View Full Version : Kickoff: Madden NFL and the Future of Video Game Sports

01-19-2012, 05:26 PM
Here is a lengthy read from Grantland.com on the making of Madden NFL (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/7473139/tom-bissell-making-madden-nfl) by Tom Bissell.

Some tidbits:

- Weber told me he "had the benefit of coming down from EA Canada with a fresh new set of eyes, and more of a fan's outlook. NCAA Football and Madden are two of my favorite games; I've played them for years." The knock against the Madden franchise is that the game has become an annual title update, with very little innovation or detectable difference from one year to the next. On this point, Weber was surprisingly forthcoming: "We read the forums, we read the consumer feedback, we read reviews. I think in general there's a feeling that EA's football titles are starting to feel a little bit stagnant in terms of how you play them. And while the games have progressed on a graphics and rendering and A.I. side, how you experience them, and how you play them, hasn't changed that much, especially in this generation of consoles."

- True fact: The modern football video game pushes current-generation technology to its limit. Why are football games so "expensive," in the sense that programmers use that word? Well, first, a football game has to render all the players, all of whom have idiosyncrasies of movement and appearance that must be accurate, and, in the case of marquee players, downright meticulous. Second, the game has to render all the coaching staff and the refs. There's also the crowd to render, not to mention the crowd noise, which is keyed to surprisingly complicated crowd A.I. Let's not forget the grass on the field. Or the light. Or the broadcasting. The game's also scripting, on every play, the individual behavior of every player on the field, most of whom will be doing different things on any given play. In a basketball, hockey, or soccer game, the range of behaviors is more limited. In basketball everyone's doing roughly the same thing from an A.I. perspective. Hockey gets a little more complicated, and soccer a little more complicated yet, but football gives you 22 individual actors obeying a wide range of A.I. scripts. Not to mention the fact that every NFL team has an elaborate playbook with distinct tendencies and play styles. Meanwhile, during the plays themselves, there's tons of contact between those 22 individual actors, all of which they have to respond to. And this has to look good seamless, even. When you start pondering the immense complications of a game like Madden the product of more than 10 million lines of code you begin to wonder how the game even runs without shooting fire out of your console.

- The Madden franchise has seen a lot of competition over the years: Joe Montana Football (the first sports game I can recall that had variable weather conditions), which was released in 1991; the NFL 2K series, which ran from 1999 to 2005; NFL Gameday, which ran from 1994 to 2005. Every game has its champions, and not a few video game football fans regard Gameday as having consistently made a better product than Madden. The NFL 2K series pulled off one of the greatest, most insidious guerrilla-warfare moves in the history of video game competition when, in 2004, it released ESPN NFL 2K5 at the ridiculously enticing price of $19.99 and carved a serious gouge in Madden's domination of the football space. One of the Madden devs I spoke to still remembers 2K5's day of sneak-attack infamy: "It scared the hell out of us." NFL Gameday proved an arguably tougher opponent (from the same dev who was scared by ESPN NFL 2K5: "We were always nervous about Gameday. We wanted to crush them"), in that it was a PlayStation exclusive and had all of Sony's considerable resources backing its development. In 2005, the Madden franchise outmaneuvered its rivals by securing an exclusivity deal with the league, effectively putting every other pro-football game out of business. Since then, the Madden franchise has survived some rough spots, particularly during the console-generation shift from the Xbox and PlayStation 2 to the 360 and PS3: Madden NFL 06, the first next-gen Madden, is widely regarded, even by the devs themselves, as the undisputed lemon of the franchise. EA has no plans to commit another console-generation-shift blunder, and many of the company's plans for the Madden franchise concern titles considerably further down the line than Madden NFL 12.

