Axis Football 23 - title

One of my pet peeves with sports games is that they like to make the game sound newer and more advanced than it actually is by putting next year in the title. The Madden that releases in 2022, and which is based on the 2022 NFL season, isn't called Madden 2022; no, it's called Madden 23! Same goes with other big-budget sports games, with the sole exception possibly being video games based off the Olympics (do those even get made anymore?).

One of the things that I liked about the slate of indie football games (Maximum Football and Axis Football) is that they used the current year in the title. There was no confusion or misunderstanding when saying "the 2021 version of Axis Football" -- it's called Axis Football 2021, and it was released in the fall of 2021. But if I say "the 2021 version of Madden", you might wonder if I mean Madden 22, which released in 2021; or Madden 21, which has "2021" in the title, but which actually released in 2020 and is based off the 2020 NFL season.

Well now Axis Football has adopted the same numbering scheme as its big-budget cousin, and they have skipped Axis Football 2022 in favor of releasing Axis Football 2023 in the 2022 calendar year. Sigh... I'm not sure what Axis Games' reasoning for this is. Maybe they felt pressured to adopt the same numbering convention as the big-budget sports games. Perhaps the more sensical numbering scheme was actually confusing people: "Why is there a Madden 22, but no Axis 22 yet?" Whatever the reason, there is no Axis Football 2022, and we instead are going straight to Axis Football 2023.

The leap I've been waiting for!

But my disappointment with Axis Football 2023 basically starts and ends with its title. This is probably the biggest single-year jump in gameplay quality that I have seen from this series since I started playing Axis Football way back in 2018. Axis Football 2023 looks and feels much more polished than in previous years thanks to the developers finally addressing the lackluster catching and pass defense animations that made throwing the ball in previous years feel like such a crap shoot.

Receivers and DBs play the ball more realistically.

The new animations make pass catching and pass defense so much more readable. I can actually understand why a particular pass is caught, incomplete, or intercepted because the ball doesn't just hit the receiver's body and either stick to it or fall to the ground. I see receivers leaping to catch overthrown passes. I see them reach down to try to catch underthrown passes. I see defenders putting an arm out to swat the pass.

It's much clearer why passes are complete or not.

On top of that, the receivers actually have momentum when they perform their catching animations, and that momentum will affect how quickly they can turn upfield -- if they can turn upfield at all. The momentum on catching animations serves to limit the amount of run-after-catch yards that lead to inflated passing stats and scores in previous versions of Axis Football. Now, if a receiver has to come back towards the line of scrimmage to catch a pass, he won't be able to instantly pivot back upfield for extra yards as soon as he catches the ball. He'll continue to take a couple steps towards the line of scrimmage before being able to plant or turn and head upfield, which gives pursing defenders a chance to converge and tackle him before he gets going.

Similarly, receivers running horizontally across the field will also have to follow-through on their catch animation and preserve their momentum, which prevents them from immediately turning upfield. Receivers running towards or along the sidelines will also often have their momentum carry them out of bounds, which makes throws to the sideline (such as quick outs or hitting a running back in the flats) feel much less exploitative than in previous years because the receiver will likely be forced out of bounds instead of being able to instantly turn upfield for 10 or 15 yards.

Receivers retain their momentum after catching the ball, limiting yards-after-catch.

Put simply, the passing game actually looks and feels more like real football, and it elevates Axis Football tremendously!

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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

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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Since Canuck Play shuttered its studio, canceled Maximum Football 21, and sold the Maximum Football IP to Modus Games, the other major simulation indie title, Axis Football, found itself without any major competition in 2021. There are other indie football games on the market, such as Sunday Rivals, but that is a more arcade-style game and isn't a direct competitor to Axis. I own the Steam version, but haven't played much of it yet. The only other real competition for Axis Football is the indie game Legend Bowl.

I've received several requests to play Legend Bowl and create content for it, including a request by the game's creator, himself. Don't worry King Javo, I bought Legend bowl during the Steam Fall Sale, and will be playing it more this holiday season.

In the meantime, Axis Football has been the only indie football game that I've played this year. So I cannot do my usual thing of comparing Axis to Maximum because there isn't a Maximum Football to compare Axis to. I could do a direct comparison between Axis Football 21 and Madden 22's supposedly-upgraded Franchise Mode, but I'm hesitant to directly compare any low-budget indie product to a billion-dollar licensed game from a major publisher. Maybe I'll revisit that topic later, if I get a lot of demand for it. In the meantime, if you're interested in my thoughts on Madden 22's supposedly-improved Franchise Mode, you can check out my video on that topic, or my full review.

So instead of comparing Axis Football to its direct competition, I've decided that I will instead focus on sharing my hopes and expectations for where the game goes from here. With EA releasing its college football game in 2023, and 2k presumably releasing its "non-simulation" game in 2022, Axis Football needs to take big strides in the next year or two in order to remain relevant and competitive.

See the full wishlists on YouTube!

This wishlist was originally created as a series video essays, which I encourage you to watch. I'm not going to replicate the entire transcript here, but will instead just summarize the content of the videos. I'm also going to re-arrange this written list a little bit so that each item is in the most appropriate category. If you want more discussion, details, and examples, please watch the linked wishlist videos.

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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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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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