EA Play 2018 happened this past weekend in Hollywood and I was fortunate enough to sit down with Ben Haumiller, one of the many hard working producers for Madden NFL 19. We covered a wide range of topics and got deep into the nuts and bolts of what we can expect to see from Madden NFL 19.
Operation Sports: Take me inside the decision to bring Madden 19 to the PC after such a long time away.
Ben Haumiller: We want to get it in front of more gamers, more players, and especially people who love Madden but maybe aren’t console gamers. This can get them back into playing Madden on PC, and visually you’ve got the ability to really make the game look amazing because you don’t have to compress assets.
You can really open up how great it can actually look on that ultra widescreen monitor. You can see the receivers that are out wide without going into Coach cam. It really frames the game in a way that makes it look amazing. We don’t view it as “oh we just made a port of our console game.” It’s 1 to 1 with everything that we’ve got on the core console version. You also have things like keyboard and mouse control so that if you’re not playing with traditional controller, you still have full fidelity to do things so that your mouse will work — like a virtual left stick so you have all your player motion there and it’s actually really intuitive. It actually feels like you’ve got full sense of your player while you’re trying to move them around with that thumbstick and then use the keyboard to do different things like passing, or jukes and spins.
When it comes to Madden Ultimate Team on the PC, how have you prepared for the inevitable attempts to potentially introduce cheats or exploits that could have real monetary consequences?
Ben Haumiller: It is our first year back on the PC, but FIFA also has a very deep Ultimate Team mode and has been on PC for a long time now, so we can learn a lot from what they’ve done to try to protect their economy, protect their game, and make sure those sorts of exploits, and hacks and cheats aren’t there. It’s never a hundred percent, and someone is going to find something — there’s no way to fully control that. So really it’s just how can we best prepare ourselves and also identify if something does happen how quickly can we get it cleaned up.
I think looking at all the other EA titles that’s the beauty of us, and the power of EA. Every other game on PC is going through that as well, and they’re not trade secrets to the point that they’re not willing to share with us. We’re all one big team, so they have come to us and said if you’re back on PC and you’re doing Ultimate Team here are all the things you need to put in place so that you’re protected.
Longshot was a mode that received mixed reviews. It’s back again this year but won’t carry over previous save states. Why was the decision made to do this, and the homecoming theme aside, why is Wade on the Cowboys despite them having a young superstar QB in Dak Prescott?
Ben Haumiller: The Longshot story was really interesting for us last year in that it was our first time doing the story mode experience. Instead of telling a Kurt Warner-style story where he comes from nowhere and leads his team to the Super Bowl, we wanted to look at the other side. What’s the story of the fringe player who’s trying to make the league? We felt that was an interesting take on being a sports-genre story because we knew that we were the last AAA sports title to go with a story mode. We wanted to do something a little bit different and kind of buck the trend from what had been happening in other sports games. I think for certain fans of the game it hit home while for others it didn’t quite hit the mark on what they were looking for from it.
We took a lot of that feedback back, and the number one thing people wanted was they wanted to play more. “More games, more games, more games. Story is great but I want to play a game.” So you’ll see a lot more of Devin now in the NFL playing games, and the Colt storyline has a lot more gameplay as well because you play as both Devin and Colt this year. Wade is still a fringe player so he’s not coming in to take over Dak Prescott’s job. He’s still fighting for a spot on the practice squad, so for us the homecoming ties into the larger story that has always centered around the state of Texas. So it felt like putting Wade on the Cowboys to start the year fit in with that.
Initially, we wanted to have it where how you ended your story in Longshot 1 would carry over into Longshot 2, but there were technical challenges and hurdles we couldn’t overcome that made us have to move away from that. If we’re going to break the reality of not having people picking up from where they left off last season, what are we going to do to make this story the best it can be and make the most sense? For us, it was to use the Cowboys name and still have him be that guy who’s trying to make a roster.
So it’s not that he’s come off of this reality show and he’s setting the world on fire, and he’s now the number one quarterback in Dallas. That’s not the story we wanted to tell. We want to keep this in the reality of the world where he’s still trying to figure out how to be a quarterback He didn’t just get it handed to him because of the experience in season one.
