Madden NFL 13 Gameplay

It's April, and in the pro football world that means NFL Draft time, schedules being announced and mini camps right around the corner. The excitement is in the air as teams prepare for the Draft in hopes of finding their next franchise player. Meanwhile, here in Orlando, our Tiburon development team is working hard on another great siumlation of NFL football with Madden NFL 13

Gameplay is an extremely important element to any great game, and in Madden NFL 13 we have made significant updates to give the user an even more authentic NFL experience.  Over the past year, our studio has made some significant changes to the leadership team, and it all starts with General Manager Cam Weber.  Cam has come to us from EA Canada and brought with him a new philosophy stressing the importance of gameplay.  Under his leadership, our Core Gameplay Team has more than doubled in size.  What that means is we have been able to incorporate the most changes to gameplay thus far in the current console generation.  Cam, being a former college QB, has a passion for football and has really helped inspire our team to take gameplay to that next level.

One of the really cool parts of my job (and there are many…) is that in each of the past 3 years, myself and other members of the development team have had the opportunities to fly out to California and meet and watch NFL games with John Madden at his studio.  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!  With all these teams throwing the ball more and more, the Quarterback position has never been more important.  So with all these factors and trends, it only made sense for us to place a major focus for Madden NFL 13 on completely overhauling and improving the passing game.

Throwing the ball has always been a big part of our game, but we wanted to do even more with it and make it an even better experience for the user.   One of the old announcer clichés that you often times hear during a TV broadcast is about how a quarterback can “throw his receiver open.”  The passing windows are so much smaller in the NFL with the best of the best going up against each other every Sunday, so it’s up to the quarterback to throw the ball to a spot where only his receiver can go and get it.  With that in mind, we wanted to give the user the ability to throw the ball to different areas of the field by adding a new Total Control Passing Mechanic.  This mechanic allows you to throw the ball into space by using the L-Stick.  Now you may be thinking that this is the same as it has always been but the new system is more comprehensive than ever.  We have completely re-tuned the pass leading with the L-Stick to give you more control to throw the exact type of pass you want.  

Compared to the average guy, every NFL quarterback has a cannon arm.  We are talking about the best 100 quarterbacks in the world here!  But what really separates the elite guys from the clipboard holders is their ability to make all the throws by using different pass trajectories.  Guys like Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady all have an uncanny ability to put just enough touch on passes to throw over linebackers but with enough speed to get the ball to their receivers in front of the safeties.  So in wanting to duplicate how these guys throw passes in real life, in Madden NFL 13 we have added over 25 new pass trajectories/ball speeds for all the different passing zones.  In previous years we only had one global ball speed which meant you had one trajectory for every type of pass.  You could throw lobs, bullets, and medium type passes, but a lob would be the same on any type of route.  For example, if you threw a lob pass on a swing or flat type route to a running back versus a streak to an outside wide receiver, you would get the same type of trajectory or what was commonly referred to as a “moon ball.”  With these new pass trajectory zones, you will now be able to throw a much more realistic pass based on the route your receiver is running.  For instance, if your back is on a swing, you just want to be able to throw him a nice dump off type pass where he can catch the ball in stride and turn upfield quickly.  We’ve also slowed down bullets in certain situations as it didn’t make sense to have a ball thrown as hard as possible when the receiver was only 8 or 9 yards away.  That made it very difficult for receivers to trigger catches and often times lead to incompletions.   In these cases, a bullet pass in Madden NFL 13 will be much more catchable and thrown at a more realistic speed.  

These changes to pass trajectories also allowed us to help the user have more control over the three types of passes you would want to throw: lobs, medium/touch, and bullet passes.  To get a lob pass, simply tap the receiver icon.  To get a bullet pass, hold the receiver icon all the way through the QB’s pass animation.  Finally, to get a medium/touch pass press the receiver icon and then release before the QB gets to the end of his animation.  The medium/touch passes will especially useful when trying to throw passes just over linebackers’ heads and in front of the safeties.  This may take some practice to master so don’t be afraid to spend a little time “in the lab” in practice mode before jumping in to a real game.  Even the pros go through training camp and preseason before the games really count!

