Madden NFL 06 Q&A - The Next Generation

Senior producer Jeremy Strauser talks about EA Sports' efforts with the venerable Madden franchise on the Xbox 360.

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There's no bigger name in the world of sports gaming--or heck, in gaming in general--than Madden. Microsoft must be pretty pleased, then, that EA Sports will deliver its mammoth, 800-pound gorilla of a football franchise right alongside the launch of the Xbox 360 next month. But how will this next-generation version of Madden NFL 06 stand apart from the same game that's already available on current-gen consoles? Madden senior producer Jeremy Strauser is here with the answers.

GameSpot: What are you hoping to accomplish with your first next-generation football game?

Madden 06 will use an entirely new graphics engine to make use of the Xbox 360's hardware features.
Madden 06 will use an entirely new graphics engine to make use of the Xbox 360's hardware features.

Jeremy Strauser: We are hoping to deliver the core Madden experience in a "next-gen" way. We wanted to leverage the new hardware to deliver a next-gen feel in every aspect of the game: visuals, features and gameplay. At the same time, we wanted to set up systems that will allow us to expand upon this platform of Madden in the coming years.

GS: How much of Madden for the Xbox 360 is new, from the ground up? What aspects have you rebuilt, and how can we expect those areas of the game to be improved?

JS: The Xbox 360 version is a whole new engine. We have a new graphics engine that drives the amazing visuals everyone will notice right away. We have a new animation engine that drives player movement and gameplay--and many other new systems in user interface, play calling, and control. We have tried to share data from previous versions in some places that made sense, such as player ratings and playbooks, but even those areas were added to. With so many new systems, it wasn't as simple as just porting and improving code in many places.

GS: How do you compare developing for the 360 to developing for the original Xbox?

JS: I would rate this time more challenging, but maybe because it is fresh in my mind. Microsoft has been a great partner and has been very supportive. But any time you develop for new hardware, with a new game engine, it is very tough. With the first Xbox, we had a base engine to start with, but this time we had two constantly evolving systems, the Xbox 360 and our own engine.

GS: How will Madden for the Xbox 360 take advantage of the new online features in Xbox Live for the 360? Will you be able to play online against current-gen Madden?

JS: Madden for the Xbox 360 has been built with online gaming in mind. We are fully supporting Xbox Live from the very start. From the time you start up Madden, you can be always online, receiving game invites and messages in offline game modes. We support the Xbox Live matchmaking systems and have kept our community-favorite lobbies. We have full leader boards, stats, and search methods as well. This will be a very seamless online experience for those who enjoy the online game. The Xbox 360 game is entirely different from current gen, so, no, you can't play the two different platforms against each other.

GS: If you could point to one specific feature of Madden 06 as truly indicative of "next-generation" consoles, which feature would it be, and why?

JS: The obvious one is the visual quality. The players, the environments, the uniforms... Everything is reproduced at an amazing level of detail. Much further beyond anything we have ever been able to do before. People know this is "next gen" the second they see it. One thing that is also very indicative is the detail in how our UI team designed the interface to be usable, accessible, and expandable. Those who like franchise mode will notice a difference immediately.

GS: How did you decide what features to keep and which to cut from the current-gen versions of Madden 06, and why?

JS: It wasn't so much deciding what to keep as it was deciding what to redo first...with wanting to deliver a new engine throughout, nothing just "ported" over. We approached design plans from defining the core Madden experience. To us, that experience starts with great gameplay and carries in to franchise mode, which is our most popular game mode.

The team is aiming to offer as seamless an online experience as possible on the 360.
The team is aiming to offer as seamless an online experience as possible on the 360.

GS: Is there a graphical feature in the game--lighting, frame rate, textures, etc.--that you are particularly proud of that might not be as obvious to players?

JS: How about all of the above? If I have to focus on one area, it would be the lighting. The time of day updates after every play, and the lighting is closely tied to that and weather conditions. Shadows will slowly move over the field, player shadows lengthen, and the overall ambient lighting changes. Related to this are the real-time quad-shadows from night and dome lighting. These are very cool.

GS: Has the 360 version of Madden allowed you to address issues consumers had with this year's current-gen Madden game?

