Madden NFL - title

I don't think I've ever played a football game that feels like it truly nails special teams play. Madden has been especially bad at this phase of football for a very long time, and has largely neglected it year-in and year-out. Every now and then, a release comes out that focuses on special teams, but the upgrade is never as comprehensive as it should be. I was considering making a video about all of special teams, but that's too big a topic to tackle in a single video, so I decided that it would be best to make shorter videos that each focus on specific aspects of special teams play.

While drafting the script for my previous video about pass blocking and pass rushing, I had started thinking about issues with blocking and rushing in special teams, and thought I'd do a video about one specific specialist position that has been a personal crusade of mine for quite a few years now. I'll surely discuss more of Madden's special teams failings in future videos. But for today, I want to talk about how Madden completely fails to do justice to an oft-overlooked and under-appreciated specialist position: the longsnapper.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

I'm looking at this specific position for two reasons:

  1. I played on special teams in high school and worked alongside our longsnapper. He spent extra time before and after practices honing that skill.
  2. And the 2nd reason I'm covering this topic is: unlike other highly specialized positions like holder and kickoff coverage gunners, Madden actually includes Longsnappers as a position in the depth chart, but has never included any mechanics or rules that actually make the longsnapper a meaningful position on your team, or which differentiate who is a good longsnapper versus who is not.

As for my high school teammates on special teams: there were several of us who never would have seen playing time if not for our special teams duties. Instead of resigning ourselves to a life on the bench, as some other reserves had done, we carved out niches for ourselves, so that we could see more playing time. We worked hard to earn our positions, and the coaches noticed the hard work (especially if it was extra-curricular in nature), and they rewarded us with extra rotational reps on both offense and defense in relief of tired starters. My experience has lead me to respect special teamers, probably much more than most football fans.

Some of us reserve players would have never seen playing time if not for our specialist roles.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction

I remember proposing a "Longsnapping" rating on a YouTube comment or Madden forum like 6 or 7 years ago, and received absolutely vitriolic responses that largely boiled down to "having the outcome of a game decided by a random fluke like a botched snap would be horrible game design." It's a sentiment that does makes a certain degree of sense. Determining the outcome of a match by a die roll does seem like it would be bad video game design -- at least, outside of digital craps.

But hold on a minute. Is it really bad game design...?

Running backs have a rating that determines their likeliness to fumble. Quarterbacks have several ratings that determine the accuracy of passes. Receivers have several ratings that determine their likelihood to catch a pass. Linemen have ratings that determine if they whif on a block. Defenders have ratings that determine the likelihood of missing tackles. DBs have ratings that determine whether they blow a coverage. Kickers have ratings that determine if they miss a kick. Every player has ratings that determine if they get injured on any given play. All of these ratings can affect the outcome of a play or an entire game based on a random die roll. Heck, even coaches have ratings that determine how much players develop in the offseason or how likely free agents are to sign a contract. Ratings semi-randomly deciding the outcomes of games or entire seasons is apparently OK for literally every other position both on and off the field, but somehow having a rating that determines if a snap or special teams hold is botched is a bridge too far?!

Nobody complains about other positions having ratings that can randomly decide a game.

To be fair to the critics: if you're playing a 5 or 6-minute quarter pick-up game online or in Ultimate Team, and each team is only getting between 3 and 5 possessions the entire game, it does make sense that you wouldn't want your one and only attempt at a punt or field goal to go awry because of a fluke like a botched snap. In such a shortened game, it would swing the game wildly in one direction or the other, with little-to-no time or opportunity for a team to overcome such an unfortunate outcome. (I keep saying, every installment in this series is probably going to refer back to that first essay about quarter length.)

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Madden NFL - title

In the previous essay in this series about how Madden fails to simulate football, I discussed how QBs in real football go through their progressions to find open receivers to throw to. And then the second half pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch and turned into a pitch for the return of the QB Vision mechanic, or something analogous. Surprise!

I also briefly talked about how the goal of the defense is to cover the primary receiving threats long enough for the pass rush to disrupt the play. In the best of cases, the defense can cover the receivers long enough to sack the quarterback, or force him to make a bad throw into coverage that is intercepted. But sacks and interceptions aren't really the goal of the defense. The defense will, of course, be happy to take them when they happen, but no defensive play is really designed to force a sack or an interception.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

Truth is that a lot of relatively mundane outcomes can be complete successes for the defense. Forcing the QB to throw before he can make his reads and set his feet so that he throws an inaccurate ball is a success. That is true whether the QB deliberately throws the ball into the sixth row of the stands, or if his rush to release the ball puts it inches out of reach of the receiver's outstretched fingertips, or if his inability to set his feet results in a weak, wobbly ball that bounces harmlessly at the receiver's feet. Or maybe the defense tips the pass or knocks it down such that the play gains no yards. All of those outcomes represent unqualified defensive success.

