March Madness 08 first hands-on preview

Posted October 12th, 2007 at 6:05 am

March Madness 08

Gamespot has posted up the first look at March Madness 08, and IGN has since followed with theirs. I’ve grabbed some segments from them and left my thoughts. The first three in-game screens can be found in the screenshot gallery. Also just as an update, from what I’ve been able to gather the game appears to still be on track for a Tuesday December 18th release date.


Anyone who played last year’s Xbox 360 game will remember that the frame rate was a serious issue, which legitimately hurt how the game played. That doesn’t look like it will be a problem this year–the game is running at 60 frames per second on the 360. PlayStation 3 owners will have to make do with 30 frames per second, but EA promises it will be nice and smooth, which is what matters anyway.

This is a surprise given the statement that all games were going to be 60fps going forward after NHL 08 released. Especially hearing about it this early with over two months until the game comes out.

March Madness 08’s gameplay has also seen a lot of change. More to the point, EA is hoping to bring a more realistic representation of real college basketball to the table this year. The most noticeable change is that the game has been slowed down, giving the game a more deliberate pace that’s consistent with the real sport. The developer is also hoping you’ll willingly slow down the pace of play on your own. Why? It’s because of the new post-play mechanics.

This is something that is tough to say whether it will be good or not until you play it. I’ve always preferred a more up-tempo game but as long as it is balanced and it feels right that is what matters.

It seems like every year developers promise more robust play in the paint, but they seldom make good on the promise. But from our brief time with 08, it looks as if EA is poised to deliver. It’s all really quite simple. On offense, you move a player (with or without the ball) down to the low post with the left analog stick. Then you jockey for position with the right analog stick. A flick of the stick is all it takes to go from backing the defender down to spinning around and getting behind him in position for a lob or an offensive board. Once you’ve got the ball, you use the two sticks together to back your defender down and either go around or shoot over him. Because the artificial intelligence will take your player’s skill ratings, position, and distance from the basket into account, shot selection should be realistic.

I’m not sure I understand how you’re going to position yourself down low using the sticks when you’ll be controlling the ball handler, but once you’ve got the ball in their hands it should be interesting to see how well that works out. The Own the Paint moves turned out to be one of the best additions for Live so I’m sure the two will be compared.

This new control scheme applies to defense as well. In fact, we enjoyed playing defense in the post more than we did playing offense. If you know your opponent is trying to get the ball to his center, you can flick the right analog stick to move in front of him in an effort to deny him the ball. This works great if you’re as tall as or taller than the man you’re guarding, but if he has a size advantage, you’ll want to flick the stick again to box him out. Once in position, you can move the right stick left or right to shadow his movement and keep him from getting around you. Thanks to all-new motion capture moves that had two players actually playing each other rather than a single person playing against an imaginary defender, the battle for the post looks realistic. You’ll see pushing and shoving, as well as players reacting realistically to being bumped.

This sounds great, the more options you have and the more freedom to play the game the better. There have always been areas of the games that go overlooked, and one has been playing defense in the post. Basically you can get in position and put your hands up or go for a block. Now being able to manually do a lot more should be fun.

Fans of dynasty mode will be pleased to know that it too received a lot of attention this off-season. For starters, the entire interface has been redone and is a lot more user-friendly. It’s very similar to what was found in NCAA Football 08. From your homepage, you can view key matchups, polls, national and local stories, bracketology, and more. Recruiting has been improved, and it’s now easier to sift through the thousands of prospects to find the players you need. This is a good thing because your athletic director and your alumni will give you recruiting challenges, such as signing your state’s Mr. Basketball then rewarding you if you do so. Another feature that has made its way from NCAA Football (and Live 08) is gamecast. Rather than just putting a final score onscreen when you sim a game, you’re now shown a complete breakdown of what’s happening on the court as it takes place. You can view player stats, shot charts, team stats, change a few coaching options, and even interrupt the sim to play the rest of the game yourself. If that’s too much detail for you, you’re able to speed up the gamecast significantly or skip it entirely and let the CPU sim things the old-fashioned way.

I’ve never been able to get into the dynasty modes of games but the gamecast simming makes it more appealing to me. That turned out really well for Live so it should come in handy here as well.

Online play is yet another area that has seen improvement over its predecessor. We didn’t get all the details on how it will work, but we did find out that you’ll be able to participate in online leagues. There won’t be any online March Madness tournament, but the inclusion of leagues is a step in the right direction.

Given how well online play has turned out for NBA Live 08 there should be high hopes for March Madness. The leagues will probably be the glorified tournaments that Live and NHL 08 have. It would be even more complicated to institute full blown leagues for a college game. I’d like to hear whether they’re shooting for the online team play that will be added as downloadable updates for FIFA and Live, as well as if the EA Locker will be in the game again this year to make sharing of roster files a breeze.


However, you won’t notice the plusses and minuses that appeared over player’s heads like they did in last year’s game. The developers felt that it would make more sense to show these players indicating their excitement or disapproval of their performance by their animations. As a result, you’ll pick up on players hanging their heads when they’re doing poorly, or pumping their fists and celebrating more when they’re in the zone.

I liked the + and – that showed over their heads last year, although I certainly would prefer this way of showing the emotion of each player. It was nice to know who was getting pumped up and who was struggling, so hopefully the new animations will come across well because at times the ones they had last year seemed exaggerated.

One thing that the development team has done is pay attention to the visuals and character models within the game. Player models will approach their distinctive body type much more closely, such as thin and lanky or muscularly built. What’s more, players can have anything from t-shirts to muscle tees under their jerseys, and varying short lengths. That’s right, this year’s title includes classic teams, complete with historically accurate “short shorts,” so your favorite school teams from the sixties and seventies won’t look the same as this year’s squads. What’s more, the faces in this year’s game have definitely been improved to make the kids on the court look their age.

Having classic teams will definitely appeal to a lot of people out there. The player models and t-shirts were shown in the early screens I got my hands on (can be found in the screenshot gallery).

Overall these hands-on previews were relatively thin, but that shouldn’t be a surprise given March Madness isn’t slated to release until 12/18.