So does the time gap from Wade at the draft to training camp in year two happen because of those technical limitations regarding save carryover?
Ben Haumiller: Right. Season one ends on draft day and that season has already happened, so when Longshot 2 picks up you’re in training camp. So to bridge that time, we kind of do a quick thing to catch you up to what happens in the interim and now you’re back on the Cowboys practice squad to try to make the team.
Last year, after completing Longshot we were rewarded with some MUT cards that tied into Longshot, and in franchise mode Wade and Colt would be defaulted to when creating a certain type of QB and WR respectively. Are there plans to further integrate them into MUT and, perhaps, more tangibly into franchise mode?
Ben Haumiller: It’s actually much more seamless this year, so when you get to the end of Longshot 2 you’ll have the chance to continue Colt’s storyline in Ultimate Team or continue Devin’s storyline in franchise mode. In franchise, if you choose to continue Devin’s storyline you pick up right where the story ends, and you can continue on the rest of your career as Devin in a franchise. It’s all right there. You don’t have to go through and create a late-round quarterback who is mobile and that’s the only way you can get Wade.
Continuing Wade in franchise mode makes his playstyle based on the choices that you made throughout Longshot 2. So maybe you’ll have him come in as more of a Cam Newton-style player or maybe it’s more of a Tom Brady. You’ll be able to make that choice along the way as you make it through the story.
With all of the new gameplay mechanics like Real Player Motion, tackling, and the new Cover 4 Match and Palm, how do you balance between the different playstyles? And will there be a more distinct difference between them this year?
Ben Haumiller: That’s always an interesting thing for us. How do we satisfy everyone who wants to play this game? We see this all the time in places like the OS forums where all the time you’ll have a situation where one guy is feeling strongly about something, and then someone else comes right behind him and says the exact opposite — and he feels just as passionately about that.
For us, it’s how do we provide that balance? How do you find things that we can build that satisfy both sides. Playstyles are one way where we can put things that are tuned a certain way for competitive style — and the same goes for Simulation or Arcade. How you want to play the game is something we’ve worked on so that the game will play a little bit more to your style or preference than previously.
When we look into building features, you have to build it with the core of what’s true to football first. Then you go from there and say, “Okay you got the core piece in, now how do we have this for the competitive guy? What is the difference between that and how does the Simulation guy want this to play out?” Clint [Oldenberg], our lead gameplay designer, is always going to try to figure out how to build these things out the right way so we can satisfy all three playstyles because we can’t build it for just one. You’ve got to build it so that everybody can enjoy it in the way they want to play it.
For the new schemes in franchise mode, are they merely a new means of progressing players or will there be a tangible on-field effect for being as close to a perfect scheme fit as possible?
Ben Haumiller: So we’ve had schemes in the game for a few years now but they never truly had an effect on everything you were doing, so we took the opportunity to make schemes truly matter for you. But also the overall progression system along the way matters, and we have that feed into one larger feature of this game with progression. With the progression this year, you’re no longer upgrading individual ratings one at a time. You’re now choosing between four different archetypes per position group for how you want to improve your player.
You’re not locking him in to just one type of player like “Deshaun Watson’s always going to be this type of quarterback.” Another example is Jimmy Garoppolo: How do you want him to develop over the course of his career? Our way of looking at quarterbacks is you have four different styles that are in the game. We’re looking at a Scrambler, a Field General, a West Coast and a Strong Arm. So how do you want to progress him along the way, and how is Garoppolo going to fit with what the 49ers are trying to do? What is Kyle Shanahan trying to do there? Is he trying to change his scheme to fit the players he has, or is he going to have to find the players that fit his scheme and what’s that look like along the way. You might need to change schemes in between weeks and it will adjust how players progress throughout the season.
