We recently had the opportunity to see an early version of Madden NFL 2004 for the PC in motion. The game will have some pretty significant new features on all platforms, including the comprehensive owner mode, but it will also have a few additions specific to the PC versions.
Obviously, Madden 2004 will feature updated rosters and stats for all its players, but according to producer Rod Moye, the EA Sports Tiburon team wants to make sure that the new game isn't just a roster update in a box. That's why all versions of Madden 2004 will feature the new owner mode, which will let you play as both the team on the field as well as the general manager of your team (rather than simply the head coach). As general manager, you'll be tasked with many of the objectives you might expect from a management game, including appointing a coaching staff (offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams, and a head coach), trading players, and arranging moves to a new city if you receive a buy offer--you'll even be able to change your team's jerseys to reflect their new hometown. Your main goal in owner mode will be to raise money for your team--you can do this by making sure your games are packed to the rafters by buying TV ads, as well as by purchasing and building up an attractive stadium with different types of field, sidelines, and end zones, as well as architectural niceties like a big-screen monitor or a dome roof. You can even get right down into the details of what your concession stands are selling (beer, pretzels, T-shirts, bobble-head souvenirs, oversized novelty foam hands, and so on) and at what price. But obviously, one of the best ways to bring in crowds and win lots of popular support at home is also to have a great season.
On the field, Madden 2004 will let you make use of an improved play-calling interface that's less jarring and shows potential plays on top of the field so that you won't feel pulled out of the action. Once you've got a play in place, you'll be able to change your players' behavior on the fly with the new "playmaker" feature, which lets you quickly tell a receiver or linebacker to change positions with a single tap of the right analog stick on your gamepad. In addition, Madden 2004 will feature improved player AI based on real-world stats--quarterbacks that are known for scrambling can and will do so, rather than stand around in the pocket and wait for the ball. And while making actual field plays from the overhead view, you'll now be able to follow the action more closely, since the game will now tilt the camera to follow the ball.
The PC version of Madden 2004 will feature a number of PC-specific additions as well, including enhanced graphics. EA Games recently signed a deal with Nvidia to support high-end graphic effects such as specular lighting and soft shadows that will change the look of the field dynamically depending on the time of day and the weather conditions. It will also have per-pixel shading on its player models so that you'll be able to see players' jerseys get sweaty or covered with dirt and dust. The PC version of the game specifically will include much larger textures that will be about four times the size of those in the Xbox version. In addition, the game will have many, many more player animations, including more-realistic moves like running up the sideline while leaning away from a tackle, as we saw.
The PC version of Madden 2004 will feature online play via the EA Sports Online service and will have a number of new features that should sit well with Madden PC fans. The game will let you organize online leagues that will not only track stats, but will also act as a "friends list" that will keep track of all players participating in your league and will automatically match you up with another player in your league if you're just looking for some competition. Madden 2004's online multiplayer options will focus on getting players matched up and playing games quickly--so if you schedule a game with some league buddies and your opponent doesn't show, you'll get a "bye" win, and the season will continue. In addition, the PC version of Madden 2004 will get rid of the dreaded "pause trick," in which sore losers would often pause the game indefinitely if they were losing, in the hopes that their opponent might get sick of waiting and forfeit the game. You can pause the game only a limited number of times and only for a limited amount of time in multiplayer--so if your opponent tries to make you quit by pausing, you'll actually be able to force him to unpause his game after a short wait and get back to losing. Madden 2004 is scheduled for release later this year.