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ram29jackson
05-15-2012, 11:19 PM
http://www.aggrogate.com/2011/09/football-suck-madden/


I Know Football, I Suck at Madden
by Matt Eddy




This is not a review of Madden 12, you can find a much better job at that just about everywhere else on the internet. Iíve barely ever even touched a Madden game, and a yearly franchise like this one tends to demand a more experienced critical eye. No, my job here is to relate what itís been like to be a complete newb at one of the highest-selling video game franchises of all time.

Hereís the twist: I played football in college (I was a tight end), and remain an avid fan. Iím not an encyclopedic geek about it, but my Football I.Q. is probably slightly above that of the average American. I would also consider myself a fairly well-rounded video game veteran, but the last football video game I played a lot was NFL Blitz and before that, Tecmo Super Bowl. So how have I fared in Madden? Iím here to tell you that itís the most difficult new game that Iíve ever tried to learn. And being well experienced in football means I could tell exactly how bad I was sucking. Hit the jump to read how badly, accompanied by pictures of football failure.

Madden 12 is brutal to beginners. I came to discover one needs to be aware of two major skillsets Ė practical football knowledge and controller skills. I canít even imagine how tough it would be to try to pick up Madden without any of the former, because I had enough trouble with just the latter. I could probably make similar observations about all sports games, but itís particularly acute in this one because football is the most complicated, nuanced sport there is. Points to Madden 12 for simulating the real thing so well, but thatís also what gave me problems. Unlike other complex games like, say, World of WarCraft, thereís no ďnewbieĒ level-up phase that starts simple and gradually branches out from there. Itís the deep end right away, and I had trouble staying afloat.

Developing the controller skills is very slow-going because the button maps change depending on the situation Ė controlling the passer, controlling the rusher, controlling the pass-rusher, converting the passer to the rusher, controlling the defense when the ballís on the ground, controlling the defense when the ballís in the air, pre-snap reads and audibles, menu navigation, and ďhotkeysĒ between plays Ė all change what your controller actually does. Iíve had a really hard time keeping track of all the possible things I can actually do, and to make it worse, the game does a pretty decent job at emulating the famous speed of NFL football. Margin for error is microseconds.



It seems clear to me that EA expects the vast majority of players to be considerable veterans of the series. There is little in the way of tutorial, since ďPracticeĒ modes donít really train you very well in either practical football knowledge or the video game mechanics. Sure, they throw a list of what the context-specific buttons are for, and you can always consult the in-game manual, but thereís no mode that really teaches you when, how, why, and what the risks are to doing a spin move with the ball carrier as opposed to any of the other five or so possible moves.

I encountered the high learning curve in an exhibition between the Philadelphia Eagles Ė my team Ė and the most hated institution for any dutiful Eagles fan, the Dallas Cowboys. Kickoff went pretty well, at least the kicking mechanics are easy to pick up. I even quickly found the buttons to toggle which player to control, a basic skill for any sports game and there are a lot of bodies on the field in football.



From there, my input on the game went south. I started on defense, and tried for several plays to really micro-manage my secondary, blitzes, and line techniques but I had a tough time navigating the menus quickly. Fortunately, you always have the option on any play to ďask Madden,Ē which will provide three reasonably strategically sound options from which to choose. It was only a few plays before I essentially gave up on being a brilliant defensive coordinator in favor of the dumbed-down hand-holding provided by the game. I could actually dumb it down even further with ďGameFlow,Ē which just picks a play for you at the push of a button, but I like at least having three choices as opposed to one.

As it turns out, you can play it pretty safe on defense by keeping your input to a minimum. Even the player you control will follow his assignment if you just donít touch anything, and I found that my defense did fine, for the most part, with me in the back seat. That might seem like Iím saying the game was easy, and in terms of results, I suppose it was. But I donít really like sitting back and watching it go on autopilot like that, even if Iím winning. I want to play the game. But the game doesnít really teach me anything Ė I donít really know where to go to learn how best to direct blitz packages, or to get practice checking into cover 2 if I see an audible, or what I can do with base defense if the offense is going no-huddle. The easy way is just to let the game play itself, and I held the Cowboys to a field goal by doing that. But Iím a sucker for the hard way.



