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The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, Part 1

By Douglass C. Perry

When we look back 20 years from now, the first decade of the 21st century will look obvious to us, like a paint-by-numbers drawing for kids. It’s almost incalculable how many little triggers have shaped our current place in the games race. But there more than a handful of events, dozens of key games, and entire years that pushed this one-time cottage industry into the full-blown billion dollar industry it is now. While this isn’t the definitive historical account of single thing that happened between the years 2000 and 2009, this Decade in Review is an insider’s look at what happened. See “Part 2 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009” here.

The End of an Era

The decade started with a tumultuous bang. After the Sega Dreamcast roared into the world’s consciousness on September 9, 1999, breaking sales records, introducing online gaming to consoles, and introducing David (Visual Concepts) to Goliath (Madden), the Japanese hardware maker shocked everyone again in 2001 by declaring its console was kaput.

Perhaps more remarkable was that Nintendo’s biggest competitor in the 1990s, the creator of Sonic the Hedgehog, and EA’s biggest partner, was re-focusing its energies to become a “console agnostic” software producer, meaning Sonic and his pals would appear side by side with Nintendo’s mascot, Mario. To the gaming world, this was like Bill Clinton announcing he was Republican, Bill Gates admitting he stole the Mac’s operating system, or saying you didn’t really like The Empire Strikes Back–all of it anathema.

Sony’s Big Empty PS2 Launch

Sony Computer Entertainment American launched the black, asymmetrical, and interesting (it was neither beautiful nor ugly, it just kinda “was”) PlayStation 2 in Japan in spring 2000 with lots of Sony-built hype, but few significant games to back it up (Tekken Tag Tournament and Ridge Racer V just didn’t cut it). The even bigger North American launch was amazing in that it packed 28-launch titles, only two of which were truly memorable, Madden NFL 2001 and SSX (originally proposed as a Dreamcast game). Sony scrambled to get 1 million consoles to the US, some flying on planes at the last minute.

Sony’s Stunning 2001 Line-Up

So while Sony’s launch year was a bust in many regards, replete with lots of faulty aliasing and sketchy titles, Sony (and its partners) made plans for 2001. Sony’s fall 2001 PS2 line-up was remarkable, perhaps the greatest line-up of a single system ever. In many ways it secured Sony’s first-place spot in that console generation. In the fall 2001, Sony and its partners launched Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Ico, Final Fantasy X, Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Grand Theft Auto III, Onimusha, Red Faction, Gran Turismo 3: A-spec, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Devil May Cry, SSX Tricky, Twisted Metal Black (which admittedly came out in the summer), Jak and Daxter, NBA Street, Klonoa: Lunatea’s Veil, Half-Life, Silent Hill 2, and Midnight Club, among many others. The knock-out punch was thought to be Metal Gear Solid, but in fact in was Grand Theft Auto III, which swept the message boards and radio waves, and became the PS2’s exclusive killer app for the next four years.

September 11, 2001

The al-Qaeda-backed hijacking that led to the destruction of four commercial airlines and the devastation of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York affected the entire world. In the video game business, publishers with games based in New York, removed the Twin Towers from the skyline of their games (i.e. Spider-Man 2). The grim repercussions stole the industry’s light step, killing four-day PR stunts and junkets (some of which were too long and crazy, anyway), forcing marketers to edit creative use of violent language, and heightening American’s fears of Middle Eastern religious groups, the subject of which would appear in games to come.

Grand Theft Auto III Steals the Show

Grand Theft Auto III launches; and with it Rockstar Games brings a whole new way of looking at game design, game production, and a maturing gaming audience. GTA III brought open-world gaming–sandbox design–to the forefront of game development, but it was Rockstar’s magic touch of high-cost development, mature themes, good story-telling, enormous geography, stellar, hand-picked soundtracks, and most importantly, humor–that parodied American civic life–that made the Grand Theft Auto series so revolutionary, not to mention one of the best selling series of all time. Activision, Midway, and several other companies tried their best to imitate it, but between 2001 and 2005, none came close. Pandemic’s Mercenaries, Vivendi’s Scarface, and Activision’s Spider-Man 2 came in at a distant second.

Halo Captures a Generation

When Microsoft entered the videogame business in 2001, it tried buying developers across the world. Its big catch was Bungie Studios, which was in development with the first-person shooter Halo (originally for the Mac). With Halo, Bungie revolutionized FPSs on the consoles. The Halo franchise won over millions and millions of college students who spent endless nights playing linked systems and Master Chief strangely displaced a generation of confused, lone college women. The Halo franchise went on to break previous opening day retail sales records and remain the number one selling game on Xbox during its four-year life-cycle.

2001: Titus Acquires Interplay

French publisher Titus Interactive, best known for its phenomenal failure, Superman 64, completes its acquisition Interplay. French gamers are oblivious. American RPG fans openly weep across the nation.

