By Lucas Croft
As of 2013 the Madden NFL series has sold over 100 million units since its inception. What started as a simple dream by Trip Hawkins in the 1980s has grown into a dynasty, inspired by a paper and dice game he had created to simulate football games much like the Strat-o-Matic games of his childhood; Hawkins had always dreamed of bringing football simulation to the computer, and in 1984 the Madden series was conceived.
Year after year, EA Sports has attempted to deliver the most realistic NFL simulation. Now, as Madden enters into its 27th year of existence, we look back at each console release and ask “What were the most influential features?”
John Madden Football (1990)
John Madden Football released on the Sega Genesis and the SNES in 1990. While it contained no official NFL license, it did have the name of a nationally broadcasted announcer and Super Bowl winning coach plastered on the front of the cartridge. Former Oakland Raiders coach, John Madden, joined Trip Hawkins in 1984 after being approached to help provide his insight and expertise of the game of football. Madden insisted that the video game reflect in as realistic a way as possible what people all over the country were gathering around their TV every Sunday to watch. Because of both Madden and Hawkins’ desire to do the sport they both loved justice, the game series took 4 years to release on PC and another 2 years to release on console.
While John Madden Football was not the first football game to be released — Super Pro Football, Tecmo Bowl, and 10-Yard Fight had already released on console — it provided conceptual changes that would shape the American Football video game industry from that point forward.
First and foremost, 11-on-11 gameplay. While many, including Hawkins and game producer Joe Ybarra, thought this feature was impossible to accomplish on consoles available at the time, John Madden refused to place his stamp of approval on the game until it could reflect the actual rules of the game famously being quoted as saying “I’m not putting my name on it if it’s not real.” And that wasn’t all Madden pushed for. From playbooks to individual player stats, he wanted the game to be both a true simulation of football and an educational tool for those who wanted to learn more about the game.
Super Pro Football and Tecmo Bowl, along with others, presented the game from a horizontal, top-down point of view, somewhat reflective of the way football is broadcasted on television. John Madden Football swung the camera angle around to what has become the standard behind the quarterback point of view. The shift in angle was practical for several reasons. First, it allowed the player to see further down field and get a better sense of where defenders were. In the 1988 release of John Madden Football on Commodore 64 and Apple II, users were only able to see 30 yards downfield at a time. By simply shifting the angle down, the field of view increased by 10 yards.
This shift also created an isometric view that gave the perspective of a 3rd dimension that was simply not possible during the 16-bit era. This small shift in camera angle created a greater sense of realism and catapulted the series immediately into the best football videogame offering of the time, creating an industry standard.
John Madden Football 92 (1991)
With the wild success enjoyed by its predecessor, John Madden Football 92 continued to build on the original vision set forth by Madden and Hawkins. While the emphasis was set on making the most realistic football game available at the time, this iteration of the game introduced one of the most ridiculously quirky features of any Madden title to date.
Football is a violent sport. 300-lb men clash against one another play after play as athletes run full speed at other athletes. Injuries are going to happen. It’s the nature of the beast that no one can deny, and where injuries occur, duty calls. In John Madden Football 92, emergency medical staff possess knowledge paralleled only by their passion for expedited service.
The Ambulance is a feature long enjoyed by fans of the Madden series. A player would go to the ground with an injury, and in their moment of need, they would be quickly met by well-trained medical staff recklessly driving an ambulance while indiscriminately taking out all of the innocent onlookers who were just showing some concern for the fallen comrade. Sound ridiculous? Wait till you see how it looks. Cue the Montage!
Far less ridiculous than The Ambulance — which made its final appearance in Madden NFL 2001 — was the inclusion of instant replay in 92’s version of the game. This marked the inception of everyone’s favorite Madden opponent, the “hold on watch this spin move 40 times” guy.
John Madden Football 93 (1992)
The thought that Madden had perfected the football experience in terms of console potential is evident in the fact that not much changed from a gameplay perspective in the last several years of the 4th generation. That isn’t to say that changes weren’t made year to year, but that these changes weren’t monumental from a “what the eyes can see” stand-point.
The biggest addition in John Madden Football 93 was the inclusion of the no-huddle offense. Final two minutes of the game, down by a touchdown? You need all the time you can milk from the clock, and previous versions of the game require the user to go into the play selection menu, pick a play, and then wait for the defense to select a play. Though not a prevalent part of any teams offense outside of 2-minutes in 1992, the no-huddle offense added a bit of pace to the game that was very much needed to replicate the last-minute efforts of a team playing catch-up.
Madden NFL 94 (1993)
All 3 previous iterations of the series lacked something that launched Madden into the stratosphere in terms of realism and popularity, the highly-coveted NFL license. Prior to Madden NFL 94, teams were only referred to by their city and featured the two main colors of each team, but now all 28 teams including city, mascot, and colors were featured in the game. This was the start of a long partnership between EA Sports and the NFL, with Madden carrying the NFL license for over 20 years.
However, Madden 94 still lacked the player’s association licensing that would have allowed it to use real players names and likeness. So players were left playing with HB #34 and QB #7, but it’s inclusion was not far off. The Madden brand was quickly beginning to come together and gain momentum.
Madden NFL 95 (1994)
The only piece missing from the fully-licensed puzzle was the NFLPA license, and Madden NFL 95 locked up the agreement needed to include player names and likenesses. In order to celebrate and market this new-found partnership, Dallas Cowboy’s Erik Williams and Karl Wilson of the San Francisco 49ers became the first players to appear on the cover of the game. While it took several years to get annualized cover athletes, as Madden 96 would return to having John Madden on the cover, Madden 95 was the beginning of a tradition that has defined the series and been seen as an honor by NFL players.
Madden NFL 95 was also the first title of the series to get rid of the passing windows that filled up the top third of the screen in previous iterations. Instead, the camera would pan out to show the receivers running their routes down the field while their passing icon displayed prominently below the model. This simple move created a less cluttered HUD when passing while also allowing the player to stay engaged in the play as it unfolded.
Madden NFL 96 (1995)
1995 was the rockiest year for Visual Concepts, EA Sports, and their beloved Madden franchise. A transition from the 16-bit era to the 32-bit era of Sony’s Playstation was on the horizon, and the developers had big dreams for what this leap could mean for the franchise. Previews began to come out for the next iteration on the next generation of consoles and people were ready to make the leap for the multiple camera angles, FOX style presentation, and massively upgraded visuals. But EA’s eyes were a bit bigger than their stomachs, and the next-gen offering didn’t make it’s way to market.
Madden NFL 96 still made its way to the SNES/Genesis. The mantra for EA Sports titles was always “E-A-Sports, it’s in the game.” And now, with the NFL and NFLPA license locked up, it was time to give the players the ability to say “you’re in the game.” Thus was born “create-a-player.”
Players were given the ability to create a player with their name, preferred position, and other customizable attributes. However, players did not have the ability to manually select the ability ratings of their players. Instead, the created player would be run through a variety of mini-games in order to determine its ratings.
The 4th generation of consoles was the inception of a true dynasty. Each iteration of Madden increased in realism and popularity. Though, the transition to the 5th generation stumbled out of the gates, it is important to remember the reason for that stumbling was because Madden 96 didn’t meet EA’s quality standards. The title would regain its mojo in the 5th generation and march on in its pursuit of an authentic NFL experience.
Check back on October 19th for part 2 of the series. 5th Generation: From Gameplay to Game Modes