Last year, I put up a poll asking my Patrons what topic they would like me to discuss in a video critique for the 2020 series of independent football video games. At the time, I only had a handful of Patrons, and the winning topic (which won by a single vote) was to discuss the "football knowledge" of Axis Football 2020 and Maximum Football 2020. At first, I wasn't sure if there would be enough for me to talk about, but I ended up having plenty of criticism. I broke the critique up into three broad topics, which were further divided up into sub topics. Each major topic received a video, and altogether they added up to over two hours -- the length of a feature film!

At the time that this is posted, only my Patrons had been given the link to the third video in the series. I'm posting this blog a few days before the final video is scheduled to go public on YouTube, so that my loyal blog readers can also have early access to the new content. There is also a new poll available on my Patreon page asking which topic(s) I should cover for the fall 2021 indie football game season.

I'm not going to reproduce a transcript of the entire video series in writing here, but I will summarize each, with each video embedded in the corresponding section.

First, I want to point out that the criticisms in these videos may seem harsh. These are small, independent studios with only a few developers and limited money and resources. I can't expect them to produce games with the polish and production quality of EA or 2k. But that being said, both games are trying to compete in the "simulation" football market. If we are going to take them seriously as simulation football games, then I believe that we should give these games the same level of scrutiny that we would give to a game published by EA or 2k. We can do so while still acknowledging that these games are coming from smaller studios, and we can set our expectations accordingly. I don't expect Axis or Canuck to address all of the issues that I point out overnight, but I still want to point them out in the hopes that they will be addressed in future iterations of the games.

Topic I: Play Design and Concepts As Old As Football

The first video topic was the design of play concepts in each game.

Axis Football and Maximum Football currently do not do a great job of replicating certain common play concepts. I started by demonstrating how neither game properly models timing routes, especially, short, quick routes that are common in west coast schemes. If you press the button to throw the ball to a receiver prior to the receiver completing his route, the quarterback in both games will throw the ball in the direction that the receiver is running (at the moment the button is pressed), instead of throwing to where the route is supposed to go. If, for example, the route was a curl, and you press the receiver's button just before the receiver turns around, the QB will throw the ball down the field as if the receiver is running a streak. This can often send the ball right to the waiting hook zone defender or safety, even though the play is explicitly designed to get the ball underneath those specific coverages.

The 1st topic is the design of timing routes and power running plays.

The second sub-topic in this first video was how each game implements power running plays, which have been a staple of football since its inception over a century ago. Maximum Football does not support pulling linemen, with the sole exception of one single play in the Canadian rulebooks. Even the play designer does not support the ability to add pulling linemen.

Axis Football does have pulling linemen, but they don't work quite right. Blocking schemes aren't designed to isolate or "trap" certain defensive players, which means that plays like Traps, Counters, and Power plays do not create the running seams that they are designed to create.

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Axis Football 20- title

Compared to messy launch of Maximum Football 2020, the release of Axis Football 2020 went pretty smoothly. Maximum launched with some signs of regression from its 2019 iteration. Canuck Play has since patched out most of those bugs and issues, but those weeks spent fixing bugs that shouldn't have been in the game to begin with, are weeks that weren't spent improving the game in other areas. Axis 2020, on the other hand, is a small, but noticeable, upgrade to its 2019 counterpart.

This tweet may have oversold 2020 a bit.

Not the overhaul I expected

I may have set my expectations a little high with Axis 2020. Axis Games had posted to Twitter that they planned to completely redesign their locomotion and tackling system. I got my hopes up for something more robust and realistic. The end result still shows some steady progress, but it isn't the complete overhaul that I was expecting and hoping for.

I don't want to discourage Axis from tweeting promises of gameplay improvements. I really like having the transparency of knowing what the developers are working on, and I also understand that it can be easy to over-promise sometimes. I work as a software engineer. I know how it goes. That being said, I really don't feel like 2020 constitutes a "complete rebuild from the ground up", and the tweet in question definitely oversold 2020 by a lot, in my opinion. I don't know what was done under the hood. Maybe they did make extensive changes. It just doesn't feel all that different.

Movement hasn't been completely overhauled,
but there are some new animations.

