Whether you agree with my assertion in the previous essay that NCAA 13's recruiting was better than NCAA 14's, I hope I've at least made a compelling case that NCAA 14's recruiting system left a lot of room for Tiburon to improve in its upcoming EA Sports College Football game in 2023. Now I want to provide some constructive feedback and pitch some ideas I have for how Tiburon could improve the recruiting mechanic going forward, by hopefully taking the best of what both NCAA 13 and 14 had to offer.

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

Lessons from NCAA 14

The previous essay included a lot of criticism of NCAA 14, so I want to start off this second part by acknowledging a feature in NCAA 14 that I feel is a strict upgrade over 13, and which I would like to see preserved in EA's future college football games.

I think my single favorite upgrade in NCAA 14 is the idea of having "complimentary" and "competitive campus visits". If you schedule players from complimentary positions to visit campus on the same week, you'll get bonus points. For example, bringing in a running back along with the linemen who will be blocking for him will provide bonus points.

But you also have to be wary of scheduling multiple players of the same position. If you schedule 2 or 3 running backs on the same week, they'll see each other as competition, and will lose interest out of fear that your backfield will be crowded, and they'll loose out on playing time to another back in the same class. This is one of the few elements of 14's recruiting design which I feel retains the more humanistic, character-driven ethos from 13, and I like it a lot.

Users should avoid scheduling multiple recruits at the same position to visit in the same week.

14 also makes it much more clear how your performance on the field will impact the interest level of the visiting prospects. In NCAA 13, I was never clear about whether scheduling a visit during a bye week would make a difference, or if it mattered whether or not I won the game (if I played one that week). I always assumed that the prospect was there to watch the football game, so scheduling the visit during a bye week would impose a penalty, and I also always assumed that winning the game improved the prospect's interest, and I assumed that the prospect would also get more interest if the players at his position performed well during the game. But the U.I. for NCAA 13 was never clear about whether any of that was actually the way the game worked, or if the prospect only cared about the 3 recruiting pitches that I try to sell him on during the visit. NCAA 14 makes all this blatantly clear when you schedule the visit by showing exactly how many points the prospect will get if certain criteria are met.

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If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations are that the first in this new line of college football games won't release until at least July of 2023, so we still have a a year or more before we'll be playing a new college football game on our home consoles. Sadly might not even have Maximum Football to fill that niche void anymore, since it's unclear of its new developer, Modus Games, will retain the college Dynasty Mode, or if it will be as good. Hopefully they do, and hopefully it's better.

With EA Sports' return to college football now imminent, I feel it's important to take a look at one of the most beloved features in EA's old NCAA Football games, and examine why that feature worked so well, why it absolutely must return, where it may have faltered, and how EA could potentially even improve it.

This essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

It's kind of funny seeing how EA's NCAA Football series has been elevated onto a pedestal since its cancellation in 2013. Contemporary reviews and user scores were often mixed or negative, and aligned very closely with Madden's reception at the time. Yet now, NCAA Football 14 is often held up as one of the best sports games ever, and definitely one of the best football games ever. Are we looking back with rose-tinted glasses? Or was NCAA Football always an under-appreciated gem? I think the true answer is a little bit of both, and we'll explore why in the coming discussion. In any case, the NCAA Football games seemed to enjoy a more cult-like status compared to Madden, with its loyal fanbase often insisting that the college game was better than its more mainstream big brother.

Being the smaller cousin of Madden, I think the developers of NCAA Football had a little bit of a longer leash. Lower sales expectations might have lead to less overhead from both the NCAA and from EA itself, which gave the studio a bit more leeway to experiment with new and novel ideas (some of which worked, and some of it didn't). The studio also benefitted from technological hand-me-downs from big brother Madden's development process, which may have freed up more resources for building supporting features, rather than having to spend as much time on the underlying game engine. By the time of the game's cancelation, it had been receiving yearly engine, A.I., and graphics upgrades that had been developed by the Madden team. Robust customization features such as TeamBuilder and Stadium Sounds allowed for a great deal of personalization that helped to connect the user more to their game. Trophies from rivalry games, bowls, and conference championships provided challenges and collectibles that encouraged users to play the game with other teams in both Play Now and Dynasty modes. The college atmosphere and more diverse playbooks provided pageantry and energy on the field that Madden largely lacked. And the list goes on...

Hand-me-down gameplay from Madden, and lower expectations from EA
may have allowed the NCAA Football team more freedom to experiment with fun new features.

In fact, things have kind of come full circle, with Madden 22 now stealing features from NCAA 14!

