Madden NFL 06 Superstar Mode Preview

We begin the long road to the Hall of Fame in our hands-on look at NFL Superstar mode in Madden NFL 06.

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This past Tuesday, EA Sports unveiled Madden NFL 06 for the media and a select group of NFL stars, including Tony Gonzalez, Daunte Culpepper, Michael Strahan, Byron Leftwich, and Madden 06 cover athlete Donovan McNabb. While this was the first time most of the NFL players had a chance to see the new passing mechanics in the game, the event also served as the official debut of one of the game's newest features: NFL superstar mode. We had a chance to check out this mode and talk with a few of the NFL stars about their own experiences as superstars in the NFL.

Don't like your parents? Roll them up again in Madden NFL 06's superstar mode. It doesn't get much more Freudian than that.
Don't like your parents? Roll them up again in Madden NFL 06's superstar mode. It doesn't get much more Freudian than that.

As you've read in our previous coverage of Madden 06, NFL superstar mode is an entirely new addition to the series--one that allows you to play multiple seasons in the game through the eyes of a single created player. You won't be dealing with franchise concerns, such as concession prices and salary caps here. Instead, your entire focus will be on living the life of an NFL player from the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft all the way through your retirement from the game. Along the way you'll be taking part in many of the kinds of on- and off-season activities (both the mundane and unique) that make up the schedule of an NFL player.

First things first: You start your journey in superstar mode by either creating an entirely new player, importing an NCAA Football 06 legend player, or your favorite NFL Street 2 athlete. Should you choose to create a superstar from scratch, you'll begin with a unique starting point--your virtual parents, whose particular combination of DNA will join to create your player and partially determine what kind of player he'll be in the NFL. Both your father and your mother will have specific traits that will be passed on to your player, some of which may be useful to a player's career. Parents have three attributes--IQ, profession, and hobby--and all three will help mold your football destiny (or at least the position you end up playing). Just as in real life, you can't choose your parents in Madden 06 but you can choose as many different randomly generated combinations as you like until you come up with that perfect pair of progenitors that give you the best shot at making it in the NFL.

Once you've got your DNA squared away, it's time to name your created player, assign him a position (just because your parents made a punter, doesn't mean you have to play that position), and then design his appearance. You can choose your player's overall bulk, add muscle or fat to his upper and lower body, and choose from a number of different equipment variations. Interestingly, as you adjust these physical attributes, your appearance rating will adjust accordingly. Big muscles will up your rating, but only to a certain point. Similarly, a little junk in the trunk is OK, but if you start going J.Lo with your player, your rating will suffer. Presumably, the more attractive you are, the more opportunities for TV spots and sponsorships later on in the game, which begs the question: Why would anyone create an ugly superstar?

Your sanctuary, your HQ, your fortress of solitude... your crappy little rookie apartment. Don't worry, you'll get a nicer place once the checks starting rolling in.
Your sanctuary, your HQ, your fortress of solitude... your crappy little rookie apartment. Don't worry, you'll get a nicer place once the checks starting rolling in.

Now that you know what you look like, you're ready to move into your modest apartment. Forget your huge NFL-sized paycheck; you'll still start out in an unpretentious flat, perfect for a rookie scrub. This will be your superstar HQ, where you can check on everything from your personal text messages from your mentor (who just happens to be former Bronco's running back Terrell Davis) and agent, to your career and game-by-game stats via your personal computer. There's more to the PC than just stats, however. It will also be where you can find your personal fan site devoted to your accomplishments, keep tabs of your endorsement and movie deals, check up on teams throughout the league, as well as check out agents vying for the chance to represent you, and a lot more.

Media Savvy

Your apartment also includes the centerpiece of your superstar life--your schedule. Here, you'll find every on- and off-season activity that takes place in superstar mode--everything from practices and game-plan sessions, to movie shoots, Madden Bowl parties, and, of course, the weekly games themselves. Before draft and training camps begin, you'll get a chance to meet your mentor, and this is where Davis will give you a rundown on many of the features in this mode, such as agent signing, the NFL Draft, and the importance of your image on and off the field. As TD explains in the mentor meeting, there's more to the NFL superstar mode than just wracking up numbers on the field. You'll have a number of different factors to take into consideration as you guide your career, including exposure, popularity, and your personality type (all of which depend on the kinds of choices you make in the mode).

This is the guy that's going to get you the kwan.
This is the guy that's going to get you the kwan.

After the mentor meeting, you'll have your first meeting with the media. There's not much to it really; it's a simple question and answer session where you have a number of ways to respond to a few generic questions, such as "What position would you like to play other than your own?" and "What kind of food do you like to eat?" Just how you answer those questions presumably affects how your public perception is shaped, but in the beginning of superstar mode, it's difficult to see this perception in action. With the interview complete, it's time to sign an agent. Being a rookie (and presumably a second- or third-round pick at that), you won't have the Drew Rosenhaus' of the world to choose from. Instead, only a handful of agents will be willing to take you on. You do have some room to be picky, however, and because agents are rated in categories, such as negotiation, influence, interview, and endorsements, you'll want to pick the guy who can guide your career in the direction you wish. Some of the higher-profile player reps will also be able to gain access to the Performance Institute, a training ground where you can bump your players' stats through a number of off-season drills, but you won't have access to them right away. The good news is that you can hire a new agent at any time, so after some tangible onfield success, feel free to can your current rep and go with someone who's better able to get you access to the PI and someone who can--yeah, we'll say it--"show you the money."