On offense, the ball is almost always channeled quickly through a QB and/or RB in the backfield. That means they can put a lot more pressure on the player to understand and execute proper football moves. Again, you could always go with the gameís hand-holding, but I figured I was an offense guy, I should be able to get my head around a bit more tinkering on this side of the ball.

My opening drive started out with me trying to design a play from the ground up starting with the formation, and resulted in a delay of game penalty. Thatís a facepalm moment in both real football, and in Madden. I suppose thatís actually a credit to the gameís verisimilitude Ė thatís exactly what would have happened if the Eagles had teleported me down to their sideline, thrust a playbook into my arms, and told me to call a play out of the dozens of options with no practice. After a little struggling, I got comfortable with how the menus sort all the various plays. Instead of choosing a play ďby formationĒ like I tried to do at first, I do it ďby category,Ē which means I can quickly decide if I want a run or a pass and choose more detail from there. It doesnít take long to select ďrun Ė inside Ė isoĒ (not the Eaglesí forte, but at least I know exactly what the play does).



My playcalling abilities are adequate, but my execution is woeful. Many of my problems come from having zero QB experience (real or video game) using one of the most pass-happy teams in the league. I drop back to pass, the safety is creeping over top of my outside receiverís post route, my slot receiverís square in route is stuck in traffic, should I check down to my-SACK. Shit, itís 2nd and 18. Alright, try again, this time Iíll be quicker to check down to the RB aaaaand I threw it into his back. Well, at least I didnít lose yards. Itís 3rd and 18, letís go shotgun, I think I see man-to-man on DeSean Jackson, letís see if he can get a step on-BLITZ SACK. I get sacked a lot, which really is sad, seeing as how my QB Mike Vick is the most mobile and elusive athlete to ever play the position.

I throw low-altitude lasers straight into the facemasks of defenders when I should (I think) be putting more touch and arc on the ball. I have no feel for when is a good time to tuck and run in the backfield. Iím not sure how to throw the ball away to avoid a sack. Iím powerless to audible when all linebackers and safeties have walked up to breathe down my centerís neck. I actually have more success running than passing, but I tend to just jam the thumbstick upward and hold the ďsecure ballĒ button to minimize fumbles. I ended up beating the Cowboys 3 Ė 14, not because the human outplayed the CPU, but because the I was gifted broken tackles that enabled me to bust an inside run for a 60 yard touchdown on two separate occasions.



I would love to practice all these minute, specific skills, but no dice. At least not in any modes Iíve tried yet. I never played QB in real life, I would love for Madden 12 to have a QB practice mode to let me get the hang of reading coverages and what various receiver route patterns do to a secondary. Give me a practice mode for recognizing all the different kinds of blitzes and countering with hot routes and shifting my O-lineís assignments. Show me how to pressure the seams of zone coverage. What Iím asking for is a training camp for both football concepts and game mechanics. That would add realism, right? The pros donít show up to a game without any practice, so why should I? Iím a student of football, and the game actually has an opportunity here to enrich my Football I.Q.

My biggest complaint is that itís always hard to tell when a failure was due to player attributes as opposed to me just playing the game wrong. If I did everything right and someone drops the ball (figuratively or literally), thatís just how it goes sometimes in Madden and in life. But if he dropped the ball because of user error, thatís something I want to know so I can improve at it. On defense, it seems like I often get burned deep. Iím tempted to try to control the cornerback myself, but thatís a very easy thing to screw up. Falling even a half step behind the receiver as I assume manual control can be the difference between having to make a tough catch with my corner in his face and being wide open. Should I be leaving the corner alone to do his job, or will I have success more often with proper execution of manual control? This is a case where Iím not even sure how the game should be played. A practice mode for these skills would make that more clear.



I think Iíve become enough of a football geek that it bleeds over into an appreciation for Madden. But man, do I suck. Iíve yet to beat my girlfriend in a game, although in my defense, sheís been playing it even more than I have. Her execution is better than mine, so I guess thatís a glimmer of hope that Iíll improve with practice as well. Either that or Iíll just have to become a fan of the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers like she is.

