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Readers of my blog and viewers of my YouTube channel may be familiar with my series on "How Madden Fails To Simulate Football". In the second and third episodes of that series, I discussed how Madden's binary blocking logic, and the ability of QBs to hit any receiver anywhere on the field with the push of a button, leads to unrealistic pass rushes and inflated sack stats. Pass rushers either have next to no impact on the play, and the QB can throw a dime to anywhere on the field; or the pass rush gets home for a sack. An aggressive pass rush in Madden does not force a QB to have to throw early or off-platform and result in an off-target pass. Or at least, Madden's attempts at emulating this reality of football often feel poorly-defined, arbitrary, and inconsistently-applied. It hasn't been since the QB Vision Cone of 06 that Madden has really come close to getting this right.

This is where a little, pixel-art indie football game called Legend Bowl really shines (see my full review). With one simple, elegant mechanic, Legend Bowl has managed to emulate the idea of a panicked QB having to release an off-target pass before he wants to, in order to avoid the pass rush. You see, Legend Bowl employs a charge-up mechanic for determining the power and accuracy of passes -- and the same mechanic is also used for kicking.

This entire essay is also available in video format on YouTube.

The QB can still throw to any receiver with the push of a button (although there is a "QB Vision" mechanic, but it doesn't work like Madden's old QB Vision, and we'll talk about that a bit later), but the QB needs to hold the button for a split second in order to charge up the throw. Release the button too early, and the throw will be an under-powered, floaty, lame duck of a pass that will sail over the target's head, or be easily picked off by zone defenders. Hold the button for too long, and the throw will be "over-charged", which results in a severe accuracy penalty. The pass will likely be a laser beam directly into the dirt -- the football equivalent of a gutterball.

Ideally, you always want to charge your throw to 100% power, without overcharging and taking an accuracy penalty. However, that is easier said than done when a 300-pound defensive lineman is charging right at you. This is where Legend Bowl respects the pass rush in a way that Madden hasn't come close since the days of its QB Vision Cone. If the defense gets pressure, the QB doesn't have time to hold that button down and fully charge the pass, which will lead to more floaty, inaccurate throws. Inversely, panicking because you see a defender break free of his block at the last second can distract the player's brain just enough to mis-time the charging of the throw and over-charge it for an accuracy penalty. This is especially true on higher difficulty levels, in which the meter charges faster and the accuracy penalty is greater.

Pressure can rush throws, making them less accurate, and preventing the QB from putting his full power behind it.

Best of all, as far as I can tell, the CPU-controlled QBs are also bound by this mechanic. They also, as far as I can tell, have to take a split second to charge their throws. And if they don't have time to fully charge the throw, they too will throw a wobbly floater of a pass that sail over the receiver's head, or be swatted down or picked by a defender waiting in a nearby zone.

Unlike Madden, Legend Bowl does not need to rely on suspect dice rolls, or arbitrary and poorly-defined accuracy modifiers for when the software determines that the QB is "under pressure". It's all a completely player-driven mechanic! And in contrast to Madden's old Vision Cone, it's a mechanic that is simple and elegant. Passing the ball still requires but one single button press, but depending on how long you have to hold that button and charge up the throw, your pass can be accurate or inaccurate.

This does a great job of abstractly modeling the idea of a QB having to throw off-platform or not being able to properly follow-through with his hips to get as much power behind the throw. It allows the pass rush to disrupt the throwing process without necessarily having to sack the QB or swat the ball at the line of scrimmage. This one, simple mechanic puts Madden to shame.

A different vision

Legend Bowl does also have its own "QB Vision" mechanic, but it works differently than the old Madden mechanic. Basically, lower-rated QBs do not have the camera zoom out on passing plays. This limits the QB's field of vision to about 10 yards down-field (if that). Higher-rated QB's however, will have the camera zoom out as far as it takes to keep every receiver on-screen.

Lower-rated QBs cannot see downfield, and have to rely on short, timing-based routes.

This also fundamentally changes how passing the ball works in Legend Bowl. Because they can't see receivers breaking open downfield, poor or mediocre QBs have to rely on short, timing-based routes to get completions. Or they just have to get lucky. Better QBs, however, can play more like gunslingers, standing in the pocket until someone beats the coverage downfield -- if the pass rush will give them enough time, that is.

This is also a really neat idea that cleverly models the difference in how talented QBs play compared to less talented QBs. Not being able to see more than 10 yards downfield means a mediocre QB has to rely on the design of the play, his pre-snap reads, and maybe a single post-snap read, in order to complete a pass. If he does decide to throw more than 10 yards downfield, he'll have to hope that the defense is where he expects them to be. Having a poor QB, or relying on a backup if your star QB gets hurt, actually limits what you can call from your playbook because the plays that you can call, and the routes your receivers can run, will depend on the talent of your quarterback.

There is a hard cutoff of 80-overall for QB vision.

Is this system perfect? No. Right now, Legend Bowl employs a hard cut-off for its QB Vision mechanic. QB's with ratings of 80 or over can see downfield. Lower-rated QBs can't. Personally, I would like to see the amount of camera zoom be proportional to the QB's rating. That way, there's a gradient, and there is a noticeable difference between a bad reserve QB compared to a mediocre starter. Maybe you need 90-overall or better to see the entire field. 80-overall or higher allows you to see maybe 20-25 yards downfield. Being 70-overall or better allows you to see 15-20 yards downfield. Being 60-overall or better limits you to 10-15 yards. And being worse than 60-overall limits you to 10 yards of visibility. This way, even a mediocre 70-something overall starter is still noticeably better than your 60-something overall backup.

Other areas for improvement

Legend Bowl also has other problems. Pocket-formation could be better. The lack of clear passing lanes leads to an excess of passes being swatted at the line of scrimmage. All the teams use the same playbooks, so there isn't much variety or personality between teams other than that provided by the talent of the roster. I have a lot of issues with how the game handles the game clock and huddle animations. And it would be nice to have some more options for customizing the difficulty. I'm at an awkward place right now in which Medium is too easy, and I'm up 30 points by halftime; but I'm struggling with Hard and are often down 20 or 30 points by halftime. I really wish there was something in between.

Passes are too easily swatted at the line, and huddles take too long.

Nevertheless, Legend Bowl is a great little indie football game built on sound football fundamentals, and full of clever ideas. And with one simple, elegant little mechanic, it manages to model an aspect of football that Madden, with all its polygons, and ray tracing, and motion capture, and billions of dollars of profit from loot box sales, hasn't been able to adequately model for at least the past 15 years. Don't let the retro visuals fool you, Legend Bowl is an impressive football game.

And with a full Franchise Mode now available, it's likely only going to get better!

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