2002: Square and Disney Raise a Kingdom

In 2002, after navigating high-level political discussions and crashing into license cul-de-sacs, Square demonstrated its creative genius again with its fully licensed Disney action-RPG, Kingdom Hearts. One part Final Fantasy (without being Final Fantasy), and the rest a bamboozling assortment of Disney characters, Kingdom Hearts, up until the recent Batman Arkham Asylum–became the pinnacle of innovative licensed work.

2002: Titus Fumbles Interplay

Interplay’s shares descend drastically, and Interplay is de-listed from NASDAQ. American RPG fans claw their eyes out, wander the streets blind.

September 20, 2002: Square and Enix Merge

In one of the biggest mergers in Japanese game history, Square, makers of the popular Final Fantasy franchise, and Enix, makers of the Dragon Quest franchise, join in holy matrimony. The new company is called Square Enix, and its formation has as much to do with the crumbling Japanese economy and staying solvent as anything else. Years after this merger, Square will make yet another purchase of note.

September 12, 2003: Valve Launches Steam
Valve’s digital distribution platform, Steam, might have launched in September 2003, but it wouldn’t be until Half-Life 2 released in 2004 and third parties joined the party in 2007 that Steam gained traction and reached profitability. By carrying big third-party companies such as Eidos, Capcom, and Id Software, and seeing financial successes with The Orange Box, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and BioShock, Steam took the leadership role in digital distribution.

December 8, 2003: Black Day, Indeed

Interplay lays off the Black Isle Studios staff. A spat of former Black Isle staff members bitterly recalls the final days of their studio’s collapse. American RPG fans walk off cliffs, in front of cars, into the mouths of sharks.

September 1, 2004: Acclaim (Finally) Calls it Quits

One of the oldest publishers in the arcade and video game business, and makers of titles Shadowman, Burnout, NFL Quarterback Club, WWF Attitude, Re-Volt, Extreme-G, Vexx, Fur Fighters, Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX, and many others, Acclaim finally throws in the towel. After its multiple comebacks, all of its ghastly Mary-Kate and Ashley “games,” and the last, gasping hope at re-kindling Turok (once a great series), Acclaim Entertainment filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in fall 2004, purportedly owing $100 million to its debtors. Nobody, not even Acclaim employees, weep a single tear.

2004: EA Buys NFL License, Kills NFL 2K Series

In a move that crushed the healthy competition between annual football developers EA and Visual Concepts (and football-based videogames in general), EA out-bought its competition. EA convinced the NFL to an exclusive five-year licensing deal granting the Redwood Shores publisher the sole rights to the NFL’s teams, stadiums, and players. The move followed Visual Concepts/Take-Two’s risky move to sell its game at just $19.99, undercutting EA’s Madden sales with a superior game at a lower price. EA went on to produce three years of substandard Madden games in the new generation of systems, proving true the adage that competition is healthy for any market.

The Fall of 2004: Heavyweight Sequels Reign Supreme

The year 2004 was one of the greatest all-encompassing creative achievements for the game industry. In the fall of 2004, heavyweight games were in abundance and every system had its killer-app lined up. After an alleged security breach forced developer Valve to stall the release of Half-Life 2 in 2003, the Seattle-based developer delivered the wildly popular sequel on the PC in fall 2004, garnering dozens of high scores and game-of-the-year awards. Bungie followed up its first Xbox success story with Halo 2 to high scores, incredible sales, and a technologically advanced online system that revolutionized console multiplayer games. Rockstar Games brought its biggest, grimmest (and subsequently most controversial) game in the Grand Theft Auto series, GTA San Andreas. GTA San Andreas brought in the highest ratings and sales for the franchise, but also produced the hidden Hot Coffee sex scenario that caused characters like Jack Thompson to have their day in the sun (you know, before he lost his license to practice, soon thereafter). While these titles initially garnered the lion’s share of press, awards, and sales, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft silently took over the PC, wooing millions of casual gamers to subscribe to its highly addictive MMORPG, which went on to become the most successful MMORPG ever.

November 21, 2004: Nintendo launches the DS

Ever marching to its own drum beat, Nintendo launches the dual screen (DS) handheld, a modern new take on the Game Boy, which doesn’t instantly take off. It wasn’t until Brain Age and Nintendogs were gobbled up like candy in Japan, Europe, and North America did the system surpass sales of major consoles.

See “Part 2 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009” here.

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The Monetization Game: Moore calls current gen a burning platform

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This past Saturday I had the chance to moderate the keynote panel at Play: The Berkeley Digital Media Conference, an annual Haas Business School conference that covers a variety of tech, media, and business issues. It was a gorgeous day to be back at Cal where I graduated, and in a nice added touch, Cal stomped UCLA down in LA.

