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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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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Since Canuck Play shuttered its studio, canceled Maximum Football 21, and sold the Maximum Football IP to Modus Games, the other major simulation indie title, Axis Football, found itself without any major competition in 2021. There are other indie football games on the market, such as Sunday Rivals, but that is a more arcade-style game and isn't a direct competitor to Axis. I own the Steam version, but haven't played much of it yet. The only other real competition for Axis Football is the indie game Legend Bowl.

I've received several requests to play Legend Bowl and create content for it, including a request by the game's creator, himself. Don't worry King Javo, I bought Legend bowl during the Steam Fall Sale, and will be playing it more this holiday season.

In the meantime, Axis Football has been the only indie football game that I've played this year. So I cannot do my usual thing of comparing Axis to Maximum because there isn't a Maximum Football to compare Axis to. I could do a direct comparison between Axis Football 21 and Madden 22's supposedly-upgraded Franchise Mode, but I'm hesitant to directly compare any low-budget indie product to a billion-dollar licensed game from a major publisher. Maybe I'll revisit that topic later, if I get a lot of demand for it. In the meantime, if you're interested in my thoughts on Madden 22's supposedly-improved Franchise Mode, you can check out my video on that topic, or my full review.

So instead of comparing Axis Football to its direct competition, I've decided that I will instead focus on sharing my hopes and expectations for where the game goes from here. With EA releasing its college football game in 2023, and 2k presumably releasing its "non-simulation" game in 2022, Axis Football needs to take big strides in the next year or two in order to remain relevant and competitive.

See the full wishlists on YouTube!

This wishlist was originally created as a series video essays, which I encourage you to watch. I'm not going to replicate the entire transcript here, but will instead just summarize the content of the videos. I'm also going to re-arrange this written list a little bit so that each item is in the most appropriate category. If you want more discussion, details, and examples, please watch the linked wishlist videos.

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Last year (around this same time, in fact), we football video game fans were given the bombshell news that EA's exclusive contract with the NFL wasn't quite as exclusive as we thought. That contract apparently only covered "simulation" football games (which makes me wonder how or why EA has the license to begin with, since they sure as heck haven't been making a simulation football game since at least 2011). Other companies were apparently free to purchase an NFL license for "non-simulation" football games, and last year 2K announced that they would, in fact, begin production on one (or more) NFL-licensed arcade games. It wasn't the triumphant return of ESPN NFL 2k that we had been waiting 17 years for, but we'll take it!

EA is [finally] returning to college football games!

Well yesterday, we got another bombshell announcement. EA will be producing a college football video game. Currently, EA does not have the NCAA license or the rights to player likenesses, so the game is to be titled "EA Sports College Football", instead of continuing with the NCAA Football moniker of past. However, EA does have the rights to "over one hundred" schools. There's 130 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, so a team count of over 100 implies that most, if not all, D-I FBS schools will be present, with their respective logos, uniforms, stadiums, and so forth. My understanding is that EA also does not have the rights to the conference names, so in addition to making up randomized rosters, they will also have to make fake conferences for the schools. I haven't seen anything yet that clarifies whether EA will have rights to bowl games or the College Football Playoffs and Championship. But this game is still 2 or 3 years out from releasing, so a lot can change in the meantime!

EA could bypass the NCAA and secure the rights to player likenesses, but they've opted not to do so. It's a shame, but I do understand that without a single players' union (like the NFL Player's Association for the pros), securing the rights to hundreds or thousands of player names and likenesses individually would be a huge logistical and legal nightmare. I would also have to assume that if EA is not pursuing player likeness rights, then they probably won't include the easy roster customization and sharing features of NCAA 13 and 14, as that would likely land them in the same exact legal troubles that caused the series to get canceled in the first place. I would prefer if EA could use player likenesses and pay the athletes royalties from game sales, especially since that would stick it to the NCAA, which for so long denied college athletes the ability to get paid while simultaneously cashing in on those same athlete's names and performances. Since it didn't license its brand, the NCAA will not be getting any money from this game (as of the time of this writing).

Team and player customization is what caused the cancelation of NCAA Football to begin with,
so I doubt that such features would return in EA Sports College Football.

EA Sports College Football will not be releasing in 2021. A 2022 release is possible, but unlikely. So we'll probably have to wait until the fall of 2023 to see what EA will be offering up for this game, and if it will live up to the standard set by NCAA Football 13 and NCAA Football 14. The fact that the game will not have the NCAA license, conferences, or team names will likely put the new game at an immediate disadvantage, since it won't have those real-world images and names to lean on.

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This past weekend's college football match between Vanderbilt and Missouri wasn't much of a football game. Missouri trounced Vanderbilt 41-0. There was never a contest to be had here, and Missouri had comfortably covered the 14-point spread by halftime -- then went on to cover it by a factor of 3. This otherwise un-noteworthy game did, however, make headlines. That is because this game saw another breaking of the glass ceiling for women in football. In this game, Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play football for a Power 5 conference.

Sarah Fuller is a senior goalkeeper for Vanderbilt's soccer team -- a team that has performed much better than the football team, going 8-4 and sweeping the SEC tournament. She was recruited onto the football team as a place-kicker after COVID-19 contact-tracing forced much of Vanderbilt's special teams roster into quarantine.

Sarah Fuller kickoff for Vanderbilt to start the second half,
and became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football conference game.

Vanderbilt's offense couldn't do anything all day, so sadly, Sarah never got a chance to kick a field goal or extra point. Her only play in the game was the second half kickoff, which she squibbed to the sideline for no return. She didn't get to score any points, but she did play.

Her kick was the only Vanderbilt highlight worth sharing, and it was shared on social media by the school and by multiple sports media outlet, where it was subject to lewd comments and ridicule by pathetic men -- because of course it was. Men criticized the kick for being squibbed for only 35 yards, completely failing to recognize the context in which the kick was made. The team was coming back from halftime, down 21-0. It is not uncommon for a team to squib a kickoff in such a situation in order to prevent a return for touchdown. It was a (for lack of a better word) "workman-like" kick.

Besides, even if the distance wasn't impressive, her placement of the ball was. It landed within a few yards of the sideline without going out of bounds. This is probably exactly where the coaches wanted her to put the ball. A ball so close to the sideline might discourage the returner from attempting to field it in the hopes it would go out of bounds, result in a penalty, and give the team even better field position. If unfielded, the ball would be live, and could be recovered by the kicking team. I would not be surprised if this was a designed kick with the hopes of tricking Missouri into giving up a turnover and put some spark into Vanderbilt's offense. Unfortunately, the kick bounced and was downed by a Missouri blocker, leaving Vanderbilt with no chance to recover the ball. All the men criticizing Sarah's "weak" kick, possibly only served to highlight their own weak knowledge of the sport of football.

And that was it. One play, and now Sarah Fuller's name is forever enshrined in college football history.

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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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