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I wrote previously about my trepidations regarding the free-to-play status of Modus Games' reboot of Maximum Football. I'm not going to retread that again here. Instead, I've poured over the announcement trailer, dev diaries, and other information about the game, and would like to discuss my impressions on how the game might play, based on the publicly-available information and video.

The announcement trailer shows a few clips of gameplay, but doesn't provide a whole lot more information.

There have so far been 2 development updates, in addition to the announcement trailer. All these videos show a little bit of gameplay, but not much. So I don't have a whole lot to go on. But I'm going to go through each video and try to identify gameplay issues that stand out to me.

Rebuilt gameplay

The first develop update, released last June, was focused on the gameplay goals of the development team. They say they want to focus on authentic, simulation gameplay. They threw away all the assets and animations from the original Maximum Football codebase (developed by Canuck Play) in order to rebuild everything from the ground up. This includes bringing in professional and college athletes for motion capture and shifting to the Unreal Engine (I think Canuck was using Unity?).

Dev Update 1 (June 2022) covers the main goals of gameplay.

The visuals certainly look a lot better than what Canuck Play was able to create. Player models and stadiums look a lot more detailed and realistic. The jury is still kind of our on whether the animation and control will be dramatically improved, because it's hard to get a feel for the animation and controls from a simple video.

Blocking shows same annoying limitations as Canuck's games

From what I can see in these videos, it looks like blocking and tackling are going to be a mixed bag. Blockers are getting up to the second level on run blocks, and they seem to be creating reasonable pockets in some of the footage (but not all of it). However, I haven't spotted any signs of double team blocks or pulling linemen in any of these videos. These were both notable omissions in Canuck's versions of the game, so I'm disappointed to see that they may not make it into Modus' game (at least not at release).

On passing plays, I see a couple examples of a 5th blocker just standing around against a 4-man pass rush, and not helping any of the other blockers block. The inability to double team block can severely limit the ability to counter elite pass rushers and risks the potential for highly inflated sack numbers from such players.

Blockers will create pockets, but apparently can't double-team block.

The lack of pulling linemen was one of my biggest annoyances with Canuck's Maximum Football releases. I'm an old-school, west coast, ground-and-pound kind of player who favors power running schemes. I like to run traps, counters, sweeps, draws, and screen passes -- almost none of which will be supported in Maximum Football if the game doesn't feature pulling linemen. Canuck's games also did not include any kind of jet sweep, end around, or reverse runs, despite featuring pre-play motion as part of the play's design. I don't expect these exotic plays to be in Modus' initial release either. This basically leaves teams with only 2 or 3 real run plays. Every run play in the game will be some minor variation of zone runs, outside pitches, and maybe draws. Oh, and I guess there might also be some QB runs too. That's not a very robust or entertaining playbook.

On the upside, blocks do look like they have weight and physicality. Blockers and defenders really lean into the block and jostle. It's not up to the visual quality of Madden, but it definitely looks a lot more believable than what has so far been offered by either Canuck Play or Axis Games in their respective indie football games.

Tackling seems like a solid start

What I've seen of the tackling so far looks like a solid start. The one big caveat is, much like with blocking, I've only ever seen one-on-one tackle animations in all the material that Modus has so far released. I haven't seen any consecutive-hit tackles, no gang tackles, no pile-ups, and no "stand up and clean up" situations. This leaves the open question of what will extraneous defenders do in certain situations? How will they handle broken tackles? Will they just stand around or overrun the play and leave the runner free for a big gain or score? I won't know until I can play the game.

Modus is saying that they want to emphasize physics and realism, and that they are not using canned animations. This means that we shouldn't see any motion shifting, warping, suction tackles, ghosting. I would also hope that there won't be much in the way of animation canceling. To their credit, I haven't seen any of those problems in any of the preview materials so far.

The runner's shoulder appears to clip through the tackling defender's torso in this clip.

Yes, there is a little bit of players clipping through each other in a tackle animation. Heck, the announcement trailer has a pretty obvious example of this in one of its demonstration tackles. The runner and tackler's shoulders appear to clip through each other. This is fine though. A little bit of animation clipping is going to happen. Even the most polished video games ever have animation clipping. The important thing is that such issues don't allow tacklers to make tackles through other players' bodies, or prevent tackles that should be made. If runners are ghosting right through potential tacklers with no effect on their speed or momentum, then we have a problem. I haven't seen any signs of that so far.