The keynote panel was entitled “The Monetization Game,” and the panelists included Peter Moore, president of EA Sports, Neil Young, president of ngmoco, and Kai Hwuang, co-founder of RedOctane, plus little ol’ me.  The topic was as broad as they come: How is the video game industry changing the way it’s monetizing the sales of games?

I brought an outline that ranged from discussing the emergence of social games, smart phone games, retail versus digital distribution, next generation consoles, the recession, death of the music genre, and more. we had one hour to discuss it all, and we covered almost everything in front of a 90% packed auditorium. IGN, Games Radar, and Kotaku covered it.

Here are their stories:

IGN: EA: Core Business Model a ‘Burning Platform’

Kotaku: Talking Points Brought to you Mostly By Peter Moore

Kotaku: Guitar Hero, Madden, Eliminate Play the Money Game

GamesRadar’s page was broken tonight. I’ll update their link when it’s back up.

There should be video of the conference available in a few days, too. I’ll post the link when it’s ready.

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Madden Goes Gold for the 20th Time

Like clockwork, Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL has gone gold. Only this year, it’s the 20th anniversary since the Redwood City publisher first released the game in 1989.

And what a long strange trip it’s been. From the rugged Genesis days of sprites and ambulances to those lovely virtual polygons on PlayStation and Saturn to the breakthrough Madden NFL 2001 on PlayStation when Madden and SSX ruled the launch lineup. Madden NFL 10 ships August 14 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PSP, and PS2.

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EA has set up two pre-retail opportunities for potential consumers to play it. For Xbox 360 silver membership owners and PSN users, a free demo will be offered July 30 pitting The Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants in NY in the snow. For those willing to reserve a copy, an exclusive demo reveals four, five-minute quarters in a rematch of the Super Bowl XLIII contenders the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. EA has created a completely different Wii version of the game sporting distinct visuals, massive stadiums, and easy-to-start modes for the Wii’s casual base.

Retails across the country will start selling Madden NFL 10 at midnight August 14, including Best Buy, GameStop, or Wal-Mart among others.

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The Best of Madden

In light of sports commentator John Madden’s retirement from the booth, coupled with the summer release of Madden NFL 10, a sudden overwhelming feeling made me stop and think: Which Madden rules over the rest?

The question is subjective in nature. There is no empiric evidence that points to a clear winner during the last 21 years of EA’s Madden series. The question itself might even be considered questionable –Does there have to be a best Madden? And, who cares?

Sports fans do. They rank and compare the numbers on everything. Given the series’ immense history, EA’s annual output of a new Madden, and the series’ evolution from 1989 to the upcoming Madden NFL 10–an evolution that itself is an insight into the video game industry–delving into the series makes a lot of sense.

But if there isn’t a single “best” Madden, which ones stand out from the pack? There are Madden games that have risen above the rest in each era, from the 16-bit Genesis games to the knockout 2000 PS2 launch title. Which ones stood out graphically? (What about them virtual polygons?) Which made the biggest tech leaps? Which ones failed?

THE ROSTER

I’ve interviewed Madden specialists, including a handful of select journalists, each of whom has followed, played, and reviewed the series (and many other football games) for more than a decade.  I’ve interviewed a Madden competitor, a guy who’s appeared on Madden Nation and who runs a Madden fan site. I’ve included interviews with Tiburon’s producers to get a deeper look at the series from the inside. And I’ve included an interview with a former Visual Concepts producer and designer.

These folks include ESPN host and analyst Aaron Boulding, Game Informer’s sports experts Matt Bertz and Matthew Kato, and former long-term EGM sports writer (and current Insomniac community manager) Bryan Intihar. I also grabbed some time with EA’s Steve Chiang, senior vice president and group GM of Tiburon Studio, and Jeremy Strauser, Tiburon’s executive producer, each of whom have helmed the series through countless iterations. For a counter-point to EA, Dave Zdyrko, I spoke with former gameplay producer/designer at Visual Concepts and current lead designer at Quick Hit, Inc. And finally, we spoke with Raymond “Shopmaster” Goode. He was a contestant on Madden Nation (the TV show) and runs the fan sites Maddenwars.com, MyMaddenPad.com.

THE PROS’ ANSWERS

In email interviews with the aforementioned group, I asked the same set of questions, which is the best overall Madden game in the series? What is your top five list of Madden games? Which made the biggest improvements graphically? Which versions made the biggest gameplay advancements?  Which was the worst version? And which gave you your first “a-ha!” moment? For the purposes of this article, I pared down their answers to their favorite game, plus their top five all-time favorites. For the full set of individual interviews, click on the names of each contributor.

Which Madden games made the pro’s top choices?

Aaron Boulding is a host and analyst for ESPN.

Aaron Boulding is a host and analyst for ESPN.

