PS3 Preview – Madden NFL 2010
Anyone who knows me realizes that I am a sports game fanatic. I am one of those people that buy Madden every single year regardless. I simply need my fix. Well recently on the EASports InsideBlog they published an article with the first details of Madden NFL 2010. They have some interesting tidbits in there that could definitely improve the gaming experience.
It is known as “Procedural Awareness”. Essentially it is head tracking just like the article states. There have been many times in the Madden’s or other EA Sports titles where a player would receive the ball and just catch it without even looking at it. This takes a lot of the realism out of the game. Hopefully “Procedural Awareness” will fix this issue in the EA Sports titles. The full article along with videos after the jump.
Well Madden (and NFL) fans, as promised, we’re bringing you a sneak peek at Madden NFL 10 by releasing a feature that you’ll see in this year’s game! Remember, it’s only a mere 6½ months away!
We have a big goal as a team this year – to relay out as much information as possible. Hopefully in the process we can make the development of this game extremely transparent so you all, the fans, can get an inside look at how the game gets made. In doing so, we’ll often be discussing new features with you as they are finalized and polished, meaning that each and every one of you out there can give suggestions directly to us to try and shape the game towards your preferred direction. Madden NFL as a Franchise has one overarching goal it has to reach every year, and that is to be the best sports game in history. I’m going to leave the discussion to you all on whether we’ve reached that goal in year’s past, but I do know that now we all get to be a part of making it happen this year. You are no longer posting to forums in vain!
So as we sat down as a team and tried to decide what information we wanted to release first, it really made the most sense to focus more on the technical details for the first part of the year. This is for a couple of reasons – one, the majority of the people looking into Madden info right now are most likely going to be the more hardcore fans (who appreciate the details), and two, we obviously want to save more of the big name feature stuff for later in the year closer to launch time. You should see this theme continue throughout the first few months of our updates. Another reason we really like this approach is that some updates (this post included) are purely about new technology that actually hasn’t been fully fleshed out in the game yet. So the hope is that we can take feedback from the community in regards to maybe new ideas they’d like to see us implement with the new technology. This is one of the most exciting aspects for us as a team in regards to our interaction with the community throughout the development cycle for Madden NFL 10.
Enough talk – on to the new stuff!
Let me tell you a story of playing Madden NFL. It’s 3rd and 10, and I’m down 14-7 against my buddy over Xbox LIVE. He’s a pretty conservative player, so I know he’ll sit his safeties back a bit and stay with man coverage on my outside receivers. I’m going to try and send my slot WR on a deep fly to clear the safety out, and hit my #1 WR on a Deep In. I saw Kurt Warner and the Rams with their greatest show on turf make this look easy week after week in the late 90’s! So I take the snap and analyze the situation quickly – no blitz, and the safeties are dropping out…money. I wish I was better at going through progressions, but I’m not – I’m pretty much watching my #1 WR all the way. He’s just coming out of his break on the deep in, and he’s got at least 2 steps on the defender trailing him in man coverage. I fire it in there, a perfect bullet pass where I think only he can catch it. Right before the ball gets to him the DB turns around and in one quick motion steps in front, picks it off, and is headed back the other way. HUH? THE DB NEVER EVEN SAW THE BALL!
Ever happened to you? Did your controller survive to tell the tale?
It is my pleasure to introduce Madden’s newest piece of technology, one that is also shared within many of the EA SPORTS games, called Procedural Awareness. What is it? We’ll you’ve likely heard of “head tracking” with IK. If you haven’t, it’s a way to turn the players head around to face a target dynamically, without the need for canned animations. Well, think of Procedural Awareness (PA for short) as the “next-gen” version of head tracking. Since it is so early in the year, unfortunately I can’t show you any videos of it running in the game, but I can show some “tech demos” of sorts:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5DBg1tnA0g&eurl=http://insideblog.easports.com/archive/2009/02/01/madden-nfl-10-first-look.aspx&feature=player_embedded]
This is definitely pretty cool stuff…we can tune how fast the player switches between different targets, and then also how he behaves when he locks on and follows a target. You can already envision this being used by DB’s and WR’s when the ball is thrown, QB’s as they go through progressions, safeties as they drop in zone, and obviously many more cases. In terms of visual fidelity, PA is also a major step up from any other normal IK head tracking solution. We’re in the middle of some changes so I would rather not show you our player model’s face in the tool (his jaw is missing…it isn’t pretty ), but I can show a video of PA running in the tool with an NBA Live player model – Dwayne Wade. This shows off how the eyes track along with the head, the ability to dynamically “blink”, some really smooth blending between different targets, and even how the spine and shoulders can be “pulled” to follow the eyes/head as well:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrIfd5D9vyk&eurl=http://insideblog.easports.com/archive/2009/02/01/madden-nfl-10-first-look.aspx&feature=player_embedded]
There’s one last cool feature within PA, and that is a concept of “procedural attitudes”. An attitude is basically a collection of a bunch of different variables that alter the way a player “looks” while he is head tracking. So for the above videos, you basically saw just one attitude – “alert”. But PA allows you to not only just tweak how quickly he reacts and the amount of time it takes him to switch targets and such, but you can also toy with a big collection of variables for players to actually express emotion with their head and eye movement. A big problem in many sports games is making characters feel “alive” – and it applies to Madden often times as soon as the play is over. You don’t want to see a bunch of zombies walking around, but you also don’t want to spend months writing code and adding animations to make players act a little more lifelike (especially when there are so many features we need to attack to more realistically emulate football gameplay). Here’s where PA helps tremendously…it allows artists to create subtle emotional attitudes for players without the need of an engineer. Again there is ZERO canned animation at work here…it’s all totally dynamic and can be created by an animator adjusting a few sliders in the tool. Below is an example video of a few attitudes:[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOz6UND7T-g&eurl=http://insideblog.easports.com/archive/2009/02/01/madden-nfl-10-first-look.aspx&feature=player_embedded]
Alright, so what’s Procedural Awareness in a nutshell? “The ability to procedurally manipulate the spine, neck, head, and eyes on a player in the game; and also add layers of emotion/attitudes on top of those manipulations”.
So the videos really just showcase the technology…not how we implement that technology in our game to actually change the way the game is played. My story above about getting picked off by a DB that can’t see the ball? Well now we can make a DB track the ball realistically and we’ll make sure that he has a true line of sight before he can make a play on the ball. And if/when he gets burned, he can dynamically look down and shake his head with zero new animations or engineering support.
A very exciting thing for our team while posting this is that we are not using PA’s full functionality in the game right now. We have the standard “alert” attitude hooked up for 1) DB’s and WR’s to track the ball, 2) defenders to track the ballcarrier, and 3) the ballcarrier to track threats. Post away…where else would you like to see PA active? Also, we have created a few other attitudes – confident, nervous, intense, etc, but they aren’t being used in the game yet. Are there any new attitudes would you like to see? Do you have any suggestions on the best area you think we should actually use the attitudes that we’ve created?
We will follow up in a few months (once we’re actually showing videos of the game) and show what all we changed/added thanks to community feedback. I personally can’t wait!
Enjoy the rest of the Super Bowl!
Lead Designer, Madden NFL 10
EA in general has been stepping their game up with the quality of their titles. Madden 2007 on the PS3 was a huge disappointment in my opinion, and 2008 wasn’t much better.
Many Madden fans complained constantly that EA was just “cashing in”. Eventually EA wised up realized that they could end up losing potential buyers with these sub-par releases. As soon as I saw the first video for Madden 2009 I knew that it would be a quality title. Hopefully 2010 follows suit. Judging from these first videos it could be.