Another important change to the passing game is the addition of over 20 new quarterback dropback animations.  These dropbacks are critical to both the timing of the play as well as keeping the QB protected in the pocket.   These new animations include 1, 3, 5, and 7 step variations from under center, dropbacks with pump fakes built in (you will see  these on double move route plays like “Sluggo Seam”), and my personal favorite, brand new Screen Pass drops.  The new under center drops are all designed to time up specifically with the routes by the receivers on the play.  For example, on longer developing routes such as comebacks, deep posts and post corners, the QB will take a 7-step drop.  As he gets to the end of his drop, the receivers should be just about ready to make their last cut which is when you would want to throw the ball if they are open.  Again, these dropbacks are all designed to be based on how these routes develop and time like they do in the NFL.  Screen dropbacks are also very beneficial to the user, as theylet you get the QB back quickly and then drift a few steps, allowing him a much better chance to get the pass off over the rushing defenders.  We’ve also added some 1-step specific WR/Bubble screen plays where the QB will immediately turn in the direction of the screen receiver.  These dropbacks are a staple of the Patriots offense in which Tom Brady loves to get the ball out quickly and into the hands of guys like Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead.  We’ve also added Drew Brees’ patented backpedal drop where he loves to throw a little swing screen out to his backs on the perimeter.  Another goal for us with the addition of these new dropbacks is to try and teach our users that they don’t have to try and take control of the quarterback at the snap to get him to do his dropback.  If you let the QB auto-drop, he will take the proper steps for you while you can scan the defense and find the open receiver. 

Another realistic improvement we have made is with the pass animations in general.  We have added new, deep pass animations that replaced the longer, slower deep passes that seemed to take forever in previous games.  We have also added several new rollout/throw on the run animations that will trigger when your QB is on the move.  We’ve heard the complaints about the QB getting sacked or hit because of a set up instead of throwing on the run so we eliminated all those for Madden NFL 13.  Depending on how fast you are moving, you will either get a set or on-the-run type pass.  If you are moving at a fairly fast speed, you will definitely trigger a throw on the run animation.  However, just like real life, there is a risk if you attempt to throw on the run all the way across your body.  That is a definite no-no that drives coaches crazy!  We have specially tuned how effective throwing on the run is for the All-Pro and All-Madden skill levels.  The more realistic the throw (i.e. QB is moving towards his target in relation to his throwing arm) the more accurate the pass will be.  It’s when you start throwing back across the field that you can get into trouble.   Another animation addition to the passing game is new shovel passes.  Shovel passes will only trigger when a receiver is short distance away and facing the QB.  These shovel pass animations will help aid the user in getting rid of the ball quicker and in a more realistic manner.  We’ve even added the underhand flip shovel pass that Brett Favre famously pulled off in a snow game several years back.

Quarterback pocket movement is another important element to having a successful passing game.  To help make the feel of moving around in the pocket more realistic, we have slowed down how fast the QB can move while in the controlled pocket state.  In previous years faster QBs were able to outrun chasing defenders without having to go into the scramble state.  This was not realistic, so we made sure that you can only move at a certain speed while in that controlled QB state.  This will allow users to move within the confines of the pocket in a more realistic manner, and also keep the QB in a balanced state and ready to pass at any moment. 

Another addition to pocket movement is the inclusion of 8 brand new avoidance moves when in the pocket.  We had avoidance moves in four directions in previous years, but these 8 new ones are not only much better looking and faster, but they give you a greater chance of breaking out of a sack.  When you see defensive pressure coming, you can simply flick the R-Stick in any direction to trigger an avoidance move when you are standing in the pocket. 

Pump Fakes are good ways for quarterbacks to both escape pressure and to get a defender to bite on a double move route- just ask Ben Roethlisberger.  In Madden NFL 13, we have replaced several of the older pump fake animations with smoother, faster and better-looking animations.  These new pump fakes are for both in the pocket and when scrambling outside of the pocket.  You can pump fake to a specific receiver by holding LB and the receiver icon to try and get the defender to bite on a double move route like  Hitch and Go’s, Slant and Go’s (Sluggo’s), Stick Nods, etc.  To have the best shot at getting a defender to bite on a pump fake, try to pump as the receiver begins his first cut of any double move route.

Another major change in Madden NFL 13 is the fact that timing now matters when throwing to receivers.  At the beginning of every pass play you will immediately notice that not all of your receivers pass icons will be fully lit up.  Receiver icons will remain dim until they would be expecting a pass in a realistic time frame based on their route.  You don’t see Peyton Manning throw the ball to a tight end that is covered right off the line and is running a deeper route.  The idea behind this was to eliminate users from being able to snap and immediately complete passes to receivers right off the line of scrimmage without the receivers actually seeing the pass thrown.  So depending on the receiver’s route, there will be a window when the icon will light up and when he can expect a pass.  Certain routes (such as flats, swings and bubble screens) will have the icons light up right away, while other longer developing routes (Streaks, Deep Posts, Corners) will light up later on during the route.   We have also added special rules to override certain situations to allow receivers to look earlier than normal.  These rules include if a defender over them in man coverage blitzes, immediately after a press animation (like Cover 2), and as they come through zones and are between defenders. Now just because an icon lights up, that doesn’t mean is the receiver is necessarily open.  You’ll still have to read the coverage and throw the ball to the correct player based on what the defense is doing.  The dim icons also do not mean that you can’t actually throw the ball to a receiver either.  It simply means that if you throw the ball when the receiver isn’t expecting it, he won’t go for a catch unless you actually click on and user catch.