Aaron Boulding (ESPN): Madden NFL 92 (Genesis: until Madden NFL 10)

“With the exception of Madden ’06, which was an insult to video game football fans everywhere, the best version is always the most recent version,” explains Boulding. “All of the lessons, mistakes, improvements, enhancements and innovations of previous games are put to good use in the game that’s out right now. Even bad ideas like the quarterback vision cone (Madden 06) went to a halfway house in subsequent editions of the game before being banished forever (Madden NFL 10).”

Boulding’s Top Five

1. Madden NFL 92 (“Genesis: It had ambulances on the field thanks to Randall Cunningham’s brittle ass,” said Boulding. “JJ Birden and Neal Anderson were unstoppable.”)

2. Madden NFL 2005 (Xbox)

3. Madden NFL 09 (Xbox 360)

4. Madden NFL 08 (Xbox 360)

5. Madden NFL 2001 (PS2)

Matt Bertz is the content manager for Game Informer magazine.

Matt Bertz is the content manager for Game Informer magazine.

Matt Bertz (Game Informer): Madden 99 on Nintendo 64

“‘Best overall game’ is a tricky term when you’re talking about an evolving series,” said Bertz. “One the one hand you have to go with the latest version, which features most of the gameplay improvements and innovations that made the game great over the last two decades. But if you use the term ‘best overall game’ to point toward the version that introduced the most innovative ideas I would have to go with Madden 99 for the N64. I think the debut of the franchise mode is the pinnacle achievement in the series history, and Madden 99 also marked the series transition to 3D and motion-captured animations.”

Bertz’s Top Five

1. Madden 99 (N64)
2. Madden 04 (PS2)
3. Madden 94 (Genesis)
4. Madden 01 (PC)
5. Madden 95 (Genesis)

Matthew Kato is the senior associate editor at Game Informer magazine.

Matthew Kato is the sr. associate editor at Game Informer.

Matthew Kato (Game Informer): Madden ‘06 for the PS2

“Madden ’06 had QB vision, Superstar mode (where you get to control one player on and off the field), and was a fast-playing title that had honed some of the series problems through the years,” said Kato.

Kato’s Top Five

1. Madden ‘06 (PS2)
2. Madden ‘04 (PS2)
3. Madden ‘94 (Genesis)
4. Madden ‘99 (PS)
5. Madden ‘96 (Genesis)

Bryan Intihar is the former sports writer for EGM.

Bryan Intihar is the former sports writer for EGM.

Bryan Intihar (Insomniac): Madden NFL 2001 (PS2)

“Even though the later PS2/XB/GC iterations continually improved gameplay, Madden NFL 2001 (PS2) will go down as my personal favorite,” said Intihar. “I’ve already commented on the visuals, but it was one of the first sports games that really started concentrating on the subtleties. No matter which NFL team you were a fan of, you knew the players—from their body proportions to extra gear—were going to be unbelievably accurate.”

Intihar’s Top Five:

1. Madden NFL 01 (PS2)
2. Madden 92 (Genesis)
3. Madden NFL 05 (PS2/Xbox)
4. Madden 93 (Genesis)
5. Madden NFL 08 (Xbox 360)

Dave "Z" Zdyrko is the lead designer for Quick Hit Football.

Dave "Z" Zdyrko is the lead designer for Quick Hit Football.

Dave Zdyrko (former producer/designer, Visual Concepts): Madden NFL 2001 (PS2)

“I wouldn’t necessarily call them the best, but my fondest memories are with Madden ’98 for the Sony PlayStation and Madden ’94 for the Sega Genesis,” said Zdyrko. “My level of enjoyment with Madden typically came from playing with my boys and these two versions happened to garnish some of my all-time Madden moments.”

Zdyrko’s Top Five

1. Madden NFL 2001 (PS2)
2. Madden NFL ’98 (PS)
3. Madden NFL ’94 (Genesis)
4. Madden NFL ’93 (Genesis)
5. Madden NFL ’08 (Xbox)

Steve Chiang, image courtesy of Jim Carchidi

Steve Chiang, sr VP & Group GM, EA Tiburon (image courtesy of Jim Carchidi)

Steve Chiang (Tiburon): Madden NFL 2004 (PS2)

Excluding current PS3/Xbox 360/Wii, Madden NFL 2004 for the PS2 with Michael Vick on the cover was a great one,” said Chiang. “We had an awesome feature set with Playmaker control, Owner Mode, and things like the EA SPORTS Bio, which was an EA SPORTS version of the Xbox 360 achievement system… we tracked achievements for all of your EA SPORTS titles.”

