Madden NFL 23 - title

When John Madden was originally approached by EA about consulting with them on a new 7-on-7 football video game, he insisted that the game be "simulation football". He wanted authentic, 11-on-11 gameplay that could potentially be used as a tool for teaching the sport of football. It was the only way that he was willing to put his name on the product, and EA held fairly true to the philosophy of "simulation football" through the 90's and into the 2000's.

I think John Madden's last major contributions to the video game were around 2008, when he provided commentary and narration for the "Madden IQ" Skill Trainer. It wasn't long after this that EA's dedication to "simulation football" began to wane. A few years later, Ultimate Team was added to the game, Franchise Mode was gutted and replaced with a stripped down "My Careers" mode, and Madden himself stopped providing commentary for the game. Franchise Mode and core gameplay have been largely neglected in the years since, in favor of introducing terrible story modes, expanding the arcadey Ultimate Team mode, and adding even more arcadey game modes like SuperStar KO and 5-on-5 The Yard. The Madden video game series has fallen far from the goals and priorities of its namesake -- a fall that is made even more tragic and frustrating by an exclusivity deal with the NFL that bars any other company from producing an NFL-licensed "simulation" football game.

Madden 23 starts off with a tribute to the life of John Madden, who passed away this past December.

It's fitting that, with John Madden himself having passed away this past year, EA Sports and Tiburon seems to be trying to honor him by taking the video game back to basics and finally, after years of neglect, trying to address long-standing issues with the on-field gameplay, physics, and A.I.. Is it enough to satisfy the "simulation" expectations of John Madden, himself? Spoiler alert: NO.

Back to Simulation Football?

Madden 23 starts off well enough. The very first thing that the game asks the user to do is play through a tutorial of the new charge-up passing mechanics (largely ripped-off from Legend Bowl). Madden doesn't simply throw the user into a live game situation and expect new players to just know how to play -- though, expecting users to already know how to play the game from last year was always a sad testament to how little had changed in Madden from year to year.

After finishing the tutorial and deciding how difficult I want the passing mechanic to be, Madden 23 threw me directly into a demo "Legend Game". It's a Pro Bowl of All-Madden players from throughout NFL history, with 2 versions of John Madden coaching each respective team. The entire game is largely an excuse to let the commentary team of Charles Davis and Brandon Gaudin give a history lesson about John Madden's career and celebrate his accomplishments. My partner commented that I'd been playing for 15 minutes and she was already sick of listening to the game flagellate John Madden. Personally, I was more annoyed that the game defaulted to Pro difficulty, so scoring was relatively easy for me, and the CPU Tom Brady threw 3 interceptions. Each score and turnover interrupted the commentary about Madden's career, preventing me from hearing the unique dialogue, which the commentary team would not return to if an interruption occurred.

Madden 23 tutorializes its new mechanics before throwing users into a game situation.

Whatever. The game itself is mildly entertaining. It uses clips and graphics from older Madden games as part of its presentation, some NFL Films music, and it includes old commentary clips of Madden himself introducing some of his favorite players, from Brett Favre to Tom Brady to Tony Gonzalez. It's as good and fitting a tribute to the ol' coach and commentator as I would have expected to see in a video game, short of playing through some kind of story mode and re-living moments from his actual career.

But that's just the tutorial and demo game. Is the rest of the actual game as fitting a tribute to the man who demanded "simulation football" from video games bearing his likeness?

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Madden NFL - title

Before I begin this essay, I would like to invite my readers to become supporters through Patreon and be able to vote in a poll to decide the next topic in this series. I have several broad outlines for topics, but no actual draft yet. So I'm asking my Patrons to decide which of those topics I should cover. The poll closes at the end of October, at which time, I expect to start work on the draft for the next topic.

I'd like to take this moment real quick to sincerely thank my current Patrons. Your support really helps, to by offsetting the maintenance of this site, and the cost of software licensing that I use to create content for this site and my YouTube channel.

I also want to provide a short disclaimer that the original video was posted before I had a chance to play any of Madden 23. I have since played several matches in Madden 23, and can confirm that none of the problems discussed in this video have been fixed or addressed. In fact, issues with fumbled footballs teleporting into the hands of the recovering player seem to have gotten worse in the newer game. In just a handful of matches, I've already seen multiple examples of the football teleporting through the bodies of prone players and into the hand of a recovering player who is a full yard or two away from the football. It's bad.

Anyway, onto the actual topic!

