Friday, July 30, 2010

Madden 11 Day at the Feisty Weasel

Happy Friday.

So what are your plans this weekend? A little house cleaning? Reruns of Top Chef? The wife making you pull weeds from the garden?

Yeah, sorry about that.

I'll be playing Madden 11, which arrived about 10 minutes ago. OK that was mean.

The plan, in case you were wondering, is to post impressions when the embargo on said impressions lifts which appears to be August 2nd for "final impressions" but full on reviews are embargoed until August 10th.

So come Monday you can expect me to start talking Madden with the published review ready for the 10th.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Madden 11 Q&A with Ian Cummings that I just posted at GameShark.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NCAA 11 Update in the Works

First off, the number of people that have read the blog over the past week, linked from various sites, continues to amaze me. You know Todd we really ought to do a Google Ad Sense thing every July.

It IS discouraging that so many came from a Michigan blog and none came from the (popular) OSU site I post on. Thanks guys. Sheesh.

So, sounds like we may get an update to help alleviate some of the issues in NCAA 11.

Here's proof.

Money quote, "Our first LTP ( LIVE TUNING PACKAGES) should be arriving next week along with detailed notes on what the update contains. I can tell you that based on the collective feedback we've received, we will be carefully down-tuning the athleticism of defensive lineman and reduce the number of impressive picks by the big guys. We're also looking to address a few important dynasty progression and recruiting issues."

Will that fix address kickers as well as progression? We'll see. But at least they seem aware...

The NCAA 11 Review

Late, sure, but hey...if you read the blog you know how I feel by now.

It proved to be a hard game to assign a "grade."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Faking the Moon Landing

This vid, which I caught at Universe Today, details the plan to fake the moon landings. It’s got a few good chuckles in it, so I’m embedding it here. Ah, British comedy for the win.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Madden 11 Q&A

Ian sent back the answers to my questions and you can expect to see that online at GameShark this Friday. Good stuff, too.


Have to admit, didn't see that coming.

Hope he gets his life in order.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Art of Reviewing Sports Games

This week we’ve got what just may be out best episode yet of Jumping the Shark. First off, we spend nearly an hour talking with Jon-Paul Dyson, the director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games and Vice President for Exhibit Research and Development at the Strong National Museum of Play with which ICHEG is associated. There’s some really good stuff in there.

After that, however, we get some full-on Abner rage; not over the problems with NCAA ‘11’s Dynasty mode (although we do talk about that), but how not one of the reviews listed on Metacritic mention them. I’m not going to elaborate much on that, but it’s good stuff. What I do want to get into is just what a pain in the ass it is to review sports games.

It really is. I hate reviewing sports games. I’ll do it just for the sake of having something to review and because I don’t think I completely suck at it, but sports games may just be the least fun games to have to analyze from a critical perspective.

I mean just reviewing the on the field/court/ice content is challenging enough because if you’re not a flat out expert in the represented game somebody is going to know more than you and tell you about six different problems you either didn’t see or didn’t care about.

Despite the sporting nature of this blog, I actually know relatively little about sports. I like sports. I know the rules, the positions, team composition, and all that jazz. But if you put me in front of a basketball game, I’m not gonna be able to tell you if it plays a *smart* game of basketball. I have a decent sense of what a good hoops game feels like, but I can’t tell you if they have the 76ers playing the proper offensive or defensive sets. I can’t tell you if they have the right backup center coming in for the Bobcats or if he’s setting up where he should in the paint.

And even if you do know that stuff, the presence of gameplay sliders that affect vitually every single aspect of how a sports game plays, makes any quick-look impression moot. Are NCAA ‘11 sack totals too high? Sure. Can you fix it with a quick slider adjustment? Absolutely. Do I know I can fix it with a quick slider adjustment without putting an hour into every single tweak of each slider? Hell no. And that’s the easy stuff to look at because it comes out just from playing the game.

It gets so much more complicated when you have to start thinking about all the poorly-documented off-the-field stuff these games have. When I reviewed MLB: The Show this year I was at complete loss for how to talk about this stuff. I only have so many hours to play a game. I can’t put 5-10 hours each into Road to The Show, Franchise, Online Franchise, etc. It’s just not doable. Does Road to the Show break down after five seasons? I don’t think so, but I haven’t got a clue. And if it does, and I’m playing as a Pitcher, that doesn’t mean if I play as a SS I’m going to have the same problem.