Chiang’s Top Five:

1. Madden NFL 2004 (PS2)

2. Madden NFL 2001 (PS2: it took the franchise to the next level)

3. Madden NFL ’96 (Super NES: first football game made by Tiburon)

4. Madden NFL ’97 (PS: first 32-bit football game, and when Tiburon took over future versions of the game)

5. Madden NFL ’99 (first version with Franchise mode)

Jeremy Strauser is the executive producer on Madden at EA Tiburon

Jeremy Strauser is the executive producer on Madden at EA Tiburon

Jeremy Strauser (Tiburon): Madden NFL 2004 (PS2)

“This is a tough question,” pondered Strauser. “It is like asking to pick our favorite child.  If forced to pick just one, I would have to say Madden NFL 2004 for the PS2 and Xbox would be it.  The graphical and gameplay engine were in its fourth year, which is about what it takes to reach peak capability, online play was going strong, we had a solid base feature set and then added two huge things in Playmaker Control and Owner Mode.  Madden NFL 10 has the potential to be that version for our current generation of engines.”

Strauser’s Top Five: 1. Madden NFL 2004 (PS2)

2. Madden NFL 2001 (PS2: this launched Madden into a new level)

3. Madden NFL 09 (Xbox 360/PS3: Amazing graphical engine, feature set filled out nicely)

4. Madden NFL 96 (Sega Genesis: My first credited Madden game, for purely sentimental reasons)

5. Madden 93 Championship Edition (Sega Genesis: classical best gameplay, top historical teams, cool and rare cartridge)

Jeremy "Shopmaster" Goode runs MaddenWars.com

Jeremy "Shopmaster" Goode runs MaddenWars.com

Raymond “Shopmaster” Goode (Maddenwars.com): Madden 06 on PS2

“I would have to say that last year’s Madden 09 for the XBOX 360 was one of the best Madden game in the series,” said Goode. “Madden 09 had made so many strides from 08 that it was hard not to like the game. Running a close second has to be Madden 06 for the PS2.  Madden 06 with McNabb on the cover was a very good game also because it introduced the vision cone, which was a good in my opinion but wasn’t as well received by the community.”

Goode’s Top Five

1. Madden 06 (PS2)

2. Madden 05 (PS2)

3. Madden 09 (Xbox 360)

4. Madden 03 (PS2)

5. Madden 92 (Sega Genesis)

The Pro Winners: It’s a three-way tie between Madden NFL 06 (PS2), Madden NFL 2001 (PS2), Madden NFL 2004 (PS2).

THE AGGREGATE SCORES

While aggregation sites like Metacritic.com don’t always accurately reflect media outlet scores, they do a good job of providing a baseline average. The best average score on MetaCritic is Madden NFL 2003 (with Rams running back Marshall Faulk on the cover) for PlayStation 2, with a 95 overall ranking and which collected 10 perfect scores.

Tied for second place are Madden NFL 2002 (with Daunte Culpepper) and Madden NFL 2004 (with Michael Vick) on PS2, both of which scored an average of 94, the latter of which collected 11 perfect scores from media outlets.

GameRankings.com‘s top accumulated Madden review is Madden NFL 2004 on PS2 (91.75%). It is followed by Madden NFL 2002 on PS2 (91.66%), Madden NFL 2004 on GameCube (91.54%), Madden NFL 2003 on PS2 (91.40%), and Madden NFL ’96 on the Sega Genesis (91.25%). These are all aggregated scores from select media outlets.

Metacritic.com “winner”: Madden NFL 2003

GameRankings “winner”: Madden NFL 2004

MADDEN BY THE NUMBERS

Publishers use NPD’s TRSTS data to track unit sales in North America. Sales numbers help publishers determine whether to create a sequel. For Madden, that’s not really an issue, since there is always a sequel! Sales numbers aren’t good, however, for determining which games are best. If quality was equal to quantity than Britney Spears (a Mousekateer) would be a talented goddess of dance and song, instead of a popular pop singer who stole all Janet Jackson’s dance moves.

Sticking a wrench in evaluating sales numbers is the fact that newly launched consoles have poor installed bases. When the Xbox 360 arrived in fall 2005, EA could only sell as many Maddens as there were consoles in homes, and that’s assuming that every single Xbox 360 owner bought Madden NFL 06 (which they didn’t). To make up for early systems, EA also made Madden on existing systems (PS2, GameCube, Xbox, PSP, etc.), which is why the numbers (below) look they way they do. Also remember that Madden NFL 07 arrived in summer 2006, and it probably sold more units on PS2 than on Xbox 360.

