Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NCAA Football 2009 Demo (360)

I downloaded the NCAA 09 demo last week.

My previous experiences with the Tiburon versions of NCAA are almost identical to opening up a can of soda. There's the anticipation of popping the tab, the whooshing sound when it opens, the burst of carbonation with the first drink.

Wait a while, though, and it starts to go flat. After a while, there's no carbonation left at all, and you can't stand to drink what's left.

Each year, I'll start playing NCAA, and my first impressions will be very positive (just opened, the can, lots of carbonation). With each passing hour of playtime, though, the glaring oversights start to bother me more and more, until finally I just give up. My primary objection to everything Tiburon makes is that they demand on dictating how I experience the game. I can't pick from camera angles. I can't remove onscreen clutter, including the scoreboard. I can't remove the name identification of the active player.

In other words, I can't remove a lot of the crap that reminds me I'm not playing real football. A fundamental design mistake, certainly, but for a game that desperately needs a design enema, it's not surprising.

However, in spite of these annual objections, it's a game that I feel like I've usually gotten my money's worth from. For several years, the recruiting was terrific, and last year, Legend mode (again, in spite of its obvious shortcomings) was still very fun for quite a while.

The demo this year features two minute quarters on Varsity difficulty, so what we're going to be able to establish is limited. However, a few things are clear right away:
--animation has improved (this is a given every year, but still appreciated).
--the pre-snap onscreen clutter is even worse this year, but they've added a way to remove it, and they clearly show you how. That may not sound like much, but it's a sea change from how Tiburon normally does things, and it's a big improvement.
--the persistent scoreboard seems brighter this year. Just wait for the plasma burn-in stories. I also think they've moved the scoreboard slightly up, which is a move in the wrong direction.
--more camera angles? Forget it. I guess four years isn't quite enough dev time to squeeze them in. I think (and again, this is based on my memory of last year's game) that the passing camera has been moved in slightly, but I'm not 100% sure.

The first time I played the demo, I was totally underwhelmed. A few people e-mailed and asked what I thought, and I basically responded with "same same same." After playing a few more times, though, I like it more than I did originally.

At this point, there are no excuses for mistakes. This is the SEVENTH YEAR (at least) that Tiburon has been developing this game. That's seven years to figure out how far and how accurately kickers should be able to kick the ball. seven years to figure out the proper distribution for penalties. Seven years to figure out DB A.I. Seven years to figure out everything. It's darkly comical that ANYTHING should be less than perfect at this point.

To me, Tiburon just needs to make up their damn mind. Either let us pretend we're playing football and enable us take everything off the screen, or let us pretend we're watching a game on television, which means we need to see in-game cutaways to highlights of other conference games or Top Ten games. We also need a halftime highlight package and a weekly round-up.

Better yet, do both and let us pick which way we want to play. What a crazy idea--letting your customers choose how they want to experience the game!

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