Feature Article
Six Ways to Make Madden More of a Simulation

Many football fans purchase Madden year after year with the lofty hopes that the game will mirror the actual sport they love as closely as possible. And while the folks at EA continue to take strides in the right direction in terms of making this dream a reality, there are still a number of areas in which improvements are needed if the game is ever going to measure up to what we see on the field on Sundays (and Mondays and Thursdays and every other day of the week NFL games are now held).

Line Play

Considering Madden has seen the defense attacking the offensive line with power moves and finesse moves for some time now, the novelty of this engine is definitely starting to wear off at this point and is in serious need of some fine tuning. The fact is that not only does this all-or-nothing proposition not really mimic the way it looks and feels when D-linemen try to burst through the line, it also isn’t really all that much fun.

What’s needed here then is a little more nuance. All you can do now is spam either the power or finesse button, and either it works or it doesn’t. But in real life, every battle in the trenches is an ongoing grudge match that’s not quite as cut and dry as Madden makes it out to be. What would make these interactions much more dynamic is perhaps a combination of buttons (or even a twisting the right analog stick perhaps for a spin move) that must be quickly performed in order to get through a block. These could be more or less difficult based on the skills of the players involved (or whether a double team is in place), and result in partial or full success in accordance with whether or not the combos were performed to completion.

Booth Reviews

Let’s face it: booth reviews are broken and have been broken for some time. Even if you do notice a play where the refs have ruled incorrectly on something like a completed pass on the sidelines or the spot of a ball and you feel like it’s a challenge you might be able to win, it’s pretty much a waste of a timeout to throw the challenge flag because the game can’t seem to recognize when a mistake has been made and change the ruling on the field. And even on the off chance that you do win a challenge, you may still find that the game can't recognize that the challenge was won and so the game just reverts back to the original call anyway.

While it would obviously be great if EA could figure out a way to make booth reviews accurately assess whether or not the original call was correct, it may be time we give up any hope of this aspect of the game ever being entirely acceptable and start turning these rulings over to the people.

I mean if these challenges are a mess anyway, let's get crazy! How great would it be if it were possible to take these challenged plays and have them decided by interested viewers on a dedicated Twitch page or somewhere within Madden itself? Sure, there are obviously technical hurdles to get over in order to make this happen, and yes, there are then almost certain to be trolls committed to making sure the call is never made correctly, but it would definitely add a new measure of excitement and uncertainty to every challenged play for both players and viewers alike.

Ball Physics

It must be said that EA seems to work every year on making the physics of the ball, especially when contacted by players, feel more realistic. But unfortunately, it still doesn’t appear as if they have nailed this important component of the game. This is particularly apparent on plays where your receiver has the ball batted out of his hands by a defender, as the ball will then often skyrocket into the air on a trajectory that’s as unpredictable as it is unrealistic. This often leads to more interceptions or a ball bouncing awkwardly off different players, and while these types of plays do happen in games in real life, they occur far more in Madden than you would see in the NFL.

Unfortunately, it’s not as if there’s any quick fix to an issue as complex as this. You would hope that as EA concentrates on replicating the movements of individual players through motion capture and the physics of how a tackler moving full speed in one direction impacts a ball carrier running in another, they would also put in the same kind of effort into accurately tracking how a football moves when its flight is interrupted by hands deflecting it or yanking it away from a would-be receiver. Furthermore, it would be nice to start seeing more balls that are bobbled by receivers before they gain full possession.

Flats Awareness

Every year in Madden we watch in horror as throws into the flat become an increasingly frustrating game of beating the clock. You try to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as quick as possible or risk having a receiver’s momentum carry him out of bounds after the catch. Of course, this can be avoided if you can hold off long enough for the receiver to stop along the sideline where he will patiently wait for the ball to be thrown to him, but it shouldn’t have to be this way. It’s pretty rare that you would ever see a receiver in the NFL catch a ball and then just lumber his way out of bounds without trying to turn it up-field and try to gain more yards, especially when a crucial first down may be at stake.

It should be entirely possible to have the game’s controls be responsive enough that a receiver can turn to look for more yards as soon as he has caught the ball. In fact, you’d think the game could be programmed to have receivers in the flat instinctively know how close they are to the sidelines and make it easier to have them slow their momentum and pivot up-field to pick up that first down. This becomes an even more important gameplay adjustment when considering how effective and frequently used Cover 3 is in Madden 17, which often leaves the defense vulnerable in the flat. However, they aren’t quite as vulnerable as they would be if users weren't able to rely on the receivers’ momentum carrying them out of bounds on their own and making it possible for the defense to get a stop without even really doing anything.


