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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Maximum Football 2019 - title

I was harsh on Maximum Football 2018 last year. Perhaps overly so, considering the game's indie nature and budget price. I wasn't trying to hate on the game, nor am I a Madden fanboy (feel free to check out my reviews of the last few years' of Madden releases if you need proof of my being fed up with lackluster releases from EA).

I was harsh because I wanted to point out as many possible flaws as I could, so that as many of them as possible could be resolved, and Maximum Football would get better the following year. I bought Maximum Football 2018 in order to support the developer, Canuck Play, to that end. I also bought Maximum Football 2019 in order to continue to support Canuck, because I am still hopeful that this game can turn into to something special. I didn't wait a couple weeks and buy a used disc for cheap off of eBay, which is what I usually do with Madden because I don't want to give EA a cent until they actually earn it.

College and Canadian football legend Doug Flutie offered his name and likeness.

Not in the bargain bin anymore

Canuck isn't there yet. But I honestly didn't expect them to be (which is why I made a YouTube video about being excited for 2020, rather than 2019). I'm still approaching Maximum Football 2019 as an "early access" work-in-progress.

At last year's budget price point of about $15, it wasn't too hard for me to overlook Maximum Football's many flaws and limitations and still recommend it to people who want to see competition in the football video gaming marketplace. It wasn't much different than paying for "early access", after all. However, with the price of this year's game nearly doubled to $30, it's a lot harder to make a similar recommendation. The inclusion of a Dynasty mode does partially resolve my single, largest complaint with last year's game, as it means that there is an actual game here to play now, with an actual sense of progression and accomplishment. But Maximum made so few strides in its core gameplay, that I'm just not sure it's worth the hike in price.

$30 pulls Maximum Football out of the category of "budget indie title", and puts it firmly into the price point of "Double-A" or "mid-market game", alongside games like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, Lords of the Fallen, and Cities: Skylines. But Maximum is not "Double-A" quality!

...

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I've been hearing some complaints about the difficulty of kicking the football in Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2019 (from Canadian developer Canuck Play). Many players seem to be having difficulties making field goals longer than an extra point. At the risk of sounding like an elitist, the kicking in this game really isn't that hard once you learn one simple thing about how it works. So I just wanted to put out a short post here to help out players who are struggling with the kick meter, so that they don't have to spend too long going through trial-and-error.

The kick trajectory defaults to a low, line drive.

Basically, the kick meter defaults to a line drive trajectory. This results in short, low kicks (like a squib kickoff). All you have to do is pull down on the right analog stick to raise the kick trajectory arrow. I usually raise the trajectory almost as high as it will go.

This design is counter-intuitive to most people who have played football games in the past, since most other games set the kick trajectory default to a basic kick that is usually "good enough" for most purposes. In many situations, you can just kick the ball without having to bother with aiming at all. NFL 2k5 and All Pro 2k8 continually dragged the kick trajectory off to the side, and forced you to have to adjust. This was (I assume) to simulate the pull of the wind and the kicker's handedness -- or is it "footedness"? But the height of the kick usually did not have to be adjusted.

Other games do not require as much adjustment of the kick trajectory.

Once you have the kick trajectory in Maximum Football aimed correctly, all you have to do is flick the stick down, then back up to actually make the kick. Flick the stick quickly in order to maximize the power your kicker puts behind it. The game doesn't have any meters or anything to give you feedback on whether you're doing it correctly, but the faster you flick the stick, the better. As far as I know, pulling the stick a little to the left or right will not cause your kicker to shank the kick left or right (as it would do in earlier versions of Madden).

Just aim your kick up with the right stick, then flick as quickly as you can with the left stick, and you should be making 50-yard field goals like a pro in no time!

With the proper trajectory, you'll be making 50-yard field goals like a pro!

Personally, I actually like that the game requires the player to have to manually aim every kick. It's not an automatic action like it is in so many other football games. It's not perfect, but it certainly isn't broken, the way that some people seem to think it is.

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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