Monday, August 07, 2006

More NCAA 2007 (360)

It's probably time to mention NCAA 2007 again, given how much time I've spent playing it in the last few weeks.

In a word: terrific. There are issues (there always are), but the game is totally addictive. It's the best version of NCAA that I've ever played, and given the pressure inherent to an annual release cycle, it may be the best version we get for years. Like I said, lots of little annoyances, but the game overcomes its flaws.

First off, here are my latest slider settings (Heisman difficulty). I've changed the following sliders:
QB Accuracy 35 (both)
RB Ability 40 (both)
Run Blocking 60 (both)

Awareness 65 (both)
Tackling 65 (both)

Special Teams--
FG Power 15 (CPU)
FG Accuracy 0 (CPU)
Punt Power 45 (CPU)
Punt Accuracy 35 (CPU)
Kickoff Power 45 (CPU)
FG Power 80 (Human)
FG Accuracy 0 (Human)
Punt Power 5 (Human)
Punt Accuracy 35 (Human)
Kickoff Power 45 (Human)

There are certainly other adjustments that could be made, but I'm relatively satisifed with how those sliders play, and (as I've mentioned previously) with CPU vs. CPU games taken out, it's difficult to objectively establish a foundation for any adjustments besides kicking.

And as a note, while field goal and punt adjustments were based solely on testing, kickoff power was adjusted to compensate for what I perceived as under-average kickoff returns.

Oh, and one other note: these sliders are stiff. They are fair but very difficult.

So why am I playing this game so much? It's not the on-field play, although I think it's very solid this year. What's really addicted me is the recruiting cycle--I'm only playing one or two games a season and simming the rest, but the recruiting, which has always been pretty solid, has really taken a step up this year. It's the best college recruiting I've ever seen in a game.

Let me give you an example. I'm using Texas Tech as my Dynasty team. Texas Tech starts out as a 3* prestige team (teams are ranked from 1-6 stars). A good season, and they'll move up to 4*, so they're on the cusp.

There are two recruiting periods: fall (during the season), and a five-week period after the season. There is also a different gameplay mechanic for each period--in the fall, you have the same amount of "recruiting points" each year, while in the spring, your available points vary with your prestige (I'm not sure if your previous season's record influences total points--it used to, but I'm not sure about that this year--it may just be prestige level).

That's great design, because each mechanic plays out differently. In the fall I get 100 points per week. I have to pre-select a group of athletes to target. It's no more expensive in a "recruiting points" sense to target an athlete from Hawaii than it is to target one in my home state. And I could, theoretically, spend all 100 points on one player.

In the postseason recruiting period, I've been getting around 175-200 points a week (again, as Texas Tech). I can dynamically add athletes to my recruiting targets during the five-week period. It's half as expensive in a points sense to recruit in-state as it is out of state. And the maximum number of points you can spend on any athlete each week is much smaller than in the fall (15 for an in-state player, 30 for an out-of-state player, and I think it's 45 points for a player in the boondocks, although I tend to stay away in those guys). You can also develop "pipelines" to other states if enough players from that state come to your school.

That's not a comprehensive list of differences (I didn't even mention on-campus visits or pitches), but it's easy to see how differently the strategy plays out. And these recruiting mechanics aren't new, but they're still much better this time. In past years, it wasn't very difficult to systematically improve your team and become a powerhouse--recruiting was interesting and fun, but not really that difficult.

Things have changed.

This year, it's very hard to take a team like Texas Tech in a major conference and upgrade them significantly. Like any good game mechanic, you're constantly forced to choose between quality and quantity, and those compromises make it very difficult to build a great team. I can keep Tech on the edge of the Top 25--some years in, some years out--but I can't get them consistently in the Top 15. Which, for Texas Tech, is just like real life. It's the most difficult time with recruiting I've ever had, which is a damned good thing.

Inevitably, I'm scrambling to recruit enough players with the points I have available to stem losses from graduation. And if your prestige starts dropping, it's not just that you have fewer recruiting points available--far fewer players will be interested in you as well. Again, this isn't new, but the difficulty is much more realistic than it's ever been before.

It's tremendously well balanced and totally addictive. And if you want a huge challenge, try Texas Tech--they graduate 21 players the first season, including most of their wide receivers and all of their defensive tackles. They also play a wild, wide-open offense, and the revised playbooks do a great job of giving you play choices that correctly reflect that.

If you win the national championship, let me know. As for me, I've seen the Independence Bowl way too many times.

It's in Shreveport, of course.

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