NCAA Football 13 - Gameplay

With many teams around the nation participating in spring football it reminds us that the fall season is just around the corner.  With that in mind, the development team here at Tiburon is busy at work putting the finishing touches on NCAA Football 13

This year, we have placed a special emphasis on gameplay.  In fact, we have doubled the size of our Core Gameplay team and made the most gameplay changes in the console generation.  We started with an area of the game that has become a very popular trend in the college game today:  passing.

Teams from across the nation are slinging the rock all over the yard at a record rate.  Looking at box scores it’s not uncommon to see each team’s quarterback throw for well over 300 yards in a game.  Depending on a team’s offensive style you may even see a quarterback throw the ball 60 times in a single game. With all this “pitching and catching” (like the ole ball coach likes to say…) going on in the real NCAA game, we wanted to re-invent the passing game in our version of NCAA Football 13.

Passing has been a strong part of our game for years, but we felt we could do more with it and make it an even better experience for the user.  The first change we made was to re-do our pass trajectories.  In years past, we only had one ball speed, which meant only one type of trajectory for every type of pass.  So, for example, if you threw a lob pass on a streak to an outside wide receiver versus a lob on a swing pass to a running back, you would get the same type of trajectory, or what we called a “moon ball.”  In NCAA Football 13, we have broken down the trajectories and ball speeds into more than 20 different zones.  So now that swing pass to the running back can be completed in stride with enough time to turn upfield.  We’ve also slowed down how fast bullet passes fly for shorter, medium and deep distance passes.  When the receiver is only 10 yards away, you wouldn’t expect a bullet pass to be as hard as the QB can throw it because that would make for a very difficult catch.  Therefore, the bullet pass in this case will be much slower than if you were trying to fire in a deep dig route in between zone defenders down the field.

The change to pass trajectories also allowed us to make it easier to get the three types of passes: 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 (and this may take a little practice to master) press the receiver icon and then release before the QB gets to the end of his animation.  The medium/touch passes will be especially useful when trying to toss a ball just over linebackers’ heads and in front of the safeties.

Another change we have made to the passing game is our new Total Control Passing mechanic.  You have always been able to lead the pass in certain directions by using the L-Stick, but in NCAA Football 13 we have re-tuned the L-Stick lead to allow the user to throw the ball exactly where they want to put it.  One scenario where this is especially useful is when you have a slot receiver running a 10 yard dig route versus a Cover 2 defense.  Normally you shouldn’t try to complete this pass, as your receiver will be running into traffic with the linebackers in underneath zones.  However, with the new Total Control Passing mechanic you can now lead that receiver into space and the open part of the field (the deep middle between the 2 deep safeties) by holding up on the L-Stick. 

Combining the new Total Control Passing mechanic and mastering the new types of pass trajectories can help turn you into an unstoppable passing machine!

We have also made some other significant changes to the passing game revolving around the quarterback.  Dropbacks are essential to both the timing of the play as well as keeping the QB protected in the pocket.  For NCAA Football 13, we have added over 20 new QB dropback animations.  These include 1, 3, 5, and 7 step variations from under center, dropbacks with pump fakes built in, and my personal favorite - brand new screen pass drops.  The new under center drops are all designed to be timed out with the routes by the receivers.  For example, on longer developing routes such as comebacks and the Cover 2 corner routes (or what I often hear referred to as “C” routes), 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.  The new running back screen dropbacks are also very beneficial to the user as they allow you to get the QB back quickly and in a much better position 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.  This also helps with the timing of the play to get the ball quickly out to your receiver and into the open field.

We’ve also improved the pass animations in general.  We have added new deep pass animations that replaced the longer, slower deep passes that seemed to take forever to get off 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 listened to the complaints about the QB setting up too often when on the run and frequently getting sacked or hit during the release.  In NCAA Football 13, if you attempt a pass while your QB is moving past a specific speed, he will trigger an on-the-move pass animation, which can trigger both in and out of the pocket.  Now, if you are moving and still want to throw a standing set pass, you can simply let go of the L-Stick and wait a split second and the QB will set up to throw.  Watch out though, because with these new throw on the run animations there is definitely some risk to trying to throw certain types of passes.  For example, if you are scrambling out to the left with a right handed QB and attempt to pass all the way back across the field to the right, it’s going to be very difficult to complete.  Those are the types of passes where you always hear the announcers saying “you should never throw late across your body into the middle of the field.”  It’s a risk/reward when throwing on the run, but if you attempt the correct types of passes in these situations (i.e. throwing to the right flat when scrambling to the right with a right handed QB) you will have a much higher success rate when completing passes. Another addition to passes is the new shovel passes.  Shovel passes will trigger when a receiver is a short distance away and facing the QB.  These shovel pass animations will play instead of the longer, full wind up passes to help aid the user in getting rid of the ball quicker and in a more realistic manner.

