When most folks think of April, images of warmer weather, sunny skies, and the start of the Major League Baseball season come to mind. When the development team at EA Tiburon thinks of April, it has got to have college football on the brain. That's because it's traditionally this time of year when EA Sports spills the first beans on its upcoming college football game NCAA Football 08. We got a chance to see the game during EA's recent Tiburon press event.
Last year was the debut for the NCAA series on the Xbox 360 (there were entries on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PlayStation Portable too). This year NCAA 08 will be dropping for the PlayStation 3 as well. The series looks to be continuing some of the long-running features that have made it a success, though not without some crucial tweaks that look to set it apart not just from previous games in the season but from its big brother at Tiburon, Madden NFL 08.
For example, consider the impact player feature. The NCAA series has been putting an emphasis on star players on both sides of the ball now for a couple of iterations. The feature isn't changing with NCAA 08; teams will still include impact players on offense and defense. Thanks to a new motivation system, however, practically any player in the game will be able to rise up to the level of an impact player, depending on the skill of the player with his or her thumbs on the game controller.
As featured in the game demonstration, the motivation system will reward individual players with boosts to their motivation level when they perform well on the field. The better and more consistently a player performs, the more motivation he will earn as he goes. As the old saying goes, success begets success, and as motivation builds up, that player will eventually get into the zone (something previously reserved only for the aforementioned impact players). If you've got a player in the zone and he pulls off a huge play, such as a big touchdown run or a game-changing interception, he can inspire the entire team with a huge performance boost. It's known as "leading by example" in the game, and these kinds of huge-motivation moments can change the direction of a game.
In an example shown during the demonstration, a quarterback ran a number of option plays; for each successful toss of the ball to the running back, the player gradually earned more motivation, and his icon began to glow. At the peak of his motivation, the player icon was pulsing orange and red. And when he finally crossed into the end zone on a sharp end run, the motivation blasted out to engulf the field in that same orange and red glow; a visual effect we're hoping the developers will consider toning down before the game is released. Still, cheesy effects or not, you can't argue with the results. On the very next play, which saw the team going for two points after the touchdown, the unusually motivated team provided the extra push to get the two-point conversion.
The new motivation system has a few interesting connotations. First, it means that you won't necessarily have to depend on your impact players to make things happen on the field. After all, it's all too easy to key in on your opponent's impact players and attempt to shut them down, taking away the biggest weapons in their arsenal. If any player on the team has the ability to rise to the occasion and make a play, it opens up the game nicely. The other aspect of the system is that it rewards the person playing the game for actually making plays. Earning motivation points will seem natural by doing things like making spectacular catches, huge runs filled with jukes and spins, and the like; you'll also be equally rewarded for coming up huge on defense. Instead of relying on the artificial intelligence to make that big interception or huge hit, the system will reward the player for taking control of that middle linebacker or safety and coming down with the ball themselves. Of course, blowing big plays will result in a hit to your motivation total as well, so you'll want to make sure you pick your spots.
After playing a few games racking up motivation, gaining glory on the gridiron with your impact players, and generally trouncing all teams that step in your path, it follows that you'll want to save and share your on-field conquests with your friends. NCAA Football 07 started that trend by allowing you to keep photos from your big games in a photo album. With NCAA 08, you'll be able to save and share more of these types of highlights thanks to an improved replay system and a new feature known simply as the "shrine."
An improved replay system will let you go back and revisit practically any play in a game (though producers were quick to point out that you could only do so in games with shorter quarter lengths). Once you've found a highlight you're particularly fond of, you can then choose to create a highlight of that play. This lets you choose from multiple camera angles to take a snapshot or segment of game-generated video. From there, you can either save these photos or videos on your hard drive or upload them to share with friends. Do you know an annoying Alabama fan who has conveniently developed amnesia since your Auburn Tigers wiped the floor with them two weeks prior? Send him the video to remind him of his failures. Producers said the online repository of videos and photos will include a searchable database you can file through, in case you're only looking for clips of certain types of plays or from certain schools. Plays will also be graded with a "greatness score," and we expect it won't be long before people are comparing the scores of their favorite plays like tailgaters compare BBQ grill sizes.