Baseball is stats heavy as it is, but it goes so far beyond that. Am I really going to test how well the AI manages three levels of minor leagues where players can take five years to develop into major leaguers? How do I begin to know how TV contracts affect the league or how improving my facilities reduces my team’s injury rate? The permutations of things that can affect or even ruin the experience is so long as to be ridiculous.

Now, all this is not to defend the plethora of NCAA ‘11 reviews that completely missed that by year two of a dynasty half the best teams in the nation or running out kickers who struggle to make extra points. The fact that teams in Dynasty mode fall apart three to five seasons down the road is not that difficult to find with just a little effort. It’s just that it requires different things of a reviewer to find this stuff than does reviewing other types of games. In most other genres you just play the games. In sports games you have to spend hours upon hours just running tests, looking at stats, comparing them to online stats databases.

In other words, you have to spend time researching instead of just playing and I think that’s where a lot of reviewers, and the editors who assign them, fail when it comes to handling sports games. It’s not fun work to review these games and the time investment to do it is probably not worth what a reviewer is getting paid to do it, if they’re getting paid at all. And even for the guys (or gals) who do a credible job of attempting to thoroughly play and test a sports game, you are sure to miss something big that someone buying and playing the game for fun will catch inside of a week. There’s just too much stuff.

It’s tempting to look at sports games, something that has a real world analog, and say that it should be easy to analyze them and come up with an accurate, thorough piece of criticism. In reality, though, I think sports games are among the most difficult genres to review. The only genre I can think of that I find more challenging is strategy games and that’s mostly because I’m an idiot who struggles to beat Civ IV on the Prince difficulty. But that’s a post for another day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Michigan NCAA ‘11 Dynasty

Okay, so Bill is pretty much on top of every facet of the game at this point, so this post mostly serves as another perspective – the non-die-hard’s perspective. It’s actually been so long (somewhere in the three year range) since I’ve played either Madden or NCAA that I’ve practically forgotten how to play the game. This was obvious when we got some hands-on time at E3 this year, but it was drilled home even more when I played a couple of exhibition games last week and I couldn’t pass or run the option (something I’ve never done) to save my life.

If you listen to the podcast you know this already, but upon starting up my dynasty I actually took the humiliating step of knocking the on-field difficulty down to Varsity. For a guy who started playing this series when it was still available on the PC (circa ‘98?), that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Two shutouts later, against UConn and Notre Dame, and I’m feeling like I’m getting back to my usual mediocre self. Last night I dialed it back up to All American, but since Michigan’s third game this year is against Massachusetts (NCAA used some made up D2 school, FCS East) that ended up not being much of a test case (70-0; ouch). I’ve got games coming up against Bowling Green and Michigan State, the latter of the two should be a more interesting gauge of where I’m at since MSU pretty well whooped me in a pair of AA exhibition games.

Anyway, as Bill has noted, on the field, this game is so much better; especially relative to the last time I played it. I love running the option, although I seem to be having a hard time gaining yards on Read Option plays where I keep the ball with the QB. I’ve mostly been going with Tate Forcier at QB, but I’ve subbed in Denard Robinson a lot and the difference between the two when running with the ball is astounding. (I tweaked Denard’s accuracy just a little bit so that he doesn’t embarrass himself throwing the ball; I’m an eternal optimist that way.)

I really love the feeling of weight and speed between different types of players. Last night I ran an option play to my FB (Mark Moundros; 70 speed) where he shrugged off a couple of hits and rumbled down the field for a score. It looked way, way different (as it should) compared to when I took 91 speed Vincent Smith for a 50-yard score later in the game.

As the passing game “slows down” for me and I find myself able to get into a comfort zone with it, I’m really starting to appreciate how well it plays. The fact that quarterbacks can and will miss on throws and the fair balance of interceptions to defender drops (it’s drop heavy, but it stops interception totals from being insane) is gravy. I like the way the secondary reacts to a ball in the air, which is to say, the presence of robo-secondary guys who know exactly where to go the second the QB throws the ball is very much muted. I like the fact that I can control a D-lineman without feeling suctioned to an O-lineman and that I can actually threaten or get to the QB. (I had ridiculous sack totals on Varsity; am hoping those go down on AA.) I love that I feel like I can run the ball effectively both between the tackles and to the outside.

