Just came across this article on Kotaku about the new "Infinity Engine" that is supposed to introduce real-time physics simulation into Madden NFL 13.
Let me give you a minute to piece back together your blown mind.
That's right, Madden NFL is finally throwing out it's more-than-a-decade-old animation engine (developed for first-gen PlayStation 2 versions of the game) in favor of real-time physics simulation.
EA Sports has been releasing a series of "Madden 13 playbook" videos since May, but I haven't really been paying too much attention to them until now. The early playbooks were focused on presentation and relatively minor gameplay tweaks (the kind that we're used to seeing every year). Today's playbook (number 4), however, has me very excited!
I've been pretty harsh on Madden the past few years, but this video has me more excited about the game than I've been since Madden 10 (which turned out to be a flop).
The footage that EA has included in this promo is absolutely gorgeous. We only get about a minute or so of actual in-game footage, and some of it still looks a bit rough around the edges. Clipping, suction, and warping/sliding were completely non-existent in what was shown. Players are tripping over each other's feet, rolling on top of each other, and their heads and limbs are all being pushed and reacting to collisions independently of the rest of the player's body. Consecutive hits looks nearly seamless, and momentum seemed to be very well-respected even when more than just two players were involved in the hits.
Infinity vs Euphoria
Hopefully, this game will do a much better job of respecting weight than Backbreaker did. Backbreaker was the first non-NFL-licensed football game to implement a real-time physics simulation via the Euphoria Engine. The results were very mixed. When the game worked properly, it was beautiful to behold; however, more often than not, the players would start flying and bouncing around the field, being sent flying at the slightest touch, as if they were playing football on the weakened gravity of the moon. Players seemed weightless and lifeless, like voodoo dolls being tossed around by an angry spectator.
This preview footage of Madden 13 looks to have avoided those same pitfalls.
Very promising indeed.
And surprising. Considering that both Microsoft and Sony are rumored to be working on their next generation of consoles, with anticipated release dates being as early as fall of 2013, I would have expected EA to just continue cashing in on Madden's current engine and build a new physics engine from the ground-up as the primary selling point for games on the new consoles.
Look at what one year of competition and slightly slumping sales did. This little start-up company named NaturalMotion came onto the scene in 2009/2010 with their first ever game. It turned out to be a disappointment for a lot of reasons, but the inclusion of real-time physics was very promising. Despite Backbreaker's poor critical and commercial reception, that one year of competition on the market showed gamers what they should be expecting from football video games on this generation of consoles. It was a full-forced sucker punch into EA's complacency. When Madden 11's sales figures dropped slightly below expectations (I think by like 4% or something small like that), EA doubled their development staff, hired a new lead designer, and began actually listening to the online simulation community's requests.
Personally, I was expecting a jump like this to happen on this generation of consoles way back in 2007 or 2008. I thought for sure with the increased processing power of the PS3 and 360, that we'd get a genuine physics engine. But with no competition, EA didn't need to innovate. Madden was one of the best-selling games year-in and year-out. The consumers didn't want fancy physics - or so EA thought. But NaturalMotion saw a demand for change, and they filled it. And that one year of [not even very good] competition lead to this!
Oh NFL, if only you hadn't granted an exclusive deal to EA (or any company). Oh, 2K, if only you'd stuck around. Oh, NaturalMotion, if only Backbreaker could have gotten the polish that it deserved. Where would football gaming be now?
It may be 5 years later than I expected, but "next gen" football might finally be around the corner!
The focus of the video was on tackling, so it's still unclear how well blocking and catching will be handled by the new engine. I'm also curious if the ball will be considered an independent object with it's own physics model, or if it will be considered an "extension" of the ball-carrier's body unless the game decides that it want to cause a fumble. Another point of interest for me is how injuries will be determined. Will the players' individual body parts be given specific impact and movement tolerances that, if exceeded, will cause injuries based on the excess force applied? Or will injuries just be random as they've always been in football games?
NCAA Football 13 will not include real-time physics
The article from Kotaku did also come with some bad news: NCAA Football 13 will not include the Infinity Engine or any other real-time physics support. Apparently, Tiburon wasn't even sure if the new tech would make it into this year's Madden, but they decided to push forward with it. With NCAA's earlier release date, there simply wasn't enough time to get the new engine in place. That problem could have been fairly easily-resolved by simply pushing the game back a few weeks, but I guess that didn't occur to anybody at EA.
This puts me in quite a pickle. The prospect of real-time physics has me very interested in this year's Madden. If the demo plays well, I will very likely give this game a release-day purchase. But I usually consider NCAA and Madden to be a package deal. If Madden's new physics engine truly does revolutionize the way the game plays, will I even be able to tolerate playing NCAA 13 using the old animation system considering that the game won't be that much different than NCAA 12?
In any case, I can't wait to get my hands on a playable demo of Madden 13. August can't arrive soon enough!
Other Madden 13 developer playbooks
If you're as excited as I now am about Madden 13, then you may be interested in checking out the previous playbook videos:
Mostly ho hum stuff. Hopefully this video was based on an older build of the game because animation warping and "twitch" running seems to be in full effect in some of the shots shown. Hopefully the addition of Simms and Nantz will come with some new halftime and post-game analysis, but I won't hold my breath for it to be better than NFL 2K5's.
So, are there only going to be three possible pass trajectories? Or are they on a continuum based on how long/hard the player presses the button? Problems with play action passes, draws, screens, and other "trick" plays was a big complaint in my reviews of last year's games. I hope the improvements go beyond just play action drop back animations (which seem to have just been excessively sped up, resulting in lots of sliding), and that they also improved blocking and defensive recognition.
The fact that psychic DBs are being addressed is also a huge boon to the game. It was one of my biggest complaints last year. Hopefully the inclusion of better procedural awareness will also include more aggressive wide receivers that will actually make plays on the ball instead of letting defenders make gimme interceptions.
Again, I really hope that this playbook video was taken using an older build of the game, because tumbleweeding is pervasive in the gameplay clips shown.
And what's with the "woosh" sound everytime the ball is thrown? If that's a new "feature", it's going to get very annoying very fast.
More ho hum presentation stuff. Although it sounds like they actually got individual quarterbacks to record their cadences, because Tom Brady actually did sound like Tom Brady. Not a big deal for me, as poor gameplay will break even the most immersive atmosphere.
UPDATE 10/04/2012: I've posted a review of Madden NFL 13.