I also see on example of a defensive lineman breaking a block to make a tackle in the hole. In this clip, it happens because the offensive blocker doesn't properly seal the defender and gives the defender enough leverage to power through the block and make the tackle. This is promising, and as long as defenders aren't clipping through the blockers to make such plays, it looks like they will be sufficiently disruptive against the run game.

The deep ball

Lastly, I want to talk about some of the examples of pass coverage and catching that I saw in these various clips.

Ball trajectories look pretty good. In multiple examples, we see touch passes being thrown over the linebackers to open receivers for completions. The underneath defenders aren't super-jumping to make unbelievable swats or interceptions. There is one example of a defender jumping a route in the endzone for an interception (possibly even a pick-6). But he seems to be in zone, looking right at the QB, who is throwing a bullet to a quick out in the flats. So it's a perfectly reasonable route jump from the defender.

Ball trajectories look solid, and arch over defenders.

The defenders do seem to be playing a lot of their coverages very shallow, and I'm seeing a lot of receivers being open with no defenders between them and the endzone. Poor safety play and deep pass coverage was a recurring issue in older Maximum Football games, so this is a bit concerning.

To be fair, one of these passes looks like a corner route against Cover 2 zone. That sort of route is a Cover 2-beater. This is a good read by the QB, and this pass should be completed. However, the safeties are both playing very tight inside, and neither is making much of an effort to get outside to cover any potential go or corner route from either wideout. This leaves the wideout apparently open for a long, un-contested score.

On the other side of the ball, I did see one clip that showcases a receiver tapping his toes to make a sideline catch. So hopefully, there will be some good, robust catching animations, including animations for catches on the sideline.

There will apparently be animations of receivers dragging their toes to make sideline catches.

Overall, gameplay looks to be much more polished and smooth compared to what Canuck Play was able to provide. However, there are still some areas of concern regarding a lack of animations, and some questionable A.I. and play design logic. Obviously, I don't expect Modus to get everything correct, right out of the gate. The game can still turn out to be good and enjoyable even if it doesn't include double team blocks or gang tackles. Coverage logic (especially from safeties) is probably the biggest area of concern, especially considering that this was a major hang-up for both Canuck Play and Axis Games. Hopefully Modus can tighten up its coverage logic in the 6 months or so before launch. And if not, Maximum Football is a live service product, so they can always fix it in post.

There is one thing in these trailers that Maximum Football has that neither Axis Football, nor even Madden currently have: referees on the field!

Maximum has something Madden doesn't: refs on the field.

Customization

Customization is one of the areas that is a potential concern regarding Maximum Football's free-to-play status. The 2nd development update, released last September, shows a lot of customization options, and doesn't seem to suggest that any of these options will be locked behind paywalls.

Dev Update 2 (September 2022) talks about the customization options.

But I have to wonder if the decision to go free-to-play was made after that 2nd development update. If so, what is shown in the update may not be representative of the final produce. I'm not going to speculate on this too much, however, since I have no idea how the game will be monetized, and Modus hasn't clarified that point yet. So I'm going to assume that what was shown in the development update is what will be available, for free, in the launch version of the game, until such time as I have solid evidence or proof to the contrary.

According to the development update, users can take any existing team and use it as a baseline to create a new team. It's not entirely clear if users can add completely new teams to the game, or if we can only customize existing teams (thus removing the original default team from the game's lineup).

One thing that I would like to see in this customization suite, which was absent from Canuck's Maximum Football, is the ability to use an existing team's logo as part of the new logo. Ideally, all the default logos should be created in the logo editor, and should be fully editable themselves, allowing users to break the default logos down to their constituent parts and modify them. I doubt this will happen though, as the default team logos look like the same image files from Canuck's last entry in the series.

There seems to be plenty of customization options, but how much of it will be locked behind grinds or paywalls?

There also doesn't seem to be any sort of stadium editor or customization. Presumably, we can choose a default stadium for each team (as was the case in Canuck's game). The development update did state that the stadiums will dynamically change their color schemes and field logos to match the home team. So that's good. That's also a step beyond what Axis Football does, which is able to change the field logos, but not any of the colors, logos, or decorations of the stadium itself.

Integrated College and Pro campaigns?