On the field, right now, I adore this game.

Off the field, I find myself wishing more and more that the browser-based Online Dynasty functions were more robust (depth charts, etc.) and more stable. There are times it work flawlessly, and times, like this morning, when I can’t even log in. Worse are the times when I’m doing recruiting calls and the page crashes and I lose both the minutes and effect of having made the call. That *cannot* happen. I know it’s beta and you expect some instability, but in that event you should just have to re-do the call. Losing from your allotted phone time, which has happened to me four times over four recruiting weeks, just isn’t acceptable.

It’s really a shame that the long term prospects of the Dynasty mode are so shoddy this year, because I could see myself sticking with it for the first time in a long, long time. At this point I’m enjoying myself enough to live with it for a season. I could even live with the issue of incompetent kickers. But if there’s not a patch to address the team regression issues Bill has brought up by the time I start season two, I may shelve it. There just isn’t much point for those of us who like to take a school through multiple seasons.

NCAA 11: The Year 2015


I'm thinking dynasty mode needs a shade more development time. And that NCAA 11 needs a serious Dynasty Mode patch.

And it needs it ASAP.

EA is clearly trying. You can tell that the devs listened when people said teams were rated too close to one another, that freshmen came in and were way too good, that too many players ended up being 95+ rated, etc.

All of this is true and it did need to be addressed.

But now there are other (and IMO more serious) issues with this mode. EA has tried to fix an issue and ended up going too far the other way. There seems to be a little of the Madden Ratings stretch going on - more than I thought, really. But the ebb and flow of the dynasty mode looks -- off.

Let's take USC and Ohio State as two examples. Two Six Star programs according to the game (Michigan is too...which, well, we can argue that later)


By the year 2014 USC has fallen on hard times. As in...not being ranked in the top 25. They are still a 6 star program but the roster breakdown is just plain weird.

USC has five QBs. They have one Left Tackle. They have six at SS. They have one terribly shitty kicker. They have one TE. They have a TON of defensive ends. They have one MLB.

Thanks to this silly roster breakdown, USC is in serious trouble. I know this because during this test I was the defacto "coach" of the Ohio Bobcats. I randomly picked a team to start the dynasty with (I'm just simming this dynasty for testing purposes).

In 2014 I was offered the USC job. (I know...weird) When I was looking at the roster breakdown USC was in SHAMBLES. They had a QB rating of a B- but nothing else was rated higher than a C. And why?

Depth. They have no depth. There is a serious recruit planning issue going on here.

Relying on freshmen is a surefire way to get killed in this game, which is absolutely how it should be. But you have to have more than one MLB, right? And more than one LT. Injuries happen in this game and what happens what that 80 rated LT gets hurt? It ain't pretty.

Ohio State has fared a bit better. After winning the National Championship in 2010, OSU was left with a bare cupboard. Again, this is somewhat silly but it is what it is. OSU was left with Joe Bauserman as the starting QB as Pryor bolted for the league. OSU finished 2011 at 7-5.

This is a COMMON thread in NCAA 11. After a team makes a title run they fall off -- a lot more than they should. There isn't much "reloading" going on here.


Michigan State won the Big10 in 2012. Texas A&M won the National Title.

It took OSU another year to get back to the top but they did, getting to the Rose Bowl in 2013. After that they again fell off the map a bit even though they came in as preseason #1 but was rated a B- across the board. (Well, sans the D+ special teams..)

There was no way OSU was winning the title in 2014 despite that #1 rank and they ended up 8-4.

I don't know how OSU did better than USC during this time period -- Texas hung around the top 10 a lot, too. But Wisconsin went from aces high in 2010 and 2011 to finishing 4-8 in 2012 and 5-7 in 2013 and 6-6 in 2014.

It's the recruiting. It's just plain odd.

Now, on the flip side let's look at the bad teams. The San Jose States of the world.

By 2014 here' s a quick breakdown of the overall team rankings. Actually, these are cribbed from Operation Sports; they are not mine but look almost identical to what I see:

A+: 0
A: 0
A-: 0
B+: 4
B: 8
B-: 11
C+: 17
C: 15
C-: 10
D+: 12
D: 16
D-: 27

So, what stands out here?

