The keynote addition to Madden NFL 17's bread-and-butter Franchise mode seems like it is meant to speed up an individual game. It's not. It's meant to speed up the season.
"Play the Moments," as it is called, is Madden NFL 17's attempt to fast forward its season through the chaff of routine games without reducing the whole thing to a batch simulation, which always leaves a user wondering what they really missed. With it enabled, the game will judge the importance of each play by the context surrounding it — the score, field position, time left, etc. — and if something has potential to be a key play, automatically stops the game and invites the user in.
It cuts down the length of a regular season game, even one played with just six- or seven-minute quarters, considerably. What it really does, said Madden's development lead for Franchise, is cut down an entire regular season to about a weekend's worth of play. That's the point.
"A 17-week season is a long time, and people love the playoffs, people love the draft and the off-season," said EA Tiburon's John White. "We wanted to make sure people get to experience all of that as well."
'It feels a lot like the Red Zone Channel.'
White said EA Sports always keeps a close eye on telemetry in Madden and gamers broke down into two camps, for the most part: those who were committed to playing everything, and so played fewer seasons in a career, and those who really enjoyed player and franchise management, off-season duties and the draft, simulating seasons and even postseasons wholesale.
"Play the Moment," is meant to split that difference, adding some meaning to the season for the management simmers while giving the more holistic players a means of going further into their careers, without feeling they missed something important.
"When you play, it feels a lot like the Red Zone Channel," White said, invoking the NFL Network's Sunday afternoon football-surfing smorgasbord, which is always switching feeds to show a team on the verge of scoring. "It might bring you in for a big third down to keep the offense alive, or on defense when (the opponent) gets to the red zone and you have to stop them.
"You end up playing the exciting moments of the game, and it feels more intense," White said, "whether you're managing the clock on offense, or you don't have a long field and the defense is really tight."
Play the Moments will be available in Franchise mode only, and only for the two career paths that control an entire team (owner and head coach). It's not available for those in a single-player career, because that path already was limited to the plays involving that role. Those playing only a single player will be able to watch the action when they're not on a field through a special interstitial cam from the sidelines.
While Play the Moments will be available in an online Connected Franchise in Madden 17, it is necessarily limited to games that league members play against the CPU; two human players cannot jointly agree to Play the Moments, for example, because the option still is there for a player to decline a key play opportunity. Players who initiate Play the Moments will also have the choice of playing only offense or defensive key plays.
White vowed that Play the Moments would not contrive big play situations. It rides on top of the SuperSim structure that has been in the game for years, which generates a play-by-play simulation based on the ratings and other attributes of all the players involved. Should that bring up a drive where one team is fighting to make it a two-score game late, or another needs to get at least to field goal range, Play the Moments will pause things, point it out, and suggest the user take over.
Madden 17 seems to be taking a less-is-more approach
It was somewhat possible for users to do this in past editions of Madden, but they had to be paying close attention as the simulation's play-by-play text scrolled up, and be fast on the buttons to stop the sim. Play the Moments should also give Madden players some options and approaches to the game that they didn't have before, White said.
For example, playing a full game on the top "All-Madden" difficulty can be a grueling, if not pointless experience after trailing by two or three scores early. Play the Moments will probably open with a simulation that keeps the teams even, according to the background ratings, rather than pummeling the user out of the gate. White said that highlights the field position battle a little more than it is seen in lower difficulties. Newcomers to the top difficulty get a chance to shine in real pressure moments, White reasoned, and perhaps gut out the victory.
It also makes 15-minute quarters a much more viable setting (although this might be the case only for an offline Franchise; two humans playing 15-minute quarters would still be endless). Players can complete a game that has a realistic number of plays run by both teams, a much more realistic score than 15 user-controlled minutes can deliver, while avoiding the boring filler of three-and-out drives and punts.
"The Red Zone Channel is definitely an inspiration for how we thought about Play the Moments and what it shows," White said. "It's surprising, you see more interceptions and fumbles. It feels like the game is much more intense, so if someone is going for it on a long third down, and they throw it up where they shouldn't have, or you do and you shouldn't have, you get these more intense plays."
Giving an example, White mentioned two back-to-back overtime games he played in a recent Franchise test. In the first, he came back in the final two minutes to tie the game and then, trailing by 3 in OT, he threw a pick-six at the goal line. "It was painful," White said. "But the other, on the first play from scrimmage I threw a bomb, made a couple of guys miss, and scored on a really long passing play to win, after coming back from two scores in regulation.
Play the Moments will not be the only change to Franchise, but it figures to be the new feature that most players will use. Others include:
• New game-planning features preceding the next user game, which overhauls the drill suite of the past two Maddens. Game-planning will let players focus on offensive and defensive concepts they expect to employ or face in the coming game. The opposing scout teams will employ the plays and the tendencies of the upcoming opponent as well. Successfully completing these drills will deliver an attribute boost to all players in-game if the play is employed. Once a player reaches gold-level mastery of the drill, those boosts become permanent, so players don't have to constantly revisit the same drill.
• "Big decisions" are added to the coaching duties. A good example of this is an injured player is initially out for eight weeks, but is cleared to return after six; should he be brought back? Is he healthy enough? Are his backup and the team doing alright without him? Coaches will also be able to set season goals for themselves, with XP payouts for reaching them. Further, a 10-man practice squad now supplements the 53-man roster. These 10 can still be trained along with the rest of the team, and brought into action when injuries take out others.
A scout team gives coaches 10 more players to train and use in emergency situations.
• During Franchise games, a score ticker with alerts will scroll in real-time through the user's game, similar to what the NCAA Football franchise introduced in 2012. (For leagues with multiple human players, this ticker will reveal the progress of user games already completed, while not showing any yet to be played.) "It pulls you in more, like you're watching the game on Sunday, and it makes you feel like you're in a league with other people," White said.
• And league commissioners now have the means to fully edit the parameters and attributes of all players within the league, answering a community request. If a league feels a certain player is rated too high (or too low), the commissioner may alter that number. If a franchise player feels a player on his roster should have an extra year on his contract in the game and the commissioner agrees, that can be changed. Enhanced commissioner control is there to resolve any nagging disappointments or disagreements instantly, rather than have players grumble about them through a season.
Madden NFL 17 launches Aug. 23 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.