I was inspired a few weeks ago by a Twitter post from Ryan Moody (@ShutdownSafety), who asked why people are being so negative about football video gaming, and why people aren't making content. Well, I decided that I'd make some content sharing some of my optimism about the future of football video gaming in the next few years. I posted a video to my YouTube channel, but loyal blog readers can read the full transcription here.

YouTube: Will 2020 be a good year for football video games?

Football video games have been in a rut for a while now. The exclusivity deal between the NFL and EA didn't only kill NFL 2k series, it also may have killed the NFL Gameday, NFL Fever, NFL Blitz, and other series as well, some of which had game releases as late as 2004. All Pro Football 2k8 is now eleven years old. Backbreaker came and went nine years ago, leaving EA as the only major publisher still making football video games. EA's own NCAA Football series is now in the fifth year of its hiatus (the optimist in me still prefers to use the term "hiatus" instead of "cancellation"). This has all left football video gamers with nothing but mediocre Madden releases for years.

EA's NFL exclusivity may have put the final nail in the coffin for other games besides just NFL 2k.

All that being said, I am actually very optimistic about football video gaming come 2020 or 2021.

New indie games on the market

First and foremost, Madden's 5-year complete monopoly on consoles was broken this year with the releases of Canuck Play's Maximum Football 2018 and Axis Games' Axis Football 18. For the first time since 2013, there are football games on consoles not called Madden, and for the first time since 2009, there are football games on consoles that are not published by EA.

So why do I still consider football gaming to be in a rut?

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Axis Football 18 - title

This is the one indie football game that I was most looking forward to. Unfortunately, it is also the one that ended up being delayed almost to the point of irrelevancy -- at least on consoles. The game did see a PC release on Steam in September, but the console versions had to wait until much longer. The XBox One release didn't make it out until after Thanksgiving. The PS4 release had to wait even longer, not seeing a release till after Christmas! I was trying to hold out for the PS4 release, but the college season was coming to a close, the NFL was well into its second half, and I was jonesing for some football gameplay. I ended up buying the Steam version when it went on sale (only a couple bucks off) for Black Friday.

Many football fans probably gave up on the season long before Axis Football showed up on storefronts.

If they want to be successful in the future, Axis is going to need to make sure that they get their game out on time! In fact, they should probably follow Canuck Play's Maximum Football and try to release before Madden hits shelves, and thus capitalizing on the period of greatest excitement and anticipation for the football season. Being delayed until after Thanksgiving on consoles surely hurt Axis' chance at success. I'm sure Lions, Bills, Raiders, and ... yes ... UNLV fans have long-since given up on the football season and may have also lost interest in playing football video games.

I still hope that Axis sees decent sales on all platforms. Hopefully, Axis has learned lessons about the certification and release process so that they can get their game out on time next year. Hopefully they can also spend less time going through certification, and more time working on ironing out the rough edges on this game. Axis is definitely a more feature-complete product than its direct competitor (Maximum Football), but its on-field gameplay might lag a little behind Maximum in some areas. And both games are light-years behind Madden.

Third and long

There's a screen-shake to accompany tackles and make the action look more visceral. It's ironic, however, when this shake accompanies a tackle animation in which the tackler didn't actually collide with the runner. Simply grazing a defender can often cause the runner to fall to the ground. This can sometimes happen with a couple yards of separation between the tackler and runner, and sometimes even with the tackler on the opposite side of a blocker. I also see defenders shift through blockers, such that the blocker is behind the defender, yet the blocking animation continues as normal.

Runners are frequently tackled without actually colliding with a defender,
or the defender phases through the runner and misses the tackle.

The game also lacks a robust set of catching animations for receivers, or swat animations for defenders in coverage. Many passes feel like a crap shoot because the receiver and cover man both stand there waiting for the ball, and it could be a completion, and interception, or a drop, without any real appropriate animations playing to accompany the action. Players don't seem able to jump or dive for passes. They just kind of put their arms out, and the ball either hits them (in which case, it's still random whether it's caught or dropped), or it misses.

