By Lucas Croft
The 6th generation of Madden was by far the most successful with the franchise taking on a prominent role, not just in gaming culture, but in football culture as well. Athletes considered it a high honor to grace the cover of a particular yearly installment even if there was an apparent curse that loomed over them. Major sports networks such as ESPN began to take notice of the growing community, and attempted to find ways to tap into it. Madden Nation launched in 2005, a tournament that pitted Madden players from across the country for a $100,000 prize. The Madden franchise was a rising star, set to continue its trajectory of greatness into the Xbox 360 & PS3 generation. However, with its main competition, ESPN NFL 2K out of the way, many would say that the 7th generation push was a step back.
Madden NFL 06
Madden NFL 06 continued the tradition of launching alongside new hardware, as that year’s iteration was a launch title for the Xbox 360. Early adopters of the title were met with a mixture of feelings towards the release as new features were added, but, as would become the standard for 7th generation releases, other familiar features were removed.
The biggest change to the franchise as it made the leap to Xbox 360 was the natural facelift you’d imagine a game would receive coming to a more powerful engine. Quarterbacks would scope out the defense as they came to the line, stadiums were recreated in the likeness of their real life counterpart, and coaches were created with more detail than ever before. The uptick in visual fidelity made for a game that, at least to the eye, appeared next-gen.
Playing quarterback is about vision and awareness. The ability to look off a safety to go over the top to a streaking receiver is of paramount importance, and Madden NFL 06 attempted to recreate this skill with the controversial Vision Cone. On passing plays, after the snap, a cone of light would beam from the face of the quarterback — the better your quarterback the larger the cone. By using the right stick, players could direct their quarterback’s eyes to either the receiver they were targeting or another receiver in an attempt to get the defense to bite. In order to make the most accurate pass, the QB would have to be looking at the receiver he was throwing to.
The feature caused quite the uproar among fans of the series. Some claimed having to move with the left stick and aim the vision cone with the right stick was far too difficult, others saw it as an innovation that added realism to the quarterback position in Madden. For the record, and this may destroy any credibility I have on the topic, but I thoroughly enjoyed the added level of difficulty that the Vision cone brought.
However, for every pixel made prettier and new feature thrown into the mix, the Xbox 360 release of the title removed a feature. Staples such as create-a-player, mini camp, and practice mode were nowhere to be found in Madden NFL 06 on 7th generation. Also missing was the familiar two-man commentary booth that had been a part of Madden for over a decade, instead replacing it with an EA Sports radio announcer.
Missing from the Xbox 360 release was the inclusion of Superstar Mode. For years at this point, gamers had been able to take the General Manager role of their favorite franchises; signing free agents, making trades, and drafting prospects. The next amalgamation of career mode was to afford players the opportunity to live out the career of an NFL player.
At the beginning of the career, players would select a combination of parents that would influence the natural skill of the created player. Maybe your mom was a track star while your father played linebacker in the NFL. Fans of the NCAA Football franchise were able to import their player after their career ended in college.
The mode was feature rich, simulating some of the day to day life of an NFL player; going to practice, selecting movie roles, endorsement deals, and taking calls from your mentor, Terrell Davis. Reviewers met the new mode with a mixed reaction. The idea was novel and refreshing, but the execution was a bit off.
Overall, the new iteration of the game felt like a step backwards for a franchise that had dedicated itself to forward progress.
Madden NFL 07
For two years in a row, Madden was featured as a launch title for a new piece of hardware. This year, Madden NFL 07 launched alongside Sony’s PlayStation 3 console. However, there was nothing that really differentiated the PS3 title from its Xbox 360 counterpart except for frame rate hiccups and sluggish gameplay.
Superstar mode finally made its way to next generation consoles after its absence from Madden NFL 06 on Xbox 360. Players would create a player and then participate in drills such as the 40 yard dash and an IQ test to evaluate their stats prior to being drafted. As your career advanced, a Hall of Fame meter would fill up. If the meter was full by the time you retired, you would be enshrined in Canton next to greats like John Madden himself.
Most of the changes to Madden NFL 07’s gameplay came to the offensive running game. Lead blocker control was the marquee feature added to the title, giving players the ability to take control of the lead blocker to either cut to the inside to seal off an end or pancake a member from the secondary who was attempting to set the edge on a stretch play.
The highlight stick allowed players to execute Sportscenter-worthy cuts, jukes, and spin moves. Now smaller backs had a host of moves to add to their repertoire when carrying the pigskin while still affording bigger backs the opportunity to plow over smaller defenders.
Other features added to the authenticity of the gridiron experience; field degradation showed wear and tear of the playing surface throughout the game, hair physics created majestic moments of Troy Polamalu’s highly-insured hair blowing in the wind as he returned an interception for a touchdown, and a growing list of scanned faces made Madden NFL 07 the most realistic football game to date.
