I wrote a post last August about the reasons I wouldn’t get Madden 13.  The reasons were: “no importing custom rosters into franchise connected careers mode, no editing players’ equipment or jersey numbers, and no “Madden IQ” difficulty setting.  Last Autumn, patches were released to fix the first two problems.  So, I got the game.

I’m having fun with it, but it definitely has issues.  The physics engine is kind of neat just because it means different animations than the old, stale one we had seen so much of, but as far as simulating the standard physics of the known universe, it is not really very accurate.  Players will bend and contort and flop in improbable directions.  A lineman’s foot will brush against a receiver lying on the field after a play and he will be thrown sprawling across the turf.  It’s awesome to watch, but not exactly realistic.

The other problem goes back to that “Madden IQ” issue I alluded to.  I still miss it.  I play on the “All-Pro” setting, and the game is not very challenging.  Now, it is true, I have a custom quarterback with maxed-out stats, but he’s not the reason I’m doing so well. In fact, he has–or I have–thrown nearly forty interceptions in the season and two games remain.  And the crazy thing is, my team is 12-2!

How do they manage to survive and thrive despite the star quarterback having possibly the worst season in the league?  Answer: the running game and defense, of course.  The defense is first in the league, and it isn’t close.  I can just sit there and have one of my players do nothing and my 10 defenders will almost always stop the CPU’s 11 offensive players.  The good news is, the interception thing seems to work both ways, as my defense is picking off opposing QB’s at nearly the same clip that I’m throwing them.

As for the running game, it seems broken, but I’m hesitant to complain about it too much because it’s clearly an attempt at fixing previous iterations’ flaws.  I refer to the outside running game.  In past Maddens, calling a pitch play or wide-receiver reverse was tantamount to taking a knee–only with more chance of fumbling.  Pitch plays almost never worked until Madden 11, and then only when carefully set up. Reverses never worked except maybe on lower difficulties with blazingly fast receivers

They’ve fixed that now–outside rushing is deadly in this game.  I once got a 20-yard rush off a pitch play to the right, then ran hurry-up, audibled into the same play to the left, and was able to snap the ball before the defense had even gotten back from the right side of the field.  Their safety did ultimately catch me somehow, but only after a huge gain.

The point is, the outside running game is practically a cheat now.  (The inside running game might be, too–haven’t tried it much yet.  Haven’t needed to.)  I think it’s because of the physics engine–the crazy ways that players interact with each other have seemingly helped the running game, though I can’t quite explain how.

All that said, it’s a fun game.  The graphics are nice.  It has good sound.  There are lots of different facemasks, which I’m happy about.  The RPG-like mechanics they put into connected careers are pretty cool. It’s a good game, but it’s still no Madden 11.


In The Simpsons-Treehouse of Horror III, there’s a bit where Homer goes to buy Bart something for his birthday.  The shopkeeper hands him a “Krusty the Clown” doll, and the following exchange ensues:

Shopkeeper: Take this object, but beware: it carries a terrible curse!
Homer: Ooh, that’s bad.
Shopkeeper: But it comes with a free frogurt!
Homer: That’s good.
Shopkeeper: The frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That’s bad.
Shopkeeper: But you get your choice of toppings!
Homer: That’s good!
Shopkeeper: The toppings contain potassium benzoate.
[Homer looks puzzled]
Shopkeeper: …That’s bad.

I think of this conversation when reading about the upcoming Madden 13 game:  “New physics engine!” “That’s good!”  “No player editing.” “That’s bad.” “New passing trajectories!” “That’s good!”  “No importing draft classes.”  “That’s bad,” and so on.  They added a bunch of great new features, and then took out a lot of the old ones for no apparent reason.  I don’t get it.

My favorite football game ever was Madden 11.  Most people didn’t like it, but it was the most fun I ever had with a sports video game.  It had the “Madden I.Q.” difficulty setting, which was perfect because it adapted to my skill set.  I could win about 75%-80% of my games, but every now and again lose one believably.  And the play-off games were harder!  So, my team was a perennial contender, but not always going 19-0 every year like in Madden 08.  Sometimes I won it all, sometimes I got knocked out in the wild-card round.

But then Madden 12 came along and, as far as I can tell, got rid of the Madden I.Q.  It’s still a fun game, but I have not been able to find a slider set that strikes the right balance between “stupidly easy” and “controller throwing impossible”.  I don’t get this, either.  Why do they seem to be systematically eliminating all the features I liked most?

Of course, you can’t talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the Madden series without also talking about ESPN NFL 2K5A lot of people say that eight years after its release it is still superior to Madden.  I’ve played it, and in some respects, it is.  The physics are definitely better than Madden, and it has more uniform options.  But 2K5 also has some flaws, including (ironically) a lack of player editing in Franchise mode.  Franchise mode in 2K5 actually has quite a few issues, from wonky trade logic to a messed up scheduling system, that Madden does not.  So, it’s not the best alternative for me.

