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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.

Topic II: Coaching and Team Strategy

The second video was about team strategy: coaching, team-building, and in-game play-calling. This video is a lot longer than the first video (clocking in at a full hour). It is also a little bit more of a mixed-bag with regard to positive and negative criticism, since both games do more of the basics right. Both games use the current game situation, such as down, yards to gain, score, and remaining clock, when deciding what plays to call. In most situations between 1st and 3rd down, this all works well enough, with both games providing varied and relatively un-predictable play calls.

However, both games falter a bit when it comes to special teams play calls and game-deciding play calls. Also a big weakness of both games (and also their big brother, Madden) is that neither game seems to take opponent tendencies, overall game flow, or even personnel packages into account when calling plays, an neither game makes pre-play adjustments based on previous play-calls. This allows the user in both games to run repetitive "money plays", and the CPU will never meaningfully adjust to it.

The 2nd topic was about team strategy, such as play-calling and team-building.

This video also discusses team playbooks, personnel packages, and team-building. All teams in Maximum Football share a copy of the same playbook, which means that all teams are picking plays from the same set of formations and available plays -- unless you go to the time and trouble of adding additional plays to teams' playbooks using the included Play Designer. Each team has its own play-calling tendencies, but the similarities in playbooks limit the variety of what you'll see from game to game. Axis at least has a handful of different playbooks, which gives different teams running different schemes a bit more of a defined and unique look and feel.

A correction: Air Force Academy is not in Logan

I also had to make a correction to a previous video. Back in October of 2020 (shortly after the release of Maximum Football 2020), I had released a video about the launch problems of Maximum Football 2020. That video commented on how every team plays exactly the same, and it used Logan University as an example. At the time, I had mistakenly believed that Logan was a city in Colorado, and that Logan University was Maximum Football's stand-in for Air Force Academy. In real life, Air Force runs a triple option playbook, but Logan seems to favor shotgun spread formations.

Well, I realized my mistake eventually, found that the Air Force stand-in is actually Colorado Springs, and tested that Colorado Springs does, in fact, favor a run-heavy play-calling strategy. Perhaps in future games, Canuck Play can call this school "Colorado Academy" in order to keep it consistent with the "NY Academy" and "Maryland Academy" (the game's stand-ins for Army and Navy, respectively).

I had to issue a correction to my previous video about the launch problems of Maximum Football 2020.

Topic III: Individual Player Awareness

The third video (which also ended up being longer than I had expected it to be) was about the individual intelligence and situational awareness of the players on the field.

I first discuss how each game has decent defensive pursuit, but that both have problems with pathfinding. Players tend to run into and get hung up on each other, leading to lots of big runs, blown coverages, or incomplete passes.

Another major point of concern with Maximum Football 2020 is that quarterbacks have accuracy issues. My QB tends to have a 40% or lower completion percentage, and CPU QBs only fare a little better, with completion percentages around 50%. Even top-tier QBs have these abysmal completion percentages. But this is only the case in matches that are played or spectated. QBs have much higher completion percentages in simulated games. This problem is the single, biggest point of consternation that I have with Maximum Football 2020, and it severely hurts my ability to enjoy the game. This problem was not present in 2019's game -- at least not to the same degree. This issue compounds the problems of poorly designed pass routes that I discussed in the first video.

The 3rd topic is about on-field player intelligence, such as pathfinding, route-running, coverage, so forth.

I then move on to defensive coverage. Underneath coverage (especially in Axis Football) is pretty good, but safety play is still a problem. Both games took steps to mitigate the abysmal safety play from previous iterations of each game, but they still have issues left to resolve.

Lastly, the third video talks about more specific situational awareness, such as a player's knowledge of where he is on the field. Players in the game will often give up on a play short of the line to gain (or goalline), even in critical situations such as 3rd or 4th down plays. There's also some issues with special teams awareness. Players are smart enough to let kickoffs go out of bounds, or to let punts bounce inside the 5 or 10 yard line in the hopes of a touchback, but they falter in other examples of knowing special teams rules.

Final Thoughts

Despite these videos goin much longer than I originally expected them to, there's still other things I didn't get a chance to talk about. I could have spent time time talking more about blocking, and specifically the fact that offensive tackles don't get deep enough in pass blocking to create an effective pocket. I didn't get to talk about issues with blocking and execution of screen passes. And there's a lot of other weird issues with blocking logic that could probably be a whole video on their own.

But I guess I have to save some things for next years' videos, eh?

I really do hope that both of these games can work out many of their more egregious issues. I do worry about the long-term viability of both these games considering recent news of new football games from 2k and EA. Both Maximum and Axis likely owe a lot of their modest success to the fact that they are filling empty niches left behind by the dearth of football video games during Madden's stagnant monopoly. But with new AAA football games on the horizon, Axis and Canuck are going to have a hard time competing.

Maximum, in particular may find itself in trouble with EA planning to release next-gen college football games within the next couple years. If that game brings back the in-season recruiting of its predecessor (which Maximum Football borrowed heavily from), then Maximum will have to do a lot more to separate itself from EA's product, lest it be perceived as just "the poor man's college football game". Or perhaps Canuck will have to embrace Maximum Football's original identity as a Canadian football game.

The indie football games will need to improve quickly to remain relevant
during the coming renaissance in football video gaming.

Axis is probably in a better position. It's a more polished product with a unique and novel league structure that makes it feel distinct from Madden, college football, and from any game that 2k is likely to develop.

Nevertheless, both games are going to have to get a lot better and find ways to innovate within a relatively short period of time if they want to continue to be relevant. 2022 or 2023 is looking like it might be a renaissance for football video gaming. In addition to the monolithic Madden, we're going to have EA publishing another college football game for the first time in almost 10 years. 2K will also be returning with one or more "arcade" NFL-licensed games, and maybe, eventually, a simulation NFL title. Hopefully both Axis and Maximum will still be around providing budget indie titles and gently nudging the AAA competitors to provide a better product.

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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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