I was crestfallen to learn that Jack Ford will not return to Madden NFL 19 for the next chapter of Longshot, the story mode introduced in last year’s game. Actor Rus Blackwell, with the writing and direction of EA Sports’ Mike Young and his friend and co-writer Adrian Todd Zuniga, delivered so much of the humanity that made the first Longshot the feel-good hit of sports video gaming in 2017. So it feels painful to realize Ford won’t be there to mentor the hero Devin Wade as he embarks on his NFL career in Longshot’s second chapter, coming this August.
And yet, it’s almost good news if you really dug Ford as a character, the way his dialogue was written and the way he was presented in the first Longshot in Madden NFL 18. Ford’s Ultimate Team persona was the most-used cosmetic item in last year’s game (i.e., putting him on the player’s sideline). From the depths of a cheesy reality TV show, Ford coached his kid into the league. And now, Young hopes players will find a new guiding spirit among an ensemble cast in an American football drama that will make a more concrete appeal to longtime players of the series.
While Longshot’s first season was critically acclaimed, none of its action took place in the NFL, a sore spot and a missed expectation for Madden fans who picked up the game. Young is aiming to correct that with chapter two. “Getting audience feedback didn’t influence the story” of Longshot 2, Young said, “but it did influence the balance between the story and play.”
The second chapter is going to be more focused on gameplay, and on Devin in uniform with an NFL team. The first Longshot was very story-driven, and its action sequences were largely setpieces with no failure outcome, or straight-up quick-time events. Young said he and others on the development team heard disappointment in the feedback and telemetry. Madden fans were happy with the story, but they wanted more gameplay.
“We found that people who played Longshot were those who like Madden a lot, and they were disappointed this did not lead into something like franchise mode.” Young said. “We had a very long story last year. But I think we have almost four times as much gameplay this year.”
In Longshot’s second chapter, Young and Zuniga are putting Wade and his childhood friend, the all-Big 12 receiver Colt Cruise, in opposition. “When the story starts, they’re far apart,” Young said. The second chapter will not import the choices a user made in Madden NFL 18. Those who played Longshot’s first chapter may remember the “director’s cut” outcome, which was Young’s preferred resolution among the story’s multiple paths. In that, Devin Wade is not drafted, but Cruise is, and Wade is later taken as a free agent after the draft — the player can either sign with Colt’s team or its rival.
I took the latter route, and it sounds like that one is the basis for Longshot’s second chapter. “We’re going from someone who is focused on getting his shot to someone who is now willing to play a role on a team,” Young said. As an example, he mentioned Nick Foles, the quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who took over when starting quarterback Carson Wentz was lost to injury in November. “He’s there to do a job.”
In terms of gameplay, both Cruise and Wade will be playable characters, Young said. That will manifest in a lot of open-ended practice situations, training game drills and preseason games, and then finally a 16-game season with their NFL teams. There will still be some flashback moments to their days in Texas schoolboy football, Young said, but the developers heard loud and clear from players that they want this narrative to play out in the National Football League.
Young said the NFL brand managers with whom EA Tiburon checks in for approval loved the first Longshot — even with its frank themes of rejection and its utilitarian approach to player talent. He and Zuniga have a lot of trust they can work into Longshot’s next episode, in other words. The most important thing, he said, was to work gameplay into the story more than the first Longshot did. Young had designed several cinematic introductions that preceded Madden NFL 15, 16 and 17 meant to be played as the game was installing. While these chapters helped Young form the story and presentation of Longshot, he realized that Madden players expected a lot more of an interactive experience.
“But we did not want to make these elaborate investments that pull you away from the game, where you’re just spending a lot of time watching this well-written, elaborate story,” Young said.
‘What influenced the writing of Longshot 2 is, basically, are you a fraud, or could you do this again?” Young said, meaning the up-from-nothing story that began Devin Wade’s journey last year. “And how do we make this the hardest on Devin and Colt?”
We’ll find out Aug. 10, when Madden NFL 19 launches on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.