The lack of *any* A Rated teams should send off fire alarms in your head. But that's not the worst part.

55 teams are rated D+ or lower.

Basically half of all of college football.

To really drive this point home let's look at the end of 2014, when it's time for players to declare for the draft. To me this shines a big light on the real issue.

41 kids left early to go Pro. 11 Hbs, 2 QBs, 1 corner, 1 SS, several wide outs, no DTs, etc. That's kinda silly to begin with, but what's more jarring is this:

All 41 kids are from major conferences. All of them.

There was not ONE kid from as small school to go pro early. Why? They all suck. Plain and simple they are not rated high enough. The "worst" team to have a kid leave early was prolly Clemson, and that's hardly the school for the sisters of the poor.

But the small schools get zip. Because there's literally no talent.

So, take this with the frustrating "we have no kicker worth a damn" issue and you are left with a Dynasty Mode that is in serious need of some fixin' because this isn't just a "sim" issue -- it's an on the field issue because a human isn't going to recruit 5 QBs and no kicker, and not field a team with one MLB.

And when you play these CPU teams who are under manned? You crush them.

And EA has put a LOT of effort into Dynasty Mode this year from the Online Hub stuff to Story Builder right down the line and for it to fundamentally break down like this is a serious, serious problem. And for critics to ignore it is...frustrating.

Finally, let's look at the start of 2015.

I want to stress something before I finish this up -- I think EA is on the right track here. The idea is a good one, it's just that the screws need tightened. Here's what I mean:

USC is about to start 2015 with the following roster breakdown:

QB 3 players -- All of them are rated 71. Yes, this is low. But that's ok w/ me. Bigtime programs can have a bad recruiting class or two at a position. It happens. Ohio State is going to start a Senior QB rated a 98 by comparison. But OSU is also carrying 7 QBs. And there's part of the problem. The big schools are hoarding talent in certain areas -- mostly at QB, HB, and WR. Although Alabama has 7 MLBs on its roster. Why? I have no idea.

HB - 5 (82 is the starter's rating)
FB - 2 (91)
WR - 9 (91)
TE - 3 (80)
LT - 2(85)
LG - 1 (82)
C - 2 (90)
RG - 2 (87)
RT - 2(80)
LE - 4 (84)
RE - 2 (81)
DT - 4 (87)
OLB - 6 (88)
MLB - 2 (88)
CB - 4 (84)
FS - 2 (83)
SS 5 (80)
K - 1 (44, lol)
P - 1 (90)

This is fairly common throughout most teams. You'll see one or two positions with a TON of players and usually the offensive line is under recruited. In USC's case MLB, DT, OLine, Kicker, and Punter could use a few more bodies and 9 wide outs is just loopy. A lot of these guys will never see the field...and they don't always transfer and if they DO it's always to another top tier team -- and not a small school (which is usually what happens in college football because these kids want to see the field).

This means that the small schools -- and even the lesser teams in major conferences, are left with the bottom of the barrel. And the barrel is filled with grime.

Northwestern has 3 players rated in the 70s on its ENTIRE ROSTER. Northwestern isn't USC, but that's far, far too low when Ohio State entering 2015 has 8 players over 90.

So the idea of stretching the ratings are making the team talent spread out a bit is a solid one. But it's not right. What needs fixed via a patch? Here's my fixlist:

  • Make sure all teams carry more than 1 kicker and punter.

  • Make the kicker recruits a bit better to avoid having ANY team with a 40 rated kicker. At that rating they miss extra points like they're 35 yard FGs.

  • Recruits need to look at team depth charts and sign with a lesser school rather than be the #9 wide out on USC's roster.

  • Along these same lines, teams need to recruit more evenly by position. Carrying a total of 3 offensive guards isn't going to cut it when a team has 15 positions filled for HBs and WRs.
  • Small schools need to have enough talent in certain areas to at least make it interesting. It's mainly an Awareness issue. Players are fast enough but the AWR is so low that they are truly awful players with little chance to compete on any level. The Northwestern example above is apt here. Northwestern shouldn't be nearly as good as Ohio State but it shouldn't be like playing against my 9 year old daughter's soccer team. 55 teams should not be rated a D; that's insane.

