E3 06: EA brings Madden to Revolution

EA Canada QB details popular pigskin franchise's debut for Nintendo's new console; with new controller, popular football series won't be just about pushing buttons. Exec says EA Rev games won't be straight ports.

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Electronic Arts hasn't unveiled its full lineup of games for next month's Electronic Entertainment Expo yet, but one title that the publisher has confirmed will make its debut at the show in playable demo form is that of it flagship franchise on a new console. The ever-popular Madden franchise gets the call for Nintendo's next-gen console and is tentatively titled Madden Revolution. It's important to note that the game isn't simply titled Madden NFL 2007 for the Revolution--that's because no gamer has seen a Madden quite like this one.

For the first time in years, development on a major console version of EA's marquee franchise football series is being taken outside the doors of the company's Orlando, Florida-based EA Tiburon studio. The game is instead being handled north of the border, by a special Revolution-focused development group within EA's Burnaby, British Columbia studio.

Given that EA has dedicated a specific group to Revolution development, it stands to reason that the game will take advantage of the console's unique capabilities. While many details will have to wait until E3 kicks off, GameSpot was given an advanced scouting report that said that the gameplay will make extensive use of the Revolution controller's motion-sensing capabilities.

Players will hike the ball by mimicking a quarterback receiving the ball from the center, and then pass it to a receiver by making a throwing gesture with the free-hand controller. The faster the passing motion, the more of a bullet pass it becomes (in previous Madden editions, bullet passes were made by holding the passing button down longer).

Kicking the ball will be accomplished by sweeping the controller up as if it were a kicker's leg striking the ball. A fast, level swing will make for a hard, straight kick.

The Revolution controller will also come into play when running the ball, as jerking the controller left or right will make the ball-carrier juke to either side, while shoving it straight ahead will make him stiff-arm the opposition.

GameSpot interviewed John Schappert, formerly EA Tiburon's top guy and now head of EA Canada. He talked about implementing the new control scheme for Madden Revolution, as well as the publisher's approach to development for Nintendo's new system:

GameSpot:: So this isn't Madden 07 for the Revolution?

John Schappert: Well, the final name is TBD, but what we are most proud of, I hope that you and all the E3 folks are proud of too, is that it is a unique Revolution offering. We've built Madden for the Revolution. It fully maximizes the [Revolution's controller] to play Madden like never before. It's pretty cool. It's going to take you through a passing drill, a kicking drill...it's going to immerse you in the game.

What we've tried to do is take the time we've had with the system and spend all of our time on maximizing gameplay. To us, what is so great about the Revolution is the uniqueness in control and the new experience it's going to bring consumers. Happily, we've got proven Madden artificial intelligence and physics that are stunning, so we've got a great game of football.

However, to make it stand out on Revolution, it's all about control. It's about, "How is this Madden going to be seen as native to this platform and not seen as just a port where it doesn't maximize the power of the machine?" And what we're really proud of is we've truly taken a revolutionary approach to making this game specifically and just for the Revolution.

GS: A lot of the gestures sound pretty instinctive, but at the same time they're things that gamers have never had to do with any kind of precision before. Are you noticing much of a learning curve for the game even though it's with this supposedly instinctive controller?

JS: It's still relatively early on so I can share that we're just getting the gestures and getting them testable...we've had multiple focus group sessions. At first we had the hike mechanism where you actually pulled the controller back, so if you think about gesturing your hand forward and pulling it back as if you're hiking the ball, which kind of looks more like a hike, [it] was very hard to do and wasn't something that was comfortable for people. So we actually moved it to snapping the ball up, as if you're receiving the ball. So part of it is new for all of us. It's also new for consumers.

We need to make sure that we're delivering on something that's innovative but also really, really fun. The gesture of throwing was something that we worked on a bunch of different control schemes and settled on one. Just to get that gesture recognition working is nontrivial, because people throw different ways. It's easy to say, "you just gesture a throw," but there are so many different [types of] throws. So to have that working and hopefully pretty recognizable by E3 time--and it looks pretty good now--we've got a whole bunch of different throws that it's interpreting.

GS: In the past, I imagine EA would be happy if everyone would buy Madden on one of their systems. If you have it on the GameCube, EA's not expecting to sell it to you on the PlayStation 2 also. Is the Revolution version of Madden going to be aimed as a supplement for the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 versions?

JS: I think Madden Revolution is unique and would complement any version of Madden as well as stand on its own. What's neat about it is we've taken a different approach with the Revolution than we have in the past. We've created a separate group that we have in Canada here that's doing Madden and some other titles, and they're just focused on Revolution. Their whole mantra is to create Revolution-specific versions of these games that are created just for the Revolution. So Madden Revolution will be very different from any other version of Madden you play. It'll be tailored just for the Revolution, which means we're spending a majority of our time making the control, which is very unique and different...specific for that machine.

GS: How do you go from scratch, taking this new peripheral that's not really like anything released before, and designing successful games around it when there's no blueprint to follow?

JS: That's hard, and we have to give lots of credit to our design team. We have some brilliant, brilliant, brilliant folks. Happily, we've got a lot of experience making football games in the past, so we can rely on that. We know what fans like and don't like, so we can start problem solving just on how we can maximize this unique controller, which has a pointing device as well as the accelerometers inside of it. And how are we going to make the game unique, different, but still fun to play?

We started designing that many months ago last year, and as we started getting dev kits with hardware, we started implementing the stuff, getting it going. We had test beds where we could just focus on passing, for instance. And then we started running focus-group testing. We've made changes to our gestures based on that, and there will be continued refinement, but actually what we're really proud of is at E3 you can get a very good glimpse of the whole game because you'll have the game running, you'll have kicking running, you'll have passing running, and you'll see how it's shaping up. It's come along pretty well. We're pretty proud of it.

GS: What can you say about EA's plans to bring other franchises, other familiar names to the Revolution? Is this something that we'll see unveiled across all the major brands eventually?

JS: I can tell you that we're working on titles other than just Madden right now, and we're not unveiling those just yet. I think you'll see continued support for Revolution, and you'll see EA continue to bring innovative titles that maximize the power of the machine. What's important to us is we've recognized the uniqueness of the Rev and how innovative it is, and what we don't want to do is say, "Hey, there's another platform, lets port a game to it and get it on that platform." Unless we can maximize that game for the power, the uniqueness, and the innovative control, we're going to wait until we know how to do that right to bring those franchises there. What I'm proud of is all the franchises we have in development have very innovative control schemes, as I've just described for Madden. They're maximizing the power of the machine: the control, the Wi-Fi. What makes the Revolution unique is what our focus is for our Revolution group and the titles they're working on.

GS: So we won't be seeing straight ports to the Rev?

JS: I don't think Revolution consumers want straight ports. We want to bring out games that are great for the Revolution. And that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to take our expertise, and, happily, having a great football engine that we can count on solves a lot of problems. You don't have to sit there and worry about, "Let's get the game to play great football AI." It's more about, "Let's get the game to play great on the Revolution with a brand new, unique control device." Which is really the problem that we think all of our games should be solving on the Revolution.

GS: In more recent years, the Madden series has grown increasingly complex with its simulation and detail with which it replicates the pro game, but the idea behind the Revolution seems to be to strip away as much of the complexity of the experience as possible. Can you speak to the issues that come up when you're trying to create a simulation-minded football game that won't alienate more-casual gamers?

JS: The great thing about Madden is it actually has the depth for the diehard football fan, but I think it's still a fun game to pick up and play with your friend even if you're not the guy who plays Madden every day of the week. You can ignore those depth features if you will. When we look at the Revolution, not all of those consumers will be the hardcore guys, so we need to make sure we're delivering a Madden to them that doesn't scare them because of the depth and the control. At the same time, we want to make sure we're delivering a great Madden that actually has depth, and Madden does have a lot of depth there. I think you'll see us deliver a solid offering that will be tailored to Revolution consumers yet still have the depth that consumers expect from Madden.

GS: How long do you think it will be before developers really figure out how to take full advantage of the Revolution's control scheme?

JS: We've had access to the controllers and people have known about them for some time. I think people that have been working on Revolution titles hopefully have had enough time to work out those kinks. Now, getting recognition of everything it's doing is a nontrivial task. It's a lot of math and interpretation of what the game is doing, so that takes some time to work out. I think we've had enough time on dev kits, and earlier dev kits with the wand, that we've had ample time to work through those.

GS: Will we see more franchise-driven Revolution games from EA, or will it be a chance to try out new IPs specifically built around the Revolution?

JS: When we talk about a new platform, what would the Revolution be without having Madden there? I think users expect some of our core, big franchises to be on Revolution and we understand that. I think you'll see EA support the Revolution with our strong franchises, but at the same time, it's such a unique machine with a unique controller that it certainly gives us opportunity to think about doing new things and specific games just for that platform. At the same time, we have such a wealth of franchises that to me what's kind of cool is when you think about taking a franchise like Madden and doing that on Revolution--while people have played football games before, they've never played Madden this way. Yes, you've seen a football game before, but you've never seen anything like this before.

So that's what excites us. Even though we are expected to bring over some of our big franchises [to the Revolution], we're bringing them over and there's massive innovation in them. I think you'll see a lot of innovation in all the franchises we bring over. At the same time, in the future I wouldn't doubt that maybe there are some originals we can do, but I would hope that you look at the games we're bringing over, and even if you've seen the franchise before, you think that it's an original in and of itself, too. I hope you look at Madden Revolution and say "Holy cow! That's unique, that feels like an original game just for the Revolution."

GS: Do you think people will be surprised at all when they first get their hands on the controller?

JS: It's a completely different controller than we've ever experienced before, so I think certainly. It's going to be innovative and different, and I think it's cool. I can tell you that the Tiburon guys came up today and they played Madden on the Revolution. They had been spending some time with our group but hadn't gotten hands-on with [the game] until today. They couldn't get the controller quick enough and said, "Don't tell me anything! Let me do it myself!" They loved it. It was great. They weren't expecting it to be as unique and original. "Unexpected" is the best way to describe it. I think we're surprising people with how unique and different the offering is, just because that machine is unique and different. And I hope people are going to be very pleasantly surprised by what we have to show.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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