The trailer didn't include any real information about the College Dynasty Mode. Based on statements from Modus, there will be a College Dynasty Mode at launch, and there will be a Pro Season Mode. There will not be a Pro Franchise Mode -- at least, not at launch. Modus has said that a Pro Franchise Mode is on their roadmap for a future update. So maybe that will show up sometime in 2024? There is some interesting information about the supposed Pro Franchise Mode though, and that is the following statement from Maximum Football's Development Director, Micah Brown:

"Both modes will be in the same universe, so you will be able to send Dynasty players to your Franchise league and draft them onto your pro teams."

This is an awesome possibility. Combine this with the fact that Maximum Football will receive periodic updates instead of re-releasing a new game every year, and it means that we'll be able to persistently play the same combined Dynasty and Franchise, and develop the same pro and college teams and players over the course of years of gameplay!

Persisting a Franchise over multiple real-life years is something that I've been suggesting (for a long time) that non-licensed football games do. Without the expectation of real-life roster updates every year, even a yearly release like Axis Football could allow a Franchise save file to be imported from last year's game, so that the player can continue to develop the same team rather than start over from scratch. I've pitched this idea to Axis Games multiple times over the years. Maybe Maximum will light a fire under their butts to finally do it.

Maximum will, however, take this concept one step further by integrating both the College Dynasty and the Pro Franchise into the same campaign. We can potentially follow a single player's career from being recruited into college, all the way through a pro retirement.

I am curious how this will work though. Will the College Dynasty and Pro Franchise be 2 separate game modes that simply allow export and import of draft classes? Or will they both be a single, integrated campaign?

EA used to allow seniors from NCAA Football to be imported into Madden.

The former is how EA's old NCAA Football and Madden games used to work. After completing a season in NCAA Football, the user could export the senior draft class into that year's Madden. This came with one massive caveat though: in order for in-season scouting to work in Madden's Franchise Mode, the user would have to finish the entire college season before starting the corresponding NFL season, because the college draft class had to be imported before starting the NFL season. This kind of sucked. It meant that I couldn't play the 2 games in parallel. I basically had to binge NCAA to get through a season, and then go through a whole Madden season before coming back to NCAA to start the next season.

I really hope that this ends up not being the case with Maximum Football. I really hope that either both college and pro modes are integrated into the same campaign, or the game is designed such that it is easy to import the College Dynasty data into the Pro Franchise on a week-to-week basis in order to allow for in-season scouting for the Pro Franchise. It would be nice to be able to play the college or pro modes at my own pace (in case I end up liking one more than the other), but I'm OK with the possibility of having to alternate between playing a college week and a pro week, if that ends up being the easiest way to integrate the 2.

College Dynasty will be available at launch

In any case, it will likely be a while before we know how the integrated Pro Franchise will fit into the College Dynasty, since it won't be added to the game till post-release, and there is currently no timeframe on when we should expect that. In the meantime, however, we are expecting the College Dynasty to be in the game at launch. So how is that likely going to work? Well, all indications suggest that it will be mostly similar to how Canuck Play had implemented its College Dynasty, but with a few extra bells and whistles.

First and foremost, statements from the development updates suggest that players gain experience from playing in games. This system sounds closer to how Madden's Franchise Mode currently works, compared to how Maximum Football had previously worked. The old Maximum Football games progressed player ratings at the end of the season, based largely on their stats and the training camp focuses that the user selects between seasons.

Madden players gain experience from practices and playing in games, and can be leveled-up during the season.

Personally, I prefer the system of gaining experience from playing in games, especially if the system takes into account the total reps that the player receives (including special teams reps), and the overall performance of the team while the player is in the game, in addition to any stats they accumulate. This sort of system gives more value to giving young players and reserves occasional reps here and there. It allows them to be developed over the course of a season, rather than having to wait till the offseason. I think this is even better suited to a college game than a pro game, since the younger college players actually do develop faster than the professionals who already represent the best of the best.

My only concern is, given the free-to-play nature of the game, will the experience system of the College Dynasty be subject to some kind of slowed-down experience acquisition system in order to encourage players to spend real money for experience boosts? I really hope not, as this would totally compromise the game. EA experimented with paid progression accelerators back in the early 2010's, so the idea isn't completely un-precedented.

The preview footage shown also shows that the recruiting process will include scouting as well. Prospects apparently begin with completely unknown ratings, and the user will presumably have to spend some scouting resources to unlock those ratings. Its unclear if all the ratings are unlocked at once, or if it's a gradual process that happens over the course of the whole recruiting process.

