Sunday, July 19, 2009

NCAA 10: How Important is Dynasty Mode? And How Can EA Fix It?

I think this is a difficult question to gauge.

For a lot of people who read this here blog it's most likely a moot question: college football = recruiting.


I wonder how much the average NCAA buyer plays with/cares about the intricacies of Dynasty Mode? I consider this a very similar idea to Franchise Mode in Madden.

How many people:

A) Use it
B) Care if it's screwy

Team Madden has unleashed stat head Josh Looman lose on Franchise mode. I dunno if it'll be any good, but I feel more comfortable knowing Josh is doing it.

The team who designs NCAA for EA Sports needs a Josh Looman on its team. They need a guy to go in and say,

"This is absolutely screwball central and we need to redo this whole damn thing."
"Redo" might be a bit much but the devil is in the details--and I think, seeing as this franchise has been around for, well, a long time now, that we should see stuff that makes sense and should be able to criticize/point out/discuss the stuff that doesn't.

NCAA's Dynasty Mode has a whole lot that doesn't.

Chris Sanner of Operation Sports recently posted his list of stuff he thinks EA needs to do to make this mode more enjoyable.

Some of that I agree with, some of it I think is superfluous but what Chris fails to discuss is the meat and potatoes of what makes or breaks a college football game --
  1. Accuracy in Recruiting
  2. Believable Player Progression
Without these two elements working on all cylinders, Dynasty Mode is akin to Fantasyland.

Adding more busywork doesn't make recruiting "deep" -- it makes it tedious. It's like recruiting in College Hoops (rip) -- it's tedium. It's not compelling.

So, what's wrong with NCAA's recruiting? Plenty. I have been following recruiting for a long time. I have a pretty fair idea how this works in the real world, and there are some things that simply need a bit of fixing. Here's a few items of note from my current dynasty -- simmed through 5 seasons.
  • Know where players on each team actually come from. Pipeline states are fine, but there is no way on God's green earth that three 5-star kids from Hawaii want nothing more than to come to play for Ohio State.

  • A 5 star kid from Iowa doesn't have Iowa or Iowa State in his Top 10? Sorry, that doesn't fly either. He may not GO to Iowa, but they should be in the mix for ALL lowa kids. He's just one example but I see 5 star kids from Oklahoma, California, Missouri, etc without the home state school being even mentioned. That is INCREDIBLY rare. A kid playing football in Oklahoma? And he doesn't have the Sooners OR the Cowboys OR Texas in the running? No. Just no.

  • The game needs to know the breeding grounds to a better degree. In most of my seasons, there are NO 5-star kids in Ohio. That's insane. Ohio might not be the best recruiting state but it is at least in the discussion. Ohio produces top shelf HS football talent every single year, but in NCAA 10 it's full of 2-4 star kids with the 5 star kids coming elsewhere. A common phrase amongst recruitniks is that a coach needs to "build a fence around his state" to keep other schools from coming in as poachers. In NCAA 10 I need to go outside of Ohio to get most of my players. Otherwise I am screwed. It should be a BIG deal if a Michigan or a ND snags a 5 star kid out of Ohio under OSU's nose. Here it's a big deal if Ohio HAS a 5 star kid to steal.

  • How can a kid be a 'soft verbal' to OSU without a scholarship offer? Just curious...
All of that stuff would be nice, but is relatively minor compared to Dynasty Mode's real issue -- Player Progression.

In a word -- it's terrible.

Currently, progression works like this -- kids come in inside a certain ratings range depending on their star value during recruiting. Then, each off season, everyone gets better by anywhere from 3 to 12 points (or so). So basically every team's players get better each season and in a few years your Dynasty is littered with 90+ rated players on damn near every school.

It's a player ratings orgasm. In one preseason top 25 poll 20 teams were rated at least an "A" overall. It's bonkers.

It represents real college football like my daughter's soccer games represent Fifa. It's technically soccer.

What doesn't happen -- and what needs to happen is we should see a fair number of kids who are just plain busts--and kids who come in under the radar who end up being stars.

There are a lot of kids that fall under this umbrella in the real world -- but here are a few from Ohio State alone:

AJ Hawk was a 3 star LB
Nick Mangold was a 1 STAR center
QB Troy Smith was a "questionable" 4 star recruit (many had him at 3)
CB Malcolm Jenkins was a 3 star
WR Brian Robiskie was a 2 star
LB James Laurinaitis was a 3 star
DE Vernon Gholston was a 3 star

And that's just off the top of my head. Those are All Americans and/or high NFL picks we're talking about.


Jamario Oneal was a 5 star can't miss recruit who was not good enough and rarely played. Great athlete, but not a great football player.

Mo Wells was a 4 star HB from Florida who was a career backup at OSU. Wasn't good enough and was overrated out of HS.