All these passing changes are great, but they don’t work if the receivers don’t make catches!  We didn’t want to leave out the receivers in this overhaul of the passing game, so we decided to add a brand new catching system.  This new system allows us to eliminate catch holes completely so you won’t see balls flying over receivers’ heads without a catch attempt.  This new system also makes it much easier to tune existing animations and allows us to make each and every catch look just like you see in real life.   But the biggest part of the new catching system is the addition of over 430 new catch animations!  These new animations give the game a completely fresh look as many of the catches that you have seen for years have all but been eliminated and replaced with newer and better-looking animations. 

An additional aspect of the new catching system is the change to user catching.  Many users have expressed frustration about how hard it has been to take control of your receiver and actually complete a catch.  This is an area of the game that really separates the elite from the rest of the pack in the online world.  This year we have slowed down the control when clicking on a receiver and made it much easier to take control when the ball is in the air to help position the receiver to make the catch.  However, hardcore players shouldn’t be alarmed as we have had several community day members that were experts in this area give us their stamp of approval.  The goal here was to try and get more users to not be fearful of clicking on and trying to make a catch.

Of course, with all these changes to the passing game you are probably wondering what about the defense?!  Well, we’ve made some major changes on that side of the ball as well.  To help defend against the new Total Control Passing and new catch system we felt it was important to focus a particular area of the defense that has been neglected the past few years: Defensive Alignment.  We have taken to heart the feedback about the flaws in our current alignment system.  Over the past few years our design team has also met with several defensive-minded coaches from around the NFL including head coaches Rex Ryan, Jim Schwartz and Mike Smith, as well as Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.  In each and every one of those meetings they all talked about the importance of alignment and how critical it was for defensive success. With all that in mind, Designers Mike Scantlebury and Anthony White completely revamped our alignment system with brand new realistic lettering of receivers and rules for every type of formation and set.  You’ll no longer see mismatches where your outside linebacker will be in man coverage on a slot receiver while the cornerback is on the other side covering a tight end. Defenders will now align according to the offense and make sure that have they have best defensive matchups possible. 

Another key change to the new alignment system in Madden NFL 13 is the fact that defenses now do a much better job of disguising their coverage based on their pre-snap reactions.  In previous years it was fairly easily to tell if the defense was in a man or zone coverage.  One of the ways to tell was to send a back or receiver in motion and if someone followed it was man; if no one followed it was a zone.  However, in this year’s game, if you call a zone and a receiver goes in motion, the defender that would be assigned to him in man coverage will follow.  The defense will swap zone assignments as the receiver motions across the formation while giving no clues to the offense as to what defense they are in.  This change will be huge in helping confuse the offense and a great way to slow down the passing game.  We had several community day attendees tell us how important this will be in this year’s game. 

 The next big defensive change, and I’m about to make a pretty bold statement here, is the elimination of Psychic DBs!  Yes, I said it.  Our goal with our new Read and React Defensive AI system was to lock these guys up and throw away the key.  Defenders will now play like they do in real life and only make a play on the ball or cut with receivers if they actually see it happen.  The new Read and React Defensive AI System ties directly into what I talked above with the receiver not being able to play catches unless they see the ball, so it works for both sides of the ball.  This change will affect both the offense and defense in different ways, but nobody will be able to catch or swat unless they see the ball first. However, if the user has manually taken control and attempts to make a play on the ball, they will still have a shot at success. With this new system there was yet another reason (as if there weren’t enough already) that we needed to make sure our defense was aligned correctly before the snap. 

The third part of every NFL team, the Special Teams, also got a little love.  With the help of our new Design Intern (and former New England Patriot and Washing Redskin offensive lineman) Clint Oldenburg, we tuned both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball for the punt teams.  Punt returning has been improved by adding a third wedge blocker to the return plays to give the returner a little extra time to try and get some yards.  Clint also pointed out that our punt formations were a little off so we tweaked those to be more in line with how NFL teams line up. 

