The official tagline for EA Sports' upcoming Madden NFL 10 is "fight for every yard," but we're more partial to something lead designer Ian Cummings told us during a recent EA press event in New York City: "Everything about this game bleeds football." Now, that quote might not surprise Madden fans--this is a football game, after all--but, from what we've seen of the game, it's indicative of the level of focus on display from the EA Tiburon development team. While last year's game put a big chunk of work into successful presentation upgrades, for Madden NFL 10 it seems that more effort than ever is going into improving the play in between the hedge marks.
For the last few months, the Madden development team has been opening up the making of Madden 10 on the publisher's blog, offering a window into what goes into making the annual franchise. So far, the team has called out things like improved head-tracking for quarterbacks and defensive backs, as well as a load of new fixes and upgrades for the franchise mode in Madden NFL 10. During the New York demo, the big news was a new tackling technology that the team has dubbed Pro-Tak.
In essence, Pro-Tak is designed to solve the gang tackling problem--or, more specifically, the lack of a gang tackling in previous versions of Madden. Fans have been clamoring for multiplayer takedowns for years now, but up until Madden 10, the Madden series has only allowed up to three players to be involved in a tackle (one of those including the ball carrier). That moves up significantly this season, with up to nine players involved in a tackle this time around. We saw it in action for ourselves during an exhibition rematch of Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
With Pittsburgh in control of the ball, Steelers slippery running back Willie Parker was on display dodging inside between the defensive linemen, before being wrapped up by multiple defensemen and taken to the ground. As Cummings told us, these Pro-Tak gang tackles aren't canned animations; instead, these are procedurally generated takedowns, with each player in the play treated as an individual. Because of that, players will have a measure of control even after being wrapped up. Especially powerful players--think Brandon Jacobs on the Giants--will be able to push the pile forward and even twist and turn as he...well, fights for every yard. In addition, big pileup tackles might even end before players hit the ground, with the referee blowing the play dead when forward momentum is lost.
Gang tackles aren't the only improvement when tracking down a ball carrier. According to Cummings, the dev team has worked to fix niggling annoyances in Madden, such as the "suction effect," where players are magnetically drawn toward ball carriers when trying to make a tackle. That unrealistic effect should be drastically reduced this year thanks to a reduction in the distance at which a wrap animation begins, which has been shortened from around three yards to around one yard this year. However, superstar players will still be able to wrap up a player from a greater distance than your run-of-the-mill defender.
The common tactic for many experienced Madden online players is to either move the quarterback straight back out of the pocket or roll him out toward the sidelines. Part of the problem, it seems, has been the lack of a pocket altogether. That's another area of focus for Madden 10--creating a realistic and effective pocket for the quarterback to settle in to, in order to go through his reads and make the pass. As we saw in our demo, the offensive linemen in charge of protecting Ben Roethlisberger were much more adept and formed a protective cone around Big Ben during his drop back, either blocking defensive linemen altogether or steering them outside to give Roethlisberger more time to make his reads.
Despite an improved pocket, sooner or later protection always breaks down. With that in mind, the developers are also working on making sure certain quarterbacks are good at either avoiding and shedding tackles or getting rid of the ball when wrapped up by a defender. Indeed, several times we saw Ben moving around in the backfield, shedding tackles (which will be controlled with a flick of the right stick) and, in one case, tossing the ball in the air as an Arizona defender had him locked up. Of course, throwing during a tackle is a gamble in real life and it will be in Madden 10; in this example, the ball came out of Roethlisberger's hands like a wounded duck, just ripe for an interception attempt.
The strategy of Madden players running backwards and bombing the ball has become such a problem that the developers are even considering making the quarterback drop back a bit more regimented than before. For instance, in plays that utilize a three-step drop, that animation will play out before you have control of the quarterback's movements. The seven-step drop will be the same, though you'll have a limited window in which you can break out of the long drop in order to evade a blitz or heavy pressure.
When you aren't fighting for every yard in Madden 10, you might be fighting for a fumble, thanks to a new minigame that looks to replicate the frantic chase that occurs when a ball gets loose on the field. The minigame, described as a quick-time event/button masher by producers, looks to add some interactivity and excitement to one of the tensest moments in any game. When asked how frequently this feature would crop up in games, producers said they were still tuning the feature--but it might be a safe bet to assume it might show up once per game. As producers told us, however, not every loose ball will result in the fight-for-the-fumble minigame.
Though gameplay improvements are first and foremost in Madden 10, there will be some graphical enhancements that look to build off the improved lighting and stadium effects from last year's game. Depth-of-field effects will add greater depth to the field (the developers are even considering offering an adjustable F-stop feature you could use when checking out replays). In addition, look for lots of little touches of authenticity--Super Bowl patches on player jerseys, on-field refs (that you knock down as readily as those on the sideline), hand towels in player pants, secondary team color gloves, and more. It sounds like it will be an NFL-minutiae-lover's dream.
There are still a ton of unanswered questions about Madden NFL 10. Last year's game featured a rather bare-bones online league implementation, and while producers weren't willing to go into more detail about online details in this year's game, they did mention that the dev team is working on new features for both competitive and cooperative online play, the latter of which certainly has us intrigued. In addition, we're curious to see how the franchise and superstar modes have improved since last season. We'll hopefully have more answers at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, which is when we'll get our hands on the game for the first time. We fully expect the Madden information to continue flowing before then, however, and you can keep up with all of the latest news over at the