EA Sports' NCAA Football series has been on a roll for the past few years, churning out a series of high-quality football games that, for fans of the college game, were just as important as Madden NFL is to the rest of the sports gaming world. Last year's game, NCAA Football 07, the debut of the series on the Xbox 360, was one of the best-received versions of the game. However, in our review of the game, we had this to say:
While the mode is just as compelling as always, we're hoping that future installments in the next-gen versions of the game feature an overhauled dynasty mode at some point...
Apparently, EA Sports was listening. Today we had a chance to see the dynasty mode in NCAA 08, and it's safe to say that there's a whole lot that's new and much of it is improved from previous versions of the game. Up until now, EA's been mum on dynasty mode, and it's easy to see why; in some respects, this will be a much different way of playing the game than what you've come to be used to.
According to game producers, the choice to start anew with dynasty mode with NCAA 07 for next-gen consoles was a conscious one. As producers put it to us, had they simply ported over the system used in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, they might have been stuck with that same system for the entire life span of the consoles. Thus, change was in order and, though last year's dynasty mode wasn't a huge departure, you could see the mode heading in some new directions. The big jump, then, comes now.
When you boil it down to its essence, dynasty mode is all about persuasion, as in a college coach (played by you) persuading top high school talent to play for his school. In previous versions of NCAA, that persuasion came through in a limited system that let you call or visit players you were interested and hit them up with a limited number of pitches. Coupled with incomplete, and sometimes confusing, feedback from players and an esoteric points setup that had you doling out points each time you made a recruiting move, and you had a system that was in need of a makeover. While the central aspects of NCAA 08's dynasty mode remain the same--it's still up to you to do the convincing--you'll have much more control over your powers of persuasion.
When you first start a new dynasty, you're given the opportunity to create a prospect from scratch--perfect if you're looking to add in a player that the NCAA roster might have missed, or create a future superstar of your very own making. You can create multiple prospects, and once you're done, you move on to the next stage of recruiting, researching players for your team. As in years past, you'll have a team-needs chart that will show you exactly what positions you're strong at and where you are lacking depth. The database of available players is absolutely huge, with thousands of players to choose from. To help you sift through all these players, a handy search tool is available. Here you can search for players by a number of parameters including position, state, caliber (based on the five-star rating system), ideal height, ideal weight, ideal 40-yard-dash time, and commitment status. Commitment status will be more important the further you progress through your season; as a player gets down to the final handful of schools he's interested in, this parameter will give you a better idea of whether it's even worth pursuing him.
As an example, we chose Auburn as our dynasty school and had two immediate needs to fill--a fullback and an offensive lineman. In the parameter section, we chose to look for a four-star blocking fullback from any of our pipeline states, weighing at least 230 pounds and running a 4.5 40. Once you hit the search button, you can go to your results and see who meets some or all of your criteria. Depending on the granularity of your search, you might not meet all of your criteria but you can get pretty close. In our case, our search resulted in 14 prospects that met more than 50 percent of the attributes we were looking for. The list of players that meet your criteria will show you how closely (in percentage) each player comes to your "ideal"; in our case we had one player that matched 75 percent of what we were looking for. We immediately tossed him and two others on our prospect list. It should be noted that you are not required to use the search tool to find your prospects--you can flip through the huge database yourself, or consult the familiar US map in order to search by state (though only during the season for the latter option).
Once you've got a list of players on your recruiting board, you can change their order of priority by moving them up and down the list. This is important because where a player falls on your recruiting board will change the options available to you when it comes to recruiting him. For example, you can't visit a player at his home, invite him to campus, or make play-time promises to him unless he's prioritized in your top five on the recruiting board.
With your recruiting board populated and your list prioritized, it's time to get down to the brass tacks of convincing players to wear your school colors. To do so, you're going to need to work what you know about your program's strengths with what you know about each player's needs. The first part of the equation is easy: By checking out the "my school" menu item in dynasty mode, you can see how your school rates along 12 distinct categories: academic prestige, campus lifestyle, coach experience, coach prestige, conference prestige, championship contender, athletic facilities, fan base, pro factory, program stability, program tradition, and television exposure. Ratings can go from "sub-par" on the low end to "elite" at the top. For example, Auburn ranks "elite" in conference prestige, "very good" in academic prestige, and "excellent" in everything else. When it comes to recruiting players, then, Auburn and other powerhouse schools like it will have a distinct advantage against smaller schools that may only excel in a handful of areas.
