For football fans, NFL Draft week represents a respite in a sea of meaningless early season baseball and moderately exciting NBA playoff action. For video game football fans, NFL Draft week is essentially the kickoff for two of the biggest sports games around: EA Sports' NCAA Football 11 and Madden NFL 11. We'll be seeing both of those games in person for the first time later this week; on Friday, I'll have my preview of NCAA 11. And next Monday, I'll have our first look at Madden 11. In the meantime, we've got an exclusive look at the new dual-stick controls in Madden NFL 11, which look to give you more control over the ball carrier than ever before. To get the details, we turned to EA Sports' Jason Danahy, animation director on Madden NFL 11. We've also got a couple of tech demo videos courtesy of EA that will illustrate some of the new animations in action.
GameSpot: Before we get into the details of how dual-stick controls work, can you explain the philosophy behind the new control system? What are you looking to accomplish?
Jason Danahy: We spent time looking at highlights of some the great running backs (Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, etc.), as well as game film of today’s running backs. We broke down why these guys were successful when running the ball and decided to focus in on two basic points: footwork and body control.
What we found was that a lot of these guys set defenders up with a quick plant or series of plants (breakdown). They would plant to one side and see how the defender would react to that and then decide what to do next based off of the defender…maybe a juke to the outside, maybe a spin back to the inside, or just cut and go.
They also had great control of their upper body. They knew when to try and deliver a hit to a defender and when to protect the ball and try and avoid taking a big hit. They could steer into a defender they were trying to truck, as well as turn their bodies away from defenders to not take the big shot and try to slip through a tackle or be able to fall forward to get that extra yard.
GS: How will the new right stick controls work? What will you be able to do with a ball carrier that you couldn’t do before?
JD: The basic breakdown is left and right are your foot plants/breakdown and jukes; forward is truck; and forward and then roll to left or right twists the upper body. Back is a “hesitation/high knees” move, and half circles around the bottom of the stick are your spins.
The upper body twist and hesitation/high knees move couldn’t be done at all last year. The hesitation/high knees move is an alternative to the plant and breakdown. Instead of getting lower, you lean back a bit and slow down a little to set up a move (Adrian Peterson does this quite a bit). It also gets your feet out in front of you a little more, which can be used to try and break dive tackles from behind. You will get a broken tackle bonus if you are able to do this when someone dives at your feet from behind. You can even “wind up” a truck to get an extra bonus if you can correctly time pulling down to lean back a little and then push forward into the truck. You don’t want to get hit when in this move because you will get crushed as you are pretty open and exposed. Everything else has been redone in a new way to give the user more control by making it easier to go from move to move.
GS: What aspects of a ball-carrier's attributes will affect how effective he is at jukes and spins? Have these new controls required some tweaking of those player attributes?
JD: The player’s juke and spin ratings affect the effectiveness of the special moves; the higher your players ratings are, the greater chance the defender will be faked out by a juke. The speed at which the jukes and spins are executed is also scaled based off of ratings, so elite backs and receivers are in and out of their moves faster than everyone else. We really haven’t had to change the specific ratings for these too much since the actions existed last year. This year was more focused on controlling those movements and getting more realistic execution of them.
GS: Explain how the lean mechanic works. What’s to stop a player from leaning forward at all times?
JD: The leaning is now tied to the right stick in an analog manner. Last year, you would flick up on the right stick and the ball carrier would be pulled out of locomotion and play a full body canned truck animation. Now, the amount of lean or twist is dependent on the location of the right stick and you never leave locomotion so you can steer the ball carrier into or away from a defender while trucking or twisting. If you time it just right and get your player to the max amount of lean (before stumbling), you get the max truck bonus. Same goes for twisting; if you can twist away from a defender when he is about to hit, you get a broken tackle/fall forward bonus. If you get caught twisting to the wrong side, fumble chance is increased.
As far as stopping someone from leaning over the whole time if you lean forward too far for too long, you will stumble. Once stumbling, you have a small window to stop leaning and recover; if you don’t, you will fall. You also can’t run at your max speed when leaning. And once you lean past a certain point, we don’t allow you to perform other special moves until you back off the lean.
GS: It seems like it will be easy to string together multiple moves in sequence. How much will these types of special moves affect a player’s stamina? Are there other limiting factors to prevent juke/spin abuse?
JD: Yes, the special moves do chip away at the overall reservoir of a player’s stamina during the play, and if you try to plant too many times (breakdown for too long), you will stumble. Anytime you are doing lots of special moves, you are going to be moving at less than top speed, and since everyone follows the new acceleration in locomotion, it will take you time to get back up to your max speed. The downside of this for the ball carrier is that while you are doing all of these moves that are slowing you down, the off ball defenders are able to keep their speed up and close quickly because they are generally running in straight lines.
This gives us a very realistic feel in that as a defender, if you can get the ball carrier to make moves to get by you, even if you don’t make the tackle, you are still slowing him down and giving other defenders a better chance to close in and make a play.
GS: How do the new right-stick controls tie in with the new locomotion physics you’ve talked about in previous weeks?
JD: When you start leaning or twisting, your top speed gets capped at a certain percentage of your normal top speed. Also, once you stop leaning, you will have to follow the acceleration curve to get back up to your max speed.
GS: Will players have the option to use the old button controls if they like?
JD: Yes, all the face buttons will work just like they did last year. We like to give fans a choice in how they control the game. That said, we’re confident once you use the sticks, you won’t go back to buttons.
GS: Most of these control tweaks we’ve talked about are meant for offensive players. Have there been any new right-stick controls for defense?
JD: With all the new locomotion work we did this year, we felt that users are rewarded appropriately by keeping their speed high for making good play-identifying decisions, like properly identifying a run versus a pass play, what hole to fill, or taking the proper pursuit angle. If you make poor decisions, a player will have to slow down to turn or play a direction change and then follow the new acceleration curves to speed back up. This feels natural for defenders, so we focused on this instead of simply adding nonessential moves to the right stick.
GS: Thanks for your time, Jason.