Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ian Cummings

I've mentioned this before, but when it comes to EA football games, I'm Charlie Brown.

Every year, Lucy talks about how great the experience is going to be, and she's so convincing that when the game is finally released, I run toward the ball at top speed, swing my leg forward...

And fall on my ass.

It's happened year after year after--well, you get the idea. And it's happened because both NCAA and Madden violate the prime directive of sports games: be faithful to the sport.

Why is The Show the best sports simulation of all time? Because, like no other game, it is faithful to the sport. I wrote last year that anyone who designs or develops sports games should be given a PS3 and told to play The Show.

For a long time.

Why are NCAA and Madden so poor in comparison? Because they aren't faithful to the sport. It's not any more complicated than that.

As an example, when NCAA totally dicked around with the relative speed of the players last year, it ruined the gameplay. It wasn't "wide-open gameplay," as the PR honks suggested--it was fundamentally wrong.

My friends politely suggested that I was crazy for using a stopwatch to time players, but I did it because the speeds were so obviously wrong that I wanted to establish just how far from reality they varied.

It's simple, right? If you want to make a football game, the first thing you'd do is make sure that players run at the right speed, both in absolute and in relation to each other. There are dozens of development issues that will be avoided if the speeds are "right."

If simulating the sport is the foundation of development, you have a standard to use. If that's not the foundation, though, and it's never been the foundation of NCAA and Madden, what you're going to wind up with is a scotch-taped, half-assed mess. Madden's had animations running at different speeds for years, and the velocity of QB passes has been wrong for over fifteen years.

Take ball velocity as an example. Why would that matter? Because, if its wrong, there's a domino effect that makes a bunch of other things be wrong. Player speeds have to be adjusted. A.I. has to be adjusted. And since those adjustments are in relation to something that's wrong, the game has to become more wrong.

Which brings us to Ian Cummings. Ian is the lead designer on Madden 10. Recently, he made this post in the Operation Sports forums about The Show:
To the SCEA dev team: you guys have really set the bar as to what sports games should be. After a few of us got our hands on it, we have forced our entire Madden design team to go through the game, take notes, and come up with ideas that could apply to us - and the one universal happening has been that everyone has been 100% blown away by the detail and quality of the product. From the commentary to the animation to the graphics to the presentation to the guys knocked it out of the park (bad pun intended).

Am I dreaming? Is this just some kind of cruel dream, and I'm going to wake up with my hand in a bucket of warm water? Hey, that's not funny!

Then, as if it's that not enough, he posted a blog entry today titled Creating 'Sim-Style" Gameplay In Madden 10. What are his three main points of discussion?
1. Inconsistent animation speeds
2. Pass speeds
3. Overall game speed

Oh, and they timed players with different speed ratings in the 40-yard dash, and when the results were unrealistic, they didn't call it a new gameplay feature--they fixed the damn speeds.

Yeah, I know--this will end badly. But it's the first time I've ever heard a Madden designer who sounded both like he understood football and knew how to design a game.

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