There's also no blocking or block-breaking animations. Linemen and defenders just kind of magnetically attack to one another until the block is broken. At that point, the defender just kind of steps away from the lineman with there not really being any indication that the two of them had ever interacted at all. There's no hand-swatting, or jostling, or swim / rip moves, or anything.

Receivers and defenders don't put much effort into catching or swatting balls in the air.

More generally, the game is in desperate need of a better locomotion system. Players don't feel like they have much weight. It takes a moment for a player to get up to speed, but once at top speed, they can cut, change direction, and go in circles without much (if any) loss of speed or momentum. In general, players feel like they're skating rather than running. Axis' controls feel less jerky and more fluid than with Maximum Football, but Maximum's players at least feel slightly more tethered to the ground.

Even though the on-field play has a lot of problems, at least it is never taking control away from me in order to play scripted animations. Aside from the crap shoot that is catching passes, I always feel very in-control of my player, and most mistakes are on me.

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Maximum Football 2018 - title

We finally have some competition in the football video game sector! Canadian developer Canuck Play recently released PS4 and XBox One versions of its Maximum Football 2018 game. Canuck Play is a small, independent studio with limited staff. In fact, I couldn't find a count of how many employees or developers they have, so as far as I can tell, the whole game was developed by one guy: David Winter. The fact that he could single-handedly put together a functioning football game is, itself, a pretty impressive feat. I wish I had the time and drive to do what he's accomplished.

Maximum Football 2018 is a $17 budget title, so I went into it with pretty low expectations -- as should you. I bought it because I want to support indie developers, and I would love for Canuck Play to eventually grow into a studio with the skill and manpower to challenge Madden. I'm not going to lie though, Maximum Football is not there yet. Not even close.

How do I even play Canadian football?

Being a United States resident and fan of NFL and NCAA college football, I admit that I have only a passing familiarity with some of the rules variations of Canadian football. There was a Canadian football team in my home town for a couple years (the Las Vegas Posse), and my dad and I did attend the games. I remember the basic differences like there being twelve players on each team instead of eleven, three downs instead of four (which encouraged more passing), more generous backfield motion rules, 50+ yard field goals being worth four points instead of three, and a longer field and deeper end zone. But there are a lot of other rules changes that I don't know, and even in the cases of the rules that I do know, I do not understand the strategic nuances of playing under those rules.

Canadian football has some significant rule variation that I don't know the strategy for.

As such, I was very disappointed to see that Maximum Football 2018, which is a Canadian football game, does not include any sort of tutorial or training mode (that I could find). There is an option in the settings menu that allows the game to automatically snap the ball for you after the pre-play motion(s) are complete, but there's nothing in the game that explains how these motions are supposed to work, or how the offense is supposed to utilize them. There's no in-game commentary to possibly provide the player with any insight into the intricacies of Canadian football. Not even so much as some splash screens with some diagrams and explanations. There is a practice mode in which you can test out the playbooks, but you'll have to learn everything through trial and error.

The waggle concept allows multiple offensive players to go in motion before the snap.

To compound this issue, the game lacks explanations for some of its own mechanics and conventions. Receiver routes are highlighted in up to five different colors: red, yellow, blue, white, and sometimes green. What do these colors mean? I assume that one of them is supposed to be the primary receiver and one is supposed to be the hot receiver. So what do the other two colors mean? Are they supposed to represent the QB's receiver progression? If so, then in which order am I supposed to read them? Do they represent the types of motion that they perform before the snap? If so, then it would be nice to have an explanation of how these motion concepts work.

What do all these colors mean?

It doesn't get any better on the defensive side of the ball. Heck, it gets worse. There's no pre-snap defensive play art at all, nor is there any defensive player assist. You're stuck having to decipher the small play art that is shown in the play-selection screen. You have to remember the assignment of whichever defender you happen to select, then fulfill that job completely manually without any in-game indicator of what the player's assignment actually is. The safest options, therefore, are to always select a defensive lineman (despite there not being any controls or mechanics for breaking blocks or steering blockers), or play a safety in zone coverage (if you can actually figure out which safety is in zone coverage).

