E3: Madden NFL 10 Impressions

Posted June 5th, 2009 at 5:54 pm


The improvements to Madden 10 were quickly evident at E3. Many of them are visual which means you’re immediately exposed to them and they are impossible to miss. Others such as the game speed are readily apparent as well. That suited it well to the environment that E3 offers where time with the game can be limited and the crowds can affect the experience. Reaction to Madden has been overwhelmingly positive for the most part and it received multiple “Game of E3” nominations while there. Continue on for my impressions from the event.

Presentation received a huge upgrade as everyone is well aware of. The videos I put up show a good mix of what has been done with the pregame activities and player warm-ups, numerous variations of cut scenes, halftime highlights, coaches handshake or player of the game being seen interviewed, and the post-game highlights. They all come across naturally and within rhythm of the game. You could even look at details such as the rain and snow hitting the camera lens which everyone loved the look of. There certainly is more that can be done in the future, especially specific to certain players or stadiums, but it is an immensely impressive job they’ve been able to do over the course of just one year.

Almost everyone I talked to mentioned the slowed down game speed at some point. While it did take some time to adjust to it really seemed to improve the feeling of the game. There is more of a sense of comfort when playing which allows you to think and strategize to a larger extent. You can see the plays develop and watch as holes open providing opportunity to react more naturally. While I went in skeptical that I would prefer the slower game speed I definitely came out of it feeling that I do.

Pro-Tak has been discussed at length on numerous occasions and examples can be seen through my gameplay videos. I was encouraged that it didn’t take over the experience. It was evident that it was there but at no point did I feel like it was going over the top in an attempt to show off the new technology. The best part of it was the formation of an actual pocket which was an extremely refreshing addition. Finally pocket passers can have an advantage of their own if they utilize the tools at hand rather than scramblers being able to buy a ton of time meaning they were the most valuable.

I really like the right stick for QB elusive moves. It felt natural to use it and was effective at buying time. Very satisfying feeling to know the rush is coming but be able to make a quick slide out of the way. What I’ll need to get used to is continuing to look downfield while doing that.

I was evaluating the time the QB had to throw throughout. On Pro it was understandably quite long and the QB was generally comfortable in the pocket. Bumped up to All-Pro and that did change somewhat. I found it to be inconsistent with some plays offering excessively long periods of time to throw but on others it felt more realistic. I also seemed to find that it was more balanced in head-to-head games but less so in games against the CPU.

Something else to consider is that hitting the QB while throwing results in errant passes. So while the pass rush seemed ineffective at times, if the QB held onto the ball just a fraction of a second too long he was getting hit and passes were going up for grabs. So that helped to add to the balanced feel the more I played.

I talked on multiple occasions with Ian Cummings about this very subject and it continues to be something that is monitored and tuned. Ultimately I ended up feeling like it was close to being right. I certainly would prefer it falling on the side of too much time instead of too little. However approaching slightly more consistent rush and increasing pressure from the defensive line in CPU games would probably be a beneficial adjustment.

The CPU AI is immensely improved from what I saw on All-Pro difficulty. The CPU was throwing the deep ball, breaking off big runs, and mixing up the play calling. Going up against that for the first time caught me off guard and I ended up paying the price. Surely there will be weaknesses found but I was impressed with the way the CPU attacked in some situations but played it safe in others such as a draw on 3rd and long.

When “Fight for the Fumble” was first discussed there was a great deal of trepidation from the community as well as myself. However in my time playing the game I only saw this trigger once. Because of that it had much more impact than if it happened every game or multiple times a game. The occurance was in the Seahawks-Redskins video when Patrick Kerney took down Jason Campbell with a very impactful hit. With the ball loose there were two Redskins right by it and one Seahawk who was positioned farther out. The Skins had the advantage and rightfully retained possession. The main problem from the sequence was that the Seahawks players celebrated as if they had come away with it.

When playing the game even the little touches like the Seahawks players lime green gloves and accented shoes really stood out. In a way I felt a sense of pride seeing those things represented in the game. If I had closer attachment with a baseball team I suspect I would feel the same way since The Show nails many of the smaller details of baseball along the same lines. So it’s definitely appreciated that Madden is starting to work these things in and realize how much NFL fans appreciate them. Another example is the QB signature styles. The first time I saw Jay Cutler in the game I immediately recognized him because of his stance and throwing motion.

In that environment, with a non-stop flow of people around and multiple games going on in the vicinity, it is not possible to get a good feel for the audio. While some commentary has come across I am most curious as to the crowd noise. Being a Seahawks fan crowd noise and home field advantage have always been a big part of the NFL experience. So the game lacking in both areas has always bothered me. While unfortunately it doesn’t appear there is any sort of HFA built-in there is hope that the crowd will be more active and responsive to plays on the field. We’ll just need clean captured gameplay to find out if that is the case.

