Over the years, I have frequently recommended that people stop buying new games from AAA publishers at retail. Don't buy them at all, or if you do, wait for a sale, or buy it used. This is because the massive, international, conglomerate corporations that publish these games are sleazy, scummy, or outright evil.

They underpay their employees.

They abuse their employees with cultures of crunch.

They hang the Sword of Damacles over their employees heads with the perpetual threat of layoffs.

They report record profits to their shareholders and award billion dollar bonuses to executives on a Tuesday, and then lay off hundreds or thousands of workers on Wednesday because they "can't afford" to keep them.

Some publishers even have active cultures of sexual harassment and abuse of female employees, which their HR departments are happy to cover up or sweep under the rug.

They harass and ostracize transgender employees and hold their healthcare hostage.

They fight against unionization.

They overcharge for their products.

They sell un-regulated gambling to minors.

They sell half-baked or broken products at full price.

They cancel promising upcoming products with little-to-no rhyme or reason.

They want to take away the consumer's right to own the media that we buy.

The list goes on...

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College football is coming back

I can't believe it's finally actually happening. EA Sports is finally releasing another college football game. After 10 years of having nothing but Madden, fans of video game football will finally have another big-budget, AAA football game to play. Yeah, sure, it's still from EA -- it's not like this is a new 2k football game or anything -- but it's something.

EA has released 2 trailers for EA Sports College Football 25. The first one was just a teaser, with a spokesperson talking about how excited they are to be back, and how much they love college football, how they've listened to feedback, and how committed they supposedly are to making the best game possible. I didn't talk about that initial trailer because there wasn't much to say about it. It was just a bunch of promises from a company that has not done anything in the past 20 years to make their promises mean anything.

The first teaser for EA Sports College Football did not show anything of substance.

Basically, my reaction to that initial teaser, and its promise to deliver "the game this sport deserves" was "Uh huh, sure. I'll believe it when I see it."

Well, now there is an actual gameplay trailer that shows us something of substance. And it's actually pretty good. Honestly, this trailer is better than I expected it to be. Much to my surprise, it did give me some nostalgic goosebumps.

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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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Madden NFL 23 - title

I have a confession to make ... a confession that I don't make lightly...

I'm actually kind of enjoying Madden 23.

No, I'm not ready to say that Madden 23 is better than NFL 2k5 or All Pro Football 2k8, or Madden 2006. Nor am I going to say that it currently represents a "good" football simulation. I wrote a scathing review back in September, and I stand by that review. Especially as a time capsule of the messy state of the game at release. Don't worry, I'm not about to become a Madden apologist or fanboy, and my criticisms of the series (such as my video series "How Madden Fails At Simulating Football") will continue into the foreseeable future.

Madden 23's biggest issue at launch was the broken "Interception" A.I. sliders that caused both CPU and user DBs to make frequent impossible interceptions. This one bug completely defeated the entire purpose of the new passing mechanics. It doesn't matter where I place the ball, or how hard I charge the accuracy meter, if a DB can, in a single frame of animation, overcome 5 yards of separation to make a blind swat or interception. It took until October before that was fixed, and the game was made reasonably playable -- which is, frankly, inexcusable.

And beyond the broken Interception sliders, there's still a litany of complaints which have not been fixed, and which I do not expect to see get fixed anytime soon.

But I'm not here to complain about all of these problems -- many of which have been in the game for years now. And I don't blame you if any one of these, or the combination of them, makes Madden 23 dead on arrival for you. I'm not going to try to convince you to give Madden 23 another shot, and I still recommend that if you do buy the game, that you please buy it pre-owned so as to continue to put financial pressure on EA to show consistent improvement. Believe me, there are plenty of people eager to get rid of the game on eBay.

Instead, I want to express my surprise that I'm still playing the game. I want to share some of my observations about the gameplay. And I want to highlight some of the subtle indications that EA and Tiburon might actually be learning from past failures and criticisms of the game -- including criticisms that I, myself have levied against them.

I've posted this as a video on YouTube already, and I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here. I will instead just summarize my thoughts on the game (as of the time of this writing), and will encourage you to watch the full video for a more detailed explanation of how I feel about the present state of Madden NFL 23.

The full video is available on YouTube.
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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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