Defenses don't need sacks or turnovers to "win" a series.

If a defense can do this for three consecutive plays and force the offense to punt, then the defense did it's job, even if it isn't flashy, doesn't show up in a Chris Berman highlight reel, and doesn't light up a stat board. Heck, even forcing a check down that is completed for positive yards, but which does not result in a first down is still a success for the defense! Especially if it happens on 3rd or 4th down.

Of course, the defender who wants to pad his stats with a sack or interception, and get a big payday next time contract negotiations come along, might disagree.

EA's Madden video games apparently disagree as well. Since the pace of play in Madden is sped up to facilitate the shortened length of quarters, gaining yards and making first downs is really easy for the offense, but yet sacks are paradoxically too common.

Get used to hearing statements like that. Quarter length and game pacing was the first essay of the series for a reason! -- because it really is so fundamental to almost everything that is wrong with Madden. I would not be surprised if every single essay of this series will refer back to that first episode at least once or twice!

For much of Madden's history, pass rushers either have no impact on the play (because the QB can see the entire field and can hit any receiver on the field with the press of a button), or the pass rush downs the quarterback for a seven yard loss on a sack. Sometimes two or three times in a row if the game's scripting or an X-Factor ability decides that the defense should win this particular possession.

Playing Madden on 15-minute quarters, it's not uncommon to see each team pile up 5, 6, or 7 sacks by the end of the game. For reference, good NFL defenses usually average 2 or 3 sacks per game. You can adjust the difficulty level or the "Pass Blocking" A.I. sliders to reduce the frequency of sacks, but then this leads to the opposite problem of the pass rush being almost completely irrelevant, and QBs having the opportunity to complete more deep shots that inflates completion percentages, passing yards, and final scores.

On 15-minute quarters, it is not uncommon to see each defense record 5 or more sacks.
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Over the past year and some change, football video game fans have had some huge pieces of good news. Last year, 2K announced that it would be returning to the NFL-licensed football game market; albeit with a "non-simulation" licensed game -- and we still have no clue what that is going to entail. Earlier this year, EA announced that it would be resurrecting its college football series under the apt banner "EA Sports College Football".

For years, there were no football games at all except for Madden, so the boom of indie football games starting around 2018 / 2019 created a little renaissance of competing products looking to fill the vaccum left by the absence of competition and lack of niche titles like a college football games. As good as the news of new games from 2K and EA is, one thing that worried me was whether or not the indie football games (Axis Football, Maximum Football, Sunday Rivals, Legend Bowl, and so forth) would survive the impending release of new, big-budget football games entering the market. Well, the first indie casualty of the AAA announcements came on Wednesday night.

David Winter, the founder, owner, and lead developer of Canuck Games announced Wednesday night over Discord that plans for future versions of Maximum Football have been canceled, and the company Canuck Play is terminating its business operations. Apparently, Winter is offering the Maximum Football IP (and I think also the game code) up for sale. It's possible that another studio may purchase rights to Maximum Football and resume development, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that any new Maximum Football games will be coming out.

David Winter, owner of Canuck Play, announced the cancellation of Maximum Football and closure of the studio.

In his announcement, Winter cited several factors in the decision. Perhaps the most important one is his own health. He had been working himself 7 days a week for lengthy periods of time, and said that he had to be hospitalized for stress and fatigue. I'm a huge supporter of a stable and healthy work / life balance, and no job is (in my opinion) worth working yourself sick; least of all a video game. I certainly can't fault him for his decision, and I, personally, probably would have thrown in the towel a lot sooner if I had been in his shoes. Take care of yourself, David. Your health (both physical and mental) comes first.

Winter also cited EA's announcement of its upcoming college football game as a major contributing factor in the decision. In 2019, Maximum Football rebranded itself from being a Canadian football game to being a college football game, with the introduction of a college Dynasty mode. Personally, I always thought that this was a bad move. I understood it as a business decision at the time, as there was huge desire for a college football game, and nobody was filling that market demand. However, this move shifted Maximum Football away from its core identity as a Canadian football game, broadened the scope well beyond the ability of such a tiny group of developers to reasonably handle, and introduced a massive set of new challenges for the developers to overcome. I always feared that as soon as a bigger studio came along with a more polished college football product (whether it be EA, 2K, or even IMV with its crowd-funded Gridiron Champions that never saw the light of day), then Maximum Football would be kind of dead in the water. I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, but I figured it was an inevitability.