- Clearly, the way sports games are played, and the way Madden in particular is played, is ripe for some massive paradigm shift. Why doesn't the quarterback position feel as visceral and pinpointy as firing a rifle in a first-person shooter? Could you make the experience of being an offensive lineman as interesting as anything on the ball? Why, for that matter, is running the ball such an isometric experience? When I put these and other questions to the Madden team in Florida, many of them smiled. They are perfectly aware that something has to change, and are in an enviable position to change it, but they also have a fan base of 5 million to 7 million dedicated players to keep engaged, which is why, I suspect, Cam Weber hammers home the point that the entire house of Madden will not stand without a solid gameplay foundation of realistically simulated professional football. What EA Tiburon actually has in mind for the franchise's future can only be guessed at, but several Madden devs were willing to plant the following seed: Future Madden titles' gameplay will almost certainly revolve around more than a handful of positions.

Roy Harvey, Madden NFL's executive producer, is the dev team's far-seeing futurist. An engineer by training and a former Michigan Wolverine, Harvey spoke fluently and fascinatingly about the future of the sports game. While he was unable to reveal what he called the "secret sauce" of the franchise's plans, the stuff he could vaguely posit seemed both tantalizing and Huxleyan: "If you're familiar with Copernicus," he said, "then you know he was the one who figured out the heliocentric worldview that we were orbiting the sun; everything wasn't orbiting the earth. That was Copernicus' big 'aha' about 500 years ago. A lot of what we've done traditionally in video games is say, 'All right. We'll create these online connections and we'll create these online features.' But at the end of the day it was always about the game here on a disc, on a console, and the users were orbiting the game. If you flip that paradigm, much like Copernicus did with the heliocentric worldview, it's like, 'Well, let's put the user in the center.' ... That's the core, I would say, of the idea behind how we are moving forward."

Harvey brought up NCAA Football, which has been "a great place to evolve and mature ideas." In 2009, he said, "NCAA 10 launched this Team Builder feature. Well over a million players custom-built teams on it. So, aha, users want to create, customize, and extend the experience. Big surprise, right? A million custom teams. Wow. That's phenomenal. What's going on there? Is it all like crazy, bizarre stuff? No." Harvey asked me to imagine a world in which football games combined the twitch gameplay of the console Madden experience with Minecraftian games of making your own teams with fantasy football spreadsheet games and Be a Pro modes starring some version of, say, yourself all of which would be part of the same seamless gameworld. A game you could play anywhere, on multiple devices, depending on your mood. "You play your game on Saturday," Harvey said, "and the rest of the week, what are you doing? You're trying to scout and acquire the best high school students to come to your college when they graduate." And from there get them into the pros. "You want to have a virtual football experience," Harvey said, "and, depending on what platform you're on, whether it be Web, or phone, or a pad, or console, you have an experience that ties you back to that same core." Harvey was careful to stress that the console Madden experience wasn't going anywhere, and in many ways these ideas were a reaction to the Daddening of gaming and an audience with less time to play. All these posited functions, furthermore, would be totally dependent on "how deep do you want to go. You know, a lot of people will say, 'Hey, I'm just happy to unwind after work. I pop in the disc and when I'm done, I'm done.' But some people are jonesing for football: 'Let me get on the Web and do something during my lunch break.'"

"So," I said, "it's about creating a football experience that could accommodate every possible desire."

"Absolutely," he said. "Any level of commitment, any level of immersion, that you're interested in."

01-19-2012, 09:49 PM
Grantland is awesome.

And yes, I'm even including the autobiographical pieces written by Maurice Clarett. Even they were well done.

01-20-2012, 05:01 PM
Very interesting read that I finally had the chance to check out

01-30-2012, 05:02 AM
they romanticise teambuilder, but didnt bother to touch it for 2 years?

i'm sure they may want to do stuff,but its still just talk for now. Like its been for a while.

I dont doubt they want to try stuff and will. But they have yet to figure how to patch a game without messing it up.

madden looks great,but how did the audio get so messed up-..timing etc?

why didnt they add NFL films music again? I miss that

01-30-2012, 09:29 PM
they romanticise teambuilderRoy romanticizes everything. He's just awesome like that.

01-30-2012, 09:35 PM
ive always thought of an EA game that combined the sports on one disc so you could be like a Deion Sanders or something or own /manage/play 2 different sports franchises