Although EA has exclusivity deal with the NFL, which runs through 2012, the entire Madden football franchise doesn't just stay on top by being the only product out there. Year after year, the game designers strive to create the best football game they can create, and this year, with Madden NFL 12, they've really pumped the franchise mode with features that the users have been asking for. In some cases, those changes have been years in the making, and had to wait on the technology to catch up in order to put it in the game.
For instance, this year the game will feature 75 players per team, something that just hasn't been possible before. They've only added an enormous change by putting in dynamic player performance into the franchises, meaning that each week a player's rating will be different than the week before. If a player has a bad week, he might go on a cold streak, or they could perform better than usual, and suddenly go on a hot streak. It's meant to simulate those unknown game factors that happen both on and off the field each week, and Madden senior designer Josh Looman says, "I think this is going to completely change how every game feels in franchise mode."
Additonal upgrades include an entire overhaul of the Free Agent system. If you're a hardcore Madden player who enjoys a realistic, deep football simulation, then you're probably familiar with the old free agent system. In the past, I found it to be a tedious, boring process that frequently got frustrating, and I would eventually just drop out and jump back into adjusting my roster and playing the game. The whole process could take upwards of 15 minutes to complete, which is a real slog on a console. With Madden NFL 12, they've changed this to an "eBay inspired" mechanic where teams jump in and and drop out of the bidding process as they try to nab particular players, and each player has a timer associated with them.
Supposedly, they've honed this entire process down to about three minutes, which is a very welcome change. "We wanted to make these features a lot less tedious," according to Looman "We wanted to make sure that you get through everything quickly and get into the next year as soon as possible." This philosophy goes hand in hand with last year's "Gameflow" system from Madden NFL 11 that sped up play selecting and gameplay and should be a welcome addition.
The rookie scouting system has also been updated, as the system that was in place over the last few games had been designed four years ago. They wanted to make the scouting feel more challenging and less time-consuming. Now you don't know what a player's ratings are before you scout them, and you have to actually assign days to them and scout them in order to unlock their ratings, and those ratings are particular to the type of event that you're scouting: combine, pro days, individual days, and so on. If you fully scout a player by the time the individual workouts come up, you'll know their ratings, potential, tendencies, and traits. You'll want to scout often and draft consistent players to take real advantage of these changes.
Another feature that fans have been wanting to return is Player Roles, which have been requested since the last generation of consoles. The last version of the game to have this was Madden NFL 07 on the original Xbox and the PS2. It doesn't require a lot of input from the user, but according to Looman it "Lends an RPG element to the Franchise mode. I've had people asking for this on Facebook or Twitter every week, and that's been going on for the past three years or so. It seemed like a natural to bring back." This feature adds one of 20 different roles to players, most of them are positive like "QB of the Future" or "Mentor," although there are some negatives like "Fumble Prone" and "Underachiever."
Looman loves all of the enormous changes they've made to the franchise system, but when it comes down to team and player logic, "I'm such a nerd that this is my favorite feature. I really fought hard to get that in the game this year. That was one of the places that we weren't capturing the real spirit of the NFL." Now the teams in the franchises will act more logically throughout the season, and it goes player by player so that teams will now make more intelligent choices. They won't sign a QB to a seven year deal and leave him on the roster even if he starts to underperform. Now the evaluation process in the offseason will result in more cuts and changes. This should also help vitalize the revamped free agent system.
Other changes involve the ability to change teams before the offseason starts, and you can even control all 32 teams if you want, so you can be that "NFL Overlord" that you've always wanted to be. Future draft picks will give you the ability to trade away your current or next year's draft picks to save up for a particular player you want to grab in the draft. They've also fixed the injured reserve (and upped the injury chances in franchise mode), and players that are hurt for the season will now be placed on the IR automatically, opening up a slot on your roster. Brand new salary systems, player portraits for rookies, the ability to edit ratings, and the chance to jump into practices at any time in the franchise mode without having to export teams out.
But they haven't just been thinking about Madden NFL 12. Looman said that by the time the game ships in August, they will have already been working on Madden NFL 13 for about four to five months. Things have to be great to get in the game, and as they hone the title each year, things eventually fall by the wayside. But even before the title hits the shelves, those designers are picking up those pieces and trying to decide if they'll make it into the next version. "I know that I have a long list of things that I'd love to get into Madden 13," Looman said, "And I can't wait to start getting that stuff into the game."
While the chances seem incresasingly likely that we'll have an NFL season that will be affected by the lockout this year, and personally, if there wasn't a full season of football to watch, I'd just play it out inside Madden. But Looman said that "It's kind of business as usual for us. We know we're going to work through this stuff, and they'll come to an agreement eventually. We only have nine months to make the game, so we have to focus our efforts on that. I've been following it like any other fan, but it really hasn't affected our job. We jusy try to make the best possible game." Hopefully, they've done that, and while EA may continue to have the NFL locked up in the game world, they definitely aren't just resting on their laurels.
Madden NFL 12 will be out on August 30, 2011.