I got flagged for a late hit which I didn’t know was even in Madden 10 until it happened. I attempted a hit stick right near the sideline and while I didn’t connect completely it was enough to illicit the flag. The ball carrier had just crossed out of bounds. I don’t think you’ll be seeing any late hits other than the borderline ones like that. Seems like a good compromise considering the NFL didn’t want them in at all.

It may have just been me but the run blocking seemed to be the weakest aspect of the game. While I was able to break off some really nice runs, I was also stopped in the backfield more than felt should be normal. I consider myself to be a stronger runner than passer in Madden but I really found myself opting to pass far more because of this. The CPU didn’t seem to have the same issue going against me though as shown by how Portis tore me up.

I did note to Ian that players catching passes as they fall to the ground are not aggressive about getting back up or scratching forward for more yards. They just seem to lay there or roll around a bit until someone comes by to touch them. The ground catches only happened a couple of times but in those cases they had the ability to pick up extra yards had they tried but the animation wouldn’t allow for it.

Of course there were some oddities that would generally would come along with a build still in development. In a minor error I noticed instances when the home team and score was listed above the road team and score. For whatever reason that stood out and irked me each time I saw it. I got sacked once before I could even hand the ball off on a dive play. That in particular really bothers me when it happens. I didn’t see any of the sideline catches, in fact I had players making the catch but not attempting to get the second foot in. With under two minutes left in the half I had a coaches challenge and it showed the coach in a cut scene throwing the red flag. Cool scene but it should have been a booth review. Also there were some broken cameras such as showing the QB sitting on the bench on the sidelines but with the camera positioned directly behind the bench. All things considered they were pretty minor especially knowing they are still working the bugs out at this stage of development.

Obviously I’m incredibly excited about Online Franchise. I was able to talk to various members of the Madden 10 team in order to find out more about the mode. After how much I got caught up in Online Dynasty in NCAA Football 09, when I never have traditionally been a dynasty player, I know this could have similar impact for Madden.

The number of user controlled teams can be 1-32. So you can even run an online dynasty on your own if you wanted to take advantage of the web or mobile functions. Owners can be added or dropped at anytime with the CPU controlling any other teams. I did ask whether a user could control more than one team but the answer was uncertain so in all likelihood that is a no.

Many of the features of the traditional franchise mode do transfer over to Online Franchise. Injuries and player progression should be handled the same way as offline. Drafts can be completed on the web or the console. The online franchises can go for as long as 10 years.

Unfortunately there are some aspects of Online Franchise such as the weekly recap show that do not carry over to the online side. The importing of an NCAA Football roster will only be available to offline franchises. And player movement is an area of the mode that is not structured so I’ll go into that further.

The biggest issues I discovered will be the lack of contracts and salary cap as well as the lack of trade logic with CPU teams. Those are very complicated areas and they were simply unable to get them implemented in time. This means users will have to come up with their own system to complete those functions. The Madden team is well aware that these are serious downfalls to the mode so while they are attempting to get in some options to make free agency and trading with the CPU possible within franchise.

Essentially that means granting the commissioner power to hand out free agents and approve trades. This way organized and committed franchises could operate their own free agency and trading system out of forums and then have the commish push the transactions through. Certainly this is not ideal but at least makes those things possible.

It is the people who randomly join franchises that seem likely to either encounter a negative experience or EA will have to offer the option to turn it into a quasi season or league by locking player movement outside of user to user trades. Unlike Online Dynasty in NCAA Football which requires an invite there will be the ability to join random Online Franchises in Madden. Given this news I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better to have them be solely invite based like NCAA.

On a positive note Online Franchise is being run server side rather than from the discs. That means there can be fixes, updates, and additions even after release of the game. Those things wouldn’t have to go through the normal patching process either because of it.

Despite the couple drawbacks they really got in a lot more than most people would’ve expected in just the one year. As we are seeing, Online Franchise has elements to it that make it more complicated than NCAA’s Online Dynasty. Hopefully they’ll provide the support they are saying is possible up to and through release to make the mode as good as it can be in this first year.

Overall it would be difficult to come away from playtime with Madden 10 and not be impressed. How well it holds up over time is obviously a question that can’t be answered at this point. However the presentation and gameplay improvements feel completely fresh and the potential of Online Franchise means Madden 10 is set up to be one of the best sports games of the year. Check back on Monday when I’ll be sharing some team and player ratings!

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