Jon Robinson over at ESPN, recently had an Q & A interview with the developers of Madden 12 at EA Day. Here is some of what they had to say:
Jon Robinson: What’s the first thing people are going to notice about the new tackling system in the game?
Phil Frazier: First thing people notice when they pickup “Madden” or “NCAA” this year is that our hits have visual impacts. It’s because you see our players carry their speed through the point of contact. In past games, once they were two-to-three yards away from contact, you would literally get sucked into a tackle animation and that tackle animation was at a speed that was recorded in our motion-capture studio, and sometimes that speed was slower than what your guy on the field was running. Then on the defensive side, one of my personal frustrations has always been trying to rush as a defensive end. I always felt like I had to run away from a blocker if I didn’t want to get caught in an animation. Now I feel like I can take a better angle if I’m taking an outside rush, and I don’t feel like I’m just going to get sucked into a block. This enables me to take more realistic angles and gives me a better shot at getting to the quarterback.
EA Sports: Check out the grass stains on the uniform.
Mike Scantlebury: We also now have different tackles for different situations and they’re contact dependant. You’ll see hurdle tackles, you’ll see tackles where a guy dives and the defender grabs you and takes you to the ground. We have some great variety. The dive button has also changed this year. In previous years, you’d dive at someone but it would be very difficult to pinpoint and hit a ball carrier with the dive mechanic. But this year, we actually have a tackle button, and if you’re too far away, you lunge in the direction of the ball carrier. So instead of the dive where you stretch out and it was hit or miss, this is a much more useful feature where you lunge toward the ball carrier in attempts to wrap him up.
Robinson: How does this change gang tackles? How many players can be involved in the same tackle in “Madden 12”?
Scantlebury: Instead of having tackles where guys are stood up and other defenders are adding on just for the sake of the gang tackle, now we have a much stronger, much more powerful impact that knocks the ball carrier down almost immediately.
Frazier: A lot of what we have right now are consecutive impact tackles. While we don’t have eight or nine guys in a big scrum like Pro-Tak, what we have now is much faster. You’ll have one guy who is actively in a tackle animation with the ball carrier, then another guy will come in and clean up the hit. A third guy can still come in and knock that pile to the side or knock it back, but it really just depends on how many guys come in contact with the tackle from the point of collision to the point they hit the ground. There’s no more stand up where you have eight or nine guys chopping away.
Scantlebury: What we lost with Pro-Tak was the controlled impact of the collision. We got that back. You won’t see guys just staggering around as the pile stacks up anymore.
EA Sports: It’s all about presentation in Madden 12.
Robinson: How does this new collision system also change how blocking is handled in the game?
Scantlebury: The biggest complaint people had playing defense is that they felt like they were being sucked into blocks and you could see noticeable warping. But now, every block actually triggers their own collision. You’ll see players hands start to come up as they’re about to collide and now they engage in blocks from a realistic distance without being warped together. This really opens things up in regards to the running game because before, people would get frustrated by the linemen sliding into you during their blocks as you were trying to run the ball, but now the lanes open up better because we’ve removed the warping in both the blocking and the tackling. We also improved the logic for pulling guards on plays like the Power O in order to make sure they run out when pulling so they can get out and get in proper position in time.
Robinson: Now that warping is gone, does this also change how receivers magically warp dive for a ball across the middle?
Scantlebury: We’ve removed as much warp catching as possible, and to be able to do that, we added a bunch of new dive animations to take their place that look a lot more realistic. We’ve also added some sprint catches because some of the catches we had on deep balls traveled the appropriate distance, but it just looked slow because of how they were captured, so we replaced those animations as well in order to fill some of those holes.
Robinson: I know you guys have also been working on improving zone coverage. What type of impact will this have on the game?
