Yesterday, I began an analsyis of the recently-released Madden NFL 12 teaser trailer. In it, I discussed four of the features showcased in the trailer (or at least, what I thought the features would be). My general conclusion in that section was that the only feature of any note is what appears to be a new player attribute and profiling system. Hopefully, the rest of the new features will provide something more interesting.
Table of Contents:
Section 5: Um ... something to do with field goals ... I guess?
Not quite sure what EA is getting at here. Its just clips of Green Bay's Mason Crosby and Miami's Dan Carpenter kicking a field goal. But they put it in the trailer, so I'm guessing there must be something here that just isn't instantly obvious. A few possibilities:
- New kicking meter - last year, EA changed the game's kicking meter back to a system similar to the kicking meters from PSX and PS2 days. It was a step backwards, as the modern kicking meters were more comfortable and easier to use, but apparently, somebody told them it was confusing, and they changed it last year. Maybe they are changing it back? Or they came up with a totally new kick meter. Something that maybe requires some actual skill instead of just being anautomatic 3 points whenever you're in your kickers maximum range. This seems like the most likely possibility.
- Updated field goal blocking (offensive) - EA could also be trying to show some sort of new offensive blocking logic or animations for the linemen. Again, not quite sure what this new logic or animation could be. Besides, field goals are already impossible to defend anyway, so improving offensive blocking on field goals is pointless.
- Easier field goal defense - Field goald have been virtually impossible to block for many years now in Madden. Perhaps EA is finally adding ways for defensive players to get better penetration in the backfield and possibly block the kick. This would be a welcome change, since teams like the Bears rely heavily on their special teams, and field goal blocking is something that has won several games for them in the past few years. But I would imagine that if the team at EA wanted us to see that field goals are easier to block now, then they would have given us a clip of a field goal actually being blocked!
- Added field goal "mishaps" - Or, maybe EA is adding some new "blooper reel" field goal mishaps, such as bobbled snaps, snaps going over the holders head, or the kicker just plain missing the ball. If these sorts of things were added, they would need to happen very rarely. But similarly to the above possibility, if they intended to hint that field goal mishaps are more likely, then they probably would have shown such a mishap in the clip
- More unique kicker stances/animations - It could also be that this is yet another purely cosmetic addition. Maybe they added some new unique kicking stance and style for Mason Crosby and Dan Carpenter. If so, its too hard to make out in the tiny little clip they showed us.
So yeah, probably nothing very interesting going on here...
Section 6: Probably not a return of the blimp cam
I'm not quite sure what's supposed to be going on here either. This appears to be a fly-over of Heinz Field in Pittsburg. While it is possible they are implying that the blimp cam is coming back, I think it's far more likely that this is intended to show off some new stadium lighting features. Notice how the stadium lights don't just create ambient light in the entire stadium, but rather now appear to be directed into the stadium. The upper sections of the stadium are blanketed in darkness and shadows, whereas the lower sections and field are brightly illuminated. Does the NFL even still use blimps?
Again, this appears to be nothing more than a superficial cosmetic or presentational addition, so not terribly impressive or interesting.
Section 7: Custom playbooks are back
Now here's something that actually warrants some interest and excitement! This is confirmation that customizeable playbooks are finally returning to Madden. These have been absent from the series since being introduced way back in 2004 by Madden NFL 2005 and ESPN NFL 2k5. As exciting as this feature could be, it will be worthless unless the following four conditions are met:
- It is compatible with existing features. Don't repeat the mistake of last year's "Gameplanning" and "Gameflow" features which rendered existing features (like package substitutions) unuseable. EA has a track record of adding new features that feel half finished in one year, and then adding another half-baked feature the next year without going back and fixing the broken feature from last year.Hopefully, custom playbooks will be fully integrated into the existing Gameplanning, Gameflow, package substitution, formation substitution, hot route, audible, formation audible, line shift, and pre-snap motion features for both offense and defense, and hopefully, those existing features (especially last year's horribly broken Gameplanning and Gameflow) will see some much-needed improvements as well. Otherwise, custom playbooks is a bust!
- It is integrated into Franchise Mode. In addition to breaking existing features, last year's Gameplanning feature was also a bust in that it wasn't integrated into Franchise Mode. There wasn't even a menu option for it in Franchise Mode. If you wanted to edit your Gameplan, you had to exit out of Franchise Mode and edit your team's ONE AND ONLY Gameplan profile, save it, reload your franchise, start a game, and load the Gameplan. Bullshit! Absolutely no excuse for that level of laziness, EA! If custom playbooks is similarly lacking in Franchise integration, then custom playbooks are a bust!
- It includes custom defensive playbooks! Another one of EA's irritating habits is that they often add new features to the game that only apply to offenses, and then we have to wait till next year to see that feature added to defense. An example is Playmaker control, which was introduced for offenses in Madden 2004, but we had to wait till Madden 2005 before we saw it (along with the incredible "Hit Stick" feature) get added for defense. Don't give us half a feature, EA. All or nothing. Otherwise, custom playbooks will be a bust!
- It includes the ability to create custom plays and formations. Being able to select exactly which plays are in your playbook is fun and all, there really isn't much point in giving us the ability to create custom playbooks if we aren't able to use that feature to come up with new and valuable strategies and schemes. I want to see customizeable blocking assignements, customizeable receiver routes, customizeable formations, customizeable pre-snap motion, customizeable coverages, and so forth! Besides, the strategy of football isn't only in the plays that are designed, but rather in the way those plays are combined! How one play opens up another, and how certain combinations of plays can wear down a defense or put pressure on an offense. It's the scheme that matters, not the plays themselves. If we can't customize the actual plays to fit within our scheme, then the only real reasons for creating a custom playbook are to rearrange the plays in existing playbooks so that it is easier to find the plays you want, or to fill a playbook with nothing but cheating "money plays". Online gamers beware!
