Turn on "Madden NFL 10" for the Wii and right away you realize that it's a completely different game.
"It was really just a design philosophy change for us," explains lead producer Dan Baker. "We wanted to make a game that is more casual and that people will experience together socially. It's up to four players; it's a 30-minute to an hour experience where everyone has a great time and is involved; and it's much faster paced.
"The Xbox 360 gamer is 18-34 male, so it's pretty narrow, and it's a lot easier to target your feature set to that demographic," Baker says. "So when we got the Wii product at Tiburon, we sat down to think about the game, and we knew the audience was different than the 360. We know they're not hard-core. We know they're not hard-core into franchise mode or superstar or playing 30 years. That's why our design direction completely changed and we ended up taking the game in a different direction than we've ever done before and we're really excited about it."
So what exactly is that new direction?
ESPN sat down with Baker as well as lead designer Matt Read and art director Tim Spangler to get the dirt on everything from the game's funky look to the new Road to the Super Bowl mode.
ESPN: What was some of the inspiration behind the graphics overhaul in "Madden 10"?
Tim Spangler: We were doing a lot of research at the time and we came across an article on "Team Fortress 2." Everyone here really liked how that game looked in general as it really stood out from the crowd. So we were looking at "Madden" on the Wii and doing some analysis on the franchise, and we realized we had real similar challenges to what that team had. They were trying to open a shooter up to a different crowd and establish something that could stand on its own and be different than anything else out there. I think they did a really good job there. So we saw that and saw the game as a nice piece of inspiration there. And one of the things they focused on, and one of the things that was mentioned in the article as well, was trying to create different body types, essentially like trying to create a silhouette for certain key players in the game.
As we looked at last year's version of "Madden" on the Wii, essentially on pre-snap cam, we went through and saw a lot of repetition in there. Randy Moss looked the same as Peyton Manning who looked the same as Brian Urlacher. They were essentially the same body type, the same silhouette. So as we started looking into it more, we wanted to really take advantage of the fact that the players who play these positions really have different physiques that allow them to excel at that. We took that inspiration and tried to inject that into Madden.
ESPN: But obviously, even with the new look, if the gameplay isn't there, nobody will care. What are some of the big gameplay changes in store for the series this year on the Wii?
Matt Read: There are two sides of the coin. There are people who love football, love watching the games on Sundays, but they're intimidated by the game on 360 and PS3. So we looked at those people and tried to create a whole new set of features that will get them in and out of gameplay quickly. We also found that people who played the game for the first time, they could pick up offense pretty quickly. Where they struggled was on defense. They would grab control of a corner, blow their coverage, and leave the receiver wide open. So what we did is, we created a mechanic where you could control the entire defense at one time. Using the pointer controls, after the ball is snapped, you can point at the quarterback or wide receiver or running back and you can hone your defense around that player. You can then simply flick the remote to Hit Stick, intercept, or swat the ball. That's an example for what we've done for people who love football but might not feel comfortable playing on the 360 or PS3.
On the other side of the coin are people who have been playing the game for years. Those advanced gamers who want something more. So we came up with a control scheme that felt great for us. Last year, there were a whole lot of gesture controls, and gesture controls are fun when they make sense, but they're not necessarily the most responsive way to play the game. So we mapped all of the important controls to the buttons to bring back that responsive feel.
The Wii audience is such a mix of young, old, dads, sons, girlfriends, whatever. So we came up with as many ways to play this game as possible. If you want the hard-core 11-on-11 football that you got on PS2 and Xbox, you've got it. If you want to have a little more fun, do some 5-on-5, maybe add some crazy game rules, you can do that in Madden Showdown. It's really however you want to play the game, you can customize it.
”-- Producer Dan Baker
We've also created a brand-new gameplay mechanic on top of that. And really, the gameplay is the core of the PS2 and Xbox game. It's a well-tuned system that's been around for years. On top of that, we created new mechanics like defensive call your shots. Last year, we had offensive call your shots where you could grab a receiver and assign him a route by drawing it on the screen with your controller. So this year, we wanted to bring that same mechanic for defense where pre-play, you grab a hold of a defender and easily change his assignments on the field with the pointer, and the pointer will point to the zone that makes the most sense for that defender to be in on the field. And that's more of an advanced feature -- you're not going to see your everyday player trying that.
Then we also revamped pre-play controls. Now with the pointer, for example, I can just point at the wide receiver, hit a button and it sends him in motion. For guys who know what they're doing, this new system enables them to easily make adjustments at the line before they snap the ball.
Dan Baker: The Wii audience is such a mix of young, old, dads, sons, girlfriends, whatever. So we came up with as many ways to play this game as possible. If you want the hard-core 11-on-11 football that you got on PS2 and Xbox, you've got it. If you want to have a little more fun, do some 5-on-5, maybe add some crazy game rules, you can do that in Madden Showdown. It's really however you want to play the game, you can customize it. You have simple play calling, advanced play calling, and we really tried to cater to everyone. Sometimes that just waters the product down, but I think we had such a great base to start with as far as a hard-core game goes, that we were able keep that intact while adding a lot of accessibility to it as well.
