Monday, August 30, 2004

ESPN 2K5: Franchise House Rules

For maximum franchise difficulty, slider settings alone won't do the job. There are also some simple 'house rules' that, if followed, will make the GM portion of the game as challenging as the onfield action.

Every sports game has A.I. weaknesses in the General Manager portion of the game. ESPN is no exception. Fortunately, though, it's possible to compensate for them, so you can get a more 'real' general manager experience that will provide a very stiff challenge.

By the way, in the first few years of a franchise, the CPU GM's will sometimes trade away players for salary cap reasons that will leave you scratching your head. To greatly reduce how often this happens (down to one strange deal every couple of years or so), turn off preseason games and weekly prep. If not, you'll have to endure some odd trades for the first several years.
Here are the rules, and I'll have discussion below.
--Max out the player's interest slider before making an offer.
--Increase the players requested bonus percentage by an additional ten percent.
--Six year contracts are the maximum allowed length.
--Max out the trade interest slider before making a deal, even if it's offered to you from the trading block.
--No trading for an opposing team's starting quarterback.
--No trading for rookies.
--No trading of players from your team in the last year of their contract.
--No trading for/away kickers.
--No trading away of players rated below 70.
--no more than two draft picks in a round, and no more than ten picks in any one draft.

That sounds like a lot of rules, but they're not. I use some version of them with any sports game, including Madden. In short, they force you to make some very hard decisions concerning personnel each year. Players can't be stockpiled, and they can't be cut without incurring significant penalties due to the bonuses involved. It can be extremely difficult to build a strong team inside the constraints of the salary cap, and it is impossible to keep that team together for more than two or three years. In other words, it's much like the real NFL.

The sliders also reinforce the difficulty. To the best of my knowledge, every slider setting is such that the corresponding rating matters in terms of onfield results. So if you draft a team of bad tacklers, I hope you enjoy watching running backs break tackle after tackle. If you draft wide receivers who can't catch, enjoy all the drops. If you draft running backs with a low 'secure ball' rating, here come the fumbles.

These house rules force you to 'go without.' Do you want marquee players with huge salaries? Fine, but you're going to have to do it at the expense of depth. Want to sign guys to long-term deals to reduce your cap expense down the road? Just make sure those guys don't puke out on you, because you could be paying three or four years worth of bonus when you cut them. That also means you do better do a good job at the Combine, because those big bonuses for first round draft picks can come back to haunt you.

I was able to put together a very, very strong team last week, and at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night I won the Super Bowl for the first time. At 11:00 a.m. the next morning, I was dismantling that team. I had kept guys who had one or two years left on their contract, knowing I couldn't afford to resign them, because I thought the team could make a run. I lost fifteen players rated 80+ after the Super Bowl. My team went from being rated a 95 overall to an 82, which took it from the strongest team in the league to below average.

That's a decent approximation of what happens in the real NFL, and it makes ESPN a fun and challenging game.

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