In Madden ’13, the passing game gets the most TLC from the folks at Electronic Arts. There are a number of new dropback animations and in-pocket motions, so your QB will look more realistic and more variable in the pocket; he’ll also be more likely to actually get a pass off, because playaction fakes have been sped up. Defenders will also no longer flail blindly at the ball and knock it down. It used to be that at relatively high difficulty levels, defensive backs became virtually invincible, getting a hand on every pass that came anywhere near them without regard for their positioning or relative talent level. The best change, though, is Total Control Passing. ESPN’s Jon Robinson explains:
Total Control Passing enables gamers to use the L-Stick to direct passes, so you’re not only throwing to a specific receiver, but you’re throwing to a certain spot on the field. “If your receiver is running a 10-yard in-route against a Cover 2, normally that’s a bad idea and you shouldn’t do it, but now if you hold up on the L-Stick, you can lead your receiver up into space, into the area between the two safeties. Another example against a Cover 2, after the outside receiver gets off the chuck, there’s a window between the corner and the safety. If you hold left on the L-Stick, you can throw the ball toward the sideline and away from coverage to help you complete the pass.”
The changes come in response to what the folks at EA, in an annual film-watching session with John Madden himself, identified as a trend in the league. A team’s passing game has never been so important, and every player involved — quarterback, wide receiver, and even defender — has never been so skilled or so savvy. Where teams used to run, even, they know throw shovel passes, swing passes, or quick outs. The running game is for many teams a means to an end, and the end is passing yards galore. Larry Richart is one of EA’s gameplay designers, and describes what the designers and developers saw:
During the 8 or so hours of watching every NFL game that day, we get to talk to Coach about different trends that are happening around the league. In each of the past three visits one common theme has emerged. Coach has pointed out to us about how much the NFL has changed into a passing league. Teams now pass to set up the run. You see teams throwing quick screens and swing passes in situations where you used to see runs. Offensive coordinators control the clock by calling high percentage completion passes. In fact, we saw three quarterbacks throw for more than 5000 yards this year, when it had only happened two other times in NFL history!
As sports video games have become more impressive and feature-complete, the focus is now shifting to granular control and realism. Suddenly rather that just say “pass to the tight end” you’re in control of every single part of the quarterback’s decision process. How hard do I throw the ball? Which shoulder do I throw it to? When do I release it so that he’s expecting it, but the defense isn’t? Madden players now really get to be the brains of the players, controlling them like a real-life avatar rather than a few pixels on the screen. That’s why we’re seeing teams start to use video games to study and train, and that trend is only going to continue and expand.
The same goes for playing other positions, too. EA knows that most casual gamers just throw the ball and let the receiver do the work to catch it, or control a linebacker or lineman and let the rest of the unit fend for itself. Part of the goal of Madden ’13 is to change that. Here’s Robinson again:
“We also wanted to make the user-catch experience more user-friendly,” says Richart. “So we’ve slowed down the control of the receiver so it’s easier to keep him on the right path. In previous versions, if you took control and held right, he might immediately spin around and the ball would go flying over his head. Now, we slow things down, we won’t turn you as abruptly, and we’ll keep you on the right path. When you click on, your intent is to catch the ball. We’re trying to help the user so it’s now more beneficial and more fun to click on the receiver and make the catches yourself. We’ve tested this with some of the best Madden gamers in the world, and from what they tell us, this is something that will not only help the average guy, it won’t get in the way of the expert.”
Even the defensive gameplay has been tweaked to allow more customized pass defense, so you can tweak your team to your exact pass-stopping scheme. There’s plenty more to be excited about, too, from the announcing combo of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to the new-look uniforms Nike unveiled a few weeks ago.
The game will be out in June, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be playing it non-stop until Madden ’14 comes out with some new feature I hadn’t even thought about, but someday won’t be able to live without either.