Adrian Peterson bursts through two tacklers as time expires and starts to high-step around the 20 when, out of nowhere, Ray Lewis grabs him by the jersey and, with one bicep-popping flex, picks up “Purple Jesus” Undertaker-style and spikes him into the turf. Game over.
That’s the over-the-top “NFL Blitz” violence I remember from arcades when the token-guzzling game debuted back in 1997, and surprisingly, in this era of late-hit penalties and player fines, the franchise is being revived by the NFL and EA Sports (which purchased the license from a bankrupt Midway) and will debut in January exclusively as a downloadable title for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
That’s right; the league that fines players for brutal hits is now about to profit by showing players with exaggerated (seriously juiced) size and stature smashing each other from all angles.mI wonder what James Harrison thinks about this.
There is one significant change to the game, however, and that’s the complete removal of late hits. Old-school gamers will remember the ability for defenders to drop elbows on players long after the whistle had blown, but this has been taken out of the game due to a request by the NFL.
Then again, according to Yuri Bialoskursky, the new “Blitz” designer, other than the late hits, all the crazy tackles that helicopter-spin players through the air and send receivers face mask first into the field remain, just as gamers remember from the game’s glory days.
“The spirit of the game is still there, and you’re still taking those huge pot shots at guys,” Bialoskursky says, “and all of the arcade, over-the-top animations are there. The NFL has had input from day one. They knew what kind of game we were making. It’s a different day and age, though. The NFL has different sensibilities, and they’ve made that known to us during the making of this game.
“You won’t be able to do the late hits. The NFL was pretty clear about that during the making of this game. But all of the roughhouse stuff that goes on during play is all still there.”
However, there’s far more to the resurrection of “NFL Blitz” than teeth-rattling tackles. From online play to the playbooks, here are five things every gamer should know about the “NFL Blitz” revival.
1. The genius of Mark Turmell
Back in 1996, I worked for a magazine called GamePro, and one of my beats was a column called Hot at the Arcades. So here I was at one of my first video game conventions, when Mark Turmell, the legend who created “NBA Jam,” tells me to meet him in a secret conference room that actually has a security guard at the door. “This is going to blow your mind,” Turmell tells me. Talk about the understatement of the year (maybe my entire career). I walk into the room, and Turmell pops in a video tape of a game he had in development called “NFL Blitz.” First thing I see is Brett Favre getting picked up in an actual WWE piledriver and driven headfirst into the dirt. Hit after ferocious hit played out in front of me, and when it was over, all I could say was one word: rewind.
And while the NFL outlawed the piledriver from the final version that hit arcades a year later, “NFL Blitz” and its seven-on-seven brand of smash-mouth football became a phenomenon the arcade scene hadn’t witnessed since the original days of “Jam.”
So when Turmell was hired by EA Sports back in 2009, he not only was instrumental in getting a new version of “NBA Jam” off the ground, but he also convinced the makers of “Madden” to remake one of its former rivals. Says Bialoskursky: “Turmell was there from day one, and influenced the concept and design all the way up to his departure in July [Turmell left EA earlier this year to join Zynga]. When he did leave, the game was pretty much in the can at that point. So he helped us out all the way through. We couldn’t have done it without him. He’s obviously the guy you want helping you out with this project.”
Who would have thought that 15 years after I first saw the “Blitz” piledriver, I’d still be writing about that moment.
2. A game in which players burst into flames has rules?
From the seven-on-seven game play to the ability to catch on fire, “NFL Blitz” plays by its own set of rules. Need a refresher? Bialoskursky is here to help.
“All the rules are the same. It’s first-and-30, seven-on-seven football,” he says. “We wanted to pay respect to the original game so that all of these people who are out there who have all these great memories of ‘Blitz’ can just pick it up and play. It’s going to play just like the old one.
“The playbook is the same, so we kept all of the great plays like the bomb and Sub-Zero, and we’ve kept it simple: 18 plays on offense, nine plays on defense. We also added our own little twist where now, every team has a play that’s unique to their team. So if you play as the Packers, they’re going to have the Cheesehead play, or if you play as the Chargers, they have a play called the Shocker.”
And what would “NFL Blitz” be without fire? Three completions in a row to the same receiver for positive yardage and your receiver catches on fire, or two sacks in a row to ignite your entire defense.
3. A game in which Peyton Manning’s neck doesn’t hurt
While the new “NFL Blitz” won’t feature any of the legendary players who dominated the virtual gridiron back in the arcade, the game does have one thing football (Colts) fans will love: players immune to injury.
Says Bialoskursky: “Our rosters are made up of the players you’d expect as a fan to be in the game. So, for instance, Peyton Manning is still in the game despite the fact that he’s injured in real life. Other guys like Jamaal Charles are also in the game, so our rosters aren’t going to reflect the true NFL like a simulation would, as we’re more about what the fans want.”