DT Doug Worthington is a starter for OSU -- but he was a 5 star DE recruit who today is a solid player but nowhere near a star. He was overrated. Still decent, but 5 stars was 2 too many.

QB Rob Schoenhoft was an Elite 11 QB -- a 4 star kid who left OSU because he knew he'd never see the field. He's now in Delaware--and struggling.

LB Chad Hoobler -- 4 star kid who left school after his SOph season. Wasn't good enough.

These are the kids that hurt because you recruit them, counting on them to be big time contributors -- and they may not get WORSE but they either don't get better or they come in being less than the staff expected. You need backups and special teams players but rarely do you want those kids to be the jewels of your recruiting class.

This HAS to happen in any college football recruiting model.

In NCAA 10, it doesn't, and it really causes it to be an exercise in tedium rather than a compelling mode full of ups and downs. It's so regimented that it's turned stale.

And all of the data EA needs is right there on the net via Scout/Rivals.


Loren said...

As sad as it is to say, I've found over the years doing reviews for both NCAA and Madden that to the majority of players out there the Dynasty/Franchise mode is not important to them.

Operation Sports is obviously a somewhat niche environment and you will see a huge amount of attention given to the Dynasty/Franchise modes. I personally enjoy both, but I don't go nearly as deep into it as you or many of the people on OS do Bill. I've always diverted thoughts on these modes to you or the other Bill (Harris), although this year I think he didn't pick up NCAA.

Anyway, I've found over the years that people are more interested in how the game plays versus how the intricacies of the Dynasty/Franchise mode are and I have changed my reviews accordingly over the years. It's hard to hit the happy medium because you don't necessarily know your full reader demographic.

I do think the mainstream player plays these modes, but I think they mostly hit the surface in interest. I could be wrong, but this is just the indication I get.

Jayhawker said...

I don't mind playing through a season of a game, but I have yet to find an AI that provides a compelling experience in a franchise/dynasty mode. For that, you need an online league.

Now, player progression is another tough nut to crack, and is a pretty important in even an online league. We used a variety of editing tools to accomplish a reasonably realistic amount of progression in FBPro 98. But the one real downside of the move to consoles has been the lack of ability to really get in an futz with the rosters in a more meaningful way than just edit ratings and such.

So while I would love a franchise/dynasty mode, I have long since given up on that dream. Just get me through a season without making too many outlandish trades, and I will enforce my own house rules to get a proper experience. But I can't stomach the off-season draft and free agent signings, and subsequent roster moves, of the AI.

That being the case, I can't really ding a game for not getting the franchise/dynasty mode down right. Call me whan ANY game does.

bill abner said...

Jawhawker: OOTP. :)

Front Office Football.

Deep Route Football.

PureSim Baseball.

Basically one man operations and the career modes do what they should. For the most part.

In fact, EA's NFL Head Coach 09 does a pretty darn good job.

I'm just sayin. It can be done. I just don't think it's a real priority. But that's just me. I cannot see adding a feature and having it in your game for a decade and not at some point sitting back and saying "ok let's finally do this right."

And Loren, I tend to agree. I have no data to back that up, but I would love to know how many players who buy NCAA XX even see Season 2 of a Dynasty mode.

Jayhawker said...

Well, those are certainly better. But as I've been playing through my 1975 season, it's pretty clear that OOTP is pretty limited in terms of line-ups. I'm not sure was dimension would have Kieth Hernandez as a lead-off hitter.

But looking over the trades and then the draft of the next season is not too bad. I'm following Cardinals, but I found Garry Templeton backing up Freddie Patek in KC, which is at least odd. Patek was finally dealt away and Templeton became the Royals Number five hitter.

It's not that thee games you mentioned are not infinitely better than the console games, it's that they don't stand up to scrutiny themselves.

But I may just be too picky.

Radja said...

while college hoops could be tedious, this is one area where CH had it right. i signed plenty of 4 stars that were out shined by 2 and 3 stars over the years.

it can be done. it just isn't in ncaa football.

this is the area that drives me crazy. the scouts have various levels of ability. in the 2k model they can be off as much as 50% or more.

when you look at real life NFL, some teams like the patriots, colts and chargers have better un-drafted future starter/all pro free agents than teams like the raiders have actual draft pickes.

jeff said...

I think your point of 90+ players on every roster certainly applies if you are using Ohio State or another of the 5 star programs. In an online MAC dynasty I have been in for 7 seasons using NCAA 09 I can say that the total number of 90+ guys we have seen is under 10. And of those I think at least half left for the draft after their junior years.

I agree that progression is too predictable. But the main attribute people care about is speed, which hardly ever moves over the years. If you get at 3 star HB or WR with 87 speed as a freshman, he will never be an elite player even if all of his intangible ratings go up by the time he becomes a senior and be becomes a 90 OV. While that 5 star guy with 94 speed and low awareness will be a real monster once his intangibles go up.