Fumbles are a part of football, and though they are often beyond your own control and just need to be accepted as a regular occurrence if the game is going to be true to life, it would be nice to see fumbles pursued and recovered by players in a manner that in any way resembled reality. While most fumbles in the NFL tend to lead to a clean scoop by a defensive player or a pile-up where it’s hard to determine who actually recovered the ball first, the ones in Madden are more likely to end in a bunch of incompetent players making a half-hearted attempt to pick up the ball, only to then lie down right beside it and have it picked up by someone else (eventually). It shouldn’t even matter that it’s a lineman trying to pick up the ball -- these are professional football players who have better ball skills than that.

Embracing The Unpredictable

Some things in football are simply out of your control, as mistakes happen and emotions will often get the best of players. This is why if Madden hopes to emulate life on the gridiron, there need to be events that go beyond anything for which you could have possibly planned (like questionable game management by a head coach, or Julian Edelman and Julio Jones being freaks). Some of this is already apparent with every rare holding or facemask penalty that gets called, but this should really only be the tip of the iceberg.

Since there’s an increased emphasis in football these days on blows to the head, it might be nice to see defensive backs flagged for head-hunting a wide receiver or a defensive lineman penalized for hitting a quarterback in the head. And while we’re on the subject, there aren’t nearly enough concussion injuries in the game to mimic what’s happening on a regular basis in real football. Or, what if players were assigned some sort of Short Fuse rating that could lead to them melting down in the middle of the game and getting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the midst of a crucial drive?

If we really wanted the game to be supremely realistic, we might even want to include the occasional bad or fumbled snap that could happen at any moment to throw a wrench into your plans. Remember how Russell Wilson had his foot stepped on by one of his offensive lineman in the playoffs this year, resulting in an unfortunate safety when he tumbled backwards into his own end zone? Let’s put that in the game too and really strive for realism.

Granted, these last couple ideas may be a little too much reality for some players that don’t like having things happen that can’t be traced back to something they did on their own, but they are important to consider when asking ourselves just how much of a simulation we are really looking for in our sports video games.

Member Comments
# 1 ssimpsons3 @ 02/13/17 09:23 AM
Only thing that will make me buy 18 is if the bring back Team Play Online.

Best thing to roll with 3 friends, play single positions, and work together. Blocking for a HB never felt so fun.
# 2 KingV2k3 @ 02/13/17 09:49 AM
How 'bout a smarter CPU opponent?

Everything from roster usage / draft logic / cut & keeps / playcalling / in game logic / general AWR could use a "once over" to make the CPU as competitive as possible...in ALL phases on AND off the field...

Getting better, but has a ways to go, IMHO...
# 3 Rhouston @ 02/13/17 09:57 AM
Can someone clarify to me why the booth call in the video was incorrect? Is it because it should have been reversed as an incomplete pass? It if was in fact a completed pass, the booth call of calling him down was correct, as the knee hit the ground before the ball came out. But yeah, it probably should have been called "incomplete".
# 4 woodjer @ 02/13/17 10:01 AM
I vote for just getting rid of instant replay altogether in Madden. If it's broken and can't recognize what the game is showing graphically, all it really does is create bad calls for the sake of justifying its inclusion. Sure, it's in the real NFL but I can't imagine that too many people (simheads, included) would look at sports games and complain that there aren't enough bad calls. Just my 2c...
# 5 Geodude @ 02/13/17 10:32 AM
I believe concussions aren't in the game at all, never mind "there aren't enough". There has been some discussion around here whether they were left out amid the concussion problem in the NFL at the moment. Defenceless receiver hits and bad QB blows to the head likely will never happen too (same as player suspensions). There is even a conspiracy that tackles were toned down (sound wise at least) this year.

But yes, agree with a lot of those points, especially O-Line play. Progressive injuries with specific locations etc would also go a long way.
# 6 Charvalos @ 02/13/17 10:44 AM
I agree with all your points but you forgot something important to make Madden more realistic / more simulation : QB Accuracy.
# 7 DeuceDouglas @ 02/13/17 11:24 AM
Line Play
This is the first thing I'll be looking at with the move to Frostbite. If line play still greatly resembles the same stuff then it's going to be a huge disappointment. With the way Clint talks about what it would take doesn't instill much confidence in me that it's coming any time soon but we shall see.