If customizable playbooks are integrated into the Gameplanning and Gameflow feature, and then combined with a pre-game scouting and preparation mechanic in Franchise Mode, then this feature could raise last year's Gameplanning feature to its true potential, as well as possibly rivaling ESPN NFL 2k5 in terms of back-office Franchise management and strategy.
But I'm not gonna hold my breath for that.
So while this feature shows a lot of promise, it is also very likely to be the single, most disappointing feature in the game. Especially if it ends up being poorly integrated with Gameplanning, if Gameplanning is removed altogether, or if the feature ends up being no more sophisticated than the playbook customization options that were available 6 years ago on the previous generation of consoles...
Section 8: Surprise onside kicks
Special teams seems to be getting alot of attention this year. That's good. Special teams is a very important part of the game. Too bad none of the attention seems to be going towards the important parts of special teams play. Like kickoff and punt return blocking, coverage pursuit, and tackling. I've already covered the Surprise onside kicks in a previous post, so I'm not gonna waste much more time on it. In previous years, onside kicks were impossible because a receiving player always just crouched down and the ball magically warped into his hands. In this clip, the receiver tries to fall on the ball (as he should), but misses completely and it just bounces into the hands of a crouching kicking player. So it looks like the same problem's just been reversed. I hope defense got some improvements too to make up for never seeing the ball on offense!
Section 9: Hot and cold streaks
This is another potentially positive feature. Player performance having a relation to his performance in previous games adds a lot of dynamicness (is that a word?) to the game. It also opens up the possibility of seeing break-out players and one-year-wonders in Franchise Mode. This, combined with the aforementioned new attribute and profiling system could be a huge boost to the depth of the draft feature, allowing users to pick up busts and gems. However, I'm a little confused as to how this is going to work. Looking closely at the teaser, it doesn't look as though Ray Rice's stats or overall rating changed. In both the "Hot" and "Cold" screen, his overall appeared to be an 83. But it's a bit fuzzy. Maybe the "Hot" overall was 93, and I just couldn't tell?
But despite being a nice addition, this feature isn't new. Its another feature (like custom playbooks), that has been in Madden before. In versions of the game 4 or more years ago, on a previous generation of systems. The way it worked back then was that player performances were used to re-evaluate their attributes at several points in the year. If the player had been performing above expectations (was "hot"), his attributes would go up. Permanently. But, when he starts playing below expectations for an extended period of time, those stats would go back down. Permanently.
"Hot" and "cold" streaks are also features in the more recent Backbreaker. But the player's all sucked so badly to begin with that it didn't make much of a difference.
This sort of feature was also handled much better in ESPN NFL 2k5, in which player attributes would change on a week-to-week basis based on how well that player performed in weekly practices and which specific activities he engaged in. Sit your QB down to watch more game film, and you'd see his accuracy go up. But spending less time doing drills and strength training would mean he might slow down a bit and see a decline in arm strength and resilliance to injury.
Maybe this year's Franchise Mode in Madden will be a mind-blowing showcase of two years worth of development (since they didn't touch Franchise Mode at all last year), and we'll see the new player attribute and tendencies, "hot" and "cold" streaks, week-by-week Gameplanning and preparation, and a worthwhile practice mode that can help keep a player's hot streak going or bring them out of their slump, all combine to form a wanna-be coach's football simulation dream come true!
It's not likely, but a football fan can dream, can't he?
Section 10: 3-D grass
This was already revealed in the NCAA Football 12 screenshot release, which I discussed here. It's kind of hard to see, but if you focus very closely on the bottom of the player's foot in the screenshot, you can see some tiny blades of grass overlapping with the bottom of the player's shoe. Its yet another purely cosmetic and ultimately probably meaningless feature. Some people are speculating that there might also be new Nike equipment because the player's shoe has a Nike swoosh on it. But Nike apparel is already in the game (I think). And even if Nike apparel is new, it's still just a worthless cosmetic upgrade with no meaningfull impact on gameplay.
Conclusion, and how EA can earn my money this year
Aw well. I guess 3 1/2 out of 10 features showing some promise for improving the quality of the game is not bad for an annual release. But none of these features look like they will really be game-changing. The new player attribute and hot and cold streaks look like they could combine with other as yet unknown Franchise enhancements to make Franchise Mode much better. EA did say last year that they put most of their focus in Madden 11 on Gameflow and on-the-field upgrades to animation and the locomotion system, and that they'd be focusing on a totally revamped Franchise Mode for Madden 12. Hopefully the new Franchise mode ends up being worth the wait, and will come with some decent on-the-field enhancements.
But last year's Madden was so disappointing that I resolved to not buy Madden 12 until after I had read some reviews of it. Unless trailers and previews absolutely blow me away, I will probably wait a week and buy the game used. Sure it will not cost much less, but at least I won't be giving EA an additional new game sale.
By the way, about the only thing that will blow my mind, is the announcement of real-time physics simulation and a return to a focus on simulation football, rather than casual and oline play. Supposedly, EA introduced some new physics simulation technology in last year's NHL Hockey 11game, so maybe they'll port that over to Madden?
If you want my money this year, EA, you have four and a half months left to blow my mind for Madden 12, and this teaser just didn't do the trick. But you know what you have to do...