  • Have players progress DURING the year. NCAA used to do this, now, it doesn't and it makes no sense. Your freshman rated a 60 at the start of the year is still a 60 by bowl season. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

  • Finally, fix the bottom rung player recruits so that teams are not fielding players with the football IQ of my mother in law. After a few seasons you are going to see some magnificently AWFUL players in your dynasty. Dropped passes, fumbles, crazy's the bad news bears.
There's still time to patch this.

Let's hope they do it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

NCAA 11: Well, Shit

As UConn sets up to play Cincy in order to secure a Bowl spot, I decided to do some solo dynasty testing to check the stat engine, recruiting, player progression...some of the nuts and bolts before starting to write my review.

And, well...shit.

I was really hoping that nothing would pop up that kicked the game in the nuts, and honestly I do not know how much this will upset people but I know it upsets me.

At the start of the game there are 12 teams rated in the "A" range. At the start of year two I only saw right. Which I thought was cool.

Then I saw why.

Special Teams.

Ohio State, USC, Texas, and countless other teams were rated a D or LOWER in Special Teams starting the 2011 season.

The reason?

Kickers. As in, the AI will rarely carry more than one. So, at the start of the 2010 season teams with a Sr. kicker must sign a freshmen kicker in order to field a team and they sign 1 star no names who can't kick a 40 yard FG. There are 70 roster spots and the game SHOULD have came preloaded with more than one kicker per team to avoid this from happening.

Ohio State played 2011 with a freshman kicker who connected on 43% of his field goal tries.

OSU lost 5 games.

USC's freshman kicker did better, nailing 55% of his kicks. If you're new to this whole football thing -- that's awful.

Last year in the real world of college football the worst kicker, percentage wise, was a kid from Akron who went 7 for 15 on the year. He was ranked last.

In NCAA 11, after the first season if you are playing a Dynasty, that's par for the course for teams who had to sign a new kicker.

Think this is trivial? Have you played a game against a kicker rated an overall 52? Let's just say it sort of takes the excitement of that last second 40 yard FG pretty much right out of the conversation.

More later as I sim into season 3 to see if these kids improve to the point of at least respectability.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Some NCAA 11 Black Eyes

Thus far, we have been (shockingly) positive re: NCAA 11. If you have read my stuff over the years you know that I have had a love/hate relationship with this series ever since it went "next gen"

NCAA 11 is, I think, the best version since 2004. That's a lot of underachieving years in between but this version has turned an important corner.

But flawless?


Here's a rundown of what is not to like about the latest version

  • The aforementioned play action pass bug. EA knows about it.

  • When AI controlled backs get in open space they cover the ball up like it's the 4th quarter and they will do anything but fumble. It looks ridiculous and slows down the runner.

  • Pursuit angles still suck. Here's a great example of this. Look at the video along the scroll bar at the bottom. My HB takes the handoff, make a nice hesitation move and a double spin, then is off to the races. The Rutgers CB (#4) has the angle and there's no way I should beat him to the end zone, but watch what he does. This issue has hurt this game for years -- I have no idea why it is so hard to fix.

  • I want you to watch the next video from that same game. I'm about to score on Rutgers on a toss sweep. Look what the AI defender does at the last moment. He basically "turns off" like an unplugged toaster. Now, I do not see these glitches every game but seeing them once is too many IMO.

  • The Online Dynasty Hub is AWESOME, but it's down WAY too much. It's very unreliable at the moment.

  • Clock management/late game playcalling still needs a rewrite.

  • Too much no huddle from the AI.

  • Penalties are still screwy. Pass Interference simply does not exist.

  • Use of subs isn't high enough for my taste.

  • I still want a fast clock to allow me to play 15 min quarters. (I currently use 9)

  • Simulated QB stats are still wonky. Look, I love Pryor but if the kid throws 27 TDs with 2 picks in 2010 I will streak down High Street naked wearing an I Love Michigan banner covering my naughty bits. And that's not gonna happen. Is it better than before? Yeah, but Pryor was 18 TDs 11 INTs in 2009 and the game sees 27/2 for 2010?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

UConn Gets Big W

I guess you can call a win against a winless SEC team a big win, right?

