The sun rises each day, the leaves fall in the autumn, and Madden NFL Football comes out every August. It's one of those simple truths of the universe, and something American Football fans look forward to every year. Whether you're an annual buyer, or skip a year or two here and there, if you've watched or played football, chances are you've also played some Madden. With this year's edition, Madden NFL '13 on the way, EA Sports held a special announcement event in Times Square in NYC Wednesday afternoon, giving press an exclusive first hands-on with the game and announcing the newest cover athlete for the series. Calvin "Megatron" Johnson of the Detroit Lions won the online vote on ESPN.com, all but guaranteeing the Detroit Lions follow up their solid season with a tremendous fall from grace. Forgoing the "Madden curse" for the moment, let's talk about the game. Amidst crowds, an ESPN set for the live reveal, and tourists trying to find out what the heck was going on, EA set up several consoles in a building overlooking the setup so press could see what makes Madden 13 a new game, and not "just another Madden." After a year of big innovation in the 2010-2011 season, Madden 12 seemed to have less changes. To counter any possibility of stagnancy, EA staffed up for this year's edition, almost doubling the team working on it.
"That was brought on with our new manager Ken Weber, he wants the core gameplay to be linked to what actually happens in a football game. What happens between the white lines drives everything else," said Clint Oldenberg, coordinator of Play Design from EA. "There are so many things, we've barely scratched the surface of what a football video game can be," he explained. Because of that, and because of the development team's love of football, there is no temptation to merely put out a game with updated rosters and let it sell like crazy anyway.The team's determination to improve upon their winning formula was evident in our playtime with this early build of the game. From basic graphical improvements like a more realistic field (see the comparison shot to last year's version on the right) and dynamic lighting to a redesigned set of physics that require receivers and defenders to actually turn their head and eyes and look at the ball to catch it, the improvements are numerous. The game feels more realistic, with every bump affecting players and fluid animations that further blur the line between reality and gaming. The biggest focus of changes, Oldenberg told us, was centered on true player control.
"One of the things I love the most is the play action out. Previously, if you were running play action against a human opponent, you were just going to get sacked if the wrong defense was coming at you. Now with the touch of a button you can opt out of play action and go straight to throwing the ball. We have Quarterback avoidance now, too, just tap the thumbstick in one of eight directions and you can roll out of sacks. We give you the ability to push a button and have input on whether you get sacked or not."
The quarterback isn't the only one with more control (though you also have true precision passing in Madden 13, another addition for the man under center). Wide receivers who catch the ball under player control will reward you with over 400 brand-new catch animations; user controlled catches are more fluid now, requiring a little less split second timing and more general knowledge of routes, another way EA hopes to make the football experience improve. Of course, with better wideouts, defenders need to step up their game as well."With every feature we add on offense, we also try to improve defense. On Defense this year we have the new read and react system where defenders have to be able to see the ball to make the play. You won't see any more psychic DBs, any teleporting jumps out of nowhere to intercept the football," Oldenberg said. "We also have zone swapping, the ability to disguise your coverage and send a zone defender on a motioning receiver."
In a unique development style, the entire team worked on every new feature put into the game. Usually game development tends to be compartmentalized, but Oldenberg said that team mentality translated into a new level of polish to the game. "The whole team is needed for putting any one feature in the game. We have great programmers, great designers. For core football gameplay, we used everybody on everything."
If you're a Madden player that usually only upgrades every other year or one out of three and you bought Madden 12, you may want to take a second look at this one. It's improvements are evident in this early build, and it truly delivers on the promise of not just a new Madden, but a better football game.
As Oldenberg summed it up, "This is the best Madden yet. This is the most authentic, real, and innovative game that we've put out for Madden, ever, really."
Madden NFL 13 will hit shelves August 28, 2012