Madden ’13 Review/Why EA isn’t like Apple

Mario Williams Buffalo Bills

Choke Slam, Matt Cassel!

I’ve been playing Madden ’13 for nearly a month now, and the bottom line is: I enjoy playing the game.  Buffalo Bills football hasn’t been more exciting, gameplay is unpredictable, and let’s face it, it’s the only NFL licensed football video game on the market. (much to my chagrin, I’ll get to that later.) My last reference point was Madden 10 with Polamalu and Fitzgerald on the cover, so a lot has changed, but not really.

Lets start with the new physics engine.  PC games like Half Life 2 and Counter Strike introduced the Source game engine in 2004, bringing real life physics concepts to the digital gaming world.  Madden 13 implements a new “Infinity Engine” (no word from BioWare on legal action), boasting incredible physical randomness, countless animations, and real-life body reactions to contact.  Welp, it’s a step in the right direction. It’s rewarding to jump over a downed lineman to prevent tripping, and the hits can be absolutely explosive.  Still, the laws of physics apparently also include every quarterback running the same way, Rex Ryan looking like Jabba the Hutt, and Chan Gailey having a 70 year old head on a 17 year old sprinter’s body.

I like RPG’s, so the Connected Careers mode, which replaced Franchise mode, was pretty neat at first.  Lots of XP can be earned for on-field performance, you can scout rookies, run through team scenarios, resign during the year, and earn legacy points towards the Hall of Fame.  But most of this can be handled automatically, and I usually just play the games to try and win the SB.

One thing I’m very impressed with is the demand for accuracy and good decision making in the passing game.  In my favorite football game of all time, ESPN NFL 2K5, if you threw an errant ball 20 yards down the field in double coverage, it was GUARANTEED to be intercepted.  (Brunell to Gardner on September 27, 2004 was reDONKulous, and he’s also a great guy) Madden 13 is much the same, except that LB’s can all jump as high as Jerome Simpson on weed to pick off passes.

I’m a huge fan of updated rosters, and thank heavens EA made sure these were up to date.  (In fact, my dream job is to be the one who calculates increases/decreases in player ratings, shuffling rosters, trading players, practice squad signings, and push out updates to the millions of eager NFL fans.) But MY GOD, the roster position limits are still and place, and are as infuriating as ever.  There is a better way to do this: set the limits by overall position, not individual postions, e.g. linebacker limits vs. RLB, MLB, LLB, individual limits. Auto-sub settings apply to the entire group of offense linemen, why don’t roster limits?  This severely hampers my manual roster updates when I don’t buy Madden for the next 2 editions.  (wait, that’s probably why they implemented this in the first place)

In the project management triangle, you can pick two of the following: Fast, Great, Cheap.  EA Sports must churn out another sim every year, so Fast is a must.  EA is a massive company with lots of income from their $60/unit products, so I presume that being Cheap is a problem they don’t have.  So why is the game only so-so every year, instead of being Great? Three simple words can account for this:

Attention. To. Detail.

I don’t have an iPhone, I have a near-impossible to break Samsung Convoy 2 flip phone.  However, I read and follow enough technology blog/opinion/news pieces that I feel I have a pretty good idea why Apple is the most valuable and popular company in the world right now.  Why do iPhone users love their devices? Is it because of the now nearly 4″ screen, improved color quality/saturation, and innovative new features like iOS6 turn-by-turn Siri-driven directions?  Possibly, but then you could argue that Madden users “should” love the game because of the amazing new HD widescreen support, lighting features/motion blur, and the new physics engine, and by golly those are good features, but they don’t make their respective products great.  What makes them great is the attention to detail. iPhone’s are amazing because they take care of the little things before enhancing the public specs.  It should go without saying that Apple goes above and beyond with attention to detail.  So where is Madden lacking?  Here are a few ideas which would significantly improve the game:

  • Authentic Quarterback voices.  I hear a bit of modulation in Madden 13 between quarterbacks of different ethnicity, but that’s pretty embarrassing.  Romo, Rodgers, Brady, Brees, Vick, etc. have pretty identifiable voices, would it be so hard to ask them to repeat “Red 18” a few times in a microphone?
  • Life-like coaches.  (see above Chan Gailey comment) Coach close-ups before the game have flapping lips. LITERALLY.  When a coach runs off the field at the end of the game, they look like pre-pubescent Manute Bols.  Have some pride in yourselves if you’re going to show the coaches, otherwise, leave them off the screen.
  • Accurate officiating AI.  Does this sound familiar? “Holding. Offense. Repeat 1st down”, accompanied with a box of details displaying player number, image, and accept/decline choices.  Would it hurt to put a little personality in the refs?  You have all the data, how about a “Pass Interference on #25 of the defense. Ball will be placed at the spot of the foul, automatic 1st Down!” and some god damn hand signals?!?!!?
  • Practice Squad slots as additional roster slots. God damn I love that Naaman Roosevelt, but there wasn’t any space for him on the active roster after team cuts (gotta keep Marcus Easley riding bench).  Would it be so hard to create 8 additional slots to “call-up” guys when someone goes down for the season?

My last, and probably most important point is a simple environmental condition that Apple must deal with, while EA does not: Competition.  Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, RIM (just kidding), all want a piece of the consumer, and struggle to catch up with Apple, forcing those companies and Apple itself to innovate and push the limit of magnificent products.  NFL wise? To me, everything started and ended with our old friend ESPN NFL 2K5.

ESPN NFL 2k5

NFL 2K5. G.O.A.T.

Arguably the greatest football video game of all time, 2K5 shattered presentation, AI, and gameplay expectations and was so confident that it had a better product than EA that it sold discs for $19.95.  This was unheard of in the $50/new game era.  Madden was so shocked and rattled at 2K5 incredible success, guess what they did? No, they didn’t challenge themselves to work harder, improve on the standard, lower their prices, and compete.  They bought exclusive licensing rights to the NFL, locking out 2K Sports from the most popular sports game genre and re-upping the cost of football gaming to $60 bucks (conveniently, rights from 2014 on is still unaccounted for). Now if I could compare any game company to Apple, it would be 2K Sports in a heartbeat.  NBA 2K11 shocked me with its attention to detail.  Every unique free throw form was in the game.  Every. Single. One.  2K blew EA out of the water in its basketball sim so badly, EA didn’t even make a game that year. (Update: NBA LIVE 13 just got cancelled, making it twice in 3 years that EA doesn’t produce an NBA sim.)

Competition is good to drive innovation and force those who ain’t good enough to adapt or perish.  When you don’t have that, you get the monstrosity of ineptitude that is the Madden franchise.  I surely hope that the exclusive rights are not signed again, and 2K gets the opportunity to return glory to football gaming.  In the meantime, I’m reserving my copy soon.

About: Esteban

Esteban is the Editor in Chief of RantingEsteban.com. Check out his page on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @RantingEsteban, or send him an email.

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