For each player that comes in, being a scheme fit will give a plus to their weekly XP that will effect how they progress. The true benefit of having a scheme fit is, for example, free agency. Say you were going to sign one of two players that you need, a free safety at 75 overall and one that is 80 overall. The traditional Madden logic is you’re going to choose the 80 overall every time. It was an overall game. Now with scheme fits, that 75 overall that fits your scheme will progress faster than the 80, and has much better potential to end up a better player overall because he fits what your scheme is for your team. So now you have the concept of “okay do I need to win right now with the 80, or can I do a little longer play with a 75 and eventually make him better?”
So there’s no actual thing where having a hundred percent scheme fit will give your players plus-five attributes across the board, but rather because your players are progressing faster in the archetype that fits your scheme [you’ll see bigger gains in the long run]. So if you’re building your team around a particular scheme, those players — based on their ratings — are going to be best at running the plays that you want to run in game. And our play-call logic and the AI have been improved so that they’re going to call the plays that make the most sense based on what the team is schemed to do.
So it has a secondary use in that your scheme guys will be better on the field, but that’s because they’re progressing faster and also they are better suited to run things — like more agile linemen being better on a stretch run than the big mauler. It really changes how fast you can move players up, and it gives you a reason other than just overall to figure out why you should want to sign a certain guy to your team versus another guy.
Can you tell me how the new regression system works? Having been in 32-user leagues, a player like Antonio Brown would be released after a couple of years because once he reached a certain age, his speed would drop far and fast. How has this been addressed?
Ben Haumiller: A lot of work went into regression and, actually, into player generation too because there are two sides of the coin there. Because of those scheme fits and those archetypes, we had to re-create how we create every draft prospect because you want to have a nice balance of guys that are at each position. At quarterback, for example, you don’t want to have a league that was all Strong Arm guys seven years down the line because the random roll of how guys are created ended up being all Strong Arms coming into the league. We want to have a nice balance between different archetypes at every position.
So then you have to think about the regression side of things, and the progression as well, so that you know when a guy hits a certain age, yeah his speed is not going to go up anymore but it doesn’t automatically mean he’s hit that wall. So a player [isn’t automatically] going to be like Felix Jones that came out of the combine running like a 4.3 40 and then three or four years later he’s at that veteran combine running a 4.6. He hit a wall really early and guys are going to be different. Some guys are going to prolong their careers like an Adrian Peterson-type guy who seems to just keep going and going forever — or looking at Tom Brady now or Drew Brees, guys like that who are getting up there in years but are continuing to excel at an older age.
We’ll still have guys like that in the game that are rarities in the league that will do that. But you also want regression to happen naturally, so you are able to use your scheme fit upgrades to try to fight some of the effects of aging over time because of the different type of archetypes.
Any change to relocation cities and uniforms? Can we pick a different team name if we relocate to Vegas?
Ben Haumiller: No changes to relocation or any of those fictitious uniforms. We do have all of the new authentic uniforms coming in. We work with the NFL very closely and they tell us what can or can’t be in the game, and in regards to choosing Vegas nicknames they wanted us to just leave it as it is until the Raiders are actually there.
Tell me about the return of Custom Draft Classes.
Ben Haumiller: With the edit draft class, you can edit everything about any player that you want to. This is the last piece of the sandbox that we haven’t given players the ability to do anything with. When you think about franchise, you can edit every player on every roster. What we were seeing guys doing is they would draft their players, and then they’d edit them after the draft. That’s a horrible way of having to go about things so we wanted to fix that. Now you can go in and start your franchise, and start with an auto-generated class and edit as much or as little as you want to. You can go in and just change the top guy’s name to whatever you want it to be and that’s it. Or you can edit every single thing about all 450 players in that class, including their development trait so then you can decide who you want to be stars or superstars.
You can also change the draft order as well. How (players) show up when you’re looking at the scouting screen so you can have those guys that are hidden gems in the later rounds. You get to craft how those guys appear so that when you’re scouting there are some nice surprises and it’s not just the best player is projected number one overall. You can then utilize Madden Share, so Operation Sports, who do a great job in their forums of creating different draft classes for other games, can now create those classes and share them with the other community members. You can do your own edits if you want or wait for someone else to do one that you like and then download it.