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

The previous topic was about Longsnapping, and included proposals for adding both ratings-based and skill-based botched snaps into the game. Botching a snap might lead to a bad kick, or a kick being blocked, or the snap sailing over the head of the holder or punter for a fumble. But even though I want botched snaps to be represented in the game, there is one caveat. One of the biggest and most long-standing A.I. and animation problems with Madden is its lose-ball scenarios, and putting bad snaps into the game might not be a good idea unless Tiburon and EA also address this long-standing problem.

But hey, Madden already has muffed punt returns, onside kicks, strip sacks, and just regular old fumbles in the game already, so once again I ask: why are all these other things in the game, but botched snaps are a bridge too far?

Anyway, some of the issues with the pass rush that I mentioned in the Pass Rush essay would also be alleviated by better loose-ball logic. The excessive strip sacks of Madden 17 and Madden 21 might not have been such a big problem if the players were smarter about recovering their own fumbles, and if scooping and scoring weren't so easy for defenders. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's now look at how Madden fails to model fumbles, fumble recoveries, onside kicks, and other loose-ball situations.

NFL botched snap Photo credit: Sports Illustraded
Adding botched snaps to the game would exacerbate existing issues with fumbles and fumble recoveries.
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Whether you agree with my assertion in the previous essay that NCAA 13's recruiting was better than NCAA 14's, I hope I've at least made a compelling case that NCAA 14's recruiting system left a lot of room for Tiburon to improve in its upcoming EA Sports College Football game in 2023. Now I want to provide some constructive feedback and pitch some ideas I have for how Tiburon could improve the recruiting mechanic going forward, by hopefully taking the best of what both NCAA 13 and 14 had to offer.

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

Lessons from NCAA 14

The previous essay included a lot of criticism of NCAA 14, so I want to start off this second part by acknowledging a feature in NCAA 14 that I feel is a strict upgrade over 13, and which I would like to see preserved in EA's future college football games.

I think my single favorite upgrade in NCAA 14 is the idea of having "complimentary" and "competitive campus visits". If you schedule players from complimentary positions to visit campus on the same week, you'll get bonus points. For example, bringing in a running back along with the linemen who will be blocking for him will provide bonus points.

But you also have to be wary of scheduling multiple players of the same position. If you schedule 2 or 3 running backs on the same week, they'll see each other as competition, and will lose interest out of fear that your backfield will be crowded, and they'll loose out on playing time to another back in the same class. This is one of the few elements of 14's recruiting design which I feel retains the more humanistic, character-driven ethos from 13, and I like it a lot.

Users should avoid scheduling multiple recruits at the same position to visit in the same week.

14 also makes it much more clear how your performance on the field will impact the interest level of the visiting prospects. In NCAA 13, I was never clear about whether scheduling a visit during a bye week would make a difference, or if it mattered whether or not I won the game (if I played one that week). I always assumed that the prospect was there to watch the football game, so scheduling the visit during a bye week would impose a penalty, and I also always assumed that winning the game improved the prospect's interest, and I assumed that the prospect would also get more interest if the players at his position performed well during the game. But the U.I. for NCAA 13 was never clear about whether any of that was actually the way the game worked, or if the prospect only cared about the 3 recruiting pitches that I try to sell him on during the visit. NCAA 14 makes all this blatantly clear when you schedule the visit by showing exactly how many points the prospect will get if certain criteria are met.

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If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations are that the first in this new line of college football games won't release until at least July of 2023, so we still have a a year or more before we'll be playing a new college football game on our home consoles. Sadly might not even have Maximum Football to fill that niche void anymore, since it's unclear of its new developer, Modus Games, will retain the college Dynasty Mode, or if it will be as good. Hopefully they do, and hopefully it's better.

With EA Sports' return to college football now imminent, I feel it's important to take a look at one of the most beloved features in EA's old NCAA Football games, and examine why that feature worked so well, why it absolutely must return, where it may have faltered, and how EA could potentially even improve it.

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

It's kind of funny seeing how EA's NCAA Football series has been elevated onto a pedestal since its cancellation in 2013. Contemporary reviews and user scores were often mixed or negative, and aligned very closely with Madden's reception at the time. Yet now, NCAA Football 14 is often held up as one of the best sports games ever, and definitely one of the best football games ever. Are we looking back with rose-tinted glasses? Or was NCAA Football always an under-appreciated gem? I think the true answer is a little bit of both, and we'll explore why in the coming discussion. In any case, the NCAA Football games seemed to enjoy a more cult-like status compared to Madden, with its loyal fanbase often insisting that the college game was better than its more mainstream big brother.

