Wednesday, December 27, 2023 06:30 PM

Madden 24 can't even get nostalgia right

in Video Gaming by MegaBearsFan

Madden NFL 24 - title

Yesterday, I posted a new video to YouTube which critiques the Training Camp mini-games in Madden 24, and their pitiful attempt at playing off of players' nostalgia for the almost-20-year-old Madden games on PS2. I'm not going to reproduce a transcript of the entire video here, since most of the points in the video were already made in my full review of Madden 24 on this blog.

A critique of Madden 23's Training Camp mini-games is available on YouTube.

In summary, the video compares the execution of the mini-games in Madden 24 to the overall execution of the mini-games in Madden 2006, and how these new drills fail to replicate many of the design decisions that made those old drills good. Most notably, the new drills lack any of the classic risk / reward mechanics of the old drills, and the new drills seem designed for the user to just grind them for the maximum reward possible. The critique also compared each new mini-game with the analogous drill from Madden 2006, and how each individual new drill is poorly designed in comparison to the classic drills.

I also rant a bit about the lack of any mini-game for offensive linemen. To be fair to Madden 24, the old Madden games didn't have offensive lineman mini-games either. But then again, those older games also didn't have any mechanics or controls for playing as an offensive lineman. Madden 24 does. So there is no excuse for Madden 24 to not have offensive lineman mini-games.

I do wonder how this Training Camp feature is being received by the Madden community. If the rest of the community dislikes them as much as I do, then I wouldn't be surprised to see EA completely drop this feature from next year's game. Honestly, I don't even think I would miss it.

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Madden NFL 24 - title

Last year, I gave Madden 23 a scolding initial review due to an excess of bugs and A.I. problems, including the broken Interception A.I. slider that resulted in every QB getting picked off 5 times a game. However, after a couple months, many of the most egregious issues with the game had been fixed by EA, and I came to realize that I was still playing the game long after I have usually given up on it in previous years. And dare I say, I might even have been kinda sorta liking it.

In particular, I praised the game for actually taking critical feedback of previous years' games to heart and iterating and improving on old ideas that hadn't quite worked out. Targeted passing, tackle battle, throw-out-of-sack animations, and in-season college scouting were all mechanics that were introduced in recent years, but which weren't well-received in their debut games. Instead of completely abandoning those features, EA actually seems to have looked at the criticisms, re-examined those mechanics at fundamental levels, and improved them such that they all are both better-playing game mechanics, and also more closely model the sport of football. Further, the new motivations and tags feature managed to add a tiny degree of humanity to the player rosters, making the players feel slightly more like actual people with their own wants and desires, and less like simple commodities to be bought, sold, and traded by the old, rich, white men who run the NFL.

It seemed like EA and Tiburon were finally putting a degree of thought and effort into the game.

I eventually started to come around to kinda sorta liking Madden 23.

So if Madden 23 ended up being moderately successful at iterating on older ideas and actually making them work better, without really introducing a whole lot that was genuinely new, then I was open to the idea of Madden 24 potentially doing the same thing. If there's not very much new, but the stuff that is old just works better, then I might actually be willing to give Madden 24 a fairly positive review. And this seems to be the approach that EA and Tiburon took with Madden 24 ... except that it doesn't work better.

A patch for last year's game?

Almost everything new to Madden 24's gameplay takes the form of subtle, barely-noticeable upgrades to the "Fieldsense" and tackle physics mechanics introduced in last year's game. In Franchise, there are a few tweaks to free agency and trade mechanics, and coaching skill trees have been expanded. That's pretty much it!

This is little more than a $70 patch for Madden 23.

And ... OK ... that could be fine. I've long asked for EA and Tiburon to take a few years to rebuild Madden's fundamentals, instead of shoe-horning in new features that further complicate the mechanics and code base. If that results in a much better football game at fundamental levels, then it would be worth it. But this isn't better fundamental football. It's incremental, barely-noticeable upgrades over last year's game.