Madden NFL 08
Attribute ratings had always been a big deal for both fans of the franchise and players themselves. In Madden NFL 08, for the first time in franchise history, a player was able to obtain a 100 skill rating for a particular attribute generating yet another point of conversation for the franchise. Players such as Devin Hester (speed), Peyton Manning (awareness), Tom Brady (awareness), and Champ Bailey (man coverage) were given the inaugural honor of being the best at their respective craft, and the 100-rating became a highly sought after accolade.
Madden NFL 08 also added weapons, a special attribute given to players who are exceptional at a certain aspect of their position. For instance, a “Smart Quarterback” would be shown the defensive coverage pre-snap in order to adjust their play, possession receivers were able to maintain control of the ball even when getting hit in the open field, and players with a spectacular catch icon could go up and high point a ball over even the best corners in the league.
Tackling received a major overhaul in this year’s iteration as well. There was a marked unhuman-like quality to the way that players responded to being hit, falling over as if they were boneless. In Madden NFL 08, players had weight as they ran into each other, and offensive players would fight for extra yards upon contact even to the point where the user could continue to control the ball carrier as he was being wrapped up. But these improvements to tackling not only helped the offensive player fight for more yards, but the inclusion of Hit Stick 2.0 allowed players to choose whether or not they would tackle the legs of the ball carrier or launch for a high hit.
Madden NFL 09
For the first time on 7th generation consoles, the game featured a two-man booth of Tom Hammond and Chris Collinsworth. The update was a welcomed change of pace from the stale radio commentary provided in previous iterations. As Hilary Goldstein said in her IGN review of Madden NFL 08 “nothing says gridiron like a radio broadcast from inside a bomb shelter.” It was clear that the franchise needed to get back to its commentary roots, even if John Madden was not one them.
In a migration away from the typical Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, and All-Madden difficulties (although those were still available), Madden NFL 09 featured a new dynamic difficulty setting called My Skill. Upon booting up the game for the first time, a player had to run through four different drills in order to establish a baseline difficulty that would adjust according to their on-field performance. Run the ball extremely well in a game, the AI will bolster its run defense rating. Throw 7 picks in a game, the AI will relent on pass defense. Sliders were made available to tweak these settings even more.
Online play, although a feature in previous titles, had always been somewhat of a difficult venture due to the P2P connection. Madden has never had dedicated servers to host games instead depending on the strongest connection between the two participants. However, Madden NFL 09 added Online Leagues to the mix allowing players to select their favorite team and compete in a league with 31 of their friends for their own championship. The mode was a bit of an afterthought as players were unable to make roster moves or exert any other kind of off-field control of their team, the mode paved the way for the future Online Franchise mode.
In Madden NFL 09, the vision cone was removed and players far and wide rejoiced. What had been a controversial, even if optional, feature caused a rift in the Madden community like no other feature in Madden history, and its run lasted only three iterations.
Madden NFL 10
For the second time in franchise history, Madden NFL 10 featured two NFL players on the cover of its annual release, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
The focus in this year’s iteration was presentation. Ever since the overwhelming accolades poured on ESPN NFL 2k5 for its use of the ESPN license, the presentation had always felt a bit stale from the Madden franchise. Madden NFL 10 didn’t do anything to completely rectify the issue but procedural awareness, an updated injury system which caused players to have to wait for injury reports rather than being made immediately available, chain gangs, cutscenes, a half-time and post game show, and a weekly wrap up segment showed fans of the series that EA was listening to their complaints about presentation’s short-falls. However, the game and all subsequent titles failed to capture the magic of the competition in 2004.
The most influential change in Madden NFL 10 was the inclusion of Pro-Tak, a new gang tackling system that allowed up to nine players to be involved in the tackle. Football is the ultimate team sport and oftentimes one defender is simply not enough to bring down a ball carrier. Pro-Tak added a level of realistic chaos to the field as defenders and offensive players stacked up to fight for field position.
The Miami Dolphins with running back Ronnie Brown, and Carolina Panthers with DeAngelo Williams had made the Wildcat offense the hottest trend in the NFL. Madden, in keeping with the new fad, made sure it was included in the game. Players were now able to directly snap the ball to the running back with a variety of different play call options available. Though the formation’s usefulness was short lived in the NFL, it was equally as deadly in the video game world as it was on the real life gridiron for its couple years of relevance.
Pace was effected in Madden NFL 10 in two different ways. First, the game defaulted to a markedly slower gameplay speed. For years, fans of the series complained that the title had an almost arcade-like feel when it came to the speed of players on the field. The speed made it difficult for ball carriers to find holes in the line and QBs to read the defense post-snap. Madden NFL 10 tried to replicate the pace of an actual NFL game.
