Building a better “Madden”Shawn Drotar

Posted on August 18th, 2008 in Gaming, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Opinion by Shawn Drotar

madden.jpg For the first time since the Xbox 360 debuted, a “next-gen” console’s version of Madden is finally up to snuff with the series’ past greatness from its PlayStation 2 heyday. But it’s not perfect - no game is.

Certainly, more patches are forthcoming, but online issues and AI quirks still frustrate many Madden gamers. Based on my time with the game, there are a few reasonable changes that I believe could be made that would make the game better and fit within the current development cycle - which is always the real catch.

Madden is still the 800-pound gorilla of gaming, and as such, Electronic Arts isn’t going to fix what isn’t broken, so a complete revamp of the game won’t be happening any time soon. Thankfully, based on what’s been seen in Madden 09, it’s no longer necessary, either. But a tweak here and there would work wonders. Here are some of mine:

  • The AI needs to be better aware of down and distance. On third-and-eight, AI-controlled teams shouldn’t be calling five-yard out routes, despite what Broncos coach Mike Shanahan does. Moreover, players need to fight for that first down, taking big hits instead of veering out of bounds. As it stands, AI-controlled players don’t seem to recognize when a failure to reach that yard marker ends their possession - and they should.
  • Offensive linemen who let their man blow right by them quickly end up looking for a new team in the real NFL. More than any other part of the game, offensive line play needs the most TLC. Counter plays are almost never effective, and in the running game, you can all but expect one or two of your linemen to completely botch their assignments on every play. Blitzes are a different animal, to be sure, but line play’s still not working the way it should. On the flip side, while it’s been improved, the linemen are far too good at holding blocks for a scrambling quarterback. This means that the best play in Madden is still to scramble outside the pocket and play backyard toss-and-catch. Colts QB Peyton Manning, in the real NFL, might do that only a handful of plays during the entire season - and his coach would probably prefer that it never happened. If EA were to improve the offensive line play, they’d be improving the whole game in equal measure.
  • Online, online, online. Disconnects and lag are far too frequent, and Madden’s online leagues are still embarrassingly far behind what 2K Sports put up an entire console generation ago. With the man who launched the Xbox at the helm of EA Sports, Peter Moore, there’s leadership that knows the value of online play. That leadership needs to translate into action.
  • It’s a nitpick, but uniforms shouldn’t ever be inaccurate in the only licensed NFL game available. If the NFL isn’t being forthcoming, then EA needs to push for updated data. The NFL makes millions from apparel sales, including licensed jerseys, and it behooves them to help EA get the teams in the game looking like the teams do in stadiums across America. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld once noted, being a pro sports fan essentially means you’re cheering for laundry; so make sure you’ve got the right stuff in your wardrobe.
  • While we’re on the subject, the NFL has hard-and-fast rules regarding jersey numbers, and it shouldn’t be hard at all to make sure they’re implemented in Madden. Watching rookies in Franchise Mode mill around the field with illegal jersey numbers gets annoying after one season; after multiples, half the league is wrong. It should relatively easy to assign a jersey number to an NCAA Football player imported into the game that complies with the NFL rules based on position instead of leaving them wearing their old college number. Upon being assigned to a team, the player gets assigned a number that complies with the rules that isn’t taken by an existing player. It’s a simple data check. Since gamers can edit those jerseys if they like, it hampers no one, and to those who just wish to play, it’s easier to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in a fictional football world when the players appear to be following the rules.

I’m sure you, the reader, have many of your own suggestions, so please feel free to discuss mine - or add your own - in the Comments section below. I’ll take the best of the bunch and forward them to the Madden team.

3 Responses to 'Building a better “Madden”'

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  1. DaveDQ said,

    on August 18th, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I enjoy this year’s Madden. It’s a very fun/challenging game for me; however, the issue with online disconnects is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly.

    The online communities, that anticipate the arrival of such games, and already have a good idea of what to expect, these people have been very patient with this next-generation’s list of sports gaming titles. From performance issues, to online functionality, these games may often look pretty, but underneath, they are broken and unworthy of the cost charged for purchase.

    Two games I have enjoyed this year, MLB 2K8 and Madden 09, both suffer from issues that leave me frustrated. Online is the majority of my gaming time, and in both cases, the games are broken.

  2. Craig said,

    on August 21st, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    Shawn, about the uni’s. I was talking to one of the Madden producers at E3 and apparently they ditched the service they were using for the uni’s and did it themselves by going to the teams websites and using other methods to get their uni’s down…apparently.

  3. Shawn Drotar said,

    on August 22nd, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Craig -
    Really? Well, that didn’t work, either.
    Perhaps it would be better to ask their billion-dollar license partner for the info and get the real deals, eh?

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