Madden NFL 12 First Look Preview

Human-controlled cameras, custom playbooks, and improved tackle animations are some of the highlights in EA's latest football sim.

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Last week we brought you our first impressions of NCAA Football 12, a game that's aiming to capture the freewheeling spirit of the college game with team celebrations, a broadcast overhaul, and a number of other visual bells and whistles. With today's NFL Draft, it's only fitting that we move on up to the professional ranks as we talk about this year's Madden game.

Ladies and gentlemen: grass.
Ladies and gentlemen: grass.

Once again, EA was mostly focused on showing us the visual upgrades to this year's football sim, but we've also got a couple of details on new gameplay features. One of these new features is the ability to create custom playbooks and harmonize them with the GameFlow system introduced in last year's game. You outfit a full playbook's worth of formations and plays and then assign each one of them various star ratings based on how well you think each play would work under various situations. So you might assign that four-receiver shotgun set a five-star rating in third-and-long situations, while the same yardage situation might command a one-star rating for an up-the-gut run from your slow-footed fullback. And if you'd prefer to find more of a middle ground between custom playbooks and just use the default GameFlow system, you can now choose a style of GameFlow, such as run-heavy and pass-heavy.

Madden is also using the new tackle animation system we talked about in last week's NCAA Football story. EA's aim with this system is to make tackles and collisions look more natural. In previous years, there were only so many points around a player in which another player could approach them for a hit, which often resulted in players magically floating to that invisible entry point to begin the tackle animation. This year, EA claims it has reworked how the collisions and tackles can be triggered so that you don't get that artificial "snapping into position" look with players. We got to see the system in motion, though without the benefit of a side-by-side comparison, it was hard to tell how drastic the difference is. We will say that the new tackles do look good, but there's still a bit of a way to go until EA gets to the point of Backbreaker-level fluidity in Madden's collision system.

Visually, EA continues to blur the line between virtual football and what you find on television on a Sunday afternoon. There's a certain human element to camera control that this year's game is trying to capture with an elaborate setup of real cameramen and a motion-capture studio. Essentially, what EA has done is recruit the help of some cameramen from NFL Films and rig their gear with a small screen showing in-game footage to effectively place these guys on a virtual field. The myriad motion-capture cameras surrounding these cameramen can tell where they are relative to the in-game players, and what you get is the real effect of a camera operator running around the field, sweeping around, trying to get that perfect shot as players celebrate a play or mill around the scene of a tackle. It's a really cool system, and we're interested in seeing how it pans out. As long as it doesn't wind up feeling like an overdone shaky-cam effect, this new feature could be a great addition.

Also new this year: mascots!
Also new this year: mascots!

A number of other visual additions and tweaks litter this year's version of Madden. These include stadium exterior shots preceding a game, new broadcast cameras that mimic the unique camera placement of every stadium in the league, 3D grass, and enhanced uniform degradation. Those certainly sound interesting, but the big question is what EA is adding in terms of gameplay features and modes to keep players' interest over the long haul. Hopefully EA has something big in store as we get closer to the release of Madden 12 on August 30.

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