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Madden NFL 12 Preview

Ed. Note -- This preview will solely focus on presentation. That does not mean I did not play the game already, but because my initial hands-on time was so brief I feel it would not be worthy of speaking about here -- I would more or less be listing off bullet points straight from EA rather than giving you guys actual gameplay impressions. I believe I will be playing the game in a deeper fashion in the very near future, so expect gameplay impressions from OS by next week.

Madden NFL Football has struggled mightily over the years to find a solid presentation foundation. Over the years the presentation elements have been lacking, aimless or just plain bad. And, to some extent, that’s not surprising. EA had the impossible task of trying to live up to ESPN NFL 2K5 in the presentation department -- a game that was at one time the gold standard for the entire sports gaming industry. On top of that, the Madden developers refused to just go the route of mimicking an ESPN-style broadcast after they acquired the ESPN license, which would have been a commendable creative decision had they actually created presentation elements that were lauded.

Nevertheless, here we are now, and all we have seen during this console generation is bland, repetitive, aimless or just plain bad presentation in our NFL football game. However, it seems like EA is finally putting in the time and effort -- and money -- to create an experience that you will want to be a part of, not just because you want to control your favorite team or player, but because you want to be a part of a football experience.


Blueprints

No, that’s not a buzzword, it’s literally what the EA developers gathered to lay the groundwork for the presentation in this year’s game. The developers gathered blueprints from every NFL stadium so they could figure out the various camera placements in each one. As that was just step one, from there the developers actually had to place the cameras in the right spots in the game so they mirrored real life. It doesn’t sound like a big deal at first, but each stadium is unique, which means EA added something like 700 cameras to the game.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can play from 700 different camera angles, but it does mean that when you are playing in Jacksonville, the 50-yard-line cameras there will give off a different look during an in-game camera cut than the 50-yard-line cameras would in Philadelphia. It also means that you might see your head coach from one particular angle when you have a home game, but then on the road the cut to your coach will be from a completely different angle. By tweaking the look and angle of things you see every game, the developers hope that it will help to keep things fresh.

From the sounds of it, this was an immense undertaking, and it’s an addition that truly should be called hardcore. For one thing, it will take a true hometown fan to notice that their actual stadium cameras are in the game. Secondly, this is a feature that will unfortunately probably go unnoticed when it comes to the average fan. Still, it’s commendable and certainly makes me buy into EA’s be “true to the NFL” philosophy that the developers are harping on this year.

Creating an EA Broadcast

The cameras are the brick and mortar of this presentation overhaul, but from there you actually have to make the experience look like something you watch every Sunday. To attack this portion of the project, EA looked to CBS and Troika.

Troika seems to run the world when it comes to creating and assembling the graphics you see on sports broadcasts. They help ESPN and about a million other TV stations when it comes to assembling how stats, scores and every other TV overlay looks during an actual television broadcast. EA developers worked with Troika and received guidance from the company to assemble the graphical packages that show up in their game, and it shows.

The game just looks way more consistent, clean and smooth. To elaborate, everything from the starting lineup screens that flash up on the TV as you first take the field to the scoreboard that runs across the top of the screen to the stat overlays that pop up during the course of a game all fit together like a real life TV package. And the best part about all of this is that I soon realized that what I was watching was not an ESPN broadcast; it wasn’t a CBS broadcast; it was a Madden broadcast.

Beyond the graphics, CBS helped to put the EA developers through a broadcast boot camp of sorts. Some EA developers actually got in a CBS production truck and were shown when certain camera cuts should be made, why they were made and so on. By the end of this teaching lesson, the EA developers were making the proper TV cuts almost in unison with the real-life TV cuts made by the actual professionals.

How the developers seem to be taking what they learned and applying it to the game has to do with some common sense and some predictive logic being programmed into the game. One example of common sense is just the camera cutting to a quick cut scene of the QB talking to his head coach before he comes out for his first set of downs. An example of the predictive logic is something more along the lines of cutting to the blimp cam at the end of a quarter.

Essentially, EA has tried to sequence everything in such a way that you feel like you are a part of a TV broadcast sans the commercials. If you feel like a play was replay-worthy, then more than likely the game should be cutting to that replay from a unique stadium-specific camera angle. Since I have only been exposed to a little slice of this experience, it’s hard to say if every part has been nailed, but the amount of dedication and time that is being poured into this particular element of the game is noteworthy.