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Crusader Kings: Lead Your Dynasty to Triumph

I wasn't very surprised to see a game like Sid Meier's Civilization adapted to a board game. Civ (the computer game) was always heavily inspired by board games to begin it, and so it's mechanics translated easily back into board game formats without losing much other than the broader scope of the PC game.

Paradox's Crusader Kings, on the other hand, is a totally different beast of a PC game. It is an insanely complicated, system-based blend of grand strategy game, RPG, and social sim. It simulates thousands of individual characters across hundreds of countries and duchies through dozens of generations. The possibility space is vast. As such, I would never have expected to see anyone attempt to try to boil down this deep historical simulation into a tabletop board game. Well, I guess I shouldn't say "never". In this age of every media property being adapted to board game formats, I suppose it was inevitable for someone to try.

And someone did try. In 2019, a year before the release of the Crusader Kings III PC game, Swedish board game manufacturer Fria Ligen ("Free League Publishing") released a board game version licensed by Paradox. I received the game as a gift last fall (during the height of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic), and so didn't get to start playing the game until well into 2021, when we finally felt a little more comfortable meeting up with friends.

As much a story-generator as a board game

For any PC players coming to the board game, there is something very important that you should know about Crusader Kings: the Board Game: it's focus is largely on the story-telling aspect of the Crusader Kings experience. If you play the Crusader Kings PC game as a hardcore strategy game, then you will probably find the board game lacking in that respect. The Crusader Kings board game is as much a story generator as it is a strategy game -- perhaps moreso.

As a story generator, my friends and I have found Crusader Kings to be very entertaining. It's certainly one of the better story-telling games that I've ever played.

Each action card will include a random event that is either disruptive to the current player,
or which benefits another player.

The way that Crusader Kings creates its little stories is through the random events of each player's action cards, and through the resolution of events by drawing trait tokens. Each turn, a player plays a pre-selected card from their hand. You perform your chosen action, and then you resolve a random event on the card. All cards, except for the "Crusade" action cards, will have a random event that is either harmful to the active player, or which provides a benefit to another player (usually the next player in the turn order).

Many actions and card events will also require that the player draw traits from a bag (similar to a die roll in most other games). Each player character starts with a pre-determined set of traits at the start of the game, and can acquire new traits through marriages, succession, or other events. All your traits go into a bag, and you draw one or more blindly from the bag to resolve a given trait check and determine the outcome of an event.

Player actions, card events, and trait draws, thus combine together to create emergent stories in both the short and long term. Sometimes these little stories can play out over the course of a few actions or turns. Other times, game-long narratives can form.

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Crusader Kings 3 - title

My blog readers know that I'm a fan of historic strategy games. Two of my favorite PC game franchises are Civilization and Total War, and I've dipped my hands into plenty of other historic strategy games ranging from the prehistoric Dawn of Man, all the way to Ultimate General: Civil War and Company of Heroes. But there's one prestigious set of historic strategy games that I've yet to get into. That is Paradox's historic strategy lineup of Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis, and Hearts of Iron. I own Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV on Steam, and I've always wanted to get into them. I have a friend who plays them a lot, and the game looks really fun, but I was just never able to figure either of them out.

I tried booting up both a couple times and was just immediately overwhelmed. I tried the Crusader Kings II tutorial twice, and still didn't feel like I had a firm enough grasp on the game to feel compelled to keep playing. Part of that is because both games have myriad expansions and DLC that have just further complicated the games and repeatedly raised the bar of entry for newcomers. The only one of Paradox's tutorials that I felt gave me a reasonable grasp on the game was the tutorial for Stellaris.

When I saw previews for Crusader Kings III, I immediately put it on my watch list and committed myself to buying it day one, so that I could get in on the ground level in the hopes that it will be easier to grasp before Paradox starts releasing countless DLCs. It seems to have paid off, as I've been hooked on the game on and off since launch, and that addiction has cut into my Civ playing time, as well as delayed many of my blog projects and YouTube content. So for those of you eagerly awaiting new Civ strategies or the next installment of "How Madden Fails to Simulate Football", you can blame Paradox Interactive for the delay...

I am not the state

As someone who was never able to get into the previous game, I cannot say if Crusader Kings III is "dumbed-down" compared to its predecessor. It is, after all, still insanely complicated. But I definitely feel like it has a gentler learning curve and a much more effective tutorial compared to its predecessors. The hand-holding of the tutorial really did help me get a better understanding of how the various mechanics were working, and I've also found it much easier to navigate the revised U.I. and find the information that I'm looking for. I still feel like I have no idea what many of the U.I. panels mean, but I at least understand enough of the basics this time around to actually feel comfortable playing the game.