Maximum Football moved away from its Canadian football roots.

If another company does actually buy Maximum Football, I hope its another Canadian studio, and that they re-focus the game as a Canadian football sim. Doubling-down on its Canadian identity would give the game a unique selling point, would fill an otherwise vacant niche, would expose a larger audience to Canadian football, and might provide a consistent base of support from existing Canadian football fans. That doesn't mean they would have to abandon the college dynasty. They can still include a Canadian college dynasty if they want. Rather, I think they should focus on having a robust, quality game using Canadian rules first, before branching out to extensive U.S. pro and college rules and modes.

XFL logo

Nevertheless, it looks like we'll have to go through 2021 and 2022 without a Canadian or college football game to speak of while we wait to see what EA has to offer when EA Sports College Football releases in 2023. Or who knows? Maybe Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will buy Maximum Football and turn it into an XFL-licensed game? Hey, that's as realistic a possibility as him buying the XFL!

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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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Monday, February 8, 2021 01:00 PM

Maybe Tom Brady is that good after all?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

I've been a vocal "hater" of Tom Brady (and the New England Patriots) for many years. In fact, ten years ago, I wrote a post about how seeing the Colts playing without Payton Manning (who had been sidelined with an injury) proved that Manning is a better quarterback (and more valuable asset to the team) than Tom Brady. In the meantime, I've continued to maintain that the Patriots are just a very well-run and well-coached football team that would still be very successful even without Tom Brady. But Brady has now gone on to win four more SuperBowls since then, and yesterday, he did one of the things that we haters said would be one of the few things that would change our mind: he won a SuperBowl for a team other than the New England Patriots.

With his seventh SuperBowl victory yesterday, it's becoming increasingly hard to argue that he isn't the "G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All-Time). He is certainly the most accomplished player in NFL history. Despite this SuperBowl win, and despite Brady's success and accolades, his career is still loaded with "yeah buts".

Tom Brady has now silenced many of his doubters by winning a SuperBowl with a team other than the Patriots.

The best team in the worst division of football

First and foremost, he spent his entire career playing in the worst division in football. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills have consistently been among the worst teams in the league through the Patriots' 20-year dynasty. The Jets had a couple years under head coach Rex Ryan in which they were considered SuperBowl contenders, but their failures exposed them as more pretenders than serious contenders. It is only now in 2020 that the Bills are suddenly good, and the Dolphins almost put together a playoff-worthy record. And it just so happens that AFC East teams becoming good is the very year that Brady jumps ship from the Patriots.

Is Brady finally out of Belichick's shadow?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had a sort of "John Lennon, Paul McCartney" thing going on, in which people argued about whether they are as good on their own as they are together. Well now we finally got to see Belichick fail miserably at coaching a Brady-less team, and got to see Brady win a championship for a team not coached by Belichick. It's easy to see this as vindication for Brady (and many do see it as exactly that), but I'm still not entirely sold.

First and foremost, I point to 2008, when Brady was sidelined with injury, and Matt Cassel had to start the rest of the year. Cassel played exceptionally well, the Patriots went 11-5, and only missed the playoffs because they lost tie-breakers to the Dolphins (for the division title) and Ravens (for a wildcard spot). Cassel became the hottest free agent in the NFL that following offseason, and largely flopped at every team he played at since. The Patriots without Tom Brady were still playoff contenders.

Matt Cassel looked like an all-star and almost
lead Patriots to the playoffs in 2008.

We also saw the Patriots perform well during Brady's four-game "Deflategate" suspension in the 2016 season. The Patriots won 3 of those 4 games (convincingly) en route to a comeback SuperBowl championship against the Falcons. We've seen the Patriots be god without Tom Brady, multiple times.

We didn't see a Brady-less Patriots team again until 2020, which, of course, was the year of COVID. It's hard to really judge anything that happened this season because the whole thing was so topsy-turvy. The pandemic was disruptive to many teams' training camps, as it limited team activities. Almost every team had players opt-out of playing in the season altogether. Because of these disruptions to activities and rosters, it is very likely that otherwise good teams may have underperformed. One of the hardest-hit teams might have been the New England Patriots, which had to make due with six players opting-out, including two defensive starters and a starter on the offensive line. Furthermore, positive COVID tests for players (including elite defensive back Stephon Gilmore) caused further disruption to the Patriots' game and practice schedules. Despite all those problems, the Patriots were still only a couple games out of wildcard contention!

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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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