College football is coming back

I can't believe it's finally actually happening. EA Sports is finally releasing another college football game. After 10 years of having nothing but Madden, fans of video game football will finally have another big-budget, AAA football game to play. Yeah, sure, it's still from EA -- it's not like this is a new 2k football game or anything -- but it's something.

EA has released 2 trailers for EA Sports College Football 25. The first one was just a teaser, with a spokesperson talking about how excited they are to be back, and how much they love college football, how they've listened to feedback, and how committed they supposedly are to making the best game possible. I didn't talk about that initial trailer because there wasn't much to say about it. It was just a bunch of promises from a company that has not done anything in the past 20 years to make their promises mean anything.

The first teaser for EA Sports College Football did not show anything of substance.

Basically, my reaction to that initial teaser, and its promise to deliver "the game this sport deserves" was "Uh huh, sure. I'll believe it when I see it."

Well, now there is an actual gameplay trailer that shows us something of substance. And it's actually pretty good. Honestly, this trailer is better than I expected it to be. Much to my surprise, it did give me some nostalgic goosebumps.

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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 22 - title

I knew it was a bad sign when the "tutorial" demo game for Madden 22 did not explain or tutorialize any new gameplay features at all. The reason is probably because there aren't any new gameplay features in Madden 22 -- at least not for the current-gen systems. If you want the advertised "home-field advantage" and momentum features, you need a PS5 or XBox Series X|S. Apparently, EA said this would be the case, but since I didn't pay too much attention to pre-release news, I wasn't aware of this fact when I bought my used copy of Madden 22 off of eBay a couple weeks after the game released. I remember reading that the "momentum" feature would not be in last-gen versions, but I thought that was a different feature from the Home-Field Advantage. I guess not. I still don't have a new console, so I'm stuck playing the inferior last-gen game.

I honestly don't see any technical reason why home-field advantage and momentum couldn't be included in the last-gen versions. It doesn't seem like it would be a technically demanding thing to include. I would be willing to bet that, since people complained about last year's next-gen game being identical to the last-gen versions, EA decided to just withhold features from last-gen this year in order to make the next-gen look like a legit improvement.

The heavily-promoted Home-Field Advantage feature was withheld from the last-gen versions,
even though I see no technical reason for why it couldn't have been included.

What EA failed to realize is that the complaint wasn't really that the next-gen games wasn't different from last-gen; the complaint was that EA wasn't doing anything with the hardware that they couldn't do in last-gen. Simply withholding features from last-gen that are perfectly possible to include from a technical standpoint does nothing to address the fundamental complaint that the next-gen game does not feel "next-gen" in any substantive way.

Personally, I actually thought that last year's next-gen version did have noticeably better player movement and overall game pacing in the one match that I was able to play on a friend's PS5. The higher framerate and more precise movement gave me a much greater sense of control. The improvement was most noticeable on inside running plays, in which I found it much easier to squeeze into the gaps for positive yards, instead of just ramming into the asses of my blockers, or right into backside pursuit. The problem was that the animation system and A.I. looked identical to last-gen, even if some of the physics and locomotion were better.

Frustratingly, many users seemed to complain about last year's next-gen version feeling "too slow", so I wouldn't be surprised if all of those subtle improvements were stripped out from this year's next-gen version. I guess I'll find out if / when I get a chance to play this year's next-gen version. If I do get to play the next-gen version, and notice that it does feel substantively different in any way, I'll be sure to update this review, or post an additional review of the next-gen version. So be sure to check back for that...

#FixMaddenFranchise movement finally forced token upgrades

Thankfully, the new Franchise features at least made it into the last-gen version; otherwise, there would be absolutely nothing new in the game at all. EA finally did make additions to Franchise, but the effort feels limp, and it came at the cost of removing some of my favorite features from this past generation of Madden Franchise modes.

Axis Football has been offering full coaching staffs (including position coaches) for years now.

Adding offensive and defensive coordinators has long been considered to be the bare minimum that EA could (and should) do to improve Madden's Franchise mode. We only get a head coach, offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, and some abstract "personnel" manager. If you were expecting a full slate of position coaches, as has been offered in Axis Football for the past few years, then you'll be disappointed. There's not even a special teams coordinator. Let alone a team doctor / medical staff or talent scouts (at least not when the game released).

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Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they sure as heck haven't been making a simulation football game since at least 2011). Other companies were apparently free to purchase an NFL license for "non-simulation" football games, and last year 2K announced that they would, in fact, begin production on one (or more) NFL-licensed arcade games. It wasn't the triumphant return of ESPN NFL 2k that we had been waiting 17 years for, but we'll take it!

EA is [finally] returning to college football games!

Well yesterday, we got another bombshell announcement. EA will be producing a college football video game. Currently, EA does not have the NCAA license or the rights to player likenesses, so the game is to be titled "EA Sports College Football", instead of continuing with the NCAA Football moniker of past. However, EA does have the rights to "over one hundred" schools. There's 130 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, so a team count of over 100 implies that most, if not all, D-I FBS schools will be present, with their respective logos, uniforms, stadiums, and so forth. My understanding is that EA also does not have the rights to the conference names, so in addition to making up randomized rosters, they will also have to make fake conferences for the schools. I haven't seen anything yet that clarifies whether EA will have rights to bowl games or the College Football Playoffs and Championship. But this game is still 2 or 3 years out from releasing, so a lot can change in the meantime!

EA could bypass the NCAA and secure the rights to player likenesses, but they've opted not to do so. It's a shame, but I do understand that without a single players' union (like the NFL Player's Association for the pros), securing the rights to hundreds or thousands of player names and likenesses individually would be a huge logistical and legal nightmare. I would also have to assume that if EA is not pursuing player likeness rights, then they probably won't include the easy roster customization and sharing features of NCAA 13 and 14, as that would likely land them in the same exact legal troubles that caused the series to get canceled in the first place. I would prefer if EA could use player likenesses and pay the athletes royalties from game sales, especially since that would stick it to the NCAA, which for so long denied college athletes the ability to get paid while simultaneously cashing in on those same athlete's names and performances. Since it didn't license its brand, the NCAA will not be getting any money from this game (as of the time of this writing).

Team and player customization is what caused the cancelation of NCAA Football to begin with,
so I doubt that such features would return in EA Sports College Football.

EA Sports College Football will not be releasing in 2021. A 2022 release is possible, but unlikely. So we'll probably have to wait until the fall of 2023 to see what EA will be offering up for this game, and if it will live up to the standard set by NCAA Football 13 and NCAA Football 14. The fact that the game will not have the NCAA license, conferences, or team names will likely put the new game at an immediate disadvantage, since it won't have those real-world images and names to lean on.

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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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