Scantlebury: The impact of zone coverage will be dramatic. This is the most improved aspect of defense. When you play “Madden 11,” a lot of patterns are wide open in different coverages. For example, a curl flat pattern versus a Cover 2 would see your outside linebacker in the zone never getting over to get underneath that hook route, but now he gets over and takes that route away. Same thing with the flats. The zones never played the flats very aggressively, but now the defense will play aggressive and get to their spots quicker. And now if you’re playing Cover 3 and your opponent goes with four verticals, you’ll see that safety run up and snatch those seam routes if they don’t throw it early enough. We also worked on Cover 4 so that the safeties accurately read the field now. If a guy on the outside is running deep and they don’t have anyone in their quadrant, they will go and double. Or if a post route is coming from the outside, they will go and double as long as they don’t have another threat coming from their quadrant. It’s really dynamic reaction on the part of the defenders.
EA Sports: Time to take it to the house.
Robinson: Zone coverage has been busted in the game for years. Why did it take so long to fix?
Scantlebury: I was in the right position this year to make it a priority, sir.
Robinson: Wow, I didn’t think I’d ever get to the point where a game producer called me sir. I’m old.
Frazier: [laughs] It’s something that Mike has been a big advocate of for years. There’s a laundry list of things we’d love to get to every year, and in the past, we looked at other items like Pro-Tak that we felt were just more messed up than zone. I think we’re getting to a point now where we’re hitting defense in a major way. We’ve been hearing from people how the defense in the game just isn’t good enough, the AI isn’t good enough, so we really wanted to make a big impact on that side of the ball.
EA Sports: Improved defensive play will get you back into zone coverage.
Robinson: Custom playbooks have also finally been added to the game this year. How big can my playbook get?
Frazier: You can have up to 400 plays and up to 75 individual sets in your custom playbook. You can also have up to eight custom playbooks saved. And with 400 plays, I don’t think our fans and our community are going to have any problem filling out a playbook.
Robinson: What’s the coolest playbook you’ve created so far?
Frazier: I’m a Redskins guy who has always been intrigued by the Wildcat. So I built a Wildcat playbook for the Redskins and tried it out. It didn’t really work with their personnel, but it was still a lot of fun to give it a try. Mike is more of a competitive “Madden” gamer, so he is more likely to choose three or four plays for his playbook and call them all game long. He is that kind of guy.
Scantlebury: I wouldn’t say that I only run three or four plays the whole game. I’m more of a formation guy. I’m a five-wide bunch guy and a guy who likes to have Full House in the same playbook. Usually, you don’t find those two formations in the same playbook. A lot of those teams who have multiple-receiver shotgun formations are limited when it comes to running formations. So if I can create a playbook that has some strong running formations and pair them with some exotic five-wide sets, that’s awesome for me.
Robinson: Again, though, this is something people have wanted for years. Why did it take so long to implement?
Frazier: One of the important things to know is that when you’re creating your custom playbook, you can pick literally any play in the game. Historically, we couldn’t load up every play like that due to memory restrictions. So when you start to scroll through the playbooks and you start scrolling through the formations, you have every single play, every single formation from every single playbook in the game, and that’s really what makes this feature a success.
EA Sports: Pro-Tak is out. Point of impact tackling is what “Madden NFL 12” is all about.
Robinson: Are there any smaller gameplay mechanics that fans of the franchise should look out for?
Scantlebury: We added a new pump fake mechanic where you can actually pump fake toward a specific receiver. We think this is something the hardcore will utilize as it really ups the value of our double moves. Now you actually have a reason to call some of these double-move routes like the post corner because when you pump fake toward a specific receiver, the defensive back is more likely to bite.
Frazier: The way it worked before was more of a generic pump fake, but now you can actually direct where you’re faking to throw the ball. So now you can pump fake one direction, then throw the ball to the other side of the field.
Another thing we added this year is the ability to adjust the shading of your defensive backs on receivers. Now you can play press on an individual receiver on a play as opposed to playing press on everybody. You can also have a defender shade inside or outside of the receiver depending on whether you press shade left or shade right. Or you can just back one guy off and give him extra space. We give you a lot of options, and while some of these might sound like small features, with our goal to be true to the game and true to the NFL, we want to make sure we’re giving our “Madden” fans ultra-fine control over our defense this year. It has been a while since some of these features have been in our game and we’re glad to finally have them back.