When saving your favorite videos locally on your console, you'll have a chance to show them off in your personal "shrine" which, as it sounds, is a memorial to your personal accomplishments in the game. A huge jumbotron screen can be loaded with your favorite highlight videos, while accompanying screens on the side can show off photos from your various victories. There's also a ton of room for trophies in your shrine--a perfect place to show off your conference and national championship gold, as well as rivalry-specific awards such as Paul Bunyan's Axe (from the Wisconsin/Minnesota series) or the Little Brown Jug from the long-running (and one-sided) Michigan/Minnesota rivalry series. ESPN's Chris Fowler will join his College GameDay co-hosts Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit (as well as play-by-play man Brad Nessler), with Fowler providing audio descriptions of the various rivalry-specific trophies. The game will also feature extensive stat tracking--recording everything from the number of jukes and spins you use in a game, to how often you've motivated your team using the game's "lead by example" feature. You'll then be able to compare your stats with other players to see how you measure up.
So you've worked out the motivation system, you've led by example on the field, and you've got a shrine that's always growing in tribute to your collegiate greatness. Where do you go from there? How about the game's new-look campus legend mode for starters. The campus legend feature has been a part of previous NCAA games, and allows you to step in the shoes of an up-and-coming football star at your favorite college. This time around, though, the series has a few new twists in store for you. First of all, when starting up, you'll be able to either create a new player from scratch, or take control of a currently existing player on a school roster. Of course, should you decide to take control of a senior quarterback, you'll only be able to play him for a single year before he graduates.
Another thing that's changed is how your player will make the transition into the collegiate game. With NCAA 08's Campus Legend mode, you'll start out by playing in a high school football tournament. Your first few games as a player will be played in small high school stadiums. Once your team makes it to the championship, with you leading the way, naturally, you'll get your first taste of college atmosphere when you play in a college stadium for the first time. Play your high school tournament in Tennessee, for example, and your championship game will take place at Neyland Stadium (home of the Volunteers). After each game in the tournament, you'll get a feel for your performance, as well as an idea of the various scouts that were in attendance to check you out. The higher you're rated as a performer, the more options you'll have once it comes time to commit to a Division 1-A team.
But hold on there, Mr. Superstar. Just because you actually made it onto a team doesn't mean you'll automatically have the starting job. Indeed, should you sign for a big time football school like Florida or USC, you'll likely find yourself way down the depth order at your specific position. In order to raise your profile, and fight for that starting job, you'll need to take part in the daily practice sessions during the season. You'll have ten reps to perform various plays and, based on your success, you'll earn points until you overtake the guy ahead of you on the depth chart. The good news is, you can't lose a position once you've gained it, so make sure you work hard in the early going. And of course, you'll need to balance you're personal and academic life in NCAA 08's campus legend mode. You'll need to juggle your academic work with putting time in with your nose buried in the team's playbook, as well as fitting in time with your buddies. The system will work slightly differently this year--one producer used a pick-up basketball game as an example. Should you choose to go out with your buddies and play hoops, you might play a big game and earn a small boost to your jumping ability for your next game; conversely you might also twist an ankle on the hardtop and miss your next start.
As with superstar mode in last year's Madden NFL game, campus legend mode in NCAA 08 will find you playing the position you chose, and only that position. If you're a quarterback, you'll be making plays, if you're a middle linebacker, you'll be responsible for bringing down ball carriers, snatching balls out of the sky, and bringing down the odd scampering quarterback or two. As with superstar mode, the camera will shift to focus on your player depending on his position and, unless you're a QB who can call audibles, you'll depend on your AI coach to get you the ball. One cool feature in NCAA 08 is the super sim, which will let you skip to your next possession in the game, or simulate a game entirely should you start beating up your local community college at homecoming. At any point in a sim, you can jump back into the game in order to ice off an opponent or simply add another touchdown against your most hated rival. The super sim feature should make all modes in the game--including the still unrevealed dynasty mode--move at a much-needed quicker pace.
NCAA 08 will be sharing the core football engine technology that will be at the heart of Madden 08, tweaked to better represent the college game and we're looking forward to seeing more of how the improved engine actually plays. Beyond gameplay, the biggest questions for NCAA 08 revolve around the online feature set and dynasty mode. Details are few and far between though we're intrigued to report that one producer referred to it as a "revolutionary" dynasty mode. Sounds good to us.
One last stat to whet your appetite: NCAA 08 will include 115 modeled college football stadiums, up from around 40 in the previous year's game. In addition, several stadiums have been tweaked in accordance with their real-life upgrades from the previous year (Crimson Tide fans, we're looking at you). With more questions to answer--mainly about the game's dynasty mode--we look forward to bringing you more on NCAA 08 as we lead up to its release later this summer.