With Madden 16 only three weeks away and the start of a new NFL season right behind it, it’s safe to say heads are ready for some football. Recently I caught up with Rex Dickson, in game Creative Director on Madden 16, and we chopped it up about some of the more intruiging things about about the game including how hard they work to eliminate the popular gameplay exploits from their game that they see on the YouTube videos .
Block Muzik Radio: Talk to me about how the new defensive back and wide receiver interactions in Madden 16 will change how we play.
Rex Dickson: We added three new catch mechanics that are tied to the triangle, square or ‘X’ buttons which will give the user a choice to attempt an aggressive, possession or RAC catch. There’s risk/reward elements for each of those which leads to a huge element of depth in the passing game that we didn’t have before. On the defensive side you’ll see press interactions, zone chuck interactions and hand fighting as they run down the field. So we’ve added critical pieces of football we haven’t had in the game before, and while they’re little touches they all add up to a much more fleshed out wide receiver/defensive back interaction system.
BMR: What differences can we expect to see this year with the quarterback play?
RD: As far as the quarterback position we’ve added a ton of new stuff this year. All the locomotion has been redone, the handoff animations have been recaptured and there’s a new roll to pass mechanic that you can access by tapping the right trigger. We’ve also fixed the back shoulder roll out so the quarterback doesn’t face the opposite endzone behind him. Of course there’s the new pass types that are body relative where you can pass it high, low or the new touch pass.
BMR: It sounds like the offense will have some nice tools at their disposal, what tools has the defense been supplied with?
RD: On the defensive side of the ball the big mechanics this year in addition to improving ball hawk is the play receiver mechanic. With this if your defensive back is a bit out of position, you can hit “X” to attempt to dislodge the ball from the receiver. We’ve also added a ton of new penalties.
BMR: Regarding the penalties, what determines the frequency of how many will be called throughout the course of any given game?
RD: Penalties will be trait based. To determine how many would be called in any given game, we looked at the NFL stats. We looked at the top 15 most penalized players in the NFL and noticed that pretty consistently they are the top 15 most penalized players in the league year after year. So we gave each of those players what we call is the high motor trait and that will lead to them more likely committing penalties than other players. When we looked at real world stats that seemed liked the smartest way to do it. Willie Colon is one example, I believe has led the league in holding calls for a couple of years now so that was a no-brainer for us to give him the trait. As a result he’ll be more likely to trigger a holding call than other offensive lineman.
BMR: What if a player has the clutch rating, would that make him smarter in crucial situations as far as avoiding that killer penalty?
RD: You never know when a penalty will be called. What we did was put in a cap system so we only allow a certain number of each type of penalty per quarter. You’ll never see them all jumbled up in one quarter or half we wanted to make sure there was a nice mix so it will be completely random. It could be the last play of the game on a critical 4th and 1 and you get a holding penalty so it’s basically just the roll of the dice.
BMR: You’re not concerned that type of randomness could annoy people? I know from experience that one thing that makes a Madden player rage most is having no control of an outcome that could cost them a game.
RD: My argument back would be, no NFL coach has control of any of their players committing a costly penalty or fumble. It’s just one of the elements of football. One thing people will find is it adds another dimension to the game we didn’t have before. You’ll get in 3rd and 25 situations now where before we didn’t have that before unless you happened to get sacked. When playing against the cpu you will even see them commit penalties in critical spots that will help sustain drives for you.
BMR: Talk a bit about the gang tackling mechanics. In my time running with Christian Okoye in Draft Champions I noticed he was abusing the defense.
RD: What you were actually seeing was our gang tackle system in action with Okoye running against a lesser defensive line and he was triggering a lot of what we call “in man brokens.” The two systems of the gang tackle, one is a physics based, organic attach system where defenders come in and attach to the ball carrier and try to pull him down, but those are all physics based. In cases where we want the running back to stay upright and keep moving even with defenders attached to him, we call that “In Man.” In Man stands for infinity, meaning an infinite number of players can join in that interaction. So what you were seeing with Okoye was defenders were attaching to him and he was triggering in mans with a broken outcome and he was able to keep pushing forward because he’s a punishing runner.
BMR: Has the quarterback avoidance been tweaked this year?