People also praise 2K5‘s presentation, but I have to say that, although quite good for its time, it is still not that great.  I think on every third completed pass in 2k5, the announcer says “So-and-so had three guys covering him… but look what happened!”  I don’t blame the announcers or the programmers for this; it’s inevitable that pre-recorded lines will get stale.  The only to avoid it would be to include clones of the announcers with every copy of the game:

CLONE NANTZ: Mysterious Man takes the snap… rolls out right… reverses his field… losing ground… he throws aaaannnd it’s intercepted!  Intercepted miraculously by a defensive tackle who had his back to the play!

CLONE SIMMS: Mysterious Man looks like he’s pressin’ a little bit out there, Jim.  He’s not putting enough touch on the “X” button….Maybe he’s distracted because he’s thinking about the big presentation he’s got next week…

MYSTERIOUS MAN: Look, shut up, will you?

CLONE SIMMS: Whoa, he looks a little fired up down there!

CLONE NANTZ: He looks like you when you miss a putt.

All in all, I’m glad that can’t happen.  Anyway, announcing isn’t a big deal to me.  But it’s apparently a point of emphasis in Madden 13.

I like to customize my team and build them into a powerful, but still fallible dynasty, similar to the Patriots of the last decade.  And I like to be able to customize the gear my players have.  Lots of players change their stuff depending on the weather.  For example, players who wear visors often don’t wear them when it’s raining.  Some people really don’t care how many horizontal facemask bars their QB has, and those people will probably enjoy Madden 13.

Madden 13 sounds like it’s going in the direction a lot of gamers have been asking for these past eight years, and that’s fine.  I’m sure it will be a good game.  It just doesn’t have the things I look for in a football video game, which may not be the same things you are looking for in a football video game.

Heh.  So, without realizing it, I kind of predicted the big new feature in Madden 13 when I said sports games should:

Let people choose backstories for their teams, much as they choose them for their characters in certain RPGs. You could have “reigning champs”, “fading band of superstars”, “up-and-coming”, “rebuilding” or “plucky underdogs”,  just for a few examples.

There’s something rather similar for the “Connected Careers” mode in MaddenAccording to Pastapadre:

One new element is the addition of storylines which are present for both coaches and players. For example, when choosing to be a “player”, you’ll also select from options like whether they were a first round draft choice or went undrafted. This not only affects initial ratings and play time but also expectations. Those who start as “undrafted” will have lower expectations and easier goals to achieve but understandably less playing time to do so.

Cool.  However, I’m still done with the whole Madden thing.  I feel like I’ve pretty much mastered it, and the news that there’s not going to be any player editing allowed in the new version really sealed the deal for me. (For crying out loud EA, has Peyton Manning–or indeed, any quarterback–ever worn this facemask?) So, I won’t be getting it this year.  The new physics engine does look cool, though.

You all have heard about how the NFL is trying to make the game of football safer. The talk about the trauma sustained by the players is everywhere. There is talk of banning the game in some circles. Even players are saying they don’t want their kids playing the game.

I think football is on its way out, frankly. Hockey and basketball, too. Even baseball’s days are numbered. Safety is only part of the reason. The other part can be seen by watching these two clips:

That’s a game from 1991. Now here is the first gameplay video for Madden 13, which will come out this August:

It’s a big difference. Meanwhile, real-world football is still the same as it was in 1991. Sure, the equipment is a little better, but it’s still pretty similar.

“But,” you object, “there’s a ceiling on how much the game can improve. The best it can do is look just like the real thing, and it doesn’t even do that yet. Besides, we need a real-life version game of football to provide a benchmark for what the video game should be like.”

I used to think that, too. But we have a benchmark, in the form of NFL films historical record. And the Madden games already include a mode in which you can play against virtual replicas of former football stars. People know who those guys are–and the thrill will be playing as your own team, with players named for you and your friends, going up against the ’72 Dolphins or the ’85 Bears.

More to the point, most fans don’t like all real football games. Sometimes, they are “boring”–that is, they are defensive struggles, as opposed to exciting, long-touchdown filled games. Most fans hate that. But video games can fix this problem–you can have 70-63 games if you like.

It goes without saying that you don’t get injured playing virtual football over the internet. Out of shape, maybe, but not “injured”. The  celebrities of football will no longer be the athletes, but people who are unbeatable at the virtual game. And the best part is, way more people can play a video game than can play actual, pro-level football.

We’re already most of the way there. This is where the safety concerns really come into play, because soon, no one will like the actual sport–too much danger. The video games will provide something for all the football experts to go into when the real game is too controversial. Imagine what it would be like to go up against some former player or coach in the video game–it will be incredibly popular.

The same thing will happen with all other sports, too. But I doubt anyone will miss them; they’re too much trouble. Video game sports are more accessible, safer, and can be played year-round.