Supposedly, blockers are supposed to be smarter at picking who to block. Defenders are supposed to be able break on short routes, and supposedly can't make blind interceptions anymore. There's supposed to be new fumble recovery animations. The biggest supposed change is that defenses are supposed to be able to adjust better to the user's play-calling. But I just don't see much -- if any -- difference in any of these areas.

It's the same wonky physics that can be completely canceled if the game choses an incompatible animation, or which allows the ball to magnetically attach to players' hands.

It's the same play-calling logic that is overly-reliant on passing the ball 20+ yards down the field.

It's the same blocking and defensive logic that can be easily exploited with money plays or hot routes, and which never learns or adjusts to what the user is doing.

CPU QBs still run around and take massive sacks.

It's the same cheating, rubber-band A.I. that inflates scores and stats, and which isn't properly balanced for full-length, 15-minute quarters.

It's the same idiotic team-building logic that causes CPU-controlled teams to release their MVP franchise QB and then use up even more cap space to sign 5 over-paid, mediocre replacements.

It's full of the same stupid shit like quarterbacks dropping deeper into the pocket and taking 15 yard sacks against blitzes, defenses being completely incapable of defending inside-breaking routes, linemen being unable to block outside running plays, and all the same stuff that has been frustrating gamers for years.

And every one of those things listed above is something that was supposed to have been improved in this year's game. But I don't notice much -- if any -- difference.

In fact, about the only things that I notice that seem different about the on-field action is that there are now referees on the field again. And hey! One of the refs in each game is even a woman! So there's finally some tiny amount of gender representation in Madden. And the other change that I've noticed is that players like to push and shove each other around a lot more after plays, but the new refs never bother throwing flags for personal fouls.

Referees are back on the field, and there's even a few variations of women referees.

Oh, and I guess running quarterbacks are better at holding onto the football. So I'm a lot more secure in running designed QB runs, options, and bootleg scrambles with the likes of Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields. So that's something, I guess...

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Madden NFL - title

I'm going to change pace a little bit for this installment of "How Madden Fails To Simulate Football". Previously, I've focused on the rules of the game and on on-field gameplay. This time, I'm going to go off the field and start talking about team-building and coaching strategies, which are key to creating an engaging Franchise Mode experience.

Patreon

This is a topic that was voted upon by my Patrons. If you would like to have voting power to influence the content that I create, then I encourage you to support my content creation through Patreon. Patron support helps offsets the cost of the server for my blog, the license for the software that I use to YouTube edit videos, and any research material that I buy.

The COVID years have been hard on a lot of people, and many of my Patrons had to discontinue their support due to financial hardships. I want to take a moment to wish all my former Patrons the best. I hope that 2022 treated you better, and that 2023 will be better yet. I'd also like to thank my current Patrons and those who stuck with me. To all my Patrons -- past, present, and future -- thank you for your support.

Now let's talk football! I'm writing drafted this essay in the month or 2 leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, so this topic will actually be kind of relevant at the time that it is published.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

One of the ways that Madden is most different from real life football is that in Madden, the exact skill level of every player in the league is known to everyone all the time. Because of the way that Madden implements player attributes and progression, users don't have to evaluate player talent at all. Ever. In the vast majority of cases, ordering your depth chart is a simple matter of sorting the players by their overall ratings. And if it's not the overall rating, then there's usually a single other attribute rating that determines who starts and who doesn't. It's usually speed. For example, I favor kick and punt returners with speed, and usually put my fastest reserve player as my starting returner, regardless of his overall rating. So yes, there are some edge cases where a user gets to make judgement calls about which player better fits your play style. But for the most part, it's all about that overall rating.

This means that there is no mystery or question about which players are actually good, which players aren't so good, and which players are outright busts. It also means that Madden doesn't have true position battles. One player is objectively better than the other in the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, even if it is just marginally so. It means there's no question whether a free agent or trade will be an upgrade over the players already on your roster. It means that there isn't much value in testing out rookies in the preseason because you already know exactly how good those players are, and whether they are deserving of a starting position or roster spot based on their overall rating.

All of the intrigue and "what ifs" that go into roster movements and decisions in NFL front offices are simply non-existent in Madden because so much of the game is based on these absolute numbers that are completely open and transparent to everybody.