With your agent on board, we now come to perhaps the strangest portion of NFL superstar mode: the IQ test. Based in part on the real-life Wonderlic test, a personality assessment tool given by the NFL to incoming rookies, the IQ test in Madden 06 is a series of 20 questions for which you have two minutes to answer as many as you possibly can. Sample questions include: What kind of bird would you be? How wide is Lambeau Field? If you were drafted to replace a sure Hall of Famer, how would you approach it? Do you consider yourself sarcastic? Proud is to humble as generous is to (blank)? What is the capital of California? As you can see, not all of the questions have a verifiable answer, which makes the scores we received questionable. To find out what NFL players like Byron Leftwich and Tony Gonzalez had to say about their experiences with the Wonderlic test and the rest of the pre-draft hoopla, be sure to check out the interviews in our Madden NFL 06 media page, or check out this post in the GameSpot Sports journal.

Once you're drafted by a random team (and expect to be taken some time in the third round), you'll notice that many of the attributes in your apartment that were once inaccessible to you can now be viewed. Your fan site is much more useful, for example, with new features that let you see your season and career goals (there are even some fan-created paintings of your created player to enjoy). You'll also have access to the city map, where you can visit a number of locales throughout your home city, such as the tattoo parlor and barber shop, the Performance Institute (provided your agent can get you in), the stadium, or even your agent's office. Visiting your agent gives you some opportunities for marketing your personality. For example, you can go Joe Namath and guarantee victories, or Terrell Owens, and complain about coaches and demand trades until you're blue in the face.

Which number comes next in this sequence: 3, 8, 65, 299, 4.3? Wrong.
Which number comes next in this sequence: 3, 8, 65, 299, 4.3? Wrong.

During the training camps, you'll be spending most of your time in practice, where you can practice plays (either chosen by you or at random). As you take reps, each play is judged on your effectiveness. If your superstar is an offensive player, you'll want to gain yards; if you're on defense, stopping the ball is your prime objective. Depending on how well you play, you'll earn points and, the more points you earn, the better chance your created player has for improving his stats. You'll have practices during the regular season as well, along with specific game-plan sessions, which will give you special game situations to practice set plays--such as defending against the run, or correctly executing a screen pass. These game-plan sessions will not only earn you development points, but they'll also give you a heads-up of what to look for when you go up against your next opponent.

The Legacy of The Boz

If you've ever seen Howie Long's Firestorm or Brian Bosworth's Stone Cold then you know exactly how "good" movies starring NFL stars can be. Nonetheless, their stellar work should not discourage you from taking any film roles that may come your way in superstar mode. Filming a movie in this mode is really only about memorizing your lines. You'll be shown a page of the movie script along with your highlighted line. Next, you'll be asked to choose that exact line from a multiple-choice list in order to complete your scene. Do this four times and, boom, you're done. You'll even get some feedback from the director based on your performance (which essentially boils down to the quality of your memory). Your movie won't be released until the following off-season, so you'll be able to get right back to the action on the field in the regular season and worry about your box office pull later.

It's your big movie shoot! Do your best to make Jim Brown, Dan Marino, and Brett Favre proud.
It's your big movie shoot! Do your best to make Jim Brown, Dan Marino, and Brett Favre proud.

As the season rolls along, you'll get plenty of e-mail from your mentor, agent, and others who will keep you abreast of happenings in the league, react to any outlandish predictions you make or complaints you register, and generally just keep tabs on you. You'll also be accessing your personal Web site to check up on your exposure, visibility, and marketability ratings, as well as to see your personality type. Are you a team player, a disrupter, or a Hall of Famer in the making? Your personal home page will help you keep track of your development throughout your career.

After your rookie season is complete, you'll likely have some endorsement deals lined up, courtesy of your agent. Endorsements are organized by locale, so some spots will be for companies local to your team and others will be for nationwide ads. All endorsements have requisites you must meet in order to sign on, and these involve different attributes of your superstar, such as visibility, popularity, exposure, along with criteria of a more esoteric nature, such as speed and stamina. Some you won't be eligible for at all, depending on your preferred position. A defensive lineman, for example, usually won't be able to get that sweet "Rush Delivery" endorsement, as it requires a "throw power" rating of 90. This, of course, begs the question of why it would even show up on the list in the first place. All in all, the endorsements in superstar mode are a pretty hands-off affair, and they're more of an amusing aside to the mode's more-meaty features.

Once you have a few seasons under your belt, and perhaps a play-off or pro bowl appearance or two, you'll enjoy the benefits of an upgraded pad. You'll go from your bare-bones apartment to a nice loft and ultimately to a mansion worthy of an NFL superstar. It's mostly just window dressings, however, as the same functionality you had in your apartment--your PC, your e-mail machine, city map, schedule, and so on--will all still be in place, just in a slightly slicker package.

While there is certainly plenty to do in superstar mode, there did seem to be some gaps in the build we played. Some of the voice messages weren't in place yet and it seems like there sometimes is a lack of follow-up in the mode when you're offered movie roles or interview opportunities, some of which never materialize. Hopefully these quirks will be ironed out in the final version of the game.

After all those menus, how about an actual gameplay screenshot?
After all those menus, how about an actual gameplay screenshot?

Madden 06's superstar mode is designed with the casual Madden player in mind, and it should please gamers who aren't interested in running a full-on NFL franchise, yet still would like to follow a team narrative over multiple seasons. At the very least, it's a feature that's packed with things to do and one that should provide an alternative to those who are tired of simply taking snaps and scoring touchdowns week after week. We'll have more preview coverage of Madden NFL 06 in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to GameSpot Sports.

If you'd like to hear what NFL players had to say about Madden NFL 06, be sure to check out the player interviews on the Madden NFL 06 media page, and check out the GameSpot Sports journal.

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