Well, that's what I am calling it.

Even though this Online Dynasty Hub thing is still buggy, I am utterly amazed at how cool it is. I said this on he podcast we recorded Thursday, but from now on every big budget sports game absolutely needs to have this feature. EA Sports MUST make this SOP for all of its games. It's brilliant in its idea -- it's just still a bit kinky.

So, yeah, we beat Vandy in a game that again highlights how the games tend to play out differently this year in NCAA.

I turned the ball over six times. Six. I was picked off four times and fumbled twice. That hasn't even been remotely close to how my other games have played out. Against Vandy I threw two really bad passes that were totally my fault. The other two?

One was deflected at the line, traveled about 12 yards and was picked off by a LB.

The other was on a post route and it hit my RS Freshman dead in the hands, bounced straight up in the air and the Vandy safety dove and picked it off. Totally cool.

How did I win after a six turnover Husky Meltdown?

I returned an INT for a TD (you can view the video of this play on the Dynasty page) and Vandy fumbled a kickoff which I turned into a TD a few plays later. That's 14 points that you can't count on every game.

Plus my run game was killing the Commodores. People are saying that running on AA lvl is tad easy and they may be right but you all need to know one very important thing -- the sliders this year work. (well, except the pass interference one..)

Do a test. Put the QB Accuracy slider at 0. Then go practice. It is EXACTLY what you should see. You will be lucky to complete a pass even without the defense on the field. Perfect. Sliders SHOULD be extreme. You will see a difference between a 50 and a 60 in this game, which makes tweaking things SO much easier.

You will also see a difference between a WR who can run routes and one that can't. You will see a huge difference in catching ability this year -- my RS Freshman WR needs to take a game off. The dude is a wreck. My SR? Catches almost everything near him.

After some slight modifications to the sliders -- I am no longer a 7 sack per game team.

The AI on AA lvl can run the ball -- with some slider tweaks. The Vandy HB had 19 carries for 85 yards and as a team Vandy ran for over 100. It still struggles when running a true spread and it sucks with misdirection plays but overall, it's competent.

And even though the game has issues it's this unpredictability that I find alluring -- I can't wait to play my next game and the last time I felt that way about an NCAA game?

NCAA 2004.

Yes, it has been that long.

Coming up next, the season sim stat test -- I forgot to do this last night.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sacks and a patch

First off, I haven't been reading any NCAA forums so I dunno how widespread this is but I have now witnessed first hand, two times, the "CPU QB fake hand-off stuck in an animation and drops back 30 yards" bug.

I will forgive any glitch once. Shit happens. But Todd saw it yesterday in a game he played and I have now seen it twice.

That's officially an issue.

On the plus side, UConn got its groove back against lowly Buffalo. My first two 50+ yard runs. Buffalo is awful.

Stat wise my games have looked shockingly realistic (boosting CPU running is important btw) sans one area: sacks.

The Huskies lead the NCAA in sacks -- I have 23 in four games. And my Dline isn't quite the Fearsome Foursome.

I haven't messed with sliders at all in this area but the issue is more QB Awareness -- QBs (especially bad ones) hold the ball WAY too long. This results in a slew of coverage sacks. Add to that the fact that the AI doesn't know to keep a HB in to block and you get a lot of pressures and a lot of sacks, which looks nice in the stat sheet but after a while it starts to get a little ridiculous.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

NCAA 11: Some Good, Some Bad, and Some Bugs

So, I am ruining the tradition that is Connecticut football. We lost to Temple. No BS, no gamey nonsense, I flat out lost to Temple.

Here, look.

A few caveats:

I am now playing on AA lvl but with boosted CPU run blocking and run ability and Human QB Accuracy at 45 (makes it tougher to throw on the run and lead receivers).

I wanted to see if boosting the CPU running (to 60 I think) helped and the Temple HB (their star player) responded with, well, look at the stats.

Still, losing is a sweet, sweet feeling. And on AA no less. Granted I am playing with a weakish team but Temple was rated slightly lower and they jumped out to a 13-0 lead and held on.

Against Akron my HB was dynamite and here he was held in check until the 4th. We're still dodging patterns to some degree and that's great, great news.

