Madden’s franchise mode notes earlier this summer were a bit…light. This caused franchise mode players to, once again, feel slighted. They turned their disappointment to social media and rallied around the #FixMaddenFranchise hashtag. When you read any of the stuff on Twitter or any of the posts on the message boards here, one thing is clear. A lot of the things we want in franchise mode are old Madden franchise features we want back in franchise mode.
Some of these old things have yet to appear in this console generation (and now won’t ever make it since the generation is coming to a close). But some of these old Madden franchise mode features didn’t even make it to the previous console generation. In fact, most of the things we want back are from the PlayStation 2/original Xbox era. (To be clear, it’s not like folks just want old stuff back. DeuceDouglas has outlined a very extensive re-imagining of Madden franchise mode that incorporates plenty of new and old elements.)
Anyway, as folks made pleas for people to skip their Madden purchases this year, I dusted off my PS2 a few weeks ago to see if I’d be fine playing a 15-year-old Madden 06 for the next year or two. I looked at some of the features in and out of franchise that we often recall from a bygone Madden era. It turns out some of these features weren’t all our nostalgia made them out to be.
One of the first things I did in Madden 06, both 15 years ago and two months ago, was to try to rebrand a team. My feelings were mixed. When I first got this game in 2005, I planned to rebrand the Bengals as a blue and white team (I have no idea why). I thought I’d be able to just take the Bengals uniforms in the game and make them blue. That was a mistake on my part.
In terms of uniforms, what we had was as disappointing to me then as it is now. You were left with four uniform designs: Broncos-style side panel stripes, Texans-style shoulder stripes, Titans-style shoulder stripes, and no stripes at all. The number fonts were equally scarce: standard block, and the fonts for the Bears, Broncos, Eagles and Titans. There were some options for sleeve cuff stripes that were virtually invisible.
As disappointing as the minimal options in Madden 06 were, it’s still somehow better than what we have now. When we relocate, we have three pre-designed options for uniforms, some of which are obviously in templates of real teams in the game. We’re not even able to just update a team’s uniforms without relocating.
Logos were on par with what you’d expect 15 years ago: the same group that appeared in all the EA games at that time. We also got some classic NFL logos, with each team’s current logo available, but at an angle and with a glare.
Now we have 15 preset cities, with three team names and logos to choose from. It’s less than what we had two console generations ago, but it makes sense from a pre-recorded audio perspective to be able to have the announcers say the full team name at once.
The best part of the old relocation process was customizing your stadium. It was, by far, the most fleshed-out part of the experience. When people recall the relocation part of the PS2 era, the stadium aspect is usually the part that includes an exclamation point. I think this eventually climaxed in Madden 10 or Madden 12 in the PS3/Xbox 360 era.
In the current Madden, you’re stuck with five generic stadium options, which means you’re pretty much able to move only five teams or you risk some the of shine wearing off of the relocation feature.
Coaching Staff/Players retiring
Personally, this is the feature I miss the most. When I went looking through the coaching staffs of every team and available personnel, I found the next crop of real-life great coaches. I also found the up and coming coaches who either never panned out as head coaches or just never got their opportunity. But overall, I saw an entire generation of the league’s coaches, either one season or 12 seasons before everyday football fans knew who these guys were. That adds to the longevity of the mode.
In current Madden, we’re stuck with every head coach only (sans Belichick), with a few fake coaches in the free agent pool. By the end of year one of franchise mode, you have to put your realism blinders on.
Perhaps a bridge to fully implemented coaching staffs could be the return of players retiring and becoming coaches. Players retiring and immediately becoming head coaches is something that happens more in baseball and basketball than football, so I’m not sure how well this would work without a full staff.
While it was a nice touch 15 years ago, I felt it could have been tuned better. Most of the players who become coaches in the NFL aren’t the game’s biggest stars from five seasons before. Yet in Madden, we were routinely seeing Brett Favre, Randy Moss and Ray Lewis as the next big coaches.
Holdouts/Restricted Free Agency
Holdouts are something small that may have even been added in the scenario engine, but it added to the reality that you can’t get away with underpaying your best players and them being happy about it. Restricted free agency was also something that was in the game and caused minimal trouble, yet mirrored the realism of the NFL. Both of these things are so small, yet made a difference. It’s still strange why they were ever removed.
Draft Classes From NCAA Football
Custom draft classes are in the game now, and I think it’s a great feature. But there was something about bringing the guys you just played a college season with over to the NFL, not knowing how they’ll be rated or, in some cases, what they’ll even look like.