RD: Oh my God yes. Actually the whole cpu A.I. system for quarterbacks has been redone. We had a few things we wanted to focus on this year and one was pressure awareness. Because of the new sack mechanics and jump the snap feature we implemented last year, people were telling us they were getting 6-7 sacks per game and that’s just not realistic. So rather than just tune back on the way the mechanic worked, we wanted to just focus on the quarterback’s awareness of pressure. What we noticed last year was our quarterbacks were just not aware of pressure and just stood back there taking hits. Our new A.I. system which we call behavior coordinator will make quarterbacks more aware of pressure and try to avoid the rush. The next thing we wanted to address was quarterbacks reliance on dink and dunk passes. We know people complained that the cpu quarterbacks would throw a lot of 5 or 6 yard patterns and just nickel and dime you down the field and that gets boring. Part of the solution to fixing dink and dunk was introducing the concept of shot plays where if the A.I. quarterbacks saw a mismatch on the field they would take a 60 yard shot down the field. The great thing about shot plays is the A.I. will be smart enough to identify the mismatch, whether it be a wide receiver having a height advantage or a speed advantage and still throw it even if the receiver is covered. This is something they have never been able to do before. The last thing we addressed was how the A.I. quarterbacks access open receivers. Previously they never had the ability to decide when to throw a bullet pass or put some touch on it. This year you will see them changing what pass types they’re choosing and they will be a lot more risky in trying to fit the ball into tight coverage. The end result is you’ll be getting a much more competitive game this year as the A.I. will play a much better game from the quarterback position.
BMR: It what seemed to offset the high number of sacks in Madden 15, we were seeing quarterbacks shedding more would be sacks and throwing off defensive lineman at a unusually high rate, has that been tuned?
RD: It has. The whole reason we built the pressure system was because last year we noticed the sacks were going too high. Our counter to that, without building a fully-fledged A.I. pressure awareness system, was to tune up shed sack to reduce the number of sacks. Generally that was a poor solution to a problem that we had because we didn’t have enough time to fix it the right way, so we fixed it correctly this year by completely rewriting the A.I. and not have to rely on systems like break sack.
BMR: What new things can we expect to see with the running game this year?
RD: The first thing we did was we looked at loco (locomotion), we looked at turn rates and how well the back cuts off his blocks and the responsiveness. With True Step last year we felt there were too many gather steps, in other words if I’m running in one direction and I want to change directions there were too many stop steps the back took to slow himself down before he turns. When we compared to what we had in the game to what we were seeing in the real NFL, we noticed we had about 6 too many stop steps, so we shortened that for this year. The end result of that for the user is a much more responsive running game. We’ve also tweaked our conceptual awareness animations so you don’t get stuck behind your blockers and we’ve added a context sensitive juke so you can cut off your blocks easier. For me the biggest thing in the run game this year is the new handoff system. The timing of the handoffs and the mesh of the ball is now timed in conjunction with the blocks, so the timing between the handoff and the blocks is now perfect. This is something we never achieved before because they were two different systems but now they’ve all been built with each other in mind.
BMR: How has the effectiveness of certain running formations been toned down and what is your overall plan of attack to eliminate money plays in general?
RD: The stuff that I noticed last year, Strong Power, the counter plays and PA End Around, nothing’s more damaging to authentic online football play than when Madden evolves into two or three money plays. After we ship we’re usually two or three YouTube videos from that happening and once they’re out there that’s all anyone runs. It sucks to watch a game or even play an opponent when he’s running these three plays that you can’t stop so we’ve modified a lot of those plays. Every year we look at those money plays and either try to fix them or take them out altogether or build defensive counters and this year’s no exception. We’ve removed a lot of the exploits which included fixing the fake screen people were setting up by hot routing the swing route. Anything we see people doing that doesn’t look like authentic football we will fix it or take it out. That will continue to be our theme for years to come.
BMR: How were the nano blitzes people were setting up addressed, specifically the A gap blitzes that were so popular?
RD: The last two years we’ve made some really good strides and have taken out hundreds of nanos. This year we really wanted to focus on those A gap nanos and get them out. It’s our responsibility to really get out in front of that, our dev teams watch the YouTube and Twitch channels just like you guys do and the stuff that really bothers us we start designing ways to fix it. If Madden is going to be one of the defacto online head to head online games, and I already feel it is, we have a responsibility to serve both audiences, not just the madden ballers but the sim community as well.