The booth review video is one of those where you have to think about the other side and the problems it could cause. The worst issues I've seen with reviews are those which is shown where the WR catches and as soon the receiver has two feet down it's ruled a catch so what the review is basing it off is actually correct, the rule in the game isn't representing the huge gray area of what constitutes a catch.

Embracing The Unpredictable
Agree with this but with the emphasis on MUT and eSports I just don't see it happening. Like with what he mentioned about Russell Wilson getting stepped on falls into the same category as the fumbled snaps and QB inaccuracy where the competitive side will just simply never embrace it which I think makes it highly unlikely we'll see it implemented. If we do end up getting a Sim vs. Comp settings separation then those things should definitely be things that are options provided somewhere down the line.

The main thing with this topic though that I'd add is the canned/scripted events that occur. Most notably the blocked kicks and those animations like the WR/DB one where the ball would get deflected out. It's inorganic and completely destroys immersion in those scenarios. They're things that are great to see for the first time but then once you see them over and over again, just make the game feel stale and elementary.
# 8 vrtkolman @ 02/13/17 12:02 PM
Some other things:

- CPU should use timeouts throughout the game rather than just saving them for the end of halves. If the defensive formation they are against is a direct counter to their play (or vice versa), have them call a timeout and regroup.

- The no huddle/hurry up offense seems pretty robotic in general. Why is it the wide receivers can run 20+ yards back to their spot and not even hear what the play is from their QB and still run a perfect route? It should take longer to have the QB communicate the play to his players.

- Route running should matter. Everything is done on a perfect line. Players with low route running should make mistakes like cutting to the inside too soon (or late). They should be programmed to say "I need to go to spot X on the field, but how I get there is up in the air". All of this would screw up timing and cause incompletions.
# 9 madmax25 @ 02/13/17 12:36 PM
In terms of embracing the unpredictable, I completely agree. Would love to see (with regard to these "big decisions") drafts where a team drafts a player prone to injuries that never plays a down due to health issues. I understand why the shield doesn't want character issues infiltrating the game, it makes them look bad, but drafting character issues should come with a penalty. Players should rarely, but at times still, retire abruptly, due to injuries.
# 10 mtmetcalfe @ 02/13/17 12:53 PM
QB play, injuries and opponent AI are glaring omissions on this list.
Quarterback is arguably the most important position in all of sports. The fact that all QBs, young or old, accurate or inaccurate, operate the same really hurt the game. I feel there is much work needed in this area.
Franchise is as much about team building/managing as any thing else. On top of ratings needing to be respected, injuries have a very prominent role in football. Off the ball injuries, lingering injuries, and injuries that have pennant effect should be in the game.
# 11 bxphenom7 @ 02/13/17 12:56 PM
Essentially the same areas we've been asking for large improvement in for years...
# 12 baconbits11 @ 02/13/17 01:58 PM
Originally Posted by woodjer
I vote for just getting rid of instant replay altogether in Madden. If it's broken and can't recognize what the game is showing graphically, all it really does is create bad calls for the sake of justifying its inclusion. Sure, it's in the real NFL but I can't imagine that too many people (simheads, included) would look at sports games and complain that there aren't enough bad calls. Just my 2c...

Great article, but I disagree with getting rid of challenges, this is a huge part of the NFL now. What should be done is get it FIXED! I hate to say this, but if the last competitor can get it right, with choices of what should be challenged and the game get it right more often than not (I don't hear anyone complaining much about what that game did with challenges), it can be done!
# 13 Chiryder85 @ 02/13/17 02:25 PM
Originally Posted by Rhouston
Can someone clarify to me why the booth call in the video was incorrect? Is it because it should have been reversed as an incomplete pass? It if was in fact a completed pass, the booth call of calling him down was correct, as the knee hit the ground before the ball came out. But yeah, it probably should have been called "incomplete".
Yes. It should have been incomplete. He didn't make a football move or tuck the ball away (could be poor animation)
# 14 CM Hooe @ 02/13/17 02:45 PM
I think my biggest sticking point is CPU roster management during game day.

Right now, how a team CPU deploys a player is dependent solely on the playbook, and in rare cases some baked package substitutions (the Cardinals' defensive playbook is a good example, that defaults to the FS1 Nickel package sub in the Nickel 2-4-5 set). This leaves CPU teams feeling very rigid in franchise mode in particular. Sticking with the same example, if the Cardinals lose Tyrann Mathieu to injury or free agency, they'd presumably not put the replacement free safety in the slot. Another example, in my current franchise, the Giants drafted two talented halfbacks, one a bruiser and one a shifty receiver type. Unfortunately, the receiver type is RB2 and never plays (because RB1 is a good pass blocker, he's also the 3DRB), so the CPU kneecaps itself whenever I play them. That shouldn't happen.