Quarterback pocket movement is another important element to having a successful passing game.  To help improve the feel of moving around in the pocket we have slowed down how fast the QB can move while in the controlled pocket state.  This will allow users to move within the confines of the pocket in a more deliberate manner to keep the QB in a balanced state and ready to pass at any moment.  Another upgrade is the addition of 8 new avoidance moves when in the pocket.  When you see defensive pressure coming, you can simply flick the R-Stick in any direction to trigger an avoidance move.  These avoidance moves can boost your chances of breaking out of a sack and allow you to get passes off when you thought you didn’t have a chance.

Pump fakes are also a good way for a quarterback to both escape pressure and to get a defender to bite on a double move route.  In NCAA Football 13, we have replaced several of the older pump fake animations with smoother, faster and better looking animations.  These new pump fakes are available both in the pocket and when scrambling.  We have also added the ability to pump fake to a specific receiver by holding LB and the receiver icon.  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 significant change in NCAA Football 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.  The idea behind this was to eliminate users from being able to snap and fire and complete passes to receivers right off the line of scrimmage without the receivers actually seeing the pass thrown (I’ll get into this a little more later on when we talk about defense…).  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.   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 he is necessarily open.  You’ll still have to read the coverage and throw the ball to the correct receiver 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 the ball unless you attempt a user catch.

These passing changes are all well and good, but they don’t work if the receivers don’t make catches!  Well, have no fear my friends because we have also added a brand new catching system.  This new setup allows us to eliminate holes so you won’t see balls flying over receiver’s heads without a catch attempt.  This new system also makes it much easier to tune existing animations and allows us to tune the amount of warping on a per animation basis rather than a global amount.  For instance, the harder catches to trigger, like sideline catches, may have a slightly higher warp tolerance than a standing catch, which is much easier to trigger.  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 animations that you have seen for years have all but been eliminated and replaced with newer and better looking ones. 

Another new feature 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 make a grab.  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.

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 seen, heard, and read the countless complaints (and rightly so!) about the flaws in our alignment system, and any defensive coach will tell you if you don’t align properly before the snap, you have no chance.  With all that in mind we have completely revamped our alignment system with brand new realistic lettering of receivers and rules for every type of formation and set.  You won’t 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 NCAA Football 13 is the fact that defenses now do a much better job of disguising their coverage.  In previous years it was fairly easily to tell if the defense was in a man or zone coverage.  One of the tricks was to send a man 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 their defensive set.  This change will be huge in helping to confuse the offense and a great way to slow down the passing game. 

“Psychic DB’s” …we’ve all heard that before.  Well, in NCAA Football 13 you won’t be seeing them.  With the addition of the new Read and React Defensive AI system, the days of defenders magically breaking on the ball without seeing it actually thrown or cutting at the same time as the receiver, are all but over!  Just like in real life, defenders will have to actually see the ball thrown or find it in the air before they can break on it.  This ties directly into what I talked above with the receiver not being able to play catches unless they see the ball, so it goes both ways.  This change will affect both sides of the ball 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 chance. The new Read and React AI System will also affect when defenders break on route cuts. So again, there was another reason that we needed to make sure our defense was aligned correctly before the snap. 

Finally we can’t talk about NCAA Football 13 without bringing up the Option.  The Option is one of unique aspects of the college game and we have added to it in a variety of ways. First, we have added new pitch animations that look and feel more natural.  We’ve also added a set of pitch tackles which will trigger in a more realistic manner.  We hated seeing the user attempt to pitch the ball only to be hit and pull the ball back in without the pitch being released.  Now you will be able to pitch the ball before the tackle occurs and still release the ball to your pitch man.  We’ve also added new pitch catches (with the new catching system) which also gives the Option game a new and fresh feel.

That’s just some of the things that we have been working on here at Tiburon for NCAA Football 13 but that’s definitely not all!  There are plenty of other great additions that I left out because I didn’t want to spoil the fun all at once…  Thanks for checking out the blog!  Just a few more months until the fall season is here but it’s an even shorter wait until NCAA Football 13 hits the shelves on July 10th!  Thanks again for reading and get ready to air it out!

Larry Richart- Gameplay Designer NCAA Football 13