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Steam logo

The video game developer and distribution platform-owner Valve has announced that it will no longer moderate game submissions to Steam, and will instead "allow everything", so long as it is not blatantly illegal or "straight up trolling". This comes after literal years of complaints from players about the poor quality of games being submitted on the platform, and years of failed attempts by Valve to shut down or limit such releases. Apparently, they are just giving up.

Valve executive Erik Johnson made this announcement on an official blog post today, in which he defended the change in policy as a matter of protecting free speech rights.

"If you’re a developer of offensive games, this isn’t us siding with you against all the people you’re offending. There will be people throughout the Steam community who hate your games, and hope you fail to find an audience, and there will be people here at Valve who feel exactly the same way. However, offending someone shouldn’t take away your game’s voice. We believe you should be able to express yourself like everyone else, and to find others who want to play your game. But that’s it."

   -- Erik Johnson, Valve executive, official blog

I'm a huge proponent of free speech, and a firm opponent of censorship, but I'm not sure if this move from Valve is the right one. For me, this is less an issue of free speech and censorship, and more an issue of quality control. Steam is already inundated with crappy, barely-working games that are phishing for people's money. People have been submitting, and charging consumers for, blatant asset-flips, Unity tutorials, copy-pasted rip-offs and clones, achievement farms, and all sorts of other low-quality, minimum-effort games and "fake games". In essence, Valve is enabling illigitimate developers to sell defective merchandise to the public, and Valve is directly profiting off of those sales. Does this represent a conflict of interest? Is Valve under a perverse incentive to facilitate the sale of as much crap as it possibly can?

That doesn't even include larger indie debacles like Life of Black Tiger, which actually saw a release on PSN as well! It also doesn't include the vast array of Early Access titles that may or may not at some point be released as "complete", fully-functional titles.

Yes, it is nice that indie developers (especially budding young ones) have a platform on which to publish their work. However, the flood of games on the platform is not necessarily good for the consumer. Even if all the games that were submitted to Steam were quality games submitted by honest developers in good faith, the shear volume of games would already make it difficult to weed through to find what you are looking for.

Steam releases per year
Almost half of all games ever released on Steam were released in a single year.
Source: Steam Spy.

Instead of doing their own moderation or quality-control, Valve apparently intends to release a suite of controls intended to allow end users to filter out content that they don't want to see...

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What Remains of Edith Finch - title

The Finch family is, as we are told, cursed. It's not a spoiler to say that every member of the family dies a tragic, premature death. The family tree in the sketchbook tells you as much at the start of the game.

We play, ostensibly, as 17-year-old Edith Finch, the last surviving member of the Finch family, but also an expecting mother. Her son will carry on the name and legacy of the family. She returns to her childhood home to learn the stories of all her cursed relatives, as she debates internally with whether to share these stories with her son, or to let the past (and its myriad tragedies) fade away and die.

The Finch family is cursed by tragedy.

The house itself, is a whimsical generational home in which each member of the family is given his or her own unique room. As more members of the family are born, new rooms are added onto the house, including a towering structure on the top that makes the house look almost like a castle. After losing both of her sons, Edith's mother began sealing off everyone's rooms so that Edith (and any future children) would not become aware of how the others died. But, each room has alternate ways in and out, including some secret doorways and tunnels.

Despite the whimsical, fantastical nature of the house, everything feels surprisingly real and lived-in. The house is cluttered with the paraphernalia of the family (since they were apparently also hoarders), and each room has a very distinct personality. Even the shared spaces that do not belong to any one individual still exhibit a sense of personality to them. This is a family that takes great pride in their history and the connectedness that they have towards one another.

The Finch home is a whimsical, generational house.

As she learns about these stories, Edith questions whether the family members should know about the stories of their relatives and the supposed curse? Or does that knowledge make tragedy a self-fulfilling prophecy? Should she share these stories with her unborn son, at the risk that the knowledge may cause him to also fall victim to the curse? Or is he cursed either way, and has a right to know it?...

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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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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