While most of the Madden NFL 07 media blitz is focused on the next-generation versions of the game, it's the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions that will most likely be bringing in the cash for EA Sports. After all, with a massive installed base of consoles, sales of the current-gen version of Madden 07 will likely eclipse sales of the Xbox 360 version by a wide margin. Far from forgetting the current-gen versions of Madden, the development team at EA Tiburon has been working hard to make sure that PS2 and Xbox owners have as complete an NFL experience as they've come to expect. Just a few days before Madden NFL 07 is due on store shelves, we hit up Josh Looman, associate producer for current-gen Madden NFL 07, to talk about putting together this year's game, the future of the series, and the real-life NFL.
GameSpot: Now that Madden NFL 07 is about to be released, what are your postdevelopment thoughts on this year's game?
Josh Looman: I'm excited to hear what everybody thinks about this year's Madden. I'm also really happy with how the game turned out. Now that I've had a chance to sit down and play the game, I think you guys are really going to like some of the features we added this year. Lead blocking control really makes running the ball much more fun, and the new superstar cameras and controls get superstar to where we envisioned it should be at this point.
GS: How do you feel the running and blocking features turned out this year?
JL: I think they turned out great. When I play Madden, I love to run the ball and play defense, so these features are perfect for me. They really let you take advantage of the great HB/FB combos and the running backs that run behind great lines. The other thing that became apparent throughout our development cycle this year is the strategy this brings to multiplayer games. Since you can control any blocker, we've seen a lot of battles between somebody controlling Orlando Pace or Jonathan Ogden and their opponent lining right up across from them with Julius Peppers or Dwight Freeney. It really brings a one-on-one element to Madden's running game.
GS: Can you tell us about any feature or idea that didn't make it into this year's game that was initially planned for?
JL: There's always a ton of features that never make it in each year's game because of time. I personally have a master list of all the things I really want to get into the game at some point. NFL superstar mode came from that list initially. I don't want to spill the beans right now, though. You'll just have to wait until next year.
GS: While most of the focus has been on the next-gen versions of Madden, what do you think longtime PS2 or Xbox Madden players will get from this year's game that they can't get on the Xbox 360?
JL: I think there are some current-gen-specific features that the fans are really going to like. We've got an all-new scouting system during the draft that includes a College All Star game. Believe it or not, this is a feature that people have been asking about for years. We've also got NFL network mode and player roles in franchise. Player roles is one of the largest additions we've ever added to franchise. It completely changes how teams view and manage players. We worked a lot on cut logic to make franchise more realistic, too.
GS: Though superstar mode seems to be getting the lion's share of the attention, what's new with some of the "old standard" modes, such as franchise and online play?
JL: I touched on that a little bit in the previous question. Online has a cool new feature called online clubs. It allows you to form a club with your buddies and then play other clubs online. How well you do versus those other clubs is tracked, and you get credit for how well you do. Our focus this year, as it is every year, is to really make sure we add features to every area of the game that makes that area of the game feel brand new. I don't think you'd want to go back and play superstar mode, franchise mode, or the running game from Madden NFL 06 after seeing these new additions to the game.
GS: Some of the positions in superstar mode are easier to play than others. Any advice for folks who want to play defensive back or safety but don't want to get burned every play?
JL: You have to really separate how you've played Madden traditionally from how you'll play NFL superstar mode this year. When you play Madden in Play Now, you're used to just waiting for the quarterback to throw it and then trying to pick it off or knock it down. Playing cornerback or safety exclusively is different. I find myself using the following strategy a lot: If you're in man coverage, decide at the snap if you want to blanket the wide receiver or bait the quarterback. If you decide to bait the QB (my favorite), give the receiver a little bit of cushion. The quarterback will see that he's open and throw it. If you're waiting underneath, time your jump for the pick. And remember...they say defensive backs have to have short memories. Even corners like Champ Bailey get beat from time to time. The key is to make a big pick when your team needs it the most. There's nothing more satisfying in NFL superstar mode this year than getting beat once or twice early and then picking it off in the fourth quarter to seal the win. It's literally one of the best feelings I've ever had playing Madden.
GS: Do you have any idea how long the PS2/Xbox versions of the Madden series will go on?
JL: That's a hard question to answer. We haven't made any official announcements yet, but I have a feeling you haven't seen the last of the current-gen versions of Madden.
GS: A personal question: Once Madden 07 is released, will you be glad to take a break from football and go play something else?
JL: The good thing about that is the timing of the release. I'm a football fanatic (college and the NFL), so when we release the game, I turn my full attention to watching football. I still play NCAA Football and some other games, but my time is devoted to catching every football game that I can.
GS: OK, time for a tough question, and no hedging on this one! Which next-gen version of Madden are you more excited about: the PlayStation 3 or the Wii version?
JL: If I had to personally pick one, I'd say PS3. While I appreciate the potential the Wii has, the PS3 is the version I'm looking forward to.
GS: How about some true-or-false questions about the "real" NFL in preparation for the season's kickoff. First: Larry Johnson isn't just lucky; he's the best young running back in the NFL.
JL: True. He may struggle a bit because of the losses of Tony Richardson, Willie Roaf, and John Welbourn, but he's a monster. He has the perfect combination of size, speed, and strength for an NFL running back.
GS: Alex Smith is the future for the San Francisco 49ers.
JL: False. I wasn't a huge fan of the pick, but the 49ers were in a tough spot. I really believe they expected Matt Leinart to come out and had to do some damage control when he didn't. While I think Alex Smith can be a good NFL QB in the future, he's not a franchise QB in my opinion.
GS: Mario Williams will earn his number-one draft pick status this year.
JL: False. It's tough for any rookie to make a real impact in his first year. Beyond that, I'm not necessarily sold on Mario. He has the physical makeup of Julius Peppers, but I never saw the effort and consistency at NC State. He was very streaky, getting sacks in bunches and then disappearing for games at a time. After watching him in his first preseason game, I think he has a lot of work to do to earn that number-one pick status.
GS: Rex Grossman will start and finish every game for the Chicago Bears this year.
JL: False. I really think Brian Griese will be the guy for them this year. He's an accurate QB that can be a serviceable starter for any NFL team. Grossman looked OK when he first got back last year, but then he really started to struggle. He forced throws, made bad reads, and seemed to be hitting a wall as they finished the season. And that's not even touching on the injury concern with him. I think the Bears made a great move by picking up Griese in the offseason. GS: Shaun Alexander will evade the Madden Curse in 2006.
JL: True. Alexander is a workhorse. He might be exhausted from the tons of carries he'll get, but he'll evade any injury problems otherwise.
GS: Finally, call your shot now. Who's playing in Super Bowl XLI, and who wins it all?
JL: If I had to pick it now, I'd go with Carolina vs. Baltimore. The Ravens win it. They signed Mike Anderson to take over if Jamal Lewis goes down, and they added Steve McNair. They have an elite tight end, decent receivers, a great offensive line, and a solid defense with a big defensive tackle to let Ray Lewis move in space. Not to mention their defensive backs. I think it'll be a slugfest Super Bowl: 24-21 Ravens.
GS: Thanks for your time, Josh.