Recruiting prospects will apparently need to be scouted first, in order to reveal their ratings.

The development updates also showed that coaches will be in the game, and they can be hired and fired. The screen that was showed even included the coaches' salary requirements, which suggests that Modus' Dynasty Mode may incorporate some degree of financial management. Perhaps schools will receive money from boosters, TV deals, and the conferences based on performance, and perhaps that money can also be spent on things like stadium upgrade, practice facility upgrades, injury-prevention and rehab facilities, and so forth?

Each coach will also supposedly have ability trees. Hopefully, Modus is able to come up with more interesting and diverse coach ability trees compared to what EA came up with for Madden 23. I hope that each coach's abilities are tied to their preferred schemes and play-styles, and that the abilities will really differentiate and specialize the coaches. Madden's current system just gives every coach the exact same, basic skill trees, such that there's only a handful of different combinations of coach skills. It's really bad.

Coaches can be hired and fired, and have their own ability trees.

I'm not sure if Maximum Football will also include offense, defensive, and special teams coordinator coaches, let alone other position coaches or assistant coaches, as Axis Football has.

Another tidbit that Micah Brown snuck in, but which is easy to overlook, is that he states that users can customize teams, players, and plays. So even though there has not been any official announcement of a play editor, it sounds like a play editor is planned for inclusion. Canuck included a play-editor, but it was pretty bare-bones. It did not allow creating pulling lineman, so it could not be used to create the various power-run schemes that were missing from the default playbooks. Hopefully, Modus' play-editor (and playbooks, in general) is more robust than what Canuck provided.

Maximum Football will hopefully include
customizable playbooks and a play-editor.

One of the fun things about Maximum Football's old play-editor was that plays often required a lot of tweaking and trial-and-error in order to get right. I would often create a play, try it out in practice, and then run it in a game and see how it worked. Then, after the game, I would go back into the play-editor, and tweak it to work better against some of the defensive looks that I saw in the game. This actually kind of made me feel like a real coach, reviewing game film, and tweaking my play designs for my upcoming opponent. I hope this feeling is retained in Modus' game.

Lastly, there is one understated feature from Canuck's original Maximum Football Dynasty Modes that I have sadly not seen any hint of in Modus' previews so far. Canuck Play's Dynasty Modes included a little biographical tidbit about each recruiting prospect. It wasn't much. It was only a single sentence, and as far as I could tell, it had no relevance to the prospect's ratings or to gameplay at all. It was purely fluff text. But it did serve to inject a little bit of humanity and personality into the [otherwise stale and robotic] recruiting process. It treated the prospects a little bit more like characters with a bit of a personality.

An understated feature of Canuck's Maximum Football Dynasty was these biographical flavor texts for recruits.

It wasn't much, but this little biographical tidbit was actually my favorite feature from Canuck Play's Dynasty Modes. But sadly, there was no hint of such a feature in any of the preview footage that we've seen so far. To be fair, the only recruiting images that we've seen so far were from the first development update almost a whole year ago. It was clearly very early footage. So it's possible that this feature is planned, but just wasn't implemented yet at that time. I really do hope that it makes it into the game. And it would also be nice if the feature would have some gameplay relevance. But even if it does remain purely fluff text, I'd rather have it than not have it, as it was nice to have something to identify the prospects with, other than their name and ratings.

One of the big successes of EA's old NCAA Football games was the amount of humanity that was present in the recruiting process. The prospects were treated like characters, and the lengthy process of recruiting them created a connection between the user and the prospect. This made it all the more satisfying to sign the prospects at the top of your recruiting board, and all the more heartbreaking when another school would beat you to signing them.

EA's NCAA Football games treated prospects like characters, which helped make the Dynasty Mode so compelling.

Having biographical information about a prospect serves to add even more humanity to that process. It makes them feel even more like actual people (or characters). It allows the user to potentially identify with or relate to a prospect at a personal level. I really hope that this makes it back into Maximum Football. And I really hope that the players continue to be treated like people after they sign with the school and join the roster. With all the customization that will likely go into people's games of Maximum Football, there will likely be a great sense of personal ownership of the Dynasty Mode teams. Having rosters full of relatable, personable characters would only further deepen the connection that the user has to their game, and make your experience with Maximum Football's Dynasty Mode more uniquely yours.

Comments (1) -

07/15/2023 00:59:36 #

All of your information is really in-depth discussion. I am really interested in College Dynasty game.

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