So player editing is in the game still? There was some question after one of the screenshots showed OBJ and we couldn’t see the option for it where it used to be.
Ben Haumiller: Yes, player editing is still in the game. The reason why you don’t see it in that screenshot is because we brought back the ability to choose your team captains this year. So when you add something to the list, something else has to slide down and it happened to be edit player. I love how quickly that was pointed out; it shows the fanaticism towards the game that we love, and the thing about the Madden community is that they notice these things. They didn’t comment on how Odell looked, it was “What happened to edit player?” It’s great and to answer your question, edit player is still there but you just have to scroll down to see it.
What can you tell me about the team captains? Does it affect gameplay?
Ben Haumiller: You have the ability to set up to six captains per team. They are set authentically by default, but you can change them to whomever you want. Teams that don’t have captains or captain patches won’t have them in the game. Certain teams don’t wear them or wear them for the playoffs only so we respect those rules, but you can go in and set it to whatever you want to. On the field, the six captains will have a star icon underneath them so you can identify who the team captains are [on both teams]. So when you’re in year six or year seven down the line and you don’t know who all the players on the Texans are by name anymore, you can still quickly see who a captain is since he’s probably one of their best players.
Captains are a cosmetic thing this year, though. We were happy that we were able to get the different types of captain’s badges because we used to have only the single version, but now you’ll see as a player progresses he will get that second or third star, even the gold star patch. So that will update as long as he is a continual captain for his team. But as far as having some sort of impact, it was in the plans but we ran out of time to get that in the game this year — but it’s something that we are thinking about and evaluating.
We’re interested to see what kinds of upgrades we could potentially have for a player becoming a captain, and how we would want that to impact the rest of the players. Does it impact just him? There’s a lot of thought still going on about it, and I know that now that this feature is out there I’m sure there will plenty of threads about “this is what we want to see captains badges do.” We love reading those threads to help us be able to have an idea of what people want. We can have ideas, but if it’s not what people want then what good are they? It’s always important to read what everyone is doing and thinking so that we can make the best decision possible.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask since it’s on the wish list every year. Will there be changes to the presentation in franchise? Specifically with regards to a pregame, halftime or postgame highlight show?
Ben Haumiller: You know, being in the industry as long as I have, I was around and playing those games just like anyone else, and there were some really great things they were doing at the time. We already have our version of a pregame; it’s short since we’re about getting you onto the field as quickly as possible. We do have a different halftime show for franchise this year that I’m sure we’ll be talking about — I’m not sure I can talk about that in detail yet — but not much of a postgame show.
We’re not quite there yet to be able to have a fully immersive watching highlights type thing. If you think about how that feature set worked back in the day with NFL 2K5, they were just pre-canned animations with uniform swaps from a certain point of view. You couldn’t see the stadiums or anything else like that, and it was amazing for the time but it’s also well past that time, so for us we have to figure out how how are we going to do video highlights of games that were never truly played. We also have to make a highlight from that unplayed game that we can show in a video that isn’t like the old pre-canned animation as well because those pre-canned animations wouldn’t hold up in 2018 — so we have a lot of technical hurdles to climb to make that the right way.
It’s not that we’re oblivious to the fact that everyone wants that — we know — it’s just a matter of technically how do we get there to where we’re generating a replay from a game that never actually happened. Once we have that tech — and I don’t know when we’re going to have it, we’ve been talking about it for quite a while now and it’s a tough one to crack — you’re going to be able to see things like that become a lot more attainable and really build that immersion.
You could probably do that in an online 32-man league easier for sure. Those highlights are being generated by the games actually being played. It’s a more achievable and faster thing to be able to accomplish for that, but we have to look at what’s the broad thing that’s best for everyone. The guy who’s playing in a one-man league shouldn’t be missing out on something great because we took a shortcut and built something that only works in a 32-man league — that all goes into how we’re going to build these things out. I’m not going to say it’s something we’re on a definitive path to working on now, but it’s definitely something we want to it’s just a matter of being able to technically achieve it.