Playbooks are always a big deal to our game and that is no different in Madden NFL 13.  I’m just going to mention a few new formations here since I have already rambled on long enough.  For those of you still with me-I appreciate it!  With teams now using the tight end position in the passing game, you are seeing more and more formations with the tight end split out wide as well as two tight end sets.  The tight end position has evolved with guys like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley bursting onto the scene; along with the vets like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jason Witten that have been getting it done for years.  Gun Ace Wing TE and Empty Ace Patriot are two sets in the Patriots’ playbook that take full advantage of Gronkowski and Hernandez. Another new set that will be popular among users is the Gun Heavy Panther.  This is one of the goalline sets that the Panthers used to help Cam Newton rush for a remarkable 14 TDs in his rookie season.  These just a couple of the new offensive sets that you will see in Madden NFL 13.

For new defensive formations I asked playbook guru Anthony White to make a special guest appearance to give me some details on what we have added and here is what he said: 

“For the defensive side of the ball for Madden NFL 13 we put a major emphasis on creating new defensive sets that more accurately reflect the personnel that teams use for pass rushing purposes.  We wanted to avoid situations where a team’s best/primary pass rushers are either dropping into coverage or not on the field at all on passing situations.  We added 14 new defensive sets that that use different personnel groupings that mimic each team’s real life tendencies.    

“When breaking down the game film that the NFL provides us, the fronts and schemes are similar, but the personnel is what varies greatly from team to team.  This goes hand in hand with the new defensive alignment system in Madden NFL 13 that ensures the defenses are properly aligned with best on best.  Now teams will have their best personnel on the field in the front lines of the defense as well.  Here’s the list of the new defensive sets with a brief description of what they are.”

Nickel Wide 9 – Nickel formation in which both defensive ends are aligned further outside in what’s called a “Wide 9” technique.  Line techniques tell defensive linemen where in the defensive front to align.  The defensive ends use a 4 point stance. 

Nickel NASCAR – Nickel formation exclusive to the NY Giants which places Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Mathias Kiwanuka on the defensive line.  This puts more speed on the field for the Giants.

Nickel 2-4-5 DT – Nickel formation in which the DT replaces the RE on the defensive line.

Nickel 3 D Ends – Nickel formation that uses three defensive ends and one defensive tackle

Nickel 4 D Ends – Nickel formation that uses four defensive ends

Nickel 3-3-5 Sam – Nickel 3-3-5 formation in which the Sam linebacker is aligned in a standup position where a left defensive end would normally align.

Nickel 3-3-5 Even Sam – Same as Nickel 3-3-5 Sam with the difference being the Sam linebacker aligns in a three point stance.

Nickel 3-3-5 Will - Nickel 3-3-5 formation in which the Will linebacker is aligned in a standup position where a right defensive end would normally align.

Nickel 3-3-5 Even Will – Same as Nickel 3-3-5 Will with the difference being the Sam linebacker aligns in a three point stance.

Dime WR – Dime formation used by the Patriots in which wide receiver Julian Edleman is playing a slot defensive back position.

Sub 2-3-6 Sam – 2-3-6 formation in which the Sam linebacker is aligned in a standup position where a left defensive end would normally align.

Quarter 1-3-7 – Quarters formation in which both defensive ends are replaced by standup outside linebackers.

4-3 Over Odd – 4-3 formation used by the Patriots that aligns in an “Odd” front which gives it the look of a 3-4.  The left defensive end some plays is standing up and in other plays he’s in a three point stance.

46 Bear Under – A new 46 formation in which the right defensive end and two defensive tackles align over the guards and center.  The left defensive end and right outside linebacker align in Wide 9.

We’ve also updated the hot routes for both receivers and running backs.  The slant out is gone and has been replaced with a more realistic whip/zig out.  Running backs will also have brand new hot routes that are more in line with the routes that you see them run in real life. These include swing routes both to the right and left, a wheel route and a block and release route.  The wheel and block and release routes will go to the side he is lined up on, or to the right if he is lined up directly behind the QB.

Finally, another big improvement that we are excited to announce is the during play controller alignment with NCAA Football 13.  There was nothing more frustrating than thinking you were either pump faking or throwing the ball away only to see the opposite action happen.  So in Madden NFL 13, the post-snap button controls will be the same in both games.

Well that’s a few of the things that we have been working on here at Tiburon for Madden NFL 13 but certainly not all that is in store…  There are plenty of other great additions that we will reveal later on. Until then, if you made it all the way through this, I thank you for your patience.  The NFL season will be here before you know and before that starts, you can pre-order Madden NFL 13 now and it will hit the shelves on August 28th! 

Larry Richart- Gameplay Designer