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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Chicago Bears alt logo

Full disclaimer: I haven't been able to watch any of the Bears' games this year that haven't been nationally televised. That's part of the reason that I've been so quiet about the team this year. I don't have any fancy satellite TV subscriptions, nor do I even have cable. And my local affiliates are never showing the Bears games, even when the Bears are supposed to be the top-bill game that week. Whatever. I've had to resort to watching highlights and listening to other sports pundits because I haven't been able to see the Bears' piss-poor play for myself.

I expressed concern in the offseason over the loss of Jordan Howard and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. But I didn't expect the team to be this bad. I knew the Vikings and Packers would be in the hunt of the NFC North title, but I expected the Bears to be neck-and-neck in the contest. At the very least, I had hoped they'd be a top-contender for a wild card spot. What I didn't expect was for them to have to win a mid-season game against the Lions to keep themselves out of last place in the NFC North.

Chicago Bears - David Montgomery
The running game has struggled without Jordan Howard.

And it isn't like the Bears are losing to great teams. They aren't losing to the Patriots or the Chiefs or the Ravens or the 49ers. The only good teams they've lost to have been the Packers and the Saints. They lost embarrassing games against the Raiders, the Chargers, and a disappointing Eagles team. That Raiders loss was especially criticised because it was played in London, and the Bears' coaching staff decided not to fly out until Friday night. So the team came into the first half looking groggy and half-asleep -- just like they did in the first week of the regular season, after Nagy decided to rest the starters. Those are both bad decision that are squarely on head coach Nagy's shoulders.

Trading away Jordan Howard was perhaps the biggest personnel mistake that the Bears have made since trading for Jay Cutler. It might even be a more costly mistake than letting go of Robbie Gould. The Bears just haven't been the same team without Howard. The running game has been pathetic, and Trubisky and the passing game have not been able to make up the difference.

The lack of a running game is a problem, but I still put most of the blame for this season on Trubisky and Nagy. The play-calling has just not been as smart or creative as it was last year. But maybe it can't be, because Trubisky is making terrible decisions when Nagy tries running more complicated plays. Nagy seems to have dumbed-down his offensive play-calling in order to help Trubisky out, but even with simpler play concepts, Trubisky is struggling. He's making bad decisions and even worse throws. He often looks more like a confused college freshman than a third-season pro. It's like watching those Jay Cutler-led offenses all over again.

Trubisky is starting to look like a baby Jay Cutler.

In that win against Detroit, the entire first quarter was dominated by Trubisky completing short routes and check-downs to build his confidence, before showing flashes of why the Bears drafted him in the second and third quarters. The Bears were helped overall by the fact that starting Lions quarterback Matt Stafford sat out of the game. Even though Driskel played well, the Lions offense just wasn't as explosive as it usually is with Stafford behind center. The Bears couldn't run the ball, and Trubisky failed to convert several third downs late in the game that would have helped to ice the game. The game came down to an offensive pass interference that took away a fourth down conversion by the Lions, and resulted in a turnover on downs when the Lions failed to convert the retry. So it wasn't a pretty win, nor was it a convincing win. The Bears will be playing the Lions again in a few weeks on Thanksgiving day. I have zero confidence that the Bears will win the rematch.

This 2019 Bears team is bad. The offense cannot move the ball, let alone score. And the defense is not bailing the offense out with game-changing turnovers.

I expect the Bears to be looking for a new franchise quarterback in the next draft or two. They should probably also look at running backs while they're at it. Sadly, they don't have a first-round pick in the 2020 draft (because they gave that pick to the Raiders in the Khalil Mack trade). Maybe they can find some late-round sleepers?

Trubisky played decent against the Lions, but the Bears were helped by the Lions starting backup QB Jeff Driskel.
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Sunday, September 8, 2019 10:30 PM

I'm done defending Tony Sanchez

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

There was talk this off-season that this season would be a make-or-break season for UNLV head coach Tony Sanchez. Bowl or bust. If Sanchez and the Rebels could not put together six wins and make a bowl, then Sanchez would be shown the door, and UNLV would be looking for yet another head coach in its long, sad history of failed head coaches.

Tony Sanchez should be afraid for his job after embarrassing loss to Arkansas State.

Personally, I did not think that this was fair to Sanchez. Teams can often be too fire-happy. It's not like UNLV has a line of people applying for the head coaching job. They've tried pulling high-profile coaches out of retirement. They've tried hiring division II coaches. Those experiments all failed. Now they've sunk to hiring a high school coach with no collegiate coaching experience. What else is left for them to try? I guess if they get desperate enough, they could hire an amateur sports blogger... ahem...

All off-season, I was insisting that Sanchez' fate should not be decided on whether UNLV makes a bowl game or not. Instead, it should be decided by how competitive the team appears. If UNLV were to win 4 or 5 games, and miss a bowl, but their losses were all in close, competitive games, then I would have said that Sanchez deserves more time to recruit and right the ship.

But two games into the 2019 season, I am changing my tune.

