3. My Love/Hate Football Relationship: The Ugly
So now it comes down to it. What I think has really gotten ugly. I’ve gone through six revisions, mostly died from getting too “in the weeds” against Madden. I’ll keep it somewhat short and sweet with this one. I hope.
Because there’s so many options to do nothing here, this game got too much of my attention over the last two years. I would say that’s why it’s relevant to a Korea synopsis. I really found how much I loved football here in 2004, and how much its productization has killed the game for me since I’ve been back.
For me, the Madden video game peaked around 2006. This was the last year they developed the game before they won the singular distribution rights from the NFL. Before 2005, they had competition from the 2K studio and their NFL 2K title. EA Sports was forced to come up with new features and improve gameplay. Now look at the franchise. They left bugs in for months on the 2010 edition where zone defenders would ignore their zone and linemen would ignore blitzing linebackers or a pinch move from a 3-4 defensive alignment.
Let’s run down the pre-exclusivity deal advancements in Madden versus the 2K Series.
|Edition/Year||Madden Feature Promoted||2K Feature Promoted|
|2003 (2002 Season)||Nada for game features. Additions included a play editor that really let you mess with the horrible game AI, grabbing your local weather (yay?) and the Superstar feature. I’ll say it. This was actually a good add by EA.||2K Studios got the ESPN license, and used it well. Instead of BEING the game, it insinuated istelf into the gameplay. There was no domination from either side, it wasn’t intrusive and you could turn nearly everything on or off. The commentary also blew Madden’s recycled (from 2000) play-by-play out of the water. They also had the best online game system at the time.|
|2004 (2003 Season)||Mini-camps. The inane ability to micro-manage the price of a soft drink in franchise mode. Relocation of an existing team (not bad). They added hiring/firing of the team’s coaches.||First Person Perspective. Yes, they had this first and implemented it better (in my opinion). They also had the first “lewt room” or Crib where unlockables could be displayed. They added more features from ESPN (all could be turned on or off). They also improved the computer trade AI (no more ripping them off). Franchise (long term mode) wasn’t as good as Madden this year. Gameplay for both the passing and running games improved. You had to read coverages and blocking to succeed. You couldn’t just run into the backs of your offensive line and not be tackled. You can STILL do this in Madden. Defensive players had to be in position from the start to make a play, which never bothers Madden’s AI system. They also instituted stringing special moves together (if they work). This one is now a staple of Madden. Gang tackles were introduced ehre as well. The challenge system was great. You had a choice of WHAT to challenge in a specific play, not just to challenge the play and be left to the computer’s choice of what to challenge (ball spot, feet in-bounds).|
|2005 (2004 Season)||Madden adds the “Hit Stick”. Completely over-used and unbalanced. If you figure out who the big hitter is on your team, it’s an instant turn-over. Somehow they decided to include a player’s “mood” into his game performance. Basically another mini-game that wasn’t well thought out. It was tied to a “Storyline” feature, which fed you useless information on nearly every starter on your team. And you could “Create-a-Fan” to use on your sidelines. Tony Bruno’s lackluster performance is expanded with cookie cutter interviews of players. Players looked like The Waterboy. Yay.||They dropped the price AT LAUNCH to $20. Bad move becaus of the message it sends, but it was so much better than Madden. The game generated cookie cutter replays of games you didn’t play to show you replays of, and there were enough that it didn’t seem like a loop unless you played non-stop. It also instituted the “Classics Game” feature where you could replay important scenarios from the past. The VIP system, an improved profile system. It charted your (the user) playcalling tendencies and made them available to other players online. You could download a real player’s game tendencies and play against it instead of the Computer AI. If Madden ever offered something like this, they’d likely find that exploiting their horrible AI was more commonplace than they ever thought possible. They also expanded on EA’s “Training Camp” mode. You could “practice” during the week against the other team’s playbook, and increase your chance to perform better against that situation. Yes, EA lifted that as well. The Franchise mode also allowed more control of player contracts than Madden (even today). They also implemented online game leagues. This was four years before EA/Madden did.|
|2006 (2005 Season)||Madden stood by itself on the market this year. The added features? The hated “Passing Cone”. Terrell Davis and his boring “mentor and guide” role. They added the “Truck Stick”, which was an “I Win” button for Offense in it’s first year (just like it was on defense when it was introduced). Yes, that’s it.|
|2007 (2006 Season)||Lead Blocker controls. They tried to fix the Hit/Truck Stick. A good add was “Smart Routes”. It’s since been removed.|
|2008 (2007 Season)||The “Weapons” feature. It tells you what you already knew. Peyton Manning was a smart player. Now he’s got an extra boost to read your defense and shred it. Hit Stick got tweaked. They also started to force players to watch forced recaps that you couldn’t skip.|
|2009 (2008 Season)||They finally offered online game leagues. Madden IQ was also added, and did nothing for you but made it harder to actually get statistics normally. If you racked up 150 yards rushing against a bad defense, it made it harder to run period (and still does). So when you hit a good/great defense, you’re lucky to break 25 yards of rushing. They also added even more un-skippable recaps and voice-overs.|
|2010 (2009 Season)||All elements of this version went into giving face time to the NFL representatives. Alex Flanagan and Fran Charles got stuffed down our throats. You can’t disable it. Playing with friends, we spent most of our time mashing buttons in a vain attempt to skip worthless replays and recaps that got in the way of playing. Defensive Backs and Linebackers still make rediculous plays. I’ve had Andre Ware chase down plays, starting from the other side of the field and 10 yards back before he started. Please, someone tell me the last time he did that. If you have youtube of it, I might pay to see it. They also instituted a new ratings system, which is still junk. Not enough players are rated low enough, and the higher rated players perform much better than is humanly possible.|
The biggest difference for me, between the two titles, was NFL 2K seemed to actually have momentum and inertia built into it’s game system. A player’s agility, straight-line speed, and change of direction was directly proportional to his physical measurables, no matter what stats he had. In Madden, a high attribute state played the same no matter the player’s physical size. It was like watching Spider-Man in the first Sam Raimi film compared to the second. He’s got a weight to his CGI actions in the second that is missing in the first.
Really, EA and Madden has become another marketing arm of the NFL. The game isn’t about anything but the NFL product. They can say it’s all about actual gameplay, but all teams have access to the same plays. The coaches can’t switch a defensive set. No matter what you do. You can change when you play, but simulating results in stats from the old defensive playstyle (3-4, 4-3 or 4-6).
So the last bastion of hope for a guy who loved the strategy involved in coaching goes to marketing tool. I’ve lost my last outlet to coaching and playing “football chess”. If I ever want that challenge again, I’ll have to join a staff, coach for roughly 40 hours a week to prepare a team, then have the game. Very fulfilling and fun, but not something that’s as important as the time investment for me.