Let's say you've had a falling out with your favorite college football team. Not to name names here, but hypothetically speaking, let's just say your team, which in recent seasons had an incredible run near the top of its conference, spent the past year lingering in futility, with a faltering offense that barely managed to find first downs, much less the end zone. Your favorite team lost to its archrival in an embarrassing shutout and, in the offseason, fired its longtime coach in favor of an unproven and unpopular choice.
Clearly things aren't going well for you and your team. But if you're an Auburn Tigers fan--oops, we said we wouldn't name names here--what do you do? Well, if you're playing EA Sports' upcoming NCAA Football 10, you just might consider replacing your favorite team with one of your own creation. An incredibly deep create-a-school feature makes its debut in EA's upcoming college football game, and we got a chance to see it, and the rest of the game, for the first time at EA Sports' recent New York City press event.
Technically, create-a-school isn't new. The previous-generation versions of the NCAA Football series gave you the option to create schools from scratch, along with a limited number of options for school color and uniform style. With NCAA Football 10, create-a-school has been blown out; it's so big, in fact, that the tools you use to create your school are completely separate from the game itself. Instead, the tools will be released as an application on the EA Sports World Web site. EA is aiming to release the application about a month prior to the game's July release, which means you'll get a head start on creating exactly the program you want and have it ready to go on day one.
As for the tool itself, it's an easy-to-use Web application that takes you through the various steps of creating your school. You start with the basics--name, location, nickname, and so on--before moving on to the real meat of the tool, the graphics and uniform editor. Because this is a Web app, you can import any sort of graphic to serve as your team logo--or alternate logo, if you like--and the number of uniform options is much larger than in the old PS2/Xbox days. Handy tools such as a color matcher will let you identify and nail just the right color scheme for your team, and you'll even be able to choose from any stadium in the game to serve as your home stadium. There's no custom stadium creator, unfortunately, but you can choose from a handful of generic stadiums if you don't want to use a well-known locale. In addition, you'll be able to customize things like grass patterns and color (for that all-important Boise State look), as well as end zone appearance and on-field logo placement.
While the new create-a-school tool is great for people who want to create their own dream team, create actual FCS (Division II-A) programs that have heretofore been missing in the game, or re-create their high school or middle school programs, it seems like it's going to be an equally functional tool for making sure your favorite team's roster is fully up to date, or for accurately re-creating classic college teams (complete with their real lineups). The Web-based creation tool will let you create and rate every player on your team, and longtime NCAA fans know that typing in roster names with a mouse and keyboard is infinitely preferable to hunting and pecking with the in-game keyboard. Better yet, the ability to upload created schools as well as search through the thousands of user-created programs will mean that you'll be able to explore and download from a huge variety of user-created schools.
Created schools will be available for play in both online and offline dynasties, as well as quick-play matches, but will not be available in Campus Legend mode or in online head-to-head matchups. This is because created schools become part of the online dynasty file that is shared between players in the dynasty; while in head-to-head matchups, sharing the data on both schools would result in a download too large to quickly get the game going.
The other new feature on display for NCAA 10 was the Season Showdown, an over-arching feature that looks to work off the rivalries that are already so prevalent in college football. Essentially, anything you do in NCAA 10 will earn you credits toward an overall score for your favorite team in NCAA 10. From playing games against the CPU, to taking on opponents online, or even playing Web games on the EA Sports World Web site, everything you do will contribute to your team's overall score for that week. Essentially, even if your team is stinking it up on the field, with enough fan support, they might be winning games in Season Showdown.
Each week during the college football season, those points will go toward your team's head-to-head Season Showdown matchup against whichever team it will be facing that week in the real world. The team with the most cumulative Season Showdown points at the end of that weeks' matchup wins the game, and the competition begins again the following week. Full season stats will be tracked in the mode, with a 32-team playoff kicking off late in the season, resulting in a championship Season Showdown matchup that will coincide with the BCS National Championship game.
In addition to simply playing NCAA 10 to earn credits, how you play the game will also go toward your team's score. For instance, the game will reward you for sportsmanship (by avoiding cheese tactics like going for it on every fourth down or running up the score on an opponent). If you're consistently loyal to your favorite team and play it regularly, that will earn you points. And of course, good old-fashioned skill on the sticks will also help you on your quest to increase your team's chances.
In terms of on-the-field gameplay, the NCAA 10 team seems to be taking some risks this year, introducing some new features that might end up being controversial for hardcore players. Foremost among them is the concept of chaining plays. This is a way for players to link similar plays together in an effort to fool the opposing defense and burn them for a big play. The example shown during our demo was a simple fullback run up the middle. In the team's playbook, that simple run play was linked to a play action pass right next to it. By calling one play or the other, you essentially begin to set up the other play in the link. It takes several calls of that play to fully set up its sister play, so you'd need to run the ball up the middle several times to set up the play action effectively. But, once you do, the chances of the defense "biting" on the play action is increased, allowing you to make something happen with the pass. Plays set up gradually as you call them, and once a play is fully set up, you can use it at any time in the game.
The concept of linking plays makes sense--it is, after all, what coaches and teams try to do on Saturdays in the real sport. We're just hoping that it doesn't come off as canned and overly powerful in its implementation in NCAA 10. At the very least, it's going to require an even more diligent eye for the player on defense to try to recognize the play before it unfolds.
A new game-plan feature will let you set preferences for every position on the field. For example, on pass defense, you'll be able to choose from options like "go for the pick," "normal," or "swat." While there's an obvious reward for instructing your defensive backs to try for an interception, there's the counterrisk of those backs getting beat if they miss the ball and get caught out. Similarly, if you instruct your players to go for more strip ball attempts, you might end up with a forced fumble or two, but you run a similar risk of getting called for more facemask penalties as a result. Your game plan can be as fluid as you like in the game, and you can make adjustments at any time to try to react to what your opponent is doing.
Another tool in your defensive toolbox will be the concept of keying in on the offense. This is essentially a guess on the part of the defense of what the offense will do. You've got four choices: run right, run left, run middle, or pass. Successfully keying in on a play call will increase your odds of stuffing it, while failure might result in a big play for the offense. In addition, you can key in on specific players--such as focusing on a star receiver when the offense is in the spread formation looking to convert a long third down. Keying in on players doesn’t necessarily mean double coverage; rather, it means that the CPU players will be more aware of that player's position on the field and will try to put themselves in a better position to stop him or break up the play.
Last year's NCAA Football 09 practically reinvented online play with its ambitious online dynasty feature, and we've got big hopes that this year's game will improve upon that feature, as well as its offline counterpart. EA wasn't ready to go into detail about those improvements yet. We have yet to hear what's in store for this year's Campus Legend mode, but we expect to learn more about the game, and get our hands on it for the first time, at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Until then, check out the