Trubisky vs Pickett
photo credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Dean vs Edwards
photo credit: John Jones / Icon Sportswire
Every year, there are questions about who is the best player in many teams' lineups.

Think of some of the big questions from early in the 2022 season: Is Mitch Trubisky better than the rookie Kenny Pickett? Should Devin Singletary get more carries than James Cook? How about Tony Pollard or Ezekiel Elliot? Should the Packers look to Allen Lazard or Sammy Watkins to replace the lost productivity of Devante Adams? Will Nakobe Dean play well enough as a rookie linebacker for the Eagles, or should they stick with their veteran starter from last year? Is Bailey Zappe better than Mac Jones? Is Trey Lance better than Jimmy Garoppolo?

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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 - title

Well, here we are at the end of the NFL season already. Seventeen weeks are in the books, and the 2016/2017 playoffs are in full swing. As we prepare to say goodbye to the 2016 NFL season, it's also time to start looking ahead to the future of the Madden video game series.

I was really happy to see the practice squad and weekly training added to this year's game. I feel that this allows for more realistic development of players over the long term, and it makes the draft feel more worthwhile since you no longer have to cut your late-round draft picks. Despite being a good thing to have, the practice squad feature has some problems.

Madden 17 - practice squad player ratings
Being able to see all of a player's ratings make it trivially easy to poach other team's practice squad players.

For one thing, determining who to start and who to throw on your practice squad is a pretty trivial process of comparing numbers in a spreadsheet. Heck, you can usually get away with just comparing a single number: their overall ratings. There are no "judgement calls" to be made here.

Practice squad poaching is another problem. Any player with a rating above 70 is likely to get poached off of your practice squad by another user (even by CPU teams). The reason for both these problems is that it's trivially easy to know how good any given player is - the game shows all their ratings right there in the menu. You don't need to put either of them head-to-head in practice or put them on the field to see how they perform. The ratings dictate performance, and the ratings are publicly available.

Uncover rookie ratings during training camp

How can we resolve this problem of practice squad poaching? Well, we can hide rookie ratings until you actually practice with them and play them in games. Much like how the true ratings of players in the college draft are hidden until you scout and/or draft them, the game could also hide the true ratings of incoming rookies.

This opens the possibility of a training camp feature being a valuable tool for player assessment. I've already proposed a training camp feature in my previous wishlist, but this idea could supplement that. As you put players through your training camp, you'd slowly uncover their true ratings by performing various Skill Trainer drills or other practice activities and scrimmages. Then, once the season begins, you would reveal further ratings through weekly training and by playing the players in actual games. This would also have the effect of adding further value to preseason games, as you'd use those as a proving ground to hopefully uncover any remaining key ratings for your young players. You'd actually have a genuine reason to play them in games because you honestly wouldn't know how well they'd perform.

Madden 17: hidden ratings in player card
Perhaps the ratings of incoming rookies should remain hidden, even after they are drafted?

Any ratings that you unlock would remain hidden to all other teams, so that they won't be able to simply compare overall ratings with their own players. Each team could then maybe have the ability to spend some of their college scouting points on scouting other teams' practice squads looking for players that they could poach. Doing so would gradually unlock some practice squad player ratings.

There could also be a set of publicly-known ratings for each player that would be known to all teams in the league. These would be unlocked as the given player plays in games, and playing in nationally-televised games (such as Monday night) could maybe even accelerate the unlocking of ratings. So players who have been in the league for a long time, and who have lots of public game film would be more of a known quantity. We would all know how good Tom Brady is, but we wouldn't necessarily know how good Jacoby Brissett might be until he actually plays some games.

The entire NFL knows that Tom Brady is a superstar, but not as many people know if Jacoby Brissett is any good.

In the meantime, the game could provide some more "fuzzy" ratings for players whose true ratings are unknown. Either keeping the grades that are used from college scouting (A, B, C, D, etc.), or by providing ranges for unknown ratings (e.g. a player's catch rating is between 75 and 85)...

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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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