First Impressions Are Everything

The pregame sequences in Madden NFL 2011 were a good first step, but this year the team is trying to really go for it. To attack this portion of the game, the developers researched the pregame intros of every team, and they also enlisted the help of the NFL Films crew.

The outcome of the research is the addition of a ton of new introduction sequences. So for the Seahawks there is now a 12th man flag involved during their intro. But the specificity of these intro sequences goes well beyond just key things like that. In Pittsburgh, it means there is no pregame pyro, the team comes out from the corner of the stadium, and Big Ben comes out last as the PA announcer does the player introductions. I have little to no knowledge of what the proper intro sequence is for any NFL team, but EA seems confident that your favorite team will get what’s coming to it in this department.

(As a quick aside, the developers actually added the new wind turbines that will surround the top of the Eagles stadium to Madden NFL 12 -- the turbines won’t actually be completed until September. This an incredibly small detail that I only noticed because I live in Philadelphia, and I only mention it to show you how serious these developers seem to be about nailing small details.)

NFL Films is also incredibly important when it comes to the pregame portion of the game because those guys actually filmed these cut scenes. While I won’t get into all the nitty-gritty details, basically NFL Films workers got into a 3-D space and EA mo-capped them and their cameras as they followed the action that was happening in the video game. I’m sure that’s a little hard to understand, but all you need to know is that it adds an authentic touch to these intro sequences because EA has embraced human imperfections. The NFL Films workers did not know every motion that Michael Vick would do as he came out of the big Eagles helmet, so what that means is that the camera is slightly shaky at times, and Vick is not always perfectly in the middle of the picture.

These imperfections go beyond the pregame sequences as well. A real cameraman can not track a football in the middle of his lens as it soars through the air, so the game will no longer do that either during an in-game replay -- any long-time Madden player should know exactly what I mean with this example.

Graphical Touches

Consider this your mishmash portion of the presentation preview. The thing that most stands out about this game from a graphical standpoint is the improvement to the color palette. Whether it’s the lighting or the fact that the shadows are changing throughout the game, or just a focus on making sure green is actually green, it’s immediately noticeable. If you look at Madden NFL 11, the Eagles jerseys in that game look almost turquoise. This year, the Eagles actually look like they are wearing green jerseys. Of course, cynics would say these things should have been correct in the first place, but hey, at least they seem to be right now.

And much like in NCAA Football 2012, the 3-D grass is lovely. The coolest part about the grass might be the stains though. The developers went the extra mile with their grass-stain technology. So, for example, you can actually see stains on the ridges of a player’s thigh protector, but the stains won’t be within the divot of the thigh protector. The stains all happen in real time as well. In other words, if your offensive lineman gets put on his butt, there is probably going to be a stain there on his left and/or right cheek.

For the equipment junkies out there, you guys should also be happy. There is something like 20 new facemasks in the game. The helmets themselves will also get scuffed up during the course of the game. In addition to that good stuff, there are flak jackets and other assorted pieces of equipment like back plates in the game.

As far as player models go, there has been a focus on trying to make sure players are more proportional this year. One of the focuses is making sure players actually have necks. In the past, it was more shoulders connecting to heads with nothing in between. Beyond that, apparently it can be a real pain to create players that actually continue to stay proportional at various heights. So this year smaller players won’t have tiny heads -- a 5-foot-5 person still has basically the same size head as a 6-foot-5 person in real life. The general idea is just make the players look like humans on a football field.

Finally, I have to mention the actual size of the football. In last year’s game, the football was huge. This year you can immediately tell during the coin-toss sequence that the football is a normal sized piece of pigskin.


Final Thoughts

I did not mention the commentary duo of Collinsworth and Gus Johnson, and that’s for good reason. I simply did not really get to hear them much during the demo event. However, I can at least pass along one note that these two did actually get some time in the booth together, which should help them sync up more this year. I also did mention a halftime/Extra Point show or anything of that sort. This was also intentional. This element was scrapped this year. Considering it was such a joke in the past versions of the game, the developers decided since there was not enough time to do it justice, it would just be taken out completely. It’s obviously not the most popular route to take, but it fits back into their desire to only want to do things right or not at all on the presentation front.

