NFL Head Coach 09 Online Play Impressions

Posted August 12th, 2008 at 10:10 pm

NFL Head Coach 09 decided to go the unique route of using a supersim setup for online play. Thoughts on this decision seemed to be split. Most people would prefer to watch the plays and have full coach control, but in turn that would lead to a time commitment upwards of an hour.

Most of my time spent today was through online. I’ve included a video showing off a full first quarter and part of the second. Continue on to watch that as well as read my online play thoughts.

Head Coach really isn’t a game designed for head-to-head play, but having an online component makes for a nice change of pace. It isn’t going to be the way most people end up playing which is evident given that only a fraction of the users signed on to the game were in online games, the empty lobbies, and a leaderboard that was topped by people who had two wins. At times I even had trouble finding an opponent through quick match. It’s release day for Madden 09 too afterall.

Essentially when playing online you are just choosing the plays. While on defense you can see the package the offense is coming out in once they have chosen their play. After both sides select their play you see the result of it pop up on the screen. The quarters are 15 minutes long but accelerated, so that a single play takes up a chunk of time.

Because you aren’t seeing the actions that are taking place on the field it feels as though much of it is just about guessing and hoping things work out for you. Coaches on the other hand can notice tendencies and adjust on the fly and that isn’t translated through this setup.

There were points where I felt bored, especially when the game was out of reach. At that point with other sports games at least you are still active so that can take your mind off it. But with supersim you’re just picking plays to get through to the end. If you’re playing against a friend and chatting with them this probably wouldn’t be as much of a drag.

Luckily the time investment isn’t nearly as signficant in these online matches. It was stated that they would take about 15-20 minutes to complete. I’ve found it to be close to 20 each time, with 26 minutes being the longest I played.

When it comes to choosing plays I wish there were more than just three on the screen at a time. When playing defense and having the countdown timer go it can be pressure-filled to get to a play you want in time. I’m thinking of coach’s play call sheets that are filled with them, I should be able to have a bunch of options at my disposal at all times.

Adding into that you’re defaulted into odd plays. Going into special teams the first play you fall on is onside. When going to choose a field goal or punt play you have to search through special teams. I did figure out to use the “Ask Coach” option on 4th downs, but sometimes even then it isn’t always what you’re thinking. I also wish the play you were highlighting was defined a little more distinctly.

So while I mentioned the downside to it there are some aspects that I do like. Obviously being able to play a full game in about 20 minutes is a positive. The last game of the night that I played I wouldn’t have otherwise and and it ended up being the best one. Lag isn’t going to factor in which is a nice thing to not have to worry about. I had a few disconnects, but I believe each time it was my opponent quitting out because I was given the option to continue or quit and count/don’t count.

It was cool to have penalties pop up. I remember getting a handful in every game. I was more forgiving for being penalized here than in Madden where I control the players and don’t feel I should be penalized randomly. But as a coach I guess that is part of what you deal with.

Stats have come out relatively well through this method. Despite fatigue being on it seems like the running backs can get a lot of carries without it factoring in much. But actually that may not be true because you’re not seeing the plays happen. In my game against the Redskins Portis was less effective in the second half. I just can’t attribute that to fatigue necessarily because it could be a number of factors.

I like being able to select an “agenda” at the start of the game which is the area to focus on. I wonder how much that actually ends up making a difference. In that game Portis had 112 yards and my focus was on tackling him.

Surprisingly I found myself really getting into it in close games. I’ll recap the last one I played because I didn’t expect the level of drama that came with it.

I took on the Titans against the Redskins. Clinton Portis was running all over me and I couldn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. He ended up with 112 yards, most of which came in the first half but in the second half I kept him check. The Redskins were leading 13-0 in the 3rd, Vince Young wasn’t doing anything for me except get me into punting situations. Finally I was able to drive and get on the board with a field goal. I forced a three and out and felt some life coming back. Then Young went and threw a pick. I was furious! But I got the ball back again and drove down for a TD. Now 13-10 with about 7 minutes left in the game. I force yet another punt and drive down to the 8. 1st and goal and Young is picked off by Jason Taylor. I thought it was over right then and I was really disappointed. But another 3 and out and I’m looking at a 2 minute drill near the 50. Originally I was just trying to get into field goal range but once there I decided to give him a shot at a deep pass. With 17 seconds left Young throws a 24 yard TD! I couldn’t believe how excited I was at that moment. It’s a shame that I wasn’t recording that game.

Ultimately it would’ve been nice to have the option of playing online both via supersim and standard on-the-sideline coaching. Making supersim default for ranked games but giving those who wanted to arrange the full fledged ones with friends would’ve been a good compromise. Still I found my time with this online setup to have been enjoyable when under the right circumstances. Whether that is just a feeling that comes with it being new or if it will hold up over time is tough to say.