Being the smaller cousin of Madden, I think the developers of NCAA Football had a little bit of a longer leash. Lower sales expectations might have lead to less overhead from both the NCAA and from EA itself, which gave the studio a bit more leeway to experiment with new and novel ideas (some of which worked, and some of it didn't). The studio also benefitted from technological hand-me-downs from big brother Madden's development process, which may have freed up more resources for building supporting features, rather than having to spend as much time on the underlying game engine. By the time of the game's cancelation, it had been receiving yearly engine, A.I., and graphics upgrades that had been developed by the Madden team. Robust customization features such as TeamBuilder and Stadium Sounds allowed for a great deal of personalization that helped to connect the user more to their game. Trophies from rivalry games, bowls, and conference championships provided challenges and collectibles that encouraged users to play the game with other teams in both Play Now and Dynasty modes. The college atmosphere and more diverse playbooks provided pageantry and energy on the field that Madden largely lacked. And the list goes on...

Hand-me-down gameplay from Madden, and lower expectations from EA
may have allowed the NCAA Football team more freedom to experiment with fun new features.

In fact, things have kind of come full circle, with Madden 22 now stealing features from NCAA 14!

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Madden NFL - title

For the past few years, Madden Franchise gamers have been reporting a glitch in which the game will softlock and hang on the loading screen after exiting a Franchise match. If this happens, the only way to resume the game is to force quit the Madden app, re-launch, and attempt to resume the Franchise. If this happens after the score goes final, then all progress will be lost, and the user will have to re-play that match from the beginning. For some users, this softlock occurs every time they finish a Franchise match, which renders Franchise Mode completely un-playable. This softlock glitch goes back to at least Madden 21, and might go back further, and it seems to happen to both online and off-line Franchise players.

I am going to explain the glitch itself, so that everybody knows what, specific softlock I'm talking about. Then I'll go over my proposed work-around. Then I'll discuss why I think the softlock happens, how it can potentially be fixed, and the specific game conditions that lead to me experiencing this softlock.

UPDATE 18 January, 2022:

Apparently, EA thinks they've finally fixed this bug in the most recent update. It only took 2 releases for them to finally do it. Oddly, I didn't see this patch announcement until after publishing this work-around, even though I had searched for it. Yet, oddly enough, I encountered the bug this past weekend, after the patch was supposedly released. So it's possible this bug is still in the game, and EA didn't catch all the causes. So if you encounter this bug in your games, try the work-around described below. Hopefully it works.

What happens, and how to work-around it

Usually, Franchise matches autosave after every play. If the game freezes, or the connection to the server is lost during an online Franchise match, Franchise games can usually be resumed from the last play that finished before exiting the Franchise match. If you get booted, or the game freezes, it usually only requires replaying one play, maybe.

But if the softlock happens while loading the Franchise Hub after finishing the match, you're screwed. This is because the in-game autosave is apparently deleted after the score goes final, but the Franchise file is not saved until the user returns to the Franchise Hub. So if a crash or freeze happens between these points, the whole match's progress is lost. This is bad programming from EA Sports and Tiburon -- no "ifs", "ands", or "buts" about it.

There is usually an auto-save after each play in Franchise matches.

I've been experiencing this problem on both PS4 and PS5 versions of Madden 22, and after a bit of experimentation, I think I may have found a work-around -- at least for online Franchise players. This work-around is based on my suspicion of why the softlock is happening, and takes advantage of teh in-game auto-save to try to prevent the softlock from happening.

The work-around is to try to exit the match prior to the score going final, and then resume from the autosave. For example, just before the last play of the game, pause and exit to the menu. Even if the game softlocks on the loading screen, you can force-quit, re-launch Madden, and resume the Franchise match from the auto-save. If you do this, you should hopefully be able to execute the final play, finish the game, and hopefully Madden will properly load the Franchise Hub. Just do not let the score go final before closing and re-loading!

If you are playing offline, you must force-close the game. Do not simply pause and quit, as doing so will delete in-match auto-save and return you to the Franchise Hub. If you force-close, then you'll be able to resume from the auto-save next time to try to load your offline Franchise.

Quitting and re-loading the autosave before the last play of the game may
preserve progress and bypass the softlock.
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A gamer's thoughts

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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