There was some noticeable work done to animations and player movement. Tackles do look a lot cleaner most of the time. There are also a few new animations, such as animations of players bending over to pick the ball up off the ground on fumbles or un-fielded kicks. But that's about it. I would have liked to see more animations of players falling on a lose ball, especially the less athletic linemen. Other than that, most of the player movement, ball-carrier evasive moves, catching animations, blocking animations, and so forth look pretty much identical to last year (and the year before).

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It's summer time, which means that football video game developers are hard at work implementing features for the fall release of this year's games. It's probably too late to influence the design of the 2020 slate of games (due to release in September), but I'd still like to take some time to express some of my ideas for growing these games over the long term. This post should hopefully give both Canuck Play and Axis an idea of the roadmap of improvements that I'd like to see over the next two or three years.

For each suggestion that I'm going to make, I'm going to try to provide a general goal that I want to achieve with the idea. Then I will provide one (or more) ideas for how I think the games' developers can attain that goal. If Canuck and/or Axis like the ideas, then by all means use them. If, however, they think they can accomplish the goal with a different method or implementation, then by all means do that. You know your games better than I do. I'm just a blogger with a YouTube channel and little more than a basic understanding of how game development work. You guys and gals do whatever you think is going to make your games the best that they can possibly be.

Table of Contents

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Axis Football 19 - title

Well, the football video game price wars have apparently begun. Unfortunately, however, the prices are not shifting in the direction I'd like. Instead of EA being forced by competition to drop the price of Madden to something reasonable, like $30 (as they had to do in 2004 to compete with ESPN NFL 2k5's budget price of $20), both Maximum Football 19 and Axis Football 19 have upped their price from $20 (in 2018) to $30 (in 2019). I've already complained that Maximum has shifted its retail price out of the budget indie tier and into the middle-market (or "double-A" tier), and that Maximum isn't quite up to the level of quality that I might expect from a title at that price.

Axis Football doesn't feel quite as over-priced, as it was a much more feature-complete product to begin with (and remains a more feature-complete product this year, despite Maximum's new dynasty mode). That being said, I don't feel that Axis is improved enough to warrant a 50% jump in price.

Whereas Maximum focused on adding a much-needed dynasty mode in order to prop up its mediocre-at-best on-field gameplay (and moderately succeeds in that regard), Axis already had a working Franchise mode. What Axis needed was to improve its on-field gameplay. ...But they kinda didn't... Like, not at all...

Same as last year?

I was optimistic about Maximum Football and Axis Football because I expected them to make significant improvements to on-field gameplay from year-to-year -- something that EA has consistently failed to do with Madden over the last ten-to-fifteen years. So to see both of these indie games play virtually identical to last year's counterparts is very disappointing and has substantially deflated my initial optimism.

My excitement for the potential improvement of Maximum and Axis has been deflated
by both games releasing with virtually identical on-field gameplay compared to last year.

If you read the gameplay section of last year's review, then you pretty much know how this yea'rs game plays. Axis Football 19 still has much of the same rigid and robotic player animations. The locomotion system is terrible and allows runners to cut and turn on a dime. Defensive players still frequently stand in place. Deep zone coverage is still atrocious. The CPU still never defends 2-point conversion attempts. Receivers still lack varied or convincing catch animations, and defenders similarly lack pass defense animations. Blocking and tackle interactions can still be triggered with players who are not in physical contact with each other. I can still run my defensive end around offensive tackles, unblocked, for free sacks.

Some football rules are also still wrong or not implemented at all. Axis might as well just end games in ties if they can't implement a working overtime ruleset. I can still exploit kicking kickoffs out of bounds without penalty in order to pin opposing offenses deep. There's no fair catch. I can't motion receivers before the snap to see if the defense is in man or zone coverage.

The developers failed to address many of the problems that plagued last year's game --
such as poor deep zone coverage [LEFT] and the ability to easily run around offensive tackles [RIGHT].

Much moreso than last year, I'm noticing that outside runs seem to be far too effective. The reason for this seems to be the crazy success rates of receivers making (and holding) blocks on the edge and in the second level. Safeties are not only bad at deep coverage, but they're also terrible in run support. They stay back too deep (and sometimes just stand around), instead of trying to meet the runner in the lanes or trying to force an outside run back inside. If a receiver or tight end gets into the second level and blocks the safety, then the play is practically a guaranteed touchdown.

...

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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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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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