'Madden NFL 25' lets ball carriers run free

The focus in "Madden 25" is the running game, which has received a complete overhaul from "13." Courtesy of EA Sports

Marshawn Lynch stiff arms Clay Matthews in the grill, jerking the defender’s head back violently and knocking him to the ground. Lynch has transformed into full beast mode, trucking his way over the linebacker, spinning out of the corner’s weak arm tackle, and hurdling high over the standing safety on his way to paydirt.

These are just some of the moves featured in “Madden NFL 25,” a game that enables virtual ball carriers to combine moves via the right analog stick, stringing together everything from trucking defenders to shaking them out of their cleats with controller manipulations that will elevate gamers with the best thumbs.

“This year, ‘Madden 25’ is all about running free,” producer Thomas Singleton said. “It’s about unlocking the power, the precision and creativity of NFL ball carriers. Whether you’re a running back like Adrian Peterson or a dual-threat quarterback like RG III, it’s about unlocking the ability of these players.”

To do this, gameplay designers added 30 new moves, built on an all-new precision modifier system.

“In the past, we basically had eight moves you could do as a ball carrier,” said Rex Dickson, creative director of the EA Sports football group that includes both “Madden” and “NCAA Football.” “You had your spin, stiff arm, dive, hurdle, juke left and right, truck, and back juke. This year, what we’ve gone and done is we’ve taken out auto-sprint, and we’ve given you a brake with the left trigger.

“As we talked to running backs around the league, they told us their base running speed is only about 80 percent of their top speed, and when they get that handoff, they’re running at about 80 percent as the blocks set up, and then they accelerate. So this year, we’re introducing the concept of speed changes.”

So now, backs can take the handoff, hit the left trigger to slow down and watch as their linemen clear a path, then hit the right trigger to burst through the hole.

“We’ve never had this idea in the game before, so to accompany this, we’ve also added a new stamina system so you can’t just do all these moves and sprint all the way down the field,” said Dickson. “You’ll tire out, you’ll move slower, and your moves will get a bit sloppier.”

Hitting the left trigger not only slows you down, but it also triggers the modifier, opening up a selection of new moves.

Said Dickson: “If my player has a 90-plus rating in that specific move category, then you’re able to pull off that highest-level move. For example: Marshawn Lynch can do the 90-plus stiff arm, but any back who isn’t rated as high, can’t do those same moves. We’re creating separation between the best runners and everybody else. Doug Martin is more of a precision runner, so he’ll have top-level precision spin and precision juke. LeGarrette Blount will have the highest level hurdle, truck, and stiff-arm ratings. We’re starting to develop the personalities of these players within our system. We’ve also added in combo moves with the right analog stick, almost like you’re playing ‘Street Fighter.’ So when you hit someone with the truck stick by pressing up, you can then hit half circle to spin. You can do back juke, spin combos, go left to right, right to left, and string together multiple moves with our fake-out system.”

Also added to the running game (which Dickson said was the most requested feature by the “Madden” community) is the ability to make hard cuts. Anyone who played “Madden 13” scratches their heads at the way runners swerve around the field in an almost hummingbird-like pattern.

“It was just unrealistic player movement,” said Dickson. “We ripped that all out and replaced it with a hard cut system so when your player makes a cut, he actually steps, plants, and goes hard in the opposite direction. You can cut 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and even 180 degrees, and it’s a much-improved way to move your players around the field. And this isn’t just for running backs.”

All the work on the running game wouldn’t be complete (or even work right), if EA Sports didn’t also invest heavily to improve the blocking game.

“As everyone knows, interaction between the offensive and defensive lines has been a sore spot, a weak spot for the franchise for years,” said Dickson. “So to handle this, we went out and hired a former NFL offensive lineman named Clint Oldenburg. He played for the Redskins, Jets and Patriots, and he came to us with a wealth of knowledge about what real-world run blocking and pass blocking looks like. He broke down for us how real-world offensive and defensive line interaction really works. This year, we really focused heavily on the running game, so you’ll see these new interactions and variations like pull block steps, reach blocks, zone steps … a lot of new stuff going on with our blocking game. Every single running play in the entire game has been completely redone.”

Another major change headed the game's way is year two of the franchise’s Infinity physics engine. No longer will you see players convulsing on the ground or limbs bending the wrong way after a tackle, or your Pro Bowl runner tripping over a random foot and falling to the ground like he was hit by a train. Year two cleans up and enhances the entire experience, providing significant upgrades that will be noticed the second you pick up the controller.

“Last year, we introduced the Infinity engine and it was really successful, but it’s what we consider an initial implementation of a big piece of technology,” Dickson said. “We wanted to make sure we got the most out of this, so our designers went out and we fixed a lot of the problems that came with the engine last year, but also building new mechanics on top of it. We’re evolving the way the game is played with the Infinity engine.

“The first thing we did is this concept called force impact. This augments the collision or the severity of the hit based on a player’s hit power rating. So if Patrick Willis charges in and Hit Sticks somebody, his hit power is going to create a more severe hit, and how we do this is augmenting the animation and physics. So when you get hit by Patrick Willis, your muscles go limp, and this allows you to get blown back farther.

“This year you’ll see these huge blow-up hits in the game, and we think this is the hardest-hitting ‘Madden’ we’ve ever built.”

Stiff arms and trucks will also have this force technology, enabling running backs to smash smaller defenders and bowl through the line, then smack linebackers in the face mask or shoulder with a series of wicked shots with their open hands.

Dickson explained that in some instances, the team also looked to games like “Assassin’s Creed” for inspiration.

“In ‘Madden 13’ there were plays where you would run into a crowd and just fall down and it looked terrible,” he said. “But if you look how the character in ‘Assassin’s Creed’ runs through crowds, he’s using his hands to move around them, so we’ve done something very similar with our game this year. If you run into the back of an offensive lineman, your ball carrier will put his hand on the blocker’s back and just move around him instead of getting stuck behind him and falling down. We call this ball carrier avoidance. It happens automatically, it happens naturally, and your ball carrier will be able to move on and make his way up the field like he should.

“Another big problem last year was how you would constantly trip over someone on the ground, then you would stumble and fall," Dickson added. "In our play tests, when this would happen, people would start hitting buttons or flicking the stick. People think that they should be able to pull out of this. When you watch NFL games, these running backs have incredible balance. Even when they get tripped, they somehow manage to recover. So this year, we built a stumble recover mechanic. In certain stumble conditions, you’ll see an arrow light up under your player, and if you flick the right stick back in that short window, your player will actually put his arm down, recover his balance, and keep running.”

If you’re worried about a stumbling runner being susceptible to a big hit or a fumble, simply flick the right stick forward instead to dive for extra yards.

Added Dickson: “We’ve done a lot of work on the Infinity engine, just making sure we deliver the best feature possible. We’ve even built an all-new targeting system for stiff arms. There’s even a difference between a stiff arm punch and a stiff arm hold, so now you can deliver blows to defenders in front of you, or use the stiff arm hold to keep defenders behind you at bay. It’s all about judging angles and direction of defenders to determine what’s the correct move to do.”

And with the added ability to actually hurdle standing defenders for the first time, it looks like “Madden 25” will forever be remembered as the year of the ball carrier.

If only they included virtual Skittles for the sidelines. Time to feed the beast.