Examiner chats with Rex Dickson, Creative Director Gameplay for “Madden NFL 15” to get the skinny on the plethora of new addition for this year’s pigskin game on the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Featuring a new pass rush system as well as more visual and gameplay improvements, “Madden NFL 15” looks to have a few more bells and whistles than last year’s version, ones that EA says will complement the core gameplay dramatically.
Examiner: What inspired all of the changes in this year's Madden?
Rex Dickson: Every year we have the desire to work on more things than we can possibly fit into a cycle. Our main focus is to create the best football simulation video game ever crafted, and we’re constantly striving to make every year’s game the biggest and best yet. This year’s Madden NFL specifically focuses on huge upgrades in three major areas. One big one is a total overhaul of presentation. This was primarily inspired by the team feeling like this was one of the weaker aspects of the game when compared to other next-gen sports titles. We brought in NFL Films veteran and Emmy-award winner Brian Murray to be our new presentation director. Brian and his team have completely overhauled presentation from pre-game and halftime shows to real time dynamic post play presentation and new gameplay cameras. You will see major improvement in visuals as well, everything from lighting to environments to player models and likenesses.
Examiner: Why was the focus on Pass Rush? Do you feel that section of the game was lacking compared to others?
Dickson: The focus on defense this year isn’t exclusive to the pass rush, it is actually an all-encompassing overhaul of how defense plays and is played in Madden NFL. Telemetry data was showing us that over 40% of users play defense as a defensive lineman. Many users primarily rush the passer on defense and rely in their AI in the secondary. The main issue with the pre-existing pass rush controls in Madden NFL was that it boiled down to just mashing the right thumbstick and hoping your player would eventually just get off the block. There was no feedback systems in place, so you just spam the stick and hope for the best. There are multiple new user mechanics introduced this year as part of pass rush, including moving the pass rush moves to the face buttons so it’s easier to execute and get feedback on your actions.
Examiner: How else will this game feel different from Madden 25? Are visuals a big part of that?
Dickson: Yes absolutely. Last year our main focus was ensuring a fully-featured transition from current-gen to next-gen. This year, we have had the full cycle to focus on maximizing our use of the new hardware and the graphics team has delivered the best-looking game in franchise history. There are so many significant upgrades on the visual and presentation side it would be impossible to list them all out here, but there is no question in our minds this version absolutely delivers next-gen visuals.
Gameplay will also feel quite different this year, as we continue to move toward realism and authenticity. Expect more realistic pass rush pressure (less time in the pocket) and dramatically improved coverage AI this year that absolutely change the way the game feels. Additionally, our new pass accuracy system has a massive impact on both passing and catching while also creating clear separation between elite QBs and everybody else.
Examiner: What was the inspiration behind crowd-sourced play calling?
Dickson: Initially, the inspiration for crowd-sourced play calling came from internal telemetry data we use to track how our users play the game. We generally reserve this data for internal purposes; balancing, tuning, bugs, etc. However, when we all started to see how valuable this data was, we knew we had to find a way to use it to help our players. We have long wanted play calling in Madden to be more informative and teaching the user not just what play was called, but why. Visualizing context behind a play call suggestion is a big deal, because once you start to understand what plays work in certain situations and against which defenses, you become more knowledgeable about how to call plays. This ties back to the original vision for the franchise from Coach Madden. He always wanted the game to be viewed as a tool that helps people learn and understand football. After Skills Trainer, the new play call feature is a huge step in that direction.
Examiner: Talk about the emerging dynamics new defensive camera angles and what that will bring to Madden 15.
Dickson: First off, there are five offensive cameras, as well as a defensive camera and player lock this year. All of these can be toggled at the line of scrimmage using the D-Pad. The defensive camera is exclusive to the defensive side of the ball. This camera gives you the perspective of the defense looking towards the offense. You can player lock in this view or choose to use the base defensive camera, which allows you to switch players on the fly. The defensive camera will always keep your player and the ball in view, so you will get unique camera perspectives depending on the defensive position you are playing in. The defensive camera is a totally new way of playing that is more personal and a lot more immersive.
Examiner: Can you discuss the risk vs. reward gameplay elements? What makes them so intriguing?
Dickson: As a game designer, anytime you build a feature or new user mechanic, risk/reward is a key component of any good design and risk/reward is inherit in almost all of the user mechanics in Madden NFL. I’ll give a couple of examples around this year’s new mechanics. First off is the Off the Line mechanic, which is our new approach to giving users a defensive mechanic to jump the snap count. The way the mechanic works, if you time the acceleration burst on defense on the opponent’s snap count, you get a speed boost on your initial move and a bonus to your win chance vs. blockers. If you are early with the boost, you can trigger a balk step into the neutral zone which has the ability to pull you offsides. If you are late with the mechanic, your win chances are negatively impacted once you engage with a blocker and this can result in getting pancaked. We have also added trigger rumble (on Xbox One) when the opposing QB fake snaps the ball, which has the ability to pull people offsides. This is the offensive counter to the Off the Line mechanic and even that comes with the risk of the offense potentially jumping offsides if you fake snap too often. This is just one example of a design principle that is applied to almost all aspects of Madden. Risk/reward is what gives you balanced user mechanics.
“Madden NFL 15” is set for a release on the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 on Aug. 26.