But, as we mentioned, a school's program is only half of the equation. There are still the desires of the specific player to consider. And here's where things get interesting (and just a little complicated). Unlike in the past, where you spent recruiting points to make contact with players, in NCAA 08, you'll be making phone calls each week, making contact with your prospects and pitching them on the various aspects of your program that you think they might be interested in. Each week you have ten allotted "hours" to talk to your various prospects and each phone call you make eats into that time. When you call a player, it's all about the pitch you use. The problem is, you don't really know the player yet, so you're still trying to feel out his needs. As you make pitches, you'll learn what aspects of game are important to him, and which he couldn't care less about.
Remember Auburn's "elite" conference prestige? We decided to use that as our opening pitch for our promising fullback prospect. Player interest is represented by a cartoon football in the upper right hand side of the screen, whose expression will change depending on the success (or lack thereof) of your pitch. Choosing that from a list of potential pitches we were given the option to "find pitch" and "hard sell pitch." Finding a pitch is simply trying to learn what works and how the player will respond; you only want to use the hard sell as either a desperation tactic or when you are reasonably sure it will work. Experimenting, we tried a conference prestige "find pitch" on our pick and he immediately brightened to the idea. Reflecting his interest, the cartoon football got a huge grin on its face, and the pitch important column indicated this was that player's "most important" aspect when considering a program. Jackpot!
As you whittle away at the different pitches on players, your goal is to present the pitches that do work and stay away from the ones that don't. As you go throughout the season and you learn more about these players, the various pitches available to you will be "locked", which means they accurately represent a player's feelings about that pitch. If a player's conference prestige importance is locked as "most", then, you know exactly where he stands; just as if he notes a fan base pitch as "low" importance, it's best to stay away from that one. Don't spend too much time on the hard sell however, as it will result in the player getting increasingly disgruntled with you, sometimes to the point of hanging up. Instead, you should keep the pitches coming until you find that sweet spot. If a player isn't convinced, you will sometimes have a third pitch option, "sway", which means you're attempting to convince a player of the importance of a particular aspect of your program he might not have previously considered. It's risky--sometimes players don't want to be convinced--but it can also work to your favor and turn around a previously unavailable player.
All of these different pitch types might sound confusing at first but, with a little time with the game, you realize the depth and variety they bring to the recruiting process. As the season progresses, you'll get a better idea of a player's pitch desires, as other teams will have recruited him as well. Once you've got a player really interested in your program you can invite them to visit the campus or visit their home; in both cases you'll have to pick three pitches to use on him during the visit, again based on your school's strengths and what you know about him. To aid you, your prospect will give you a letter grade indicating your pitch performance after a visit. In addition, you'll also have access to information on a player's interest in other schools, so you'll know when it's best to pursue or cut and run.
The final weapon in a coach's recruiting armory is the promise. If you're really after a hot player, you can make a promise to him. These promises can range from being a first string starter right out of the gate, to making the Freshman All American team, to winning a national championship. Obviously these types of promises can go a long way into turning the tide on a player's interest. The only problem is, once you've made a promise, you'll be expected to keep it. Should you keep a promise, and your player does make the All American team for example, you're coach integrity rating will go up, giving you access to more powerful (and more risky) promises the next time around. Fail to keep your promises and your integrity rating will go down. Keep zero promises and you'll transform into Dennis Erickson. Okay, just kidding on that one.
One new feature in NCAA Football 08 that looks to work pretty well with both dynasty mode and the new-look campus legend mode, is the so-called super sim feature. When in game, you can sim past specific plays, or to your next offensive possession, or even skip entire quarters or games. For dynasty mode, it's a quick way to zip through games while still keeping abreast of the action; for campus legend mode, it should be a handy method for keeping the action focused squarely on your player.
There's more to learn about NCAA Football 08, and we'll be bringing you more in-depth looks at campus legend mode and the rest of the game in the coming weeks. For now, we're very excited with the upgrades made to the dynasty mode, which look to add depth and complexity to a feature that was desperately in need of an extreme makeover. We look forward to bringing you more news about the game in the near future as we lead up to its mid-July release.