Accelerated game clock was the second feature added to change the pace of play. The feature gave players the option to run the play clock, and subsequently the game clock, down by upwards of 10 seconds a play after making the play call. This allowed players to play a more realistic quarter-length while still running an appropriate number of player per game.
A feature that had been requested for years and had gained traction with the inclusion of Online Leagues in Madden NFL 09 was Online Franchise. Madden NFL 10 introduced this mode. For the very first time players could start a franchise with up to 31 other user-controlled teams with all other teams being controlled by the AI.
Madden NFL 11
The Madden franchise always had great appeal for the hardcore NFL fan. The depth achieved both in game modes and on-field action may have seemed a bit overwhelming for people who did not have the opportunity to grow alongside the franchise. Madden NFL 11 placed their focus on the casual football fan looking to jump into the game, much to the chagrin of long-time fans of the franhcise.
Anyone who jumps into a game of Madden for the very first time has the same initial reaction to the playcall screen, “What does all of this mean!” To lifelong fans of the NFL the differences between a shotguns trip right formation and single back bunch are vastly different, but to casual fans these symbols just seem like randomly placed circles on a screen. Gameflow was introduced to alleviate that feeling. What was essentially an overhauled Ask Madden, Gameflow called plays based on the down and distance, time of the game, and player developed situational gameplan. The feature was advertised as being beneficial to the casual user and a timesaver for long time fans of football.
However, the playcalling became stale quickly with the same plays being ran over and over again without direct input from the user, essentially defeating the entire purpose of the feature. Not only that, but the AI often made some ridiculous play calls.
The game changer in Madden NFL 11 came several months after release when EA released their first iteration of a mode called Madden Ultimate Team. Piggybacking off of the success of fantasy football, Madden Ultimate Team allowed players to assemble their roster with packs of cards that could be purchased via in-game currency or by paying real money. As players compete in challenges, they are awarded with more cards for athletes that could be used in up to 10 matches before players would be required to purchase a contract card with coins or actual money. The inclusion of this game mode has generated hundreds of millions in revenue.
Madden NFL 12
Franchise mode had been a central feature for the Madden franchise since its inclusion in Madden NFL 99, but with the popularity of Madden Ultimate Team, many fans of the series feared that the mode would be neglected. So, Madden NFL 12 rolled out some features to the mode that were supposed to make the season and offseason more engaging. Scouting sessions, an auction-style free agency, and expanded rosters with preseason cuts. However, resigning players offered no guidance for where to start the negotiations, the free agent bidding offered nothing close to realistic, and users could no longer import their draft classes from NCAA Football 12.
Unfortunately, Madden was no longer being viewed as the premier example of a sports game replicating the ins and outs of managing a team or starting a career. Games such as NBA 2k and MLB The Show were generating unreal replications of their real life counterparts and fans of Madden were wondering when they would be given the same depth.
Madden NFL 13
The final iteration of Madden before the PS4 and Xbox One would come to market was Madden NFL 13. Two major changes differentiated this title from previous iterations.
First and foremost, the introduction of the Infinity Engine. It was very clear that the gameplay had become stale over the 7th generation releases, and the new hardware being launched the next year would need a equally powerful engine to go alongside it. The Infinity Game Engine gave the athletes on the field an improved sense of weight and momentum, larger running backs juking ability was not only limited by their skill rating in that category, but also by their size. Smaller wide receivers would not be able to truck a middle linebacker that met them in the middle of the field, tackles were more dynamic as the players responded to where they were hit as well as how hard, and for the first time in franchise history, if a player was knocked down but their knee did not touch the ground, they could get back up and continue the play. This was the first iteration of the engine, but it did bring a marked improvement to the way the game felt.
The other major to Madden NFL 13 was placing Superstar mode and Franchise Mode — both online and offline — under a new umbrella mode called Connected Franchise. In this mode, players could take control of an individual player, coach, or owner of any team in the NFL and play through a career with them. Online, if one player wanted to play cornerback for the Green Bay Packers and another wanted full roster control over the Kansas City Chiefs, they could do this in the same franchise. The announcement of the change was confusing to many players and EA painstakingly made sure that things were communicated appropriately. Overall, the change didn’t alter the experience for offline players, and it enhanced it for online players by giving them more options.
The 7th generation was a series of ups and downs for the Madden Franchise. Many long-time fans felt neglected by EA’s removal and subsequent reintroduction of features such as booth commentators, importable draft classes, and Superstar mode, but the series went through a variety of internal changes that came with their own host of philosophy questions. For the entire generation, the game seemed to be embattled by the struggle to appeal to both hardcore fans and casual players. As a result innovation in the series seemed to suffer. We are only three games into the 8th generation, but Madden seems to be regaining some of its roots as a football sim, even if those roots are still trying to dig down deep. It will be interesting to see what new modes and features will be introduced on the PS4 and Xbox One.