JeffHCross
05-19-2012, 11:44 AM
Agreed, agreed, agreed. If you're a new player to sports games, it doesn't matter how well you know the sport or how long you've actually played it, it's a brutal learning curve. I did the 60 minute trial of NHL 12 the other day, and despite the fact that I played NHL 10 extensively, I sucked. Just the change in the control scheme was enough to completely throw me off. I can't imagine how a new player would feel.

Kotaku had a similar piece (http://kotaku.com/5635627/a-game-harder-than-its-hardcore-fans) about NHL 11. I agree completely. There was a second piece (http://kotaku.com/5888302/the-rookie-mistake-most-video-games-make) about how gamers are pre-disposed to set the difficulty level high. Look at all the guys on here that dismiss someone who plays on Varisty or Freshman (even AA, sometimes!). A lack of teaching plus a natural preference to a higher difficulty. Bad combination for sports games.

SmoothPancakes
05-19-2012, 12:01 PM
Agreed, agreed, agreed. If you're a new player to sports games, it doesn't matter how well you know the sport or how long you've actually played it, it's a brutal learning curve. I did the 60 minute trial of NHL 12 the other day, and despite the fact that I played NHL 10 extensively, I sucked. Just the change in the control scheme was enough to completely throw me off. I can't imagine how a new player would feel.

Kotaku had a similar piece (http://kotaku.com/5635627/a-game-harder-than-its-hardcore-fans) about NHL 11. I agree completely. There was a second piece (http://kotaku.com/5888302/the-rookie-mistake-most-video-games-make) about how gamers are pre-disposed to set the difficulty level high. Look at all the guys on here that dismiss someone who plays on Varisty or Freshman (even AA, sometimes!). A lack of teaching plus a natural preference to a higher difficulty. Bad combination for sports games.

I'm guilty. :D I never play my games on Varsity, Freshman, Rookie, etc. It's always one of the top levels, even when I bought NHL 11, my first NHL game since NHL 2K9 on PS2. And as one can see from reading around the forums, nearly everyone here instantly goes right to AA or Heisman on each new NCAA game, so I guess a lot of us sort of become of the thought that if anything lower than AA and Heisman is beneath us and our time, even though that may not be fair to newer players of the series that end up forced to play on Varsity or Freshman simply because the game's control can get complex and there are not really any tutorials to go through to help them learn the game and it's controls.

ram29jackson
05-19-2012, 01:03 PM
I think its also a way of saying the real thing in a sense has nothing to with it... I 'm no football wiz, but I just understand covering spaces and hitting the open man..and I've played the game enough to get the basic controls....and theres plenty of cheesers who dont know football but think they are " beasts " at madden LOL.

and its kids or amateurs, half the time i go to team-play, someone has set it to pro, which means they suck or just want the long bomb to come easy...?

JeffHCross
05-19-2012, 04:06 PM
Yeah, well, I can tell you from first-hand experience that those "beasts" in Madden who don't know real football can get easily beaten by someone who does know football (and the game).

I will agree with your overall point -- experience with the real sport doesn't translate to the game. And that's absolutely true, though experience with the real strategy can have a direct positive impact on the game. But first you have to know how to play the game -- knowing real football doesn't help if you can't get over the learning curve of the game.

But, as the Kotaku article pointed out, not very many of us are experienced at being a soldier either. Or being Cole McGrath with ridiculous powers in inFamous. That's why having a gradual learning curve, and some sort of tutorial, goes a long way. Otherwise it's like jumping into the end of inFamous having never played the first 30 missions (or, in my case, doing it after two years of not playing the game :D).

The next time you're playing a major non-sports title (Arkham City, Mass Effect, etc), and you're near the end of the single-player campaign, imagine what it'd be like jumping into that point in the game, with all the controls and techniques at your disposal, and not having the experience of the previous X levels. I think it'd be borderline insane. But that's what a sports game is like, really.