Wes Welker lines up in the slot and is about to run a curl when you notice a linebacker shift over him into coverage. This is where the Wii U magic happens. Using the system’s touch-screen controller, simply draw a new route for Welker before the ball is hiked, and the Patriot receiver will run whatever direction your finger sends him in order to beat that linebacker deep.
That’s one of the more intriguing aspects of playing the game on Nintendo’s new system, but it’s what’s missing from the franchise that overshadows everything EA Sports announced.
The Infinity Engine that redefines the game’s physics on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? MIA. That means what you’re playing are the tired old tackles and movements of “Madden 12” while the older systems get the groundbreaking goodness of Infinity. Also left off the features list are popular modes like Madden Ultimate Team and Online Team Play.
I had the chance to sit down with the game’s producer, Yuri Bialoskursky, to get his thoughts on what the Wii U will add to the franchise, and why so much was left out.
ESPN Playbook: Don’t you think Nintendo consumers are going to be frustrated by getting an inferior version of “Madden” again? The Infinity Engine is what defines “Madden 13,” yet it’s nowhere to be seen on the Wii U.
Yuri Bialoskursky: It’s not for a lack of want. We definitely wanted to get the physics into the game. The Infinity Engine is something that is a point of interest for “Madden” fans, it’s just something we weren’t able to achieve for this first year on the new hardware. A lot of times, new hardware comes with new challenges. But we were able to add things to “Madden” on a lot of different levels, like being able to draw your own hot routes and being able to change your plays on the fly and create your own plays, giving you the ability to do whatever you want to do pre-play. Play-calling is another area that could be underestimated at face value. You have your playbook fully exposed to you. You don’t have to dig through menus and dig back out of menus to find the perfect play. There’s a lot of searching around, I think, on the other consoles. Just the way it’s laid out enables you to access everything very quickly. Then, of course, you’re able to utilize substitutions and packages, making changes very simply and very intuitively by just tapping and swiping the screen.
How does the controller feel to you? The thing is so huge, it seems like it’s going to take a lot of getting used to for “Madden” fans that have been playing the game on other systems.
There’s definitely going to be a period of adjustment there. That’s all out of our control, but when we’ve been playing it all throughout development, it’s not uncomfortable at all. The way that it’s laid out, the final controller, is actually very comfortable, and the way that it’s all laid out with our features, is all done in a way that isn’t intrusive to the game. It’s all done in the flow and the context of how the plays are supposed to game and the game really flows. It works really well.
One feature that you were able to bring over to the Wii U is Connected Careers. How big is that showing the system’s online capabilities?
That’s one of the things we’re most excited about. All of the parity points we do have with the other consoles. Connected Careers is the biggest one. Thirty-two connected people in their own league, being able to play head-to-head. Obviously we’ll have all of the other head-to-head and leaderboards and lobbies like our other consoles as well. So yeah, online is definitely an emphasis for both Nintendo and for us, and we can’t wait to see people out there engaging more so than they probably ever have on a Nintendo console.
But how can you say that online is such an emphasis and then not include features like Madden Ultimate Team?
Madden Ultimate Team is something that we’re not going to have in year one. It’s another one that we plan to add in as we go.
You’re killing me.
Again, we have other features that are really great. Connected Careers is going to take a lot of your time. Being able to interact and play against other people online while you try and create a legend out of yourself or picking one of those old legends like a Vince Lombardi or a Barry Sanders and taking them through a career is fun. There is a lot to look forward to on the Wii U.
How many people can play the game at once?
You can actually play up to five players at a time with the Wii U. We’ll be supporting the game pad, the Wii remote and nunchuk, and we’ll also be supporting the pro controller.
So five people in one room, but no Online Team Play?
Correct. It’s a different monster.
What’s your personal favorite feature for “Madden” on the Wii U that isn’t found in the other versions of the game?
A lot of people say drawing the routes, and I use it all the time, but for me, honestly, I love the playbook. Everything is laid out in front of you and I can quickly just tap through everything and still have the ability to change my mind, tap back and substitute my guys. It’s really resonated with our hard-core guys in play test, and I can see why because it’s just quick. That’s one of the main things we were trying to accomplish with this. We were looking at ways we could bring these elements into the Wii U space and make it a much quicker experience. So you can do all of this through the regular controls now. But how can we enhance that? Redesigning the playbook so can just tap your way through is one of those ways. Drawing your own hot routes where you don’t have to pick from a predesigned series of hot routes is another. We give you that top-down view of both the offense and defense so you can quickly disseminate how the defense is setup, and then draw a route to take advantage of their weaknesses. Then on defense, if you play “Madden,” you know you only have a couple of seconds before that ball is snapped, and to actually hot route your defenders on the other consoles, you have to switch to that guy, you have to open the menu, press a button, then switch over to the next guy and repeat. It’s a little, I don’t want to call it clunky, but it’s cumbersome. Here: tap, drag, tap, drag. If you know what you want to do, it’s really quick and it’s really easy.