For as long as the Madden series has been around, it’s come to the point where “new year, new roster” jokes just aren’t funny anymore. EA has rolled with those jabs and proved its worth with meaningful improvements and results, most notably with the last couple Maddens. So it’s a bit of a surprise that this year my obligatory introductory question of, “So, what’s new?” gave way to me asking, “So, what took you so long to add these features?” During an hour-long demo session with EA’s latest, Madden NFL 12, so much was focused on improvements and overhauls that I wondered where EA found the time to implement all these elements in one game. I suppose that’s what happens with prolonged experience with the current consoles’ dev tools.
We work in television, so we can appreciate the lengths that EA Tiburon has gone to overhaul its camera work for Madden NFL 12. It’s quite a remarkable change; actual cameramen from NFL Films were motion captured so now you can pick up minuscule POV nuances like how the cameraman tries to limit his breathing. Moreover, these experienced shooters expounded on their experience on how specific parts of the game would be shot, things that are filmed with care that the viewer doesn’t (and shouldn’t) notice. Take for example the limited room a cameraman would have to get close to capturing a quarterback warming up. In a videogame, you can go as close as you like. That’s obviously not the case in real life, where there are distance rules you have to follow, and this will be followed in Madden 12. It might sound like a minor change but should speak volumes across an hour-long game.
From the camera switching in the imaginary master control room to the cameras on the ground, there’s now this greater sense of the visuals reacting to the action. Picture a linebacker who gets too close to the camera. In past games, the linebacker would just pass through the camera. Now the camera actually gets out of the way. It’s all for the sake of providing a more natural and organic experience.
Good camerawork can only go so far if the gameplay isn’t there. One gameplay feature EA wanted to highlight were the enhancements made to last year’s GameFlow option. While praised for reducing overall playtime, GameFlow was somewhat criticized for not offering enough flexibility in play selection. Now, you can rate your plays so that Gameflow will recognize your favorite plays more often. Furthermore, you’ll be able to guide the play calling, say if you wanted GameFlow to pick more pass-heavy plays, or run-heavy, balanced, aggressive plays (among others). What I found to be especially intriguing was the long-awaited addition of Custom Playbooks and its integration with GameFlow. Now you can mix and match plays and tweak a team’s existing playbook.
You can also save multiple playbooks, say if you know your best friend’s football methodology inside and out and want to tailor your playbook so you have the best chance against him. You can also have a playbook designed for the single-player season and another well rounded playbook to take on strangers online.
Sometimes the best details in a game are the ones that the consumer can’t put their finger on but will still notice and appreciate during a playthrough. In the case of Madden 12, one standout improvement involves improving the collision animation. This was illustrated to me in a case involving a tackle. In the past, the momentum-based animation would be dictated by how the ball carrier and the initial defender collided, never taking into account the collisions of any other subsequent defenders. In real life, there should at least be some additional motion and momentum coming from those later hits, and Madden 12 looks to offer that sense of realism.
The significance of Madden NFL 12 isn’t so much that it is the series’ 18th installment (not counting the preceding John Madden Football series), it is that EA Tiburon has become an old hand with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 development tools, so much so that 12 looks like one of those special Maddens where Tiburon now has the experience to focus less on updates and more on improvements. Don’t get me wrong, there is a wealth of fine tuned updates as well from better character model proportions to grass details (the kind that gets tossed in the air and stains uniforms) to the updated uniforms. Heck, even the ball has been shrunken to a more accurate size.
As this was just the first of many Madden 12 presentations, EA is going with the “staggered” news approach (the kind that worked well with Marvel Vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds) so you can be sure that we’ll have more news on the game as the release date (August 30) nears.