E3: Thoughts on Connected Careers in Madden NFL 13

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Posted June 11th, 2012 at 10:00 am

EA Sports has struggled with communicating just what Connected Careers in Madden NFL 13 is all about and going with a new name to reflect the revolutionary advancement is playing a big part in that. Confusion still abounds from those believing the company has “removed Franchise mode” and any recognition of what is actually being offered remains cloudy at best.

Essentially being a “Coach” in Connected Careers is what Franchise mode used to be while choosing to be a “Player” is more along the lines of Superstar mode. Rather than the two being in separate universes however Connected Careers brings the experiences together to share in the feature set and even share with the involvement of others.¬†

Connected Careers is so deep and intricate that it’s practically impossible to write about everything it entails even following a run through with Josh Looman who headed up the designing of the mode. That is a good thing for those who want a really rich experience but could also be a bit intimidating to others. There are 85 different screens involved in the mode making for such significant scale that it would not be matched by any sports game in history.¬†With the current confusion out there in mind what follows is primarily a rundown of the main features within the mode, how it all works, and answers to common questions.

What may have been a recent mistake is EA trying to bury the Franchise mode name in the wake of the announcement. It’s not gone – it’s just evolved, has a wider scope, and is framed in a different manner. Much of the discussion that was had with Looman related to areas where Franchise mode was weak last year such as scouting and the manner taken to prevent exploiting XP. For the most part the responses were encouraging and showed foresight.

Connected Careers begins with the choice of being a “Coach” or “Player”. Choosing to go through the career as a “Coach” entails everything Franchise mode used to be – you’ll play as the team, handle all personnel decisions, scout players, run the team’s draft, and so on. Keep in mind regarding the decision that it can be changed at any point throughout a career if one decides they’d prefer to play it in a different manner.

Taking on a “Player” means controlling only that one player just has been the case in Superstar mode. That can be started as a created player (can even use GameFace), taking on a current NFL player, or choosing a “legend” and those begin with ratings representative of their skills as a rookie. There are also “player types” and selecting a speedster increases the likelihood of becoming the team’s kick or punt returner.

One new element is the addition of storylines which are present for both coaches and players. For example, when choosing to be a “player”, you’ll also select from options like whether they were a first round draft choice or went undrafted. This not only affects initial ratings and play time but also expectations. Those who start as “undrafted” will have lower expectations and easier goals to achieve but understandably less playing time to do so.

All of this ties into XP which is a factor on both sides as well. It’s more self-explanatory with “players”. Earn XP by performing in games or in practice and spend it on improving skills. For “coaches” though XP is earned in both a group pool (to distributed to players or spend on bonuses like getting an edge in negotiations or free agency) as well as on an individual basis. There is the choice at the start of CC to have XP tallied after every week, every four weeks, or just at the end of the season.

What’s really intriguing about this is that it presents a much better form of progression and regression. Putting in backups during a blowout will actually be beneficial because they can earn XP that way. Different types of practices will also allow for players to take advantage whether it’s the starters or the backups as they get more opportunities. There will also be regression points given out. That factors in primarily due to age but there are other scenarios such as when players are coming back from injuries, and there is a certain random nature to it as well that can play a part.

Free agency is also totally different than last year’s “Ebay style” auction system. Connected Careers was actually in development alongside what was being built for Franchise mode in Madden NFL 12. Many things did carry over but free agency is now framed more like NCAA Football’s recruiting. There are currently four weeks in the initial free agency period (was told this might be bumped to five) where offers can be made, the weeks advance, and then it’s learned if a player has accepted an offer or is still on the market.

This will add some real competition and challenge to free agency particularly when battling with other users online. Make your best offer right away or risk losing the player! There are different player types, including “unpredictable” I’ve been told, that determine what factors they consider when deciding to take an offer or choose between multiple ones. Some players will sign right away and others may wait it out. Team makeup and schemes will also be considered with free agency and drafting.

Trey Wingo is involved in Madden 13 but not with a traditional studio show. Instead he will provide updates on incoming rookies throughout the season and during the draft. Some rookies will have stories that are tracked – there are 10 different storyline branches – and those will be covered for a handful of players each year. That adds an emotional attachment to what had been essentially faceless rookies. Drafting numbers is not nearly as compelling as drafting stories.

Scouting was a major weakness in Madden 12’s Franchise mode and it’s been worked on. More scouting points are given to use and more information can be gathered on players. I still suggested that readily available information on prospects such as 40 times, bench press, and so on should be provided on every player which it still is not.

A new story engine will attempt to provide more context to events and frame all the goings-on across the league. That connection to other events has been lacking in standard Franchise mode. There is even a faux Twitter feed which features a number of sports personalities commenting on various topics. Expect Skip Bayless to be his typical contrarian self.

There too are some surprises in store. Players and coaches can come out of retirement – generally that’d be after just one year off – and there are even some who are not currently in the league that are in Madden. The obvious joke was made that Brett Favre must be one of them. Understandably no indication was made one way or the other if he actually is.

There are of course downsides that accompany major changes to a mode and they will attract the ire of those who have become accustomed to utilizing certain features over the years. There will be no player editing of any kind, custom playbooks are not able to be used within the mode, and there is no “fantasy draft” at the start. There will also be no ability to import a draft class from NCAA Football 13. The time to implement properly was not there but for those who place high value on them why they’re not included won’t matter.

Most importantly though in everything Connected Careers – all of the features are the same whether it is being played solo or involving up to 32 individuals online. There are benefits to doing an “online” career even if playing solo such as having the access from the website (which has yet to launch but will at MaddenCareers.com) and the ability to add people in at any point down the road.

Any mix of “players” and “coaches” can be involved in online Connected Careers. That means there could be a league of all “coaches” (think standard Online Franchise), all “players” (essentially an online Superstar mode), or a mix in any configuration. So yes, if a “coach” is going up against a “player”, the latter is only going to control their guy while the opponent gets full reign over the game.

Madden NFL 13 is showing ambition that has been sorely lacking this generation with the debut of Connected Careers. It may be overwhelming to process everything that the mode entails and to fully comprehend it even once an attempted explanation has been provided. What’s clear however is a great deal of thought and resources have been put into Connected Careers and it carries with it great potential. While the “Infinity Engine” physics are the flashy enhancement to the game this year Connected Careers may be the one that provides a lasting legacy to the series.