There is no more massive INT issue. Again, look at those stats. The Temple QB picked me apart to the tune of 291 yards on 27/38 passing and no INTs. I don't CARE if some should have been picked. I can extend my suspension of belief to accept that. I'd rather have my DBs drop picks than get 5 per game. Is it canned? Yep.

But so what?

If I can keep this level of competition with the CPU I will play this game a long, long time. I see bad passes, I see bad passes when under pressure, I see DROPS -- but not too many -- missed assignments, great catches, missed's pretty wild stuff for an NCAA game. I'm waiting for that other shoe to kick me in the face.

That said -- there are issues.

Go back and click that link up there to view my Dynasty page. You can view images there and there is one video -- on the far right of that scroll bar. Watch that video and commence the snickering.

Yes, that's a bug. That was the CPU running what looks to be a play action screen near the goal line and then...well...yeah.

There were other eye catchers in that game. The old bug when a player's AI routine stops is back in effect here. It's like the player is a robot and someone pulls the plug and he stands still until you switch to control him. Annoying -- and needs a patch.

Penalties are still basically: offsides, false starts (after you boost it to 100), facemasks (keep this no higher than 55), holding (55 max here too) and...that's it. Defensive PI looks to be MIA yet again, which sucks.

I'm a tick leery of the late game playcalling, but I cannot say that with complete certainty.. Temple seemed oblivious that all they needed to do was take a knee in the 4th and was still running no huddle on me.

Yeah, I was shown up by TEMPLE.

Oh, and I will not forget.

Madden 11 Q&A

Questions have been sent to EA PR who will then make sure they are hunky dory and send them on to Ian. Hopefully I'll have something soon. This is not the epic size Q&A we did last year, but hopefully will have some good nuggets.

Online Tools for NCAA ‘11 Dynasty Mode (Plus, a bug)

I was going to resist NCAA again this year. I really was. That said, our longtime readers know just how much I cannot stand team management in console sports games, so the fact that you can run your recruiting from a web browser when using an online dynasty in NCAA ‘11 made this a must purchase. (You can, for the record, have a single-player online dynasty.)

I’ve only just begun to play with it, but this is fantastic. It’s not all the way there in execution, there are several ways I can see already for it to be better, but the fact that you can do this at all is a stroke of genius. Let me run my franchise/dynasty over my lunch hour in a browser that makes information much much MUCH more accessible, so that when I get home I can just fire up the game and take to the field. That is awesome. Off the top my head, though, here’s a couple of things that need to be addressed (two now, others later):

- First of all, there is at least one bug in the online tools. On the recruiting page you cannot see listings for 4-star recruits *when using the Caliber filter.* Bill and I have both tried this and it’s the same for both of us using different dynasties, web browsers, etc. If you set the Caliber filter to 4 Star you will not see an actual 4-star recruit in the list it generates; just 5-star guys. You can get around this by just not using the Caliber filter; annoying, but hardly lethal. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of other more insidious bugs that we have yet to see.

- Stability. This is surely a short term issue, but both online and on the console data transfers often fail and need to be redone. The good news is I have yet to lose anything. Just a quick refresh or re-upload and all seems to be well. I’m okay with this for now, but the screws clearly need some tightening.

- More team management stuff. Let me manage my playbook and depth chart this way; not just the recruiting. This is something that could revolutionize dynasty and franchise play across the spectrum of console sports games. Could you imagine managing a MLB: The Show franchise this way? I can, and it gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies.

- More information and better interface. The only way to see a player’s full ratings is on a page for that player. On the team roster screen you can only see a player’s overall rating. If I want to see just my cornerbacks along with all ratings related to CB play so that I can compare and contrast guys, I should be able to do that on one screen without clicking back and forth. I should then be able to open a separate tab for a depth chart (you can do the separate tab thing now) and go back and forth between them to manage my team.

I’m sure there will be more as I actually start doing recruiting with these tools, but so far I’m really pleased. I’m waiting to start my franchise until there’s a downloadable roster with player names, so, for now, I’m just experimenting. There’s loads of unexplored potential here that will have to wait for another year, but as a proof of concept, this is genius.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

So, Michigan Wins

Another cool part of the new Online Dynasty settings is that people can share their dynasties easily with other people.

Like this.

Hopefully you can see that. You should see a headline that says:

Connecticut falls In Ann Arbor