JS: Overall consumer and press reaction to Madden NFL 06 for current gen has been positive. That game really delivered a lot of innovation in the passing game and in other great features, like superstar. When something as core as passing is changed, there will be strong opinions. So in that respect, yes, we took that into account.

GS: What are your thoughts regarding the fan reception of the quarterback vision feature? How has that affected development on this year's game?

The 360 version of Madden 06 has further refined the quarterback-vision feature by letting you toggle it on or off quickly.
The 360 version of Madden 06 has further refined the quarterback-vision feature by letting you toggle it on or off quickly.

JS: The reaction to QB vision was mixed. Some people loved it and swear by it, but others didn't care for it. That is part of the reason the option to turn it off was in current gen. We revised our implementation for the Xbox 360 to have the best of both worlds, I think. It is off by default, but you can quickly turn it on by hitting the right stick or the left trigger and receiver buttons. This is an implementation we think fits next gen very well and allows you to easily use this feature, still. We did find that the fan reception to the precision passing system was very positive, so we brought that and other gameplay innovations--like the truck stick, hit stick, and playmaker control--over to next gen as well.

GS: If you had to guess, what feature(s) will be the defining characteristic(s) of this upcoming console generation, beginning with the Xbox 360? And how do you feel the Madden series will benefit from these features?

JS: I think the two big characteristic are high-definition gaming and online capabilities. We're trying to take advantage of both of those immediately with Madden for the Xbox 360. I spoke about online above, but as for high-def, Madden is an ideal game to take advantage of this. Beyond the graphical quality and resolution, our default cameras in gameplay lend themselves to a wider view and make the game better. We're excited about both of these aspects, going forward.

GS: Can you talk about where you see the Madden series at the peak of the 360's life span (in, say, three to five years from now)? What kind of previously unheard of features might be part of the series?

JS: This is clearly year one of "next gen" for us. Our team has talked a lot about the last "next gen," which started with Madden 2001 for the PS2, and how that changed everything with respect to football gaming. We think this version for the Xbox 360 is doing that again. And just as the PS2 engine evolved over the next three to five years, and introduced lots of cool new features, I think that is what the future holds for the Xbox 360 version as well. But I believe we are starting from a better starting point this year.

GS: How has the Xbox 360 allowed you to improve your franchise mode?

JS: We have some new features in franchise mode related to the history-book area of franchise, including the NFL record book, Hall of Fame, and more stat-tracking that goes back in to past years in your franchise. These are all possible with more memory on the Xbox 360. The bigger improvement, though, comes from the new interface systems in place. Franchise mode is very data-heavy, and how you access and use information is key. We've completely redesigned this with the R-stick cards and have generated several new screens as well.

GS: Can you walk us through the new play-calling options?

JS: We now have six ways to call plays:

By Formation: The traditional Madden play-call screen, but now we have six plays onscreen at all times.
Ask Madden: Newly recorded voice-over from John Madden, specific to the situation, including logic for play-type success in the game and tendencies from both teams.
Ask Coach: Hear the real NFL play terminology.
By Formation: A fast and easy, but powerful, way to find the exact play type you are looking for.
By Key Player (offense only): If you know you want to get the ball to a certain player, go here and see the plays where he's the primary guy.
Last Five Plays: Keeps track of the last five plays you've run.

With the freedom afforded by its NFL license, the team took 3D scans of not only the players, but also the coaches.
With the freedom afforded by its NFL license, the team took 3D scans of not only the players, but also the coaches.

After you've run your play, the play-call screen will default back to the play-call option you previously selected. Press B to back out and see all six options. We've found ourselves using all six ways during one game, based on what we wanted to do in a given situation. We still have bluff for two-player games, too.

GS: How has the team's greater access to the NFL benefited the game?

JS: I've been very pleased with the benefits thus far, and I think we're still just scratching the surface. We have had much better access to players and have over 150 3D head-scanned players (plus 30 NFL head coaches) in this version...and we will easily double that number next year. We have tremendous access to coaches and coach film, which is directly affecting our playbook quality. Most of all, we're very excited about the access to the NFL Films vault. We have actual on-field audio from NFL Films in the game, including actual QB calls from 18 starting QBs.

GS: Thanks for your time, Jeremy.

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