But something that happened during the PS2 era was that players’ ratings didn’t fluctuate all the much from the college versions. Reggie Bush came into Madden already at a 99. Part of this was the game not scaling the ratings back for imported rookies. But the bigger issue was that a lot of second-string players were rated too high from the jump. Both of these things were later corrected on the next generation of consoles.
Bringing this feature back, while not currently possible, would answer everyone’s prayers for the return of a college football game. The ideal version of this involves the pro and college games working in tandem, allowing you to play both seasons simultaneously while scouting players who may or may not declare for the draft. But I’m not a video game developer so I imagine that’s very difficult.
Radio Show & Newspapers
The Tony Bruno Show on Madden 06 was one of the most franchise-immersive features of that generation, and maybe ever since. It was a snapshot of a specific moment from each week and had interviews during the offseason and preseason.
The good news after listening to the old show after all this time is that the audio didn’t sound as awkward as the Inside the Show segments from MLB The Show. The bad news is there often wasn’t much information in there, which might’ve been the only downside. That, and the fact that three players seemed to achieve career milestones every week.
The radio show format has been used in MLB The Show, but it can be hit or miss (pun intended!). I thought it was done very well in the last FIFA World Cup game from EA with the Men in Blazers hosts. Madden went more of a visual route in the PS3/Xbox 360 era with The Extra Point. And we all remember the ESPN/Chris Berman weekly recaps from NFL 2K5.
I know it’s sacrilegious to criticize the NFL 2K5 highlight show, so I’ll be brief. My issue is that it was visual so it had to be your main focus. Don’t get me wrong, seeing the highlights from around the league was great. But if you’re short on time, it’s nice to have the audio version in the background while you multitask. This is especially handy with there being more and more menu items to take care of within franchise mode.
I didn’t know who Tony Bruno was then, and I honestly still have no idea who he is now. If this show did return, it would likely need a more updated presence behind the mic. It may also need to be rebranded as a “podcast” rather than a radio show. The Good Morning Football crew is already in Face of the Franchise, so maybe they can be used in a podcast form.
Also part of the Madden 06 franchise mode was the local and national newspapers. They helped create storylines for your team and it felt like you were part of an entire football world. A good portion of Madden players have likely never read a newspaper, so this may need to be updated to a website — perhaps even partner with The Athletic or another similar site.
Right now, Madden uses a Twitter feed feature that a few other games use as well. It’s pretty much a combination of the radio show and the newspapers. There’s just not a lot of information in there to make it worthwhile.
I really enjoyed Superstar mode despite being a franchise-only guy up to that point. Connected Franchise (as a player), Longshot, QB1, and Face of the Franchise are all extensions of this mode. While the Madden 06 version had a series of text-based interactions, we’ve now evolved into a heavier dose of cutscenes. I think this is an improvement, but much like NBA 2K’s MyCareer mode, it seems you play your journey to the league, and then it morphs into a standard career mode. The pre-NFL stuff is fun, but it’s an interesting choice for an NFL game. Superstar mode seemed to keep it going well into your career, with things like sponsorships and movie roles.
Much like the importing of NCAA Football draft classes, my issue with this mode involves another game. You were able to import your “Legend” from NCAA Football 06, but you had to buy into time travel. If you played through your career in NCAA Football 06, players like Matt Leinart, Vince Young and Reggie Bush existed in your freshman year. Once you graduated, you were drafted into the NFL while the people who graduated when you were a freshman were still in college? And then later ceased to exist?
Face of the Franchise will have to deal with this same thing this year. In your first available college season, you’ll play in the College Football Playoff. You’ll then have to option to return to school to play another season before declaring for the draft. Look, I’m not qualified to teach you all about string theory and space-time curvatures, but you’re either jumping a year ahead of time in this mode or jumping a year back based on this concept.
I’m glad that Face of the Franchise is giving us two years to play college football, but I’m interested to see how they approach the years shown in the CFP. It’d also be nice to see Jalen Hurts playing quarterback if you were to play Oklahoma, for example.
I may have been a bit harsh about how average some of these features were. I’ll admit to that. This game was from 2005. If these features stayed in the game, they’d have been expanded and improved upon over time. This article was an exercise in seeing if, 15 years later, I could comfortably go back to the old Madden and pick up right where I left off. And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.
It made me realize that 15 years ago Madden cared about franchise mode, and they tried. They had parts of the mode that some might view as minor things, but those things enhanced the experience. There were also little things about the mode that made you question if they were implemented correctly. But it wasn’t just the mode itself that made us want to play it. It was the feeling the game’s developers cared about it enough to make it great. And that’s the feature we want back the most.