Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Superstar Mode (Madden 360): How EA of Them

Here's the program that writes Madden games:

Sub MaddenFootballDesign()

Dim DesignDesign as Integer

For DesignDesign 1 to 1000
If Design Decision<501 decision="Clever">
Else Design Decision="Shitty"
Next DesignDecision

End Sub

I think that's fully representative of how this game has been designed for years, and it's entirely accurate as a description of Superstar mode this year.


I've spent about three hours in Superstar mode. It's very cool in some ways, and mind-numbingly stupid in others.

How EA of them.

Before we get into actual Superstar gameplay, here's a good example: graphics. Take a look at the good and the bad:
+ Animation has significantly improved.
+ The player models look truly fantastic this year.
- The field textures look lousy (hyper sharp and totally unrealistic), and grass fields are torn up by halfway through the first quarter. What are these, fields from the AFL in 1965?
+ They've blurred the crowd slightly in the distance to get rid of the highly aliased look of the distance crowds in NCAA.
- Unfortunately, that crowd is constantly jumping up and down like pogo sticks and looks totally ridiculous.
- The scoreboard ticker has this very artsy grid pattern in the background, which makes the text look very ragged. The grid pattern is absolutely superflous and serves no purpose except to make the text harder to read.

That's a good example of how this game squeezes good ideas and bad ideas right next to each other, and it drives me CRAZY.

So let's get to Superstar mode gameplay, and it's more of the same, I'm sorry to report. First off, if you want to play this mode, you better read the manual. That is absolutely required this year, because each position has some specific options that you must know, and there will be no in-game tutorial in Superstar mode to introduce them.

I started as a wide receiver, went through workouts, the combine, and the draft, went to practice and found the camera angle totally unusable. I also wasn't aware of some of the wide-receiver specific commands (hence my comment about reading the manual being a requirement this year). So I ended that career and started a new one as a quarterback.

The mini-drills are fun--simple, but fun, and while my 40-yard dash time sucks ass, that's okay. And the position specific drills are interesting as well. Overall, solid marks on the team workouts and the combine.

On draft day, you're probably expecting to watch the picks scroll by, hoping that you'll be picked soon. That's a no-brainer, right? Well, no--perhaps it's a "low-brainer," because that's not what they do. You don't see any part of the draft, and all you get is a pop-up box telling you who drafted you.

Round? How the hell should I know when I was picked--it's not like they tell me. I found out two weeks into the exhibition season that I was drafted in the third round--by checking out the freaking depth chart!

So the draft is, without question, a complete disaster.

I report to my team, practice a little, and go to the first exhibition game. I was drafted by the Packers, and I've replaced first ballot Hall of Famer Brett Favre as the starting quarterback. No matter that he's rated 88 overall and I'm rated 84. The old bastard's got to go.

I'm looking forward to my first game. I like the idea of having a limited role and not calling plays. It's a great design idea.

Great design "idea." Remember that.

The Packers get the ball, I see the play I'm supposed to run, and I step to the line of scrimmage for my first in-game action as an NFL quarterback. I get ready to snap the ball, and--I get taken to a screen called "Influence."


Oh, that's immersive. Nicely done, guys. Before the start of EVERY offensive possession, AFTER I walk to the line of scrimmage, the influence screen loads and I have to circle jerk a few points around to various attributes.

Now this could have been done BEFORE I walked to the line of scrimmage and it would have been fine (unnecessary, but fine). But doing it AFTER just absolutely kills the atmosphere of being in a football game. Just kills it.

The quarterback camera view in Superstar mode is tight. Very tight. And again, you better know how to look left and right with the right analog stick or you're not going to to be able to see your receivers. And you need to also know to use the "B' button to follow the ball after a handoff.

Speaking of which, do you know what I do on a handoff? I press the "A" button to snap the ball. That's it. Shouldn't I be timing the handoff or the pitch? Well, yes, but I don't.

Our drive ends and we punt the ball. While my team is on defense, I'm not playing, and all the huddling and between-play action is stripped from the game.

That's just a freaking great design decision. Seriously.

Unfortunately, the time that should have run off the play clock while teams were huddling, etc., doesn't, so the opposition is coming to the line of scrimmage with 30+ seconds left on the play clock.

And that is a freaking horrible design decision. Seriously.

The action while you're watching the game is sped up--I'm guessing it's running at about 2X speed. That seems really cool, until you realize that 90% of the time that's saved really comes from cutting the between-play intervals, and that 2X speed sucks for watching your team play defense (or offense, if your Superstar is a defensive player).

It would be easy to fix that, of course, if turning off the 2X speed was an option. But, of course, it isn't.

We get the ball back with less than two minutes left in the first half. All right! There's got to be some kind of two-minute drill, right?

Wrong. At least, nothing seemed different. The coach calls the play and up to the line of scrimmage we go. Um, hell. Oh, and the first play after the two-minute warning was the Hail Mary. Lay off the booze, coach.

I reach halftime of the first exhibition game and Favre replaces me for the second half. There should be a "sim to my next appearance" button, but there isn't. No problem, though. I'll just let the game run at 2X speed and it should be done pretty quickly.

Brett Favre walks to the line of scrimmage for his first play (boy, I bet he is PISSED), and--the influence screen pops up.

Again: WTF? I'm not even in the $*$damn game and I have to click through this stupid screen on EVERY OFFENSIVE POSSESSION. In other words, I have to babysit this game through the entire second half?

Yes, I do.

At the end of the game, I see that I've gotten a metric TON of Madden Gamer points for things I didn't do. Thanks, CPU players! You'd think that in Superstar mode I'd only get credit for what I did as a player, but think again.

That's Superstar mode so far: some really, really cool ideas, many of which are mangled beyond all recognition. I could live with it all, though, if it weren't for that damn influence screen popping up at the line of scrimmage at the beginning of every drive. What horrific design

My head. The wall. Pound.

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