Online dynasty. Those are the two words that have been ringing in our ears since the moment we found out about the feature that looks to be the focal point of EA Sports' upcoming college football game, NCAA Football 09. Of course, the game is going to feature plenty of gameplay and visual tweaks that will present a more atmospheric and, well, collegiate atmosphere to the college game; and, yes, EA Sports did talk about all of those features and more during its unveiling of the game at tonight's press event in New York City. However, the details that have our ears perked are those that deal with the online dynasty mode, so let's just start there, shall we?
Up to 12 people will be able to compete in an online dynasty in NCAA 09, and users will be able to organize their competitive dynasties in a variety of ways: You and your buddies can play teams in the same conference, or mix it up and play teams from various conferences. Games against CPU-controlled teams will play out as they do in the offline dynasty mode; however, when your schedule has you facing a team controlled by another player, you'll be playing it against one another, either playing it normally or using the supersim feature to quickly get through the game.
Because each team's schedule will consist of games against other players and CPU teams, a commissioner will be assigned in each league to make sure that the dynasty league keeps moving, as well as to monitor players who are taking advantage of the system. For instance, if one player decides to restart his game against a CPU-controlled Mississippi State a number of times, the commissioner will be aware and will be able to take the action against that player. More than a judge, jury, and executioner, the commissioner looks to serve the important role of the engine that will keep the dynasty moving from week to week, over a maximum of 60 seasons.
As in the offline dynasty, when playing online, you'll be able to play a week's worth of activities leading up to that Saturday's game during the regular season, as well as the full lineup of offseason activities. The difference here will be that everyone in the dynasty league will need to complete all their week's actions before the league moves on to the next week. Naturally, the commissioner will be able to force the league to move forward if he or she sees fit. What's interesting about the weekly gameplay is that all of the players taking part will be able to play simultaneously. So while your two buddies are playing USC vs. UCLA, you'll be scouting players, while two other friends are recruiting against each other.
Yes, that crucial element--simultaneous recruiting--will be part of the online dynasty in NCAA 09 and it looks to be--with its strategy and gamesmanship--one of the highlights of the game. Though we haven't seen the actual interface, it sounds like recruiting will be very similar, if not identical to last year's game; you'll be able to pitch your school's strengths against the desires of the various players in the recruiting class, then sync up all of the recruiting results once everyone has finished the week in the online league. By the sound of it, player commitments will be made only after the week is up, so while you might get out-recruited by a rival, it probably won't come as a surprise. One more bit: All 12 players will be able to voice chat simultaneously with one another while taking care of their various in-game tasks for that week of the dynasty.
We'll pause our gushing of online dynasty mode for a bit, because NCAA 09's other gameplay elements look like they are coming together nicely as well. One of the keys on the field will be the composure of your quarterback, which will have very obvious effects on how your team performs. If your QB starts to melt down, throw a few bad passes, or even a pick, his composure rating will fall; as it decreases, you'll get visual cues, such as the on-field play arrows shaking visibly. Should his composure drop into the cellar, certain receiver routes will show up merely as question marks on the field. Note that you'll still see the full play correctly in the playbook; it's only when you view the play on the field that things will look strange; and only while your composure is down. By making passes and moving the ball up the field, you'll slowly regain your composure. One other interesting minigame will let you regain a bit of composure after giving up an interception; should you throw a pick, a pop-up will appear asking you to identify the defense that your opponent called on the previous play. If you guess correctly, you'll gain a small portion of your lost composure in the process.
While the controls in NCAA 09 will be similar to last year's game, the developer is still focusing on ensuring the game has a feel all its own. Thanks to new animations (and improved branching animation technology), players should be more agile than ever, able to quickly and smoothly move from one animation to the next. In addition, new control tweaks, such as the ability to move the stick left or right and stutter-step a defender, will give you another weapon in your arsenal for making your opponent look silly.
We look forward to getting our hands on NCAA Football 09 with a level of anticipation usually reserved for children on Christmas morning, and with the feature set finally out and in the open, we can't wait to tear the lid open on the online dynasty to see just exactly how this mode will play out. You can expect to see much more on NCAA Football 09, including a full hands-on report with the game, in the coming weeks. In the meantime, start working up your recruiting plans. We know we'll be working on ours.