Still, looking at Madden’s best selling games helps us determine the most popular Madden games in the public’s eye. The best selling Madden titles in North America across all SKUs (systems) are:

1. Madden NFL 07

2. Madden NFL 08

3. Madden NFL 09

4. Madden NFL 06

5. Madden NFL 2004

Some other interesting facts–according to NPD, year to date:

–Madden NFL 09 is the third highest selling title across all SKUs combined

–Madden NFL 09 is the fourth highest selling Xbox 360 title

–Madden NFL 09 is the second highest selling PS3 title

–Madden NFL 09 is the fourth highest grossing title across all SKUs combined

–Madden NFL 09 is the fifth highest grossing Xbox 360 title

–Madden NFL 09 is the second highest grossing PS3 title

Sales “Winner”: Madden NFL 07

MAKING SENSE OF MADDEN

The Madden NFL franchise is a remarkable series in the history of video games. It’s popular; very, very popular. It’s developed an incredible brand name; many gamers know “Madden” first as a game, second as an announcer. It’s not always the best football series, as early versions of GameDay and a handful of NFL 2K versions have shown. “Madden ’06…was an insult to video game football fans everywhere,” Boulding explains.

Furthermore, many gamers see EA’s exclusive NFL licensing as a negative. “Whether it was Tecmo Super Bowl, NFL Gameday, or the 2K series, competition has always made Madden better,” says Bertz. “A rivalry-based league like the NFL should realize that competition breeds success, and I hope they lift the exclusivity agreement when the option presents itself.”

But  since 1989, EA has cranked out a new Madden game each year, every new version full of new feature sets, improved gameplay and production values. “I think the series usually does a good job of trying to including things–like franchise innovations, superstar mode, QB Vision –that go beyond just being a yearly sports title that non-sports fans thinks is just churned out with new rosters,” says Kato.

To wit, Madden NFL 09’s player IQ feature is one of the more intriguinig features in years because it’s useful for both new and veteran players: it teaches players where they messed up and how to improve their game. The improvement to the game’s online functionality, added leagues,  and Tiburon’s constant focus on improving player control push the series each year to a potentially better game.

By looking at sales numbers, aggregate scores, and the pro picks, there was no clear winner. If any game surfaced to the top, Madden NFL 2004  was among the bigger favorites. Can Madden NFL 10 top them all?

Perhaps Boulding put it best. “With the exception of Madden ’06, which was an insult to video game football fans everywhere, the best version is always the most recent version. All of the lessons, mistakes, improvements, enhancements and innovations of previous games are put to good use in the game that’s out right now. Even bad ideas like the quarterback vision cone (Madden 06) went to a halfway house in subsequent editions of the game before being banished forever (Madden NFL 10).”

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Let me know what your favorite Madden games are (and include your top fives).

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The Pros Weigh in on Madden: Matt Bertz

In light of sports commentator John Madden’s retirement from the booth, coupled with the summer release of Madden NFL 10, a sudden overwhelming feeling made me stop and think: Which Madden rules over the rest?

In conjunction with the cover story, The Best of Madden, I’ve included individual interviews with each of the pros. I asked each pro the same set of questions: Which is the best Madden, which version made the biggest strides? Which ones were the best graphical leaps? Which were the worst Maddens? Was there an “a-ha” moment for you? What is your favorite Visual Concepts football game?

Matt Bertz is the content manager for Game Informer magazine.

Matt Bertz is the content manager for Game Informer magazine.

Here is the full interview with Matt Bertz, content manager, Game Informer.

Doug Perry: Starting in 1988 on the Apple II, the Madden series has drastically evolved as one of the longest-lasting video game series in the industry’s history. What were a few of the most impressive gameplay advancements you’ve experienced in the series?

Matt Bertz: To me, there are different standout achievements for different eras. In the days of couch competition, the introduction of bluff playcalls in Madden 94 was huge. You no longer had to worry about your friend sneaking a peak at your offensive playcall. As the game progressed over the years, the evolution of on-field strategy like audibles, formation shifts, hot routes, and man locks helped push the competition to higher levels, allowing players make quick adjustments to exploit or shut down their competition.

Doug: What were a few of the most memorable graphic improvements?

Matt: The ambulance coming on to the field after you murdered your friend’s quarterback in the early Genesis versions is the standout graphic in my mind. I wish they would bring those back. The addition of motion captured animations like pump fakes, sideline catches, and big hits also stand out.

Doug: Which iteration, in your opinion, is the best overall game in the series? Why? List the year and the platform.

Matt: ‘Best overall game’ is a tricky term when you’re talking about an evolving series. One the one hand you have to go with the latest version, which features most of the gameplay improvements and innovations that made the game great over the last two decades. But if you use the term “best overall game” to point toward the version that introduced the most innovative ideas I would have to go with Madden 99 for the N64. I think the debut of the franchise mode is the pinnacle achievement in the series history, and Madden 99 also marked the series transition to 3D and motion-captured animations.

Doug: Create a top five list of Madden games, including the year and system.

Matt: 1. Madden 99 (N64)

2. Madden 04 (PS2)

3. Madden 94 (Genesis)

4. Madden 01 (PC)

5. Madden 95 (Genesis).

Doug: Which Madden version was the worst one you’ve played? Why? Make sure to include the platform.