The game also features some crazy hidden teams such as zombies and robots, just in case beating up the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford starts to get old.
Says Bialoskursky: “We don’t have the traditional season mode in the game. What we have is called the Blitz Gauntlet. The best way to describe it is like ‘Mortal Kombat,’ where you play against NFL teams in a ladder system that features three tiers. As you advance up the ladder, you play in these boss battles against teams of fantasy characters in the Blitz Coliseum. And when you’re playing these fantasy teams, you’ll even see a number of power-ups appear on the field that give you the ability to refill your turbo or put everyone on the other team in slow motion. Beat the boss team, and you unlock the cheat code for the fantasy players.”
Trust me, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Calvin Johnson get tackled by a virtual lion.
4. Online is the new arcade
Back when “NFL Blitz” first came out, it was the arcade king because of the crazy multiplayer experience. Every game seemed to come down to the final play, and gamers would be talking so much smack to each other, they wouldn’t even realize they had just dropped $20 in quarters.
Multiplayer rules the “Blitz” experience once again, but this time, it’s not about stacking change on the top of the cabinet. It’s about your online status.
“We made a really strong commitment to online features with this game,” Bialoskursky says. “We’ve got three really big online modes that we’ve made. The first is called Blitz Battles, and this is what I would call our competitive, ranked games. The way Blitz Battles works is that we have three different Blitz Boards that you check: local, regional and national. The idea is that when you play Blitz Battle games, you earn ranking points that move you up your specific board.
“When you first play, we’re going to ask you where you’re located. So if you’re in Florida, we’re going to place you in a Florida Battle Board and you’ll be ranked with 25 other people in your area, competing to move up and down this specific Battle Board. You earn ranking points by playing these games, then you earn your way onto new boards, as once you reach the top spot of your board, you play what we call a rank-up game. In this rank-up game, if you win, you move up to the next level and you keep working your way up until you get to the top of the National Elite board. Once you win that last rank-up game, you get into the Hall of Fame; then you can start the experience all over again.”
The Blitz Battles can be played either head to head or with a Blitz team that gamers can customize with their friends. Adds Bialoskursky: “The idea is that you create this team and customize the logo and banner, then you invite one of your online friends or your buddy sitting next to you on the couch, and you can join up together to play against other teams of two people out there and move up the Battle Boards that way. It’s a really fun way to play.
“We also have online co-op games, and that’s a lot like the teams for Blitz Battles, but it’s more of a way to quickly jump in with random people or with your friends and play two-on-two. And what’s really unique about ‘Blitz’ is we have this guest feature where you can not only play with your friends online, but your friends sitting next to you on the couch. So if your friend is over, the two of you can join in on the same console and play together against people online. It gives you some great flexibility to play competitively a number of different ways. ‘Blitz’ is just one of those games that so much fun to play with other people, and we wanted to provide you with as many options as possible to accomplish that.”
The third online mode is called Elite League and is modeled after the Ultimate Team games from “Madden” and “FIFA.” Here, gamers are buying card packs in order to create a team and set a lineup, and all the players you use have ratings. But instead of focusing on individual player stats, all the player ratings you have combine into a team rating. “Each one of the skill areas [speed, skill, power, recover] has an effect on game play,” Bialoskursky says. “So say all of your players added up have a high power rating, well now, when you go into a game, your defensive line will have an easier time breaking through the offensive line and sacking the quarterback. This enables players who want to get a little more in depth to mold your team in a certain direction and change your team in whatever way you want. You can craft your team to be a power team or a speed team or however you want. All you need are the right cards.”
The goal of Elite League is to collect as many regular player cards as possible, then trade them in for “Ultimate” player cards. These cards give you a fully maxed out player, the player who is the best at his position, and gamers will have the ability to trade in enough cards to complete an entire team of these ultimate players.
Adds Bialoskursky: “This whole collecting thing really drives the mode, but when you get about 80 percent complete, it can get pretty tough to fill out those last cards. So we added a new game type called Risk and Reward where you go up against somebody else’s Elite League team, and if you win, you actually get to go in and take one of the cards out of your opponent’s collection. And they have to watch you do it at the end of the game. So not only did I just beat you, now I get to take whatever card I want out of your collection. It’s that last stab in the gut. Online guys always want to piss each other off, so this works perfect.”
5. Detroit was built on secrets
Ever wonder why the Pistons were always the best team in “NBA Jam” or why the Lions ruled the original “NFL Blitz”? Mark Turmell is from Detroit and is such a fan of his hometown teams, he coded “Jam” in a way that made it tougher for the rival Bulls to hit a game-winning shot. According to Bialoskursky, however, there’s no special treatment for Detroit this time around … that he knows of. “There’s no juicing the Lions in this one,” he says with a laugh. “Who knows, maybe Mark snuck something into the code that I don’t know about, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t.”
Then again, “Megatron” doesn’t need a code to make him unstoppable. Just ask the cornerbacks trying to cover him.