UNLV did not look competitive -- or even competent in their 43-17 loss to Arkansas State -- a team from the Sun Belt conference. This wasn't a PAC team, or a Big 10 team, or a Big 12 team. This was a team that should have been on the same level as UNLV. This is a game that UNLV needed to win if it wanted to seriously contend for a bowl bid. Getting five wins within the conference is not going to happen. The Mountain West is actually looking like it might be pretty good this year. Boise, San Diego State, and Fresno are always good. That's to be expected. But Hawai'i had a big upset win against Arizona to open the season, Wyoming has racked up two wins against quality out-of-conference opponents, and Nevada upset Purdue (before being destroyed by Oregon).

...

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Madden NFL 18 - title

Oh boy, booting up Madden 18 for the first time was like watching a slow motion train wreck -- before the train had even left the station. After a few start-up questions to set my play style and difficulty level, the game immediately loaded into a demo game of a Superbowl rematch between the Falcons and Patriots. Except it crashed to the PS4 menu before the game could load. I booted it up again, sat through setting my initial preferences again, and then waited in anticipation to see whether the demo game would actually load.

It did, but instead of a tightly-choreographed narrative tutorial like in Madden 16 and 17, it loaded into a normal Play Now game, but with pathetically sparse commentary and lazy SuperBowl presentation. Now, Madden 17's tutorial wasn't great. The player banter was cheesily-written and poorly-acted, and completely misrepresented the actual content of the game. But at least it had scripted scenarios that put the player in position to try out some of the new features. Madden 18's introduction couldn't even be bothered with trying to be a tutorial. It just throws you into a game with a few tooltips popping up in the corner of the screen that you may or may not have time to read, and which may or may not be actually relevant or useful.

The demo game exposed the persistence of legacy issues with loose ball and onside kick recovery.

The actual game exposed several legacy issues were still present. Loose-ball physics and fumble recoveries appear to still be an ongoing problem. A fumbled ball just magically sticks to a recovering player's hand, and an onside kick was sucked right into the waiting hands of a member of the receiving team. So much for my hopes that the Frostbite Engine might be a panacea for fixing any legacy physics issues...

The game ended, I was given a "What's New" teaser video that explained the settings and options that I had already chosen before, and then I was put on the main menu where every piece of content was locked out. The only thing that I was allowed to do is replay that same Falcons-Patriots Superbowl rematch. You see, this year's Madden game pulls that annoying trick where it installs just enough content to allow you to boot up the game and play a tiny piece of demo content while the rest of the content downloads and installs in the background. I hate this feature! I don't want to play an incomplete game. I'll play it when it's fully installed and ready to go. In the meantime, I can read a magazine or play something else. Don't tell me the game is "ready to play", when it isn't!

What I got was a buggy, poorly-performing game scenario that I didn't want to play, and which did nothing but showcase that major legacy issues still remain, that the commentary might be sparse and lifeless (fortunately it isn't), and it couldn't even be bothered to actually teach me any of the game's new features.

"Ready to play", my ass... At least install the Skill Trainer so I can do some tutorials!

And I thought Grand Theft Auto V's tutorial was bad.

When the game finally was ready to let me actually play, I spent some of my early time in Ultimate Team to get my feet wet and see if that mode had become worth playing. No, it still isn't...

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Madden NFL 18 - Longshot

I'm still working on my full review of Madden 18. It was starting to get kind of long and rambly, so I decided to break off the section regarding the Longshot story mode (which I've already played to completion) into its own post so that I could be a little more thorough regarding this unique game mode. Well, unique for Madden anyway. Games like 2K's NBA 2k have been doing a similar thing for years.

Longshot is a pretty radically different gameplay mode compared to the rest of Madden, and so it also felt kind of out-of-place in the review for the rest of the game. It's very much its own self-contained thing. In fact, it very easily could have been released as a stand-alone game or "expansion" DLC pack for Madden 18, rather than being a back-of-the-box feature. It's inclusion in the core package is probably one of the reasons that franchise mode received so little attention this year, as I'm sure this thing must have taken a lot of time and resources. Madden is already overpriced as it is (in my opinion) -- especially when you consider how much money EA makes from the Ultimate Team feature -- so I'm certainly happy that I got to play this mode without having to spend any extra money.

The story of Devin Wade

If Madden 18's arcade, simulation, and competitive game modes aren't enough game varieties for you, or if you're one of those "games as art" "snobs" who writes lengthy blogs about ludonarrative dissonance or about how seemingly-arbitrary game mechanics are actually informing the narrative, then the new "Longshot" story mode might be for you.

This isn't a character-creator like in earlier iterations of Madden's Superstar mode, or NCAA Football's Road to Glory / Race for the Heisman / Campus Legend. Instead, you take on the persona of a character designed by EA, named Devin Wade. Devin is a former college football star who quit after the death of his father and is eventually recruited into a fictional reality television show called "Longshot", in which he's trained to become a potential NFL draftee. Wade is dealing with the trauma of his father's untimely death a few years ago, as well as his own feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, and maybe some guilt. You play through his training process, as well as flashback bits of his high school career (and watch other bits of his college career and some pee wee moments). Surprisingly, one thing that you won't do is have Devin suit up in an NFL uniform, as the mode concludes with him being drafted (or not, as the case may be).

Longshot includes flashbacks of Devin Wade's high school and college careers.

The mode is mostly like watching a movie (a three-and-a-half hour long movie), with the occasional quicktime event, mini-game, or time-sensitive Mass Effect-style dialogue choice...

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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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