Matt: I have to go with Madden 06 for the Xbox 360. Missing game modes, no play-by-play announcer, graphic glitches, animation locks—EA should have never released a game this half-baked. When the version for older consoles is better than your next-gen debut and it also happens to be the year you sign an exclusivity deal, you have problems. I think the release of Madden 06 for the 360 marked the start of a growing sense of disgruntlement among the fan base that still haunts the franchise to this day.

Doug: What was your first “a-ha!” moment with Madden? (In other words, what was the experience that hooked you on the series?)

Matt: I’m a huge football fan, so I’ve always played the series. On a personal level, the biggest moment in the series history has to be the introduction of the franchise mode in Madden ‘99. Since the days of Tecmo Super Bowl, I loved guiding a team through a season. But when EA gave me the ability to call the shots for my organization over several years—taking on the responsibility of drafting, trading, signing, and releasing players—the time I spent playing the game in my free time skyrocketed. The success of franchise mode is evident in the fact that it is now mainstay across all the major sports titles.

Doug Perry: Is there anything else you’d like to add to this Madden story?

Matt: Whether it was Tecmo Super Bowl, NFL Gameday, or the 2K series, competition has always made Madden better. A rivalry-based league like the NFL should realize that competition breeds success, and I hope they lift the exclusivity agreement when the option presents itself. I think EA would devote more resources to the game and Madden would be better if the company had to fight for sales against other football games.

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The Pros Weigh in on Madden: Jeremy Strauser

In light of sports commentator John Madden’s retirement from the booth, coupled with the summer release of Madden NFL 10, a sudden overwhelming feeling made me stop and think: Which Madden rules over the rest?

In conjunction with the cover story, The Best of Madden, I’ve included individual interviews with each of the pros. I asked each pro the same set of questions: Which is the best Madden, which version made the biggest strides? Which ones were the best graphical leaps? Which were the worst Maddens? Was there an “a-ha” moment for you? What is your favorite Visual Concepts football game?

Jeremy Strauser is the executive producer on Madden at EA Tiburon

Jeremy Strauser is the executive producer on Madden at EA Tiburon

Here is the full interview with Jeremy Strauser, Executive Producer, EA Tiburon.

Doug Perry: Starting in 1988 on the Apple II, the Madden series has drastically evolved as one of the longest-lasting video game series in the industry’s history. What were a few of the most impressive gameplay advancements you’ve experienced in the series?

Jeremy Strauser: Here’s my list: Windowless passing,  Madden NFL 95?  May have been 94; Playmaker control – Madden NFL 2004; Hitstick – Madden NFL 2005; Playbook and player ratings accuracy/detail jump starting with X360/PS3 versions, and seriously, no kidding, Pro-Tak coming in Madden NFL 10

Doug: What were a few of the most memorable graphic improvements?

Jeremy: Here is another list: Madden NFL 2001 for PS2, which made the biggest leap ever in overall graphical quality; Madden NFL 06 for Xbox 360, which made another big leap in overall look; Madden NFL 09 for Xbox 360/PS3, our current engine starting to come into its own, and Madden 64 for N64, this was a big deal compared to PlayStation/Saturn.

Doug: Which iteration, in your opinion, is the best overall game in the series? Why? List the year and the platform.

Jeremy: This is a tough question, it is like asking to pick our favorite child.  If forced to pick just one, I would have to say Madden NFL 2004 for the PS2 and Xbox would be it.  The graphical and gameplay engine were in its fourth year, which is about what it takes to reach peak capability, online play was going strong, we had a solid base feature set and then added two huge things in Playmaker Control and Owner Mode.  Madden NFL 10 has the potential to be that version for our current generation of engines.

Doug: Create a top five list of Madden games, including the year and system.

Jeremy: 1.Madden NFL 2004 for PS2/Xbox 360 as described above.

2. Madden NFL 2001 for PS2 – this launched Madden into a new level.

3. Madden NFL 09 for Xbox 360/PS3 – amazing graphical engine, feature set filled out nicely.

4. Madden NFL 96 for Sega Genesis – my first credited Madden game, this is for purely sentimental reasons.

5. Madden 93 Championship Edition for Sega Genesis – classical best gameplay, top historical teams, cool and rare cartridge

Doug: Which Madden version was the worst one you’ve played? Why? Make sure to include the platform.

Jeremy: Declined to answer.

Doug: What was your first “a-ha!” moment with Madden? (In other words, what was the experience that hooked you on the series?)

Jeremy: Playing enough Madden ‘93 and ‘94 in college to earn a minor in videogames 🙂  I couldn’t put them down.  As an extension of being a sports fan, I was immediately hooked by EA SPORTS on the Sega Genesis.  When I got a chance to join the company, I never looked back.  This is still (after 14 years) a dream job for a sports fan.  On the tech side, the transition to new hardware engines (Madden 2001 and 2006 for example) are filled with cool a-ha moments during the dev process.