I'd like to see teams more actively move personnel around on game-day to keep me thinking. Have teams with great MCV cornerbacks move their shut-down guy around to play best-on-best. Have teams with multi-dimensional halfbacks (such as the Cardinals with David Johnson or the Steelers with LeVeon Bell) motion those guys out of the backfield, or even line them up in the slot. Have teams with multiple talented halfbacks rotate those guys in and out of the game situationally rather than solely based on fatigue - the Patriots with James White, LeGarette Blount, Brandon Bolden, and Dion Lewis come to mind. Have teams with gadget players put in those players only to run concepts based on those gadget plays - the Cowboys with Lucky Whitehead on slot-jet-sweep plays and concepts that build off that, for example.

Most importantly, have the CPU make all of these personnel decisions dynamically. Don't bake in that the Cowboys always use WR5 on 11 personnel running plays, don't bake in that the Patriots bring in RB2 in short-yardage, etc. Rather, make it so the CPU can intelligently look at its roster and make the same decisions I make with my roster as to give it the best chance to win.
# 15 tril @ 02/13/17 03:54 PM
booth reviews, or challenges could work. it worked in the other developers title. use that model.

line play - to make it more dynamic, maybe we should be given an option as to how the individuals on a d line and the o line will pass rush an opponent, or protect a certain opponent. make it part of the game plan. make fatigue more of factor. you cant keep pass rushing with the same guy with a swim or finesse move all game without his skill level dropping. make it more tactile. same fro line blocking. maybe the left tackle keeps getting beat by an elite pass rusher, maybe double teaming should be more of an emphasis. as of right now its not.

give the option to make all catches and interceptions manual all the time. the better the receiver the wider the window for a manual catch. put an elite defender on him or double team him the window gets smaller.
same set up for the defender.

maybe bring back some form of the passing cone. make passing all analog. just pressing a corresponding button to a receiver is dated. use the back breaker model for the passing game.

running game and after the catch. it should be imperative that the user must cover the ball when going through holes, especially with less skilled runners. cover the ball should be user controlled, if they dont cover the ball and they get gang tackled etc it should be a fumble. especially if teh defender is going for a strip on the tackle.

the way to make madden more organic, is to have every aspect of the game being more user controlled.
# 16 Americas Team @ 02/13/17 04:23 PM
Pass rushing/blocking and player movement will be the first thing im looking for in Madden 18. If pass rushing/blocking isnt overhauled back of box material its an automatic no buy for me.

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G925A using Operation Sports mobile app
# 17 Toupal @ 02/13/17 05:00 PM
One more to add to the list:

Defenders with a sixth sense for when a QB scrambles, or when a pass is completed.

For example:
If Chris Hogan is taking his corner down the field on a fly route, and the defender has his back turned to the QB trying to keep up with Hogan, as soon as the QB scrambles, or completes the pass, the CB covering Hogan instantly knows when to turn around, and where to run to.
# 18 roadman @ 02/13/17 05:45 PM
Separating the MUT/DC folks vs sim nation is missing on the list too.

Both developers are at least talking about it.

We need OL/DL injuries, snaps over the head, the QB's that scramble, scramble, the list goes on and on.
# 19 Toastandtoaster @ 02/13/17 07:13 PM
Not everything needs to be done all at one time. Start out with oversnapped balls out of shotgun formations. Simple 1 percent chance each snap. Adjust with patches as year goes. Simple animation that keeps players on its toes. Second, add botched handoffs. Again, simple very low chance animation/event trigger. In reality, probably not a big deal if they get hrown in or not being that no matter what they say or claim to do, it will always be an arcade gameplay first with sim style on the back burner. But if realism would be attempted, I would start with these ideas. They happen to all teams and more often then not turn out to just be loss of yards and down and some inconvenience. Although being mad each time it happens in the moment sucks, after a few seconds I would be glad that after 20 years of playing Madden, I would actually see the random events that happen on sunday, in game.
# 20 fballturkey @ 02/13/17 10:08 PM
CPU teams NEED to reevaluate need after every draft pick and and after every trade. It's way too easy right now to game the AI by trading them multiple guys at the same position during the same week, and it looks ridiculous when team drafts 4 SS's.

« Previous123Next »

Post A Comment
Only OS members can post comments
Please login or register to post a comment.