Madden NFL 23 - title

I have a confession to make ... a confession that I don't make lightly...

I'm actually kind of enjoying Madden 23.

No, I'm not ready to say that Madden 23 is better than NFL 2k5 or All Pro Football 2k8, or Madden 2006. Nor am I going to say that it currently represents a "good" football simulation. I wrote a scathing review back in September, and I stand by that review. Especially as a time capsule of the messy state of the game at release. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a Madden apologist or fanboy, and my criticisms of the series (such as my video series "How Madden Fails At Simulating Football") will continue into the foreseeable future.

Madden 23's biggest issue at launch was the broken "Interception" A.I. sliders that caused both CPU and user DBs to make frequent impossible interceptions. This one bug completely defeated the entire purpose of the new passing mechanics. It doesn't matter where I place the ball, or how hard I charge the accuracy meter, if a DB can, in a single frame of animation, overcome 5 yards of separation to make a blind swat or interception. It took until October before that was fixed, and the game was made reasonably playable -- which is, frankly, inexcusable.

And beyond the broken Interception sliders, there's still a litany of complaints which have not been fixed, and which I do not expect to see get fixed anytime soon.

But I'm not here to complain about all of these problems -- many of which have been in the game for years now. And I don't blame you if any one of these, or the combination of them, makes Madden 23 dead on arrival for you. I'm not going to try to convince you to give Madden 23 another shot, and I still recommend that if you do buy the game, that you please buy it pre-owned so as to continue to put financial pressure on EA to show consistent improvement. Believe me, there are plenty of people eager to get rid of the game on eBay.

Instead, I want to express my surprise that I'm still playing the game. I want to share some of my observations about the gameplay. And I want to highlight some of the subtle indications that EA and Tiburon might actually be learning from past failures and criticisms of the game -- including criticisms that I, myself have levied against them.

I've posted this as a video on YouTube already, and I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here. I will instead just summarize my thoughts on the game (as of the time of this writing), and will encourage you to watch the full video for a more detailed explanation of how I feel about the present state of Madden NFL 23.

The full video is available on YouTube.
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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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Legend Bowl - title

I already made one video praising Legend Bowl's innovative, player-driven passing mechanics: the passing charge meter, and the QB Vision. Within hours of me posting that video, Sports Gamer's Online broke the news that leaked information on Madden 23 shows that Tiburon will be copying this idea from Legend Bowl and implementing its own pass charge meter. If you can't beat 'em, copy 'em, right? Well it wouldn't be fair to Madden or to >Maximum Football or to Axis Football if I just gave Legend Bowl a free pass for not being a 3-d, physics-based football sim, and if I didn't also give a critical eye to Legend Bowl as well. So now I want to turn my attention towards perhaps my single biggest pet peeve with Legend Bowl.

The full commentary video is available on YouTube.

You might be thinking, "if this quy who made hours of video content tearing apart Madden, Maximum and Axis Football can't find anything wrong with Legend Bowl other than to nitpick about the huddle, then Legend Bowl must be pretty darn near perfect!" But, mmmm ... no. Legend Bowl is far from perfect, and there are plenty of other things that I can find to complain about, especially if its developer wants it to be taken seriously as "simulation" football. I have issues with how the game handles its difficulty levels, and the inability to more finely tune difficulty to my skill level or play style. Defenses have horrible containment logic and let too many plays break to the outside. Pulling linemen are often too slow about getting out to their blocks. Every team uses the same playbook, with the same formations and plays, so none of them have any distinct play style or personality. The QB Vision mechanic could use some more granularity. Special teams feels wildly under-developed. And ever since the Franchise patch, the button on the PS4 gamepad that used to assign a kickoff returner now moves a player to the top of the depth chart, meaning I can't set my kickoff returner for Franchise -- let alone field goal holder, longsnapper, or coverage gunners. Maybe I'll talk more in detail about any or all of those issues as well, but perhaps the one issue that sticks out to me the most with Legend Bowl is its weird game clock.

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Legend Bowl - title

Readers of my blog and viewers of my YouTube channel may be familiar with my series on "How Madden Fails To Simulate Football". In the second and third episodes of that series, I discussed how Madden's binary blocking logic, and the ability of QBs to hit any receiver anywhere on the field with the push of a button, leads to unrealistic pass rushes and inflated sack stats. Pass rushers either have next to no impact on the play, and the QB can throw a dime to anywhere on the field; or the pass rush gets home for a sack. An aggressive pass rush in Madden does not force a QB to have to throw early or off-platform and result in an off-target pass. Or at least, Madden's attempts at emulating this reality of football often feel poorly-defined, arbitrary, and inconsistently-applied. It hasn't been since the QB Vision Cone of 06 that Madden has really come close to getting this right.

This is where a little, pixel-art indie football game called Legend Bowl really shines (see my full review). With one simple, elegant mechanic, Legend Bowl has managed to emulate the idea of a panicked QB having to release an off-target pass before he wants to, in order to avoid the pass rush. You see, Legend Bowl employs a charge-up mechanic for determining the power and accuracy of passes -- and the same mechanic is also used for kicking.

This entire essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

The QB can still throw to any receiver with the push of a button (although there is a "QB Vision" mechanic, but it doesn't work like Madden's old QB Vision, and we'll talk about that a bit later), but the QB needs to hold the button for a split second in order to charge up the throw. Release the button too early, and the throw will be an under-powered, floaty, lame duck of a pass that will sail over the target's head, or be easily picked off by zone defenders. Hold the button for too long, and the throw will be "over-charged", which results in a severe accuracy penalty. The pass will likely be a laser beam directly into the dirt -- the football equivalent of a gutterball.

Ideally, you always want to charge your throw to 100% power, without overcharging and taking an accuracy penalty. However, that is easier said than done when a 300-pound defensive lineman is charging right at you. This is where Legend Bowl respects the pass rush in a way that Madden hasn't come close since the days of its QB Vision Cone. If the defense gets pressure, the QB doesn't have time to hold that button down and fully charge the pass, which will lead to more floaty, inaccurate throws. Inversely, panicking because you see a defender break free of his block at the last second can distract the player's brain just enough to mis-time the charging of the throw and over-charge it for an accuracy penalty. This is especially true on higher difficulty levels, in which the meter charges faster and the accuracy penalty is greater.

Pressure can rush throws, making them less accurate, and preventing the QB from putting his full power behind it.

Best of all, as far as I can tell, the CPU-controlled QBs are also bound by this mechanic. They also, as far as I can tell, have to take a split second to charge their throws. And if they don't have time to fully charge the throw, they too will throw a wobbly floater of a pass that sail over the receiver's head, or be swatted down or picked by a defender waiting in a nearby zone.

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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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