Editors Note: Andy McKenzie was a designer of the Backbreaker video game series. In this series he is writing, Andy is going to break down the Madden NFL Design and the implementation of features from a game developers perspective and to see exactly where Madden succeeds and where it doesn't. This should be an interesting series to say the least.
This is the first piece in a series that examines the finer points of the Madden NFL experience. Throughout the series I'm going to talk about Gameplay, Franchise Mode, Superstar Mode and Online Franchise.
But first, let's take a wider look at the current direction of the Madden series.
The first thing you have to identify when analysing a video game is this: “What is the Core Experience the developers are trying to deliver?” Since the inception of John Madden Football back in 1984, Madden himself has stubbornly protected the Core Experience of the series: A realistic representation of NFL Football.
EA wants to deliver the complete NFL experience from the beginning of a television broadcast, all the way down to the field. This statement is quite literally echoed with Madden 12’s tag line: TRUE TO THE GAME.
To look a little deeper, you have to change the way you think of conventional video games. Traditionally, you’d hear a game announcement about this new sweet FPS “with a twist” and maybe get a few details and the expected release date. Then maybe you’d follow the development cycle by reading whatever articles or previews you could find, to try and find out more about the game. Then you’d have to sit tight and wait for the demo/game to drop.
With most modern sports franchises the number one goal of the developers never changes, and the Madden NFL series is no different. There is no room for speculation as to what Madden is seeking to deliver, you know that you’re going to get that thrilling NFL experience EA Sports is developing with each version that comes out. The interesting thing about Madden NFL games is how this experience evolves to cater for its audience, and it’s that which keeps us coming back each year.
This brings us on to the next question in our evaluation process: “Who are they making this game for, and why?” That’s an easy one, right? NFL Fans who like to play video games? The simple answer is yes; if you’re an NFL fan and you like to game, you buy Madden and have fun with it.
But EA Sports and the guys at Tiburon have been taking it a step or two further.
Think back to Madden 08. That season, Madden 08 on PC & PS2 is the last version of the old game engine that I played, and I loved it. In my opinion, it was the most feature-complete Madden that we’ve seen to date in terms of core gameplay (I couldn’t live without Online Franchise nowadays though). Now, you could be the most die-hard NFL fan in the world, but if you’re a casual gamer, picking up Madden 08 can be a scary prospect. There is quite a substantial barrier-to-entry in order to succeed and have fun with it. Mr Joe Casual might pick the game up, get their ass kicked by the CPU and never revisit the series ever again, just because they don’t have the gaming savvy to investigate the difficulty setting. It is around this time that EA began streamlining their core experience to consider the casual gamer.
The impact of this was felt immediately with the addition of the “Madden Test” & “Madden IQ”. Upon booting Madden NFL 09 for the first time, you were greeted with John himself in holographic form, ready to put you through your paces in virtual training. Whilst this feature was used to teach new players how to play (and existing players about any new controls), the primary goal of the “Madden Test” was to gauge a players ability.
This is around the time when game developers started to place great value on the information you can gather about a player, and how you can use that information to make their experience better. Fast forward for a moment to 2012 and video games across every platform are gathering data about its players and how they play the game and sending it back to the developers for analysis. Back to Madden 09, and it is from this point in time onwards that we can begin to identify the types of player EA are trying to cater for.
With each subsequent release, you can start to categorize the feature decisions made by EA sports into those that benefit the hardcore Madden fan and those that benefit the new-age Madden fan. A much smaller third category does exist, of stuff they removed for one reason or another.
It’s fair to assume the majority of these decisions will have been made based on analysing player data or community feedback. However the market for Football games around this time will have been a contributing factor as well.
The discontinuation of the NFL Street franchise would suggest that there were thousands of casual football gamers out there without a game to play. Of course, it needs to be said what I mean exactly by “casual football gamer”. The Madden franchise has been around for a long time and generations of people have grown up playing it. But as the franchise has evolved, so has its audience. As you begin to grow up, other things start to take priority. You could keep buying a new Madden game each year but maybe you just don’t have the time to play it the way you used to? Maybe you haven’t kept up with the advances in video games hardware and all of a sudden you aren’t as technically sound as you used to be. Or perhaps you just don’t want to spend so much time strategizing in order to play ball at a high level. These are the people I mean when I say 'casual football gamer'.
Cue EA sports, who began to widen the net and focus on bringing their Core Experience to more and more players, better known as the casual football gamers.
So when you’re talking about a specific version of Madden NFL, you have to look at the goals the developers have set for this version of the game. EA Sports make it quite obvious what they are trying to achieve each year with the hype surrounding their big features, something that a lot of us Madden fans are grateful for. Here’s my breakdown of the back-of-the-box features over recent years, along with which side of the line I think they fall:
As you can see, EA Sports have been using a fairly balanced attack. 2009 & 2010’s versions laid down a great foundation to build on. 2011’s version focused on making that foundation accessible to players that just wanted to enjoy some fast paced NFL Football. Then 2012s version concentrated on adding depth to the experience to cater to the hardcore player.
Does this mean Madden NFL 13 will be another win for the casual fan? Are you on the hardcore or casual side of the spectrum? Please let us know what you think in the comments down below!