one, too. And the news has varied from good, to bad, to ugly, and everything in between. Here's some of the stuff that caught my attention:

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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