ESPN: What's the biggest new feature that has been added this year?
Dan Baker: That would be Road to the Super Bowl. This is something we're really excited about. Think about it as a season mode where you and three other people are playing together but instead of you going through a season where everyone has a team and you're playing against the computer and you might play head-to-head in Week 7, but you still have a bunch of computer games to get through first. In Road to the Super Bowl, you're playing on the same team together. It's one to four players working together as the Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, whatever, but the cool thing is you can do this 11-on-11 or you can do it 5-on-5, and 5-on-5 is really what we've been having a blast with.
So you get four guys playing through season mode, and you can do it through a half season, a full season, or you can do playoffs only. Again, you can tailor your experience. If you want to take an hour and go through the playoffs, you can do that. If you want to take a few hours, you can do that. Or if you want to go through a whole season, you have that option as well. The other cool thing is drop-in/drop-out. So if you started a game and your buddy comes over, he can actually jump right in, pick his Mii character, and now he's scoring points as well and you're playing together. And if he has to leave for some reason, he can drop back out at any time. You can "Lego Star Wars" the way people drop-in and out of the game at any time. That's a great new mechanic.
And while you play, you're keeping score on all of this as well. Think "Rock Band" where you're working together to play a song as best as you can, but there's also that competitive nature where I score more points than you or I hit more notes than you, and we do that with this mode as well. The more stuff you do and the better plays you make, you're actually accumulating points to your overall season score. There is an overall season score for the team, but then individually we track how everyone does as well. It's just a cool new mechanic and it's something you won't find in any other version of "Madden." It's that cooperative social experience where everyone is working towards that common goal, but you still want to be the best and score the most points.
Matt Read: Dan touched on how everyone scores points, but another mechanic that we added similar to "Rock Band" is how when you miss a whole lot of notes, you get kicked out of the song and your buddies have to bring you back in. We added that same kind of mechanic called benching. Say every time I pass you the ball you run the wrong way. You're not helping us out and you're really destroying our team on defense because you're not covering your guy. Well, the game recognizes that and penalizes you. Your activity meter fluctuates throughout the game, but if it drops to zero, then the coach will bench you and you'll have to sit on the sidelines and watch the rest of your team play. At that point, your team can either spend some of the points they've earned to bring you back, or they can just leave you on the sidelines, which actually makes for some funny begging situations.
ESPN: "Madden" Wii also features a head-to-head mode called Madden Showdown. How will that work?
We're really excited about Madden Showdown and Road to the Super Bowl because when we sat down to think about what people were looking for on the Wii, these just made a lot of sense. And when we saw them come together, we were like, wow, this is it. This is the perfect social experience that people expect on the Wii.
”-- Producer Dan Baker
Dan Baker: Madden Showdown is the other big mode that is exclusive to the Wii. Again, it's a social mode, but instead of the cooperative aspect, this is the competitive aspect. It's one to four players and if you're playing by yourself you can have CPU opponents, but if you have four players, it's four humans playing against each other. Again, you can play 5-on-5 or 11-on-11 and the computer will set up the matchup where the next game will be Matt versus Tim, then it will ask everyone else who they think will win the game along with another random question like who will have the most receiving or rushing yards. Everybody in the room is betting on what they think the outcome of the game is. So even though it's Matt versus Tim, I've got a vested interest because I have some points on the line because I predicted what I think the outcome will be. If I bet on Tim and Tim smacks Matt around, then I earn some points. And the rules of Madden Showdown actually make this a much shorter game. If you play 5-on-5, you're playing to five touchdowns. If you play 11-on-11, you're not playing four quarters, you're playing a five-minute game where you start at the 50-yard line, so you don't have too far to go. The idea, again, is to get people rotating through the games quickly where each game will take you ten minutes, and then the next two guys are on and everyone else is predicting what will happen. It's a social, quick experience, but instead of working together, this is the mode where it's competitive with everyone going after it and trying to win.
Matt Read: And what makes this mode awesome is that customization is the name of the game. Say you invite over some friends who are hard-core "Madden" guys who have been playing the game for years. You can have a Madden Showdown that plays strictly by the books with 11-on-11. Or on the flip side, you can play 5-on-5 and make it as zany as you want with something called Game Changers. You can set up Game Changers before every round, and these include invisibility, where players pop in and out of the field. We have one where every possession the ball will fumble at least one time. We also have It's Alive, where every tipped pass or dropped pass is still counted as a live ball. It's cool because you can make this mode as goofy or as serious as you want.
Dan Baker: We're really excited about Madden Showdown and Road to the Super Bowl because when we sat down to think about what people were looking for on the Wii, these just made a lot of sense. And when we saw them come together, we were like, wow, this is it. This is the perfect social experience that people expect on the Wii. This is finally a Madden game built specifically for the Wii with a Wii-specific feature set and I think people are really going to like what they see.