At EA’s recent community event, I was able to sit down with Madden developer Ian Cummings and get a very early hands on with Madden 11. With the tagline "Simpler," "Deeper" and "Quicker" being emphasized, I was able to take a look at some of this year's gameplay improvements that the Madden team feels will elevate Madden 11 to the next level.
When I first sat down with Ian, I was introduced to Madden’s locomotion engine. Much like NCAA Football 11’s movement mechanics, Madden’s locomotion engine promises to provide much more realistic player movement and acceleration on the field. On offense, the right stick now controls a player's upper torso, giving players unprecedented control over a ball carrier's ability to shed and avoid tacklers.
The most surprising addition to Madden 11’s gameplay is actually a subtraction: the removal of a turbo button (off by defaut, can be turned on). Taking a cue from EA’s successful NHL franchise, Madden 11 no longer requires players to spam a turbo button in a desperate attempt to create offensive separation or track down an elusive player on defense. Instead, player speed and acceleration are completely tied to ratings.
While I was a bit surprised when Ian let me in on the removal of the turbo button (again, this is off by default and can be turned back on) once I got my hands on the game, I immediately felt the difference. The best way I can sum up my gameplay experience with Madden 11 is that the game feels very organic in the way it moves. In other words, the days of choppy animation transitions and stop/starts on a dime that were in previous versions of the game should be minimized this year -- replaced now by an an overall feel that sim fans everywhere should enjoy.
During our time together, Ian also informed me that a lot of research had been completed that determined how many plays gamers had been calling in an average game, which was also coupled with some insight from John Madden himself. After these findings, the development team decided to completely overhaul the way plays are called.
The result is what is known as the "GameFlow," a streamlined game-planning option that will allow a virtual coordinator to call in a play for your team via headset based on a number of offensive variables that the game calculates. Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions and immediately writes this feature off as a way to make Madden 11 more "noob" friendly, please note that the feature can be ignored at any point during the game with a simple button press that takes you back to the traditional play calling menu.
As a veteran of the series, I was a bit worried that GameFlow would be something that I would not utilize -- I typically avoid the "Ask Madden" types of plays in my football games. However, after getting some hands-on time with the feature, and grilling Ian on it, I am absolutely hooked because of the depth that its simplicity provides.
First off, you can completely customize what plays end up in the GameFlow playbook, and you can change plays on a game by game basis. You can even rate your plays via a five-star system (like on iTunes) so that you can easily find them on the fly when customizing a GameFlow. I can already see myself putting together different game plans for online and offline franchise mode, which would add an NFL Head Coach-like layer of strategy to the game that has been sorely missing since the removal of the create-a-play feature.
Secondly, GameFlow makes you feel more like a real head coach. As many of you already know, it is a rarity for a head coach to actually call plays while in a game. Clicking over to the GameFlow button, and then listening to my offensive/defensive coordinators call out specific plays based on game situations is undeniably cool. What is even better is executing plays to perfection -- something that is undeniably rewarding. I can see the GameFlow feature being big among coach-mode fans, especially if you take advantage of the playbook customization in between games.
Finally, as advertised, GameFlow dramatically increases the tempo at which the game is played. In a day and age where the "core" Madden gamer is getting older and has more non-gaming responsibilities, it is very refreshing to be able to complete an entire game of Madden in roughly 30 minutes. I was able to play an entire half utilizing GameFlow in approximately 15 minutes, and it did not feel like I had been cheated out of a gameplay or play calling opportunity either. Instead, I felt like I was an actual NFL head coach who had a laminated page of plays in hand. Yes, I know I come off sounding a bit lame by writing that, but as a huge fan of the NFL, it is a feeling I have never had before in a football game.
New Line Interaction
Similar to the NCAA series, shoddy line play and interaction has been something that has plagued the Madden series for years. However, the new locomotion engine has gone a long way towards improving what some considered "broken" line play in past iterations of the series.
Since players now have to plant before moving, suction blocking and lackluster AI seem to have at least been minimized when it comes to the offensive and defensive lines. During my limited amount of time playing the game, I was able to get solid pressure on the QB when it made sense. In addition, the CPU also pressured me if I attempted to hold the ball for too long in the pocket.
Outside of the new GameFlow feature, I was able to see some of the improvements EA has made to the presentation in Madden 11. While Ian was feverishly button pressing through some of the more secretive options (more on those in future Madden blogs), I was able to catch some team-specific introductions (example: Drew Brees' pregame "speech"), and even cuts to players preparing for the game in the locker room. On the field, you will see new cut scenes between plays that look more natural than those in the past, and new animations for sideline catches, big hits and mid-air collisions.
Graphically, the game looks to be largely unchanged from Madden 10. Player models, stadium lighting and the turf look like they received minimum upgrades at most. It is worth noting, however, that the build of the game I played was very early in development. In other words, many of the aesthetic details most likely will be improved by the time the game releases.
As a side note, the kicking meter has also been completely redone. It now more closely resembles the putting meter from the Tiger Woods games. Ian explained to me that this change was the best way to differentiate kicker ability in the game because the old meter would not allow the developers to create the differences that truly exist in the NFL. The meter feels great to use, but since I was only able to use one kicker during my time with the game, I was unable to feel any difference in how the meter reacted.
It is very difficult to pass any judgments on Madden 11 at this early stage in the game. But, what I can say is that the locomotion engine and GameFlow additions have the potential to fix some of the nagging issues from Madden 10. Since both elements already work very well at this early stage in the game's development, I am very excited to see what the final product looks like come August.
Look for more hands-on previews from OS as E3 approaches, and as always, stay tuned for the most up to date Madden 11 media and information.
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