Feature

10 Downs With A Madden 17 Designer

by Matthew Kato on Jul 03, 2016 at 11:00 AM

There is a lot going on with the new Madden, from gameplay to new ways for casual fans to get into the game, and what better way to take it in than sitting down with one of the people responsible for the game? We talked with designer Clint Oldenburg – a former NFL lineman – about details big and small for the title.

We're hearing more about analytics all the time – websites like Pro Football Focus are popular with fans. Do analytics have a place in Madden, and could they replace the traditional player ratings?
I think there's definitely a place for analytics, and I think where that place lies and where it's going – at least in terms of Madden – is those, I don't want to call them intangibles, but your traits. What you do well. I think where ratings are really important are size, speed, strength – things that are actually tangible, because we have to differentiate a really fast guy from a really slow guy. We have used outlets like Pro Football Focus in the past to assist us in rating our players, and they've been really helpful. But I think the right way to make our game perform the way we want it to perform is to rate these guys how we want them to act in our game. So, while a website may tell us a defensive end is really good in situation A, B, and C, well, to make that happen in our game we have to rate him a certain way that works with our formulas. 

Accessibility features like play calling suggestions have appeared the last few years, and again this year. Would you say that's an important focus for the franchise?
Yeah, absolutely. Onboarding is really big for us because the further we build Madden the more complex it gets. The more complex it gets the more intimidating it gets for new people. So what we want to do is any new feature we bring into the game; we want to have a way to teach a new person how to use it.

Can you service the hardcore fans and the casuals as well? Can the hardcore fan learn something from a feature designed for the more casual fan?
I think they definitely can if they take the time to do it. The best example I have is what we've done this year with the ball carrier mechanics. Now we have settings, so we have an auto setting, an assist setting, and a manual setting. And those are preset by difficulty. Auto is going to be on rookie and pro. Assist can be turned on in any skill level, and manual will be for all-pro and all-madden. If you really want to learn how to use our new ball carrier mechanics, the best way to do that is jump in on auto or assist, learn what they are doing, learn where the coverages are, learn the timing, and that will show you the best way to use them on all-pro and all-madden.

The FIFA franchise announced The Journey story mode. Is this something you'd like to include in Madden at some point?
It's definitely something we're looking into, but we don't have any announcements quite yet.

Are you moving to the Frostbite engine like FIFA and PGA Tour? Do you have it and are you tinkering with it for the future?
I think [CEO] Andrew Wilson said it publicly that he wants all EA games on the same engine, so I can surely say we're moving in that direction, but I can't give you a date or an ETA.

What's Madden's most popular mode?
I think the most popular mode is Ultimate Team right now. That has really blown up the past three years. I think before that franchise was really popular, and franchise still is really popular – it's actually our most played mode in that users are logging in daily and they stick with it the entire year. In terms of just users, Madden Ultimate Team has the most users.

How do you keep up with making a game when you're devoting more and more time to post-launch via support, as well as what different kinds of players want from year to year?
That is difficult, and luckily we have different teams that deal with each individual area, so we can sort of silo that off. But then I would say that's probably the most difficult part of our game – managing the expectations of every group. There are a lot – tournament players, casual guys, franchise guys, simulation guys – and they all want something different.

Is there stuff that didn't make it into this year's game that you personally would have liked to have been included?
We as designers have ideas for years that are on the cutting room floor that we want to bring in. There are a number that our community are asking for that we didn't get a chance to do like defensive assignments – a lot of those things that make the game more immersive and authentic. Online team play is another one that comes up on my twitter all the time. The thing that people don't realize is that the guys making the games are gamers, and we want those things too, but we only have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of resources, so we have to go after what's important. But what I'd like them to understand is we hear them, and we agree with them, and it's going to be there eventually.

In some cases, [a feature] will fit better with a feature set of a specific year. In other cases, we have to build supporting features for a feature. For instance, as a blocking guy, I haven't had the opportunity to update play action yet. Our play action blocking system still needs work. I haven't got to do it, and I push for it every year. But we were able to get defensive gaps and run fits in this year, and that was definitely a requirement before we can do the play action system. Now that's there, play action is definitely on the table for the next two or three years.

The team has talked a lot about how blockers and defenders act and interact at the point of attack, but what happens to all those responsibilities when the QB scrambles out of the pocket?
On passing plays, the improvements that we made there, particularly for defensive linemen or pass rushers – basically open up the disengage angles and gave them protection logic. So, when the quarterback scrambles outside the pocket, the defenders are going to be able to see him start to scramble and predict where he's going to be instead of where he's at, and start pulling away from blockers much sooner than they have been. Coverage guys are following their pattern matching rules so you're not going to have as many guys getting open late. We've also kind of nerfed the playmaker mechanic. A lot of hardcore guys loved it online. You could just playmaker dudes all over the field. So that's not quite as effective. That's based on distance and if your receiver can actually see the quarterback. Lastly, we have this new zone crash feature. Similar to last year's spy crash, regardless of who you are controlling on the field, if that quarterback is outside the pocket, click your right stick and the nearest zone defender will go to get the QB.

What's a real-world NFL trend that's going to influence Madden in the future?
I see more of a spread trend. Chip Kelly is obviously in the NFL now, and you're seeing a lot more quarterbacks coming up through the ranks – high school, college – who have never taken a snap under center. And I think you're going to start seeing that more and more in the pros. It's just spread, hurry up. We're going to get this guy, this really athletic quarterback, and we're just going to let him do his thing. I think we're going to see a lot more of that than the traditional hand the ball off, gain four yards, line up and do it again.

The other thing that's definitely going to change the game is player safety. I think you can't deny that. I think every year the NFL is going to have new rules about how to protect their players better, and we're not immune to that. The NFL makes a rule, we have to follow that too.

For more on the game, check out our hands-on impressions of the title, franchise details, as well as some extra thoughts from E3.