Those ingredients aside, I hope it’s clear that EA is going for it this year on the presentation front. For too long the developers have been negligent parents to their presentational progeny, and now they are trying to make up for all those missed birthdays and Christmases in one year. I want to see more before getting to amped up about what was done -- staying power and avoiding repetition is key here after all -- but either way it’s abundantly clear that this was a major focus in this year’s title.

Look for much more information in the future here at Operation Sports as we approach Madden’s August 30 release date.


*Full disclosure: EA paid for my airfare during my trip to see the game. While it did not influence what I wrote here, OS believes transparency is still key whenever possible.*


Madden NFL 12 Videos
Member Comments
# 1 RGiles36 @ 04/28/11 11:28 AM
Hell yes. Bravo! Great write-up!!
 
# 2 canes21 @ 04/28/11 11:29 AM
Disappointed they scrapped the Extra Point and half time shows, but they were terrible Maybe they are going to surprise us with new, improved shows under different names.

One thing I hope is that when I play the Eagles and Billy Budgenson the rookie from Colorado in 2019 is the QB, he doesn't run out in the pregame in the same exact fashion as Vick.
 
# 3 DavidmOrtiz15 @ 04/28/11 11:30 AM
I hope the duo-commentary works this year, and that they actually discuss topics together instead of being on different topics in every game. Im ready for this game to be released already.
 
# 4 ChaseB @ 04/28/11 11:33 AM
Hey all, just an update that I played essentially three full quarters of a game today while at a Madden event in NY. So I should have some relatively fleshed out gameplay impressions in the near future.
 
# 5 chen_sc @ 04/28/11 11:36 AM
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChaseB
Hey all, just an update that I played essentially three full quarters of a game today while at a Madden event in NY. So I should have some relatively fleshed out gameplay impressions in the near future.
chase are you gonna answer some questions like you did with ncaa 12?
 
# 6 PacMan3000 @ 04/28/11 11:38 AM
This sounds really exciting, though considering the huge amounts of improvements, I didn't get the sense that Chase was really excited about the presentation. It felt more like he was telling us what was changed, rather than giving us his impression of it.

Which is fine, but I'm just wondering if there's a reason for that? Were you impressed with what you saw, especially compared to other games like NBA 2K and The Show regarding strictly presentation?
 
# 7 djordan @ 04/28/11 11:48 AM
Good read. Can't wait to hear your gameplay impressions.
 
# 8 Nab_Impervious_XII @ 04/28/11 11:54 AM
My only fear with EA's design choices in presentation is that they're always so painstakingly focused on one aspect of presentation that they always seem to miss the forest.

The 700+ cameras are a great addition, but like Chase said, a lot of fans won't even notice them.

EA kinda reminds me of the kid who will attempt to memorize every sentence in a textbook (even the index) to pass a test, but due to the limitation of time, they only manage to memorize 12 pages and end up failing the test anyway. Whereas another kid (let's call him 2k or Sony) make better use of their time by focusing on the parts of the book that are immediately applicable to the test and pass with flying colors.

These are great additions, don't get me wrong, but a lot of them seem more "academic" then viscerally impactful.
 
# 9 BleedEaglesGreen @ 04/28/11 12:03 PM
Thanks for the info. Although I'm disappointed that they've scrapped the Halftime show, at least I don't have wait in ravenous anticipation to see if this area is improved this year. (tired of scanning through numerous off camera clips from the E3 Expo lol) Every year the same hope......... please let there be an ESPN/ CBS broadcast half time show...... similar to 2K5 or better but to no avail. I hope there's some sort of broadcast highlight package and commentary at the end of the game or week in season mode. It wouldn't hurt either if there were highlights from other games too. EA you've got NFL exclusivity don't make us suffer! COME ON EA!!!!!!! LOL
 
# 10 BleedEaglesGreen @ 04/28/11 12:06 PM
Chase were there any improvements to the end of game recap?
 
# 11 Mr_Riddick @ 04/28/11 12:07 PM
Good write-up as always Chase. Beganing to have faith again I must say. Looking at the feature list along with this preview, I hope I can finally play an NFL game this year....
 
# 12 ChaseB @ 04/28/11 12:17 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by chen_sc
chase are you gonna answer some questions like you did with ncaa 12?
That's the plan. I'm sitting in Penn Station right now rather than OS HQ, so I won't be doing it right now but later tonight or tomorrow I'll be checking in. Just not offering up open season as of now since I won't be at my computer.

