Madden NFL 13 on Wii U may be missing some major features that its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions have, but its developers at EA Tiburon are doing their best to take full advantage of the console's unique capabilities in ways that they hope will benefit both casual and hardcore players.
Much of that design involves the Wii U GamePad. Madden 13 puts playcalling entirely on the GamePad, and the layout of the touchscreen interface allows the game to present the user with more information on one screen and easier navigation between panels. For example, you'll be able to see the basic formations, specific sets within them, and the available plays to choose from — all at the same time. And if you want to change from singleback to shotgun, all you have to do is press "shotgun"; no need to repeatedly tap the B or circle button to back all the way out.
"It's all about speed," said Yuri Bialoskursky, the lead designer of the Wii U title, adding that "it's all there in front of you."
Once you select a play, the GamePad displays a real-time view of the line of scrimmage. On offense, you can use the touchscreen to redraw the play entirely with your fingertips — you're no longer restricted to the developers' preset hot routes, which gives you the power to read the defense like a real quarterback would and send your receivers into gaps in the coverage. I watched Bialoskursky put the Giants' Victor Cruz on a slant instead of a curl, a route change that left the receiver wide open for a long pass play.
The GamePad is even more useful for defensive pre-snap adjustments. In existing versions of Madden NFL games, you have to cycle through individual players if you want to change their assignments, and it's impossible to get in more than a few before the ball is snapped. The GamePad allows you to simply tap on a player and drag to change their assignment — maybe to have them blitz instead of play man-to-man defense, or to switch from a deep zone to a flat zone. Bialoskursky also pointed out that this feature will teach casual players more about the sport itself: text descriptions pop up for the color-coded zones, so players can learn the differences between them.
The touch interface and controls arose because Tiburon thought long and hard about "the way that people use devices today," said Bialoskursky, explaining that anyone who is familiar with touchscreen devices such as smartphones and tablets will be right at home playing Madden 13 on the GamePad.
But perhaps the most notable feature that the GamePad provides is Detached Mode, which lets you play the entire game on the tablet controller while the TV is used for something else. "It literally acts as a second TV," Bialoskursky said of the GamePad. You won't be able to use touch controls while in Detached Mode — obviously, the GamePad can't display both the game and the overhead line-of-scrimmage view — but otherwise you get the same exact experience on the GamePad alone as you would playing on a TV.
The Wii U GamePad "literally acts as a second TV"
Detached Mode can't be done on any other console, but one significant Madden NFL 13 element that couldn't be done on Wii U this year is the Infinity Engine, the new real-time physics system for collisions in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game. When I asked Bialoskursky about the development cycle for the Wii U version, he told me that Tiburon began pre-production in February and full production in April. The game is just about done — it's going through Nintendo's certification process — which puts the cycle at six months. That's a greatly compressed time period for any Madden title, let alone one on a new console.
"We constantly [had] to evolve the game along with the [Wii U] hardware," Bialoskursky told me. And when it came to the Infinity Engine, as well as other missing features like Madden Ultimate Team, he said, "We wanted to make sure that we were doing it right." The developers hope they'll be able to bring in those features next year, with a full development cycle under their belts (not to mention a familiarity with finalized hardware).
The Wii U version does include Connected Careers, the other major new mode in Madden NFL 13. It's an online-enabled mode that supports up to 32 players in a league. Connected Careers is an ambitious, sprawling mode, and it's heartening to see that it made it to the Wii U game this year. And after seeing what Tiburon did with the Wii U's features for Madden NFL 13, I'm hopeful for the future.