Doug Perry: Is there anything else you’d like to add to this Madden story?

Jeremy: No, not really.  Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

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The Pros Weigh in on Madden: Matthew Kato

In light of sports commentator John Madden’s retirement from the booth, coupled with the summer release of Madden NFL 10, a sudden overwhelming feeling made me stop and think: Which Madden rules over the rest?

In conjunction with the cover story, The Best of Madden, I’ve included individual interviews with each of the pros. I asked each pro the same set of questions: Which is the best Madden? Which version made the biggest strides? Which ones were the best graphical leaps? Which were the worst Maddens? Was there an “a-ha” moment for you? What is your favorite Visual Concepts football game?

Matthew Kato is the senior associate editor at Game Informer magazine.

Matthew Kato is the senior associate editor at Game Informer magazine.

Here is the full interview with Matthew Kato, senior associate editor, Game Informer.

Doug Perry: Starting in 1988 on the Apple II, the Madden series has drastically evolved as one of the longest-lasting video game series in the industry’s history. What were a few of the most impressive gameplay advancements you’ve experienced in the series?

Matthew Kato: I’m a big fan of the QB Vision passing mechanic introduced in ‘06 on PS2, which went away for a while, but I hear is going to be in the new Madden. I liked it because it made which QB you were important because your QB Vision cone was smaller and slower if you a rookie, for instance. That kind of skill-based addition also helped tone down those button-mashers who would just chuck it long blindly a la Brett Farve.

Franchise mode in Madden ‘99, of course, is a big benchmark. Like a lot of Madden fans, Franchise mode is where I live and breathe. Later editions of the game added minicamp mode minigames where you could train young players, and recent years have seen the addition of free agency vagaries such as tendering restricted free agents. In my opinion, Franchise mode could approach the hardcore levels of some of those PC sim-manager titles out there and I wouldn’t complain. In that vein, I appreciated being able to create my own stadium via the introduction of Owner’s Mode in Madden 2004 on PS2. Yeah, the hot dog pricing is the definition of useless, but I appreciate being given the option!

Going back a bit, I’ve got to give some credit to the first Madden title I ever owned –Madden ‘94 on Genesis. I had been out of gaming since the NES days, and my brother started telling me about how the Genesis was the place to play sports games. Accordingly, I went out and bought a Genesis and Madden ‘94 instead of a SNES. I had played the series before then, but with ‘94’s inclusion of all the real teams and a regular season, I stepped on at exactly the right time.

Doug: What were a few of the most memorable graphic improvements?

Kato: I remember the killer Madden ambulance from Madden 92 – something all Madden fans still want to see come back. It’s unwavering, single-minded focus on getting to injured players – STAT – regardless of who it mowed over on the field (or the hippocratic oath) was commendable. Also back then, I really liked the passing windows. Although it was a gimmicky, at the time it was cool to see a “close-up” of players on the field.

Towards the end of the PS2 era, the game included head-tracking for defensive backs and receivers, which was a nice way to tell if someone was open or not. This year they should be bringing it back, and it’s about time!

On a smaller note, I used to love Madden 97 on PlayStation using real video sequences for brief pre-game chats between Madden and Summerall. They never were that different, but it was cool to see.

Doug: Which iteration, in your opinion, is the best overall game in the series? Why? List the year and the platform.

Kato: Madden ‘06 for the PS2. It had QB vision, Superstar mode (where you get to control one player on and off the field), and was a fast-playing title that had honed some of the series problems through the years.

Doug: Create a top five list of Madden games, including the year and system.

Kato: 1. Madden ‘06 for PS2.
2. Madden ‘04 for PS2
3. Madden ‘94 for Genesis
4. Madden ‘99 for PSX
5. Madden ‘96 for Genesis

Doug: Which Madden version was the worst one you’ve played? Why? Make sure to include the platform.

Kato: Madden ‘06 for Xbox 360. I should have been worried when the E3 before the game’s release, all EA would talk about was how great their stadiums looked. The thing was, the players themselves didn’t even look that great. The gameplay was slow and had basically been taken back to square one, and a number of features were dropped.

Doug: What’s your favorite Visual Concepts football game? List platform and year.

Kato: NFL 2K5 on PS2. It had first-person football, the crib, virtual Mel Kiper hosting a draft show, and awesome presentation – including being able to choose your own stadium music. The game wasn’t perfect like some would have you think, but it was one sweet football game.

Doug Perry: Is there anything else you’d like to add to this Madden story?

Kato: Madden gets a bad wrap, and I’m certainly one who thinks that lately the series has been letting some of its fans down – including myself. However, I think the series usually does a good job of trying to including things – like franchise innovations, superstar mode, QB Vision – that go beyond just being a yearly sports title that non-sports fans thinks is just churned out with new rosters.

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