It was a preseason game, Clint Oldenburg said. “Not a regular season game, not a playoff game.” The crowd in Seattle still annihilated his ability to think.
“When I was at the line of scrimmage, I couldn’t hear anything. All I could hear was the crowd,” said Oldenburg, today Madden NFL 22’s gameplay producer, back then an offensive lineman trying to make the Denver Broncos’ 53-man roster.
Yes, home-field advantage is real, Oldenburg said. With crowds returning after a pandemic year quieted the NFL’s stadiums last fall, they’ll be a more noticeable part of the league’s video game, too. But a home field’s challenge won’t simply be in ramped-up volume and roaring crowds. Teams playing the Broncos a mile above sea level will have a harder time recovering stamina, for example. And kickers in Chicago will have a harder time thanks to Soldier Field’s gusting wind patterns.
“It’s not so powerful that you’re going to need them to be successful,” Oldenburg said. “They’re just little boosts and penalties here and there to make you feel emotionally connected to that environment.” One example: The game’s “hat-count” display — which shows which side of the line of scrimmage has a stronger defensive presence — becomes visible, and gives an edge to the home team’s offense. Previously, hat-count was available at Madden’s lower-level difficulties and was shown in the pre-snap play mapping.
These boosts are user-triggered, available when a new mechanism called the game day momentum meter fills up. That meter works for visiting teams, too; they just will have at least one fewer boost to unlock.
Overall, Oldenburg and his colleagues are trying for more dynamic, less rote gameplay in Madden NFL 22’s single-player modes — where 80% of all user games take place, he said. Madden NFL 21 closed out the previous console generation feeling like a placeholder effort, with the real changes coming in the game’s post-release support, particularly the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X versions that launched in November. Aware that fans expect more at launch, Madden NFL 22’s makers promise that die-hards will see an all-new game backed up by features they’ve demanded for a long time.
“To address one piece of fair criticism against us, when you played against the AI years past, some of those games could feel a little same-y,” Seann Graddy, the game’s executive producer, said during an online preview event earlier this week. “Especially on All-Pro [difficulty] this year, you’re going to get different experiences based on who you’re playing.”
Crucially, though, Madden NFL 22’s franchise mode will also get a substantial change for the first time in years. Coaching staff development and management, and more meaningful game planning and preparation, should give a big lift to a staple mode. Players directing an NFL team will now have offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, and player personnel specialists, reflected mostly in an RPG-like skill tree system.
“Every week should feel like a unique challenge this time,” Graddy said. Players can, as NFL coaches do, study up on their next opponent and install offensive and defensive plans with more tangible benefits to their team’s game day performance. This goes for human opponents in multiplayer leagues, too. “You’ll be able to take a look at real player data and tendencies for each opponent, and be able to game plan against them as well,” Graddy said.
Weekly practices, which have long been a series of minigames that most players would simulate in the background, should take on greater meaning as armchair coaches manage their players’ health over a long season. Coaches can demand greater intensity and effort in practices, for example. That will give a greater buff to players’ skill in the short term, with a cost to stamina and risk of injury, of course. It won’t be an all-or-nothing proposition applied to offense or defense, either, Graddy said. Coaches can rest some tired players and work out fresher ones through the week leading up to game day. If it comes together as promised, player progression won’t be a simple, linear development, and injuries and their risk will affect teams more like real life.
In terms of core gameplay, Oldenburg is aware that although running the ball was very enjoyable in, and probably the best quality of, Madden NFL 21, the implementation of Amazon’s “Next-Gen Stats” may have made it a little overpowered. Gameplay designers for Madden NFL 22 focused on defenders’ ability to stop ball carriers after being blocked, as opposed to being taken completely out of a play at the point of first contact.
“This year, we’ve got new animations for penetration on the defensive line, we’ve got blocks that match up at angles different than just heads-up,” Oldenburg said. “I’m sure you’ve experienced, as a middle linebacker, you’d be running laterally, and then you get engaged in a block and your guy would just kind of warp, and turn, and engage the [blocker], and you lose all the momentum. So we did things that keep defenders in the play.”
Having said that, Oldenburg noted, “We know over the course of the years, that any [Madden] that has an easier run game, people seem to have more fun with it.” He added, “We’re still tuning, but we’re getting very close.”
Rounding out Madden NFL 22’s offerings, the hybrid narrative/career mode Face of the Franchise returns with a new story called “United We Rise.” Users will be able to play as linebackers in their single-player career; Face of the Franchise had been limited to quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers until now. The character created in “United We Rise” will also serve as the player’s avatar for The Yard, the new, arcadelike multiplayer suite that Madden NFL 21 introduced.
Madden NFL 22 launches Aug. 20 on Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The cover stars are the quarterbacks from last season’s Super Bowl — Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes, both of whom have gotten Madden covers before (Brady for Madden NFL 18, Mahomes for Madden NFL 20). The newest features described here, such as Next-Gen Stats, the home field advantages, and new game day atmospherics and presentation, will not be available on PC or the older consoles.