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Madden 25: Next-Gen Gameplay and Interview with Creative Director Rex Dickson

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIIOctober 18, 2013

As the days draw closer for the release of the next-generation video game systems. anticipation amongst sports gamers increases. The thought of Madden 25 on the Xbox One and Playstation 4 has gamers at least interested. 

What goodies await fans and newcomers to the undisputed king of virtual football? You've seen the gameplay trailer above. The game looks pretty sharp, but learning about differences in gameplay will be huge.

Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Madden 25 creative director of gameplay Rex Dickson. He discussed many of the glowing features for the game on next-gen systems and answered many of the questions fans may have. 

Here's that interview.

Brian Mazique: What are some of the major enhancements as it relates to gameplay?

Rex Dickson: The next-gen consoles have unlocked a number of possibilities that literally change the way the game plays. Our main areas of focus in gameplay are player movement (True Player Motion) and AI (Human Intelligence).

Our biggest innovation in the player movement space is our new "True Step" locomotion system. All of the sliding, skating, warping and floating that existed previously are resolved with our new system. It represents a fundamental shift away from arcade-feeling movement to a model that is more realistic and authentic to the game.

The second major gameplay enhancement comes in a collection of massive AI upgrades that fall into the Human Intelligence category. Two major areas that stand out as night-and-day difference from current-gen is our pass blocking and coverage AI, but additional enhancements are present all over the field.

BM: Can you explain how injuries will occur in the game? Does the part of the body that's injured depend on where the player was hit? How is the presentation in this area?

RD: Injuries are very similar to what we had in current-generation games. Our injuries do trigger based on where the player was hit or how they landed. We have specific presentation sequences for various injury types, so you’ll be able to see at a glance where the injury occurred.

BM: Will late-game clock management be improved? On current-gen there are some improvements made by the A.I., but it still slips up in some instances and gives the gamer an advantage.

RD: We made major improvements in this area in Madden NFL 25 current-gen and will continue to strive to eliminate any remaining clock management issues on next-gen. Play call and clock management AI is a major focus for us as we continue to strive to deliver a CPU opponent that plays a more competitive game across the board.

BM: Talk a little about playbooks. Will they be as extensive as they are in current-gen?

RD: There is no loss of content between current-gen and next-gen playbooks. You will get playbooks that are as fully featured as they are in current-gen. I am especially proud of the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins' playbooks this year.

We worked very closely with Coach Madden to nail the pistol and shotgun spread option playbooks, and these are as exciting to run in game as they are to watch in real life.  

BM: Expound on how weight differences will be a factor in gameplay.

RD: Our physics system takes into account three major components when determining outcomes; weight/mass, momentum and center of gravity. These are definitely a factor that impacts gameplay, but player ratings also strongly influence outcomes.

This is an intentional choice on our part as we feel very strongly that creating separation between elite players and everyone else is a creative priority for us.

That said, here is an example of how weight impacts the game. I was just playing a game the other day where a safety blitzed and got picked up by the left tackle coming off a double-team with the guard. Although the safety was coming in at full speed, his momentum ground to a halt when he collided with the 330-pound left tackle.

When a defensive end collides with the same left tackle, he carries more momentum into the collision and forces the tackle backward.

BM: Player Sense is an intriguing feature. Bringing the human element to the video game is important. How does this work?

RD: Player Sense is actually a collection of features that come together to deliver AI that is light years ahead of what we’ve ever had before.

The first component of the feature is what we refer to internally as contextual awareness, or a set of automatically triggered behaviors that allow players to react to everything going on around them in a contextually appropriate manner.

This includes things like automatically stepping over a player on the ground, hurdling a dive tackle, pointing downfield for a key block and playing appropriate avoidance animations to get around players that get in their way.

The second major component of Player Sense is part of our Learning A.I. system which allows our designers to train players to behave like users. You will see this really come to light in the play of the CPU running backs, who are more effective than ever on next-gen.

Perhaps the biggest impact of Player Sense is in our new pass-blocking system. When you see the line working and communicating as a team to pick up blitzes, twists and stunts it is one of the most impressive aspects of the game. It looks and feels like five individuals working together as a team.

In terms of how this all works, it is basically just using the horsepower of next-gen consoles to run literally hundreds of AI evaluations every single frame on each player to determine the appropriate action to take.

BM: I love the idea of CoachGlass, but what would you say to gamers who may be intimidated or discouraged by incorporating a new piece of hardware into their experience.

RD: If you feel intimidated or discouraged by it, you don’t have to use it.

CoachGlass was always intended as a way to help users out who struggle with play call strategy or who feel like they could use an extra helping hand on defense. We intentionally developed CoachGlass so that you only use it during breaks in the action, so you can look at the offense’s personnel or tendencies, call a play based on what the community thinks is the best way to stop them, and then go back to playing the game on the big screen.

Also, I strongly encourage folks to use CoachGlass for co-op! Hand off the tablet to a friend and let them call the plays while you execute on the sticks. It’s a fun way to play and helps involve friends and family who like football and strategy but don’t necessarily feel confident taking direct control.

BM: Will player ratings be the same as the current-gen retail version when it releases, or will next-gen automatically pick up where the latest current-gen ratings are?

RD: Next-gen will ship with the Week 1 NFL regular-season rosters. The latest rosters should be available for download on launch day.

BM: Give us an example of something that occurs in next-gen gameplay that simply isn't possible in current-gen.

RD: As part of our Human Intelligence feature, we implemented the Learning AI system that I mentioned before that allows designers on the team to train the AI to play like real people.

The AI learns from the designers' patterns and utilizes them in game. This really comes across in game as you will see CPU ball-carriers hurdle, spin, juke and cut much more effectively than ever before. There are many occasions where the AI almost looks like you are playing another user and we are just scratching the surface of what this system is capable of.

When coupled with our Player Sense feature set, the number of calculations the AI player runs (literally hundreds of AI calculations every frame running on every player) is something that is only possible with the power of next-gen hardware.

We think this feature represents a significant step toward making our AI players look, feel and behave more like their real-world counterparts.

BM: When gamers sit down to play Madden 25 on next-gen, what is the first thing you want them to notice about the gameplay?

RD: My hope is that gamers feel this is the most authentic Madden NFL game play they have ever played. The gameplay team has added over 10 former football players over the last three years, and our primary goal is to deliver on core football fundamentals.

We still value the casual audience that just wants a fun game, but it is long overdue for this team to also deliver the "what I see on Sundays" game that is demanded by simulation gamers.

It all starts with the OL/DL interaction. First, all of our blocking code is based on real-world football rules and this alone has a massive impact on gameplay. We’ve tuned our pass rush to be more realistic in terms of how much time the QB gets in the pocket and this literally changes the entire passing game.

Blitz recognition becomes a critical component of the game. You learn pretty quickly that you can’t block a six-man blitz with five-man protection and if you see a DB walk up into the box, you better have a hot-read receiver because you only have two to three seconds to get the ball out. Coverage sacks are a lot more common.

Deep balls require more skill due to the increased pressure and massive upgrades in our coverage AI. You will learn to be aware of safeties lurking over the top when you throw deep balls. Expect to be forced to hit your checkdown routes more often than ever before.

By making the gameplay more like what we see on Sundays, our intent is for gamers to adapt and play the game more strategically (and realistically) than ever before. For me, this is the biggest difference in gameplay on next-gen, and it represents what we hope is a clear indication of the direction the game is headed on next-gen platforms. 

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