Quote:
Originally Posted by PacMan3000
This sounds really exciting, though considering the huge amounts of improvements, I didn't get the sense that Chase was really excited about the presentation. It felt more like he was telling us what was changed, rather than giving us his impression of it.

Which is fine, but I'm just wondering if there's a reason for that? Were you impressed with what you saw, especially compared to other games like NBA 2K and The Show regarding strictly presentation?
Yeah, I was hoping the tone would come across clearly enough. I was not overly excited if only because I only saw so much in my short time -- so I'm not going to go bananas when there's so much I still haven't seen over an extended period presentation-wise. It doesn't mean I won't be impressed in the long run, and I certainly am impressed already with the pregame stuff before a game and the opening sequence of action. It's just the other elements during/later in the games that could potentially not resonate as much long term. I can probably explain this better when I have more time since I think it's a tricky thing I am trying to explain.
 
# 13 Nab_Impervious_XII @ 04/28/11 12:24 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by MJenness
It sounds to me that it was removed completely.
Yea, that's a shame. I really think EA kinda overcomplicated the whole "Extra Point" thing too. We didn't need to see Fran Charles & Alex Flanagan during the broadcast. Just give us their voice overs and hire a compelling play-by-play commentator like Berman, and you have an amazing show.

Unfortunately, it seems like another case of EA being too diligent with the details and eventually discouraging themselves from breaking new boundaries in presentation.
 
# 14 ch46647 @ 04/28/11 12:25 PM
Chase, next time you play please pay attention to the "stadium atmosphere." What I mean by this is are the crowds finally dynamic? Are there ebs and swells in the crowd that sound like a real NFL stadium? Do they react to appropriate situations on the field?

I personally feel one of the bigger dissapointments as far as presentation goes in recent Madden's has been the crowd noise. It almost puts you to sleep with the same repetitive crowd sound cycling over and over....
 
# 15 cgalligan @ 04/28/11 12:27 PM
The additions look nice. Great visuals.

I agree with NAB that they might have focused on a few things that most people wont notice, but, I can't fault them for trying.

One thing that I hope they add in the future, is a halftime show and postgame "player of the game" clip like they have in NBA 2k11. Those are pretty slick in that game. I like how it has a little commercial talking about some other upcoming games around the league between quarters as well.

Along those same lines, it would be nice to see a "today" feature like NBA 2k11, where the commentary and everything changes based on what game your playing. For example I played a game on Easter, and it said, "welcome to this specail easter sunday matchup between..." just little things like that really add to the presentation of the game imo.

But, again, I'm excited about the things I'm seeing a reading so far. Lets just hope everything "works" as well as they look in the screenshots...
 
# 16 spfalla @ 04/28/11 12:41 PM
I think "most people" are the casuals who just buy the game to play Madden. I have a feeling these little presentations enhancements may have the feel of The Show. Where its just the little things here and there that make you think, damn that's just like when I watch it on tv. I think OSer's will notice them.
 
# 17 extremeskins04 @ 04/28/11 12:45 PM
Great write-up Chase as usual. Very informative and exciting stuff! Thank you for doing this.
 
# 18 CM Hooe @ 04/28/11 12:47 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by MJenness
It sounds to me that it was removed completely.
Not sure if anything has been said about end-of-game stuff changing; it has been specifically stated that the Extra Point halftime show has been removed.

Which, frankly, it was rather poorly-done in retrospect, so if they take a year off from that to go back to the drawing board I don't blame them.
 
# 19 mrmass413 @ 04/28/11 12:48 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by ch46647
Chase, next time you play please pay attention to the "stadium atmosphere." What I mean by this is are the crowds finally dynamic? Are there ebs and swells in the crowd that sound like a real NFL stadium? Do they react to appropriate situations on the field?

I personally feel one of the bigger dissapointments as far as presentation goes in recent Madden's has been the crowd noise. It almost puts you to sleep with the same repetitive crowd sound cycling over and over....
i second that
 
# 20 kackle85 @ 04/28/11 12:49 PM
I know you said you werent covering game play but can you just give us a thumbs up or thumbs down at least?......the anticipation is killing me!
 

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