If you're unfamiliar, Crusader Kings is a medieval grand strategy game in which you play as the king of a small, European (or Middle Eastern or African) kingdom. You engage in diplomacy and court intrigue to increase your wealth and power, fight wars to conquer territory, and manage your growing holdings. But unlike a game like, say Civilization, you do not play as an abstraction of the state itself. Instead, you play as a line of rulers in a single family dynasty. You play as a single king (or queen) character at any given time. This king grows old, and eventually dies, at which point, you take control over you chosen heir and continue playing the game as that character. If you ever get to a point in which you have no family heir to carry on when you die, it's Game Over.

When your player character dies, you take over as that character's primary heir.

As much improved as the tutorial is, I do feel that it has one glaring weakness: it doesn't really cover succession. The tutorial basically puts you in control of a 40-year-old king in Ireland. It shows you how to press a few claims, use a casus belli to press those claims, create a title, deal with vassals, marry off a child, and then it basically just hands you the reigns and says "OK, now keep playing". And yeah sure, these are all the things that you spend most of the game doing. But I would say that arguably the most important part of the game is declaring your heir and setting up your inheritance to maximize the territory that your primary heir retains power over. I think succession is the single most important part of the game, and the tutorial doesn't cover it at all. When it finally happens, there's a tool tip that pops up to explain some stuff, but it didn't really help me all that much to understand what was happening, and a tool tip popping up after the fact certainly didn't help me to prepare for my king's inevitable death and inheritance.

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Doug Flutie's Maximum Football 2020 - title

I bought Maximum Football 2020 for PS4 on launch day and found that the PS4 version launched with a set of bugs that made the game almost unplayable. In those first couple hours, I noticed some benign bugs. Every team in the game was duplicated in the team select and customization screens, and Canadian rules showed the wrong button icon for the sixth receiver. The more game-breaking bug, however was that running plays were completely absent from the user playbook, and the on-field action was very unstable.

The PS4 version was riddled with bugs at launch and practically unplayable.

After resigning myself to wait for a patch before bothering to play any further matches (let alone starting a Dynasty), I tried playing around with the logo creator, play designer, and other customization features to pass the time. The logo creator seems to be pretty much identical to last year. You have a handful of basic shapes, letters, and numbers that you place in layers on a canvas. If you ever created a logo with the Rock Band 3 logo creator, then you have a pretty good idea of how Maximum Football's logo editor works. Except that Rock Band 3 had a tremendous amount of shapes -- and even pre-made art -- that you could add to your canvas. Maximum Football has way less to work with here. The thing that stops me from even bothering with the logo creator is that I can't use an existing team's logo as a baseline.

I'd love to be able to take one of the cowboy logos from Columbia or another school to use for my Las Vegas Pioneers in Dynasty mode. Change the colors up a bit, maybe add the words "Las Vegas" (or at least the letters "LV"), and so forth. Just take the existing logo and give it a more personal touch. Nope. Can't. I either have to use the existing logo as is, or make a new one from scratch out of layers of basic geometric shapes. I'm not necessarily expecting to be able to disassemble each existing logo into their constituent parts, but at the very least it would be nice to insert the existing logo as part of a new logo, and maybe change the colors.

The logo editor has rudimentary shapes, and does not allow you to import or edit an existing logo.

These limitations don't mean that you can't make a good logo. Plenty of people with a lot more time and patience have certainly made some good stuff. I just don't care enough to put that much effort into it. Especially if I can't even share it online or expect to be able to export the logo into next year's game.

So I moved on to the play designer, and was almost immediately roadblocked by bugs. I was excited to try out the play designer in this game, but I went in with measured expectations. I was expecting to find a token play editor that was limited to basic football concepts. I didn't even get that far because the damn thing didn't work. I couldn't select different formations for new offensive plays. I couldn't test defensive plays. And I soft-locked the game by trying to back out of a certain menu, then hard-locked the game by trying to change the ruleset and re-enter the play designer.

The Play Designer didn't work as intended at launch, but I committed myself to coming back to it later.

Booting up the game to find nothing but bugs and lackluster new features in every corner that I looked was absolutely not the first impression that I was hoping to get from Maximum Football 2020. Sadly, this was the condition of the PS4 launch. How this got past Sony's approval process, but Axis Football got held up or blocked for both 2018 and 2019 is beyond me. At least Axis worked!

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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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Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

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The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

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