Madden NFL 06 Next Gen E3 2005 Impressions

We judge a game by its cover as EA Sports talks next-gen graphics in Madden NFL 06.

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Last month, EA Sports gave us a sneak peek at the next generation of Madden football via a one-minute commerical spot that showed just how hard hitting the NFL-exclusive game would look. Or rather could look. You see, there was just one problem with the commercial footage: it was entirely prerendered. Despite this disappointing fact, the Madden next-gen producers insisted this was merely a target the game's development team was aiming for, and that the final product would exceed what was shown during the NFL Draft commercial.

Here at E3, EA Sports is attempting to make good on its promise on Madden NFL 06 for Xbox 360. During a brief demo shown behind closed doors, we got an inside peek at the graphical depth that will be a huge draw for the next-gen Madden. And "depth" really is the right word to describe the game's look, as this footage, while not exhibiting the sort of dramatic, cinematic style of the NFL Draft spot, was pretty darn amazing to behold.

The demo took the form of a short movie starring Seattle Seahawks' running back Shaun Alexander. Though Alexander was the star, the demo movie actually began with a shot of Madden NFL 06 cover star and Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb. As the camera pulled back from the image, it was revealed that the McNabb picture was actually being displayed on the huge monitor inside Qwest Field, home of the 'Hawks. The camera then swung back even farther until it finally found Alexander, standing in the middle of the field and staring up at the picture of McNabb.

Next, the camera spun around an astonishingly detailed model of Alexander whose pensive look made it seem that he was mentally preparing for a game against the Eagles (we'll ignore the fact that Seattle isn't actually playing Philly at home this season), visualizing each huge run he planned on taking and every touchdown he planned to make. The camera then cut to several shots of Alexander spinning and juking, diving around players left and right, and generally making the Eagles' defense look silly in the process. More close-up shots of Alexander followed, as he ran through his mental prep, until finally Alexander managed to meet a clearly outmatched Brian Dawkins. The climax of the action showed Alexander leaping over the Eagles' free safety and scoring a touchdown in the process. The final shot showed the "real" Alexander staring up at the same Titantron that featured McNabb's grill; only this time it was Alexander that was featured, celebrating his mental touchdown.

Though the action on the field looked amazing, showing a nice variety of jukes, dodges, and other tricks in the running back's arsenal, the real devil in Madden NFL 06 for Xbox 360's details are, well, the details. EA Sports producers took us for a quick real-time tour of both the Alexander player model and the virtual representation of Qwest Field itself, and it was difficult to choose which one we should be more impressed with.

In terms of the player model, the virtual Shaun Alexander was practically indistinguishible from the real former Alabama running back. The smallest imperfections in the model's facial features--such as a distinctive scar on his chin, or a stubble on the side of his head--were quite clearly evident. The same was true of the uniforms as well. Zoom in close enough and you could see the ribbing on the aqua and green trim near the neckline of the Seahawks' jersey; zoom in even closer and you could make out individual flecks of the shiny paint used on the Seattle helmets. Sure, it was only one guy standing alone on a field with virtually no motion other than the movement of the camera, but on textures and lighting capabilities alone, the Xbox 360 version of Madden has plenty for graphic hounds to salivate over.

The same level of detail found in the player models was evident in the virtual Qwest Field as well. Panning around the stadium, you couldn't help but notice small details, such as individually numbered sections, air conditioning vents at the top of some sections, the familiar steel-steps entrance that leads into the stadium itself and, of course, accurate signage galore. As an example of the stadium's accuracy, the game's producer mentioned that if you were a Seattle Seahawks season ticket holder, you could actually find your individual seat in the stadium based on the virtual model in the game and see exactly what the view from your seat would be like. Whether this kind of stadium-panning ability will be in the final build of the game isn't clear.

In fact, the vast majority of details about Madden NFL 06's gameplay aren't clear. The EA Sports folks were only intent on talking about the look of the game, and said that details on how the game will unfold on the field, as well as any additional features, are still forthcoming. It should also be noted that we didn't see any of the revamped menu screens that were featured in the Madden NFL Draft commercial, but that doesn't necessarily mean they won't be implemented in the game once it's released.

So there you have it: the first look at the real Madden NFL 06 next-generation engine running on alpha hardware of the Xbox 360. The game is scheduled to be available on the launch day of the Xbox 360. Obviously, this brief glimpse leaves us with nothing but questions about the rest of the game, but, in terms of surface appearance, the picture is beginning to become more clear.

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