Like the long-awaited, post-lockout NFL season, the latest installment in the Madden NFL video game franchise is upon us.
Madden NFL 12, the newest game in Electronic Arts' wildly popular series, will hit shelves on Tuesday. And while the franchise's annual August release has become somewhat of a holiday for diehard fans to celebrate, the earlier threat of a season-ending lockout has only cranked up their excitement even more.
But does this latest iteration live up to the hype?
In a word: definitely. (It better, with the price of the game now at $60.)
While official sales numbers are hard to come by, a spokeswoman for EA Sports said the franchise has sold more than 90 million units since its debuts in 1988. Each year, the game's designers tweak and update the title. Sometimes they get it right, other times they get it wrong. This time around, they got a lot of stuff right. The new collision system makes for more realistic defensive play, and the camera angles in the game, from the line of scrimmage to the end zone and players on the bench, mirror fans will see during real-life NFL broadcasts. There's also a new Custom Playbooks feature, which allows players to build specific game plans by modifying an existing playbook or creating their own.
Those who were fans of Madden NFL '11 might recall catching fits over the kinks in some of the online gaming features. This year, the developers have added an Online Communities feature, where players can create and join customized communities and set the game styles, including the game length, game speed, penalties, etc.
Mike Young, the creative director of the Madden franchise, talked with The Huffington Post about the game’s latest enhancements, the fans choosing Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis over the Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick for the cover and how the lockout impacted the video game.
Huffington Post: How did the NFL lockout affect what you guys had planned for the video game?
Mike Young: The lockout didn’t really affect the development of the game. But we did feel like we were going to deliver this really authentic version of the game either way. This is a big step ahead for Madden. It would have just been so disappointing if there was no season.
HP: For the first time ever, fans voted on who would be on the cover of Madden. Peyton Hillis beat out Mike Vick, which was somewhat shocking given Vick’s incredible comeback. Are you guys happy with the fan voting system?
MY: The American people loved it. We had more people engaged during that time of the year than ever before. I think 16 million people voted on the cover -- and then to have an underdog, and to have all of the athletes that got involved and lobbied for themselves or their teammates, it was just great.
HP: There's been a lot of recent discussion about head injuries and concussions in the NFL. How did EA alter the play in Madden 12 to reflect these new realities in the real game?
MY: We want to treat concussions as seriously as the NFL did, and we are responding to that through our [game play]. We have concussions in our game and if a player gets one they have to leave the game. We’re trying to shed light on how serious an issue it is.
HP: What’s your favorite game from the franchise and what are the biggest improvements in this game over last year’s game?
MY: Madden 05 and Madden 12 are my favorites. [The biggest improvement is] the collision system. People are talking about how rewarding the running game is and how much control they have over the actual game play. Shot for shot we’ve matched TV, with all the real broadcast cameras in the game. We’ve overhauled the lighting, brought in virtual cinematographers and shot the game scene by scene.
HP: So many of us have grown up with the Madden franchise. It’s definitely not just a game for youngsters. Who is the target audience and how do you balance satisfying that core group and making the game palatable for newcomers?
MY: Most people who buy the game are in their 30s and are male. The challenging part is this balance -- people don’t like change, but they demand great strides with the product. How do you cater to that, a group that loves the way things were, and also satisfy a group of people who appreciate new changes and every year are looking to see what has changed?
I don’t think we’ll ever be done evolving. People want reality and we’ll always have really cool aspirational things to achieve. As long as every year we can push it really far, people will remain happy.
We’re already deep into next year’s planning. And that’s a year-round thing. There’s rarely time off. As soon as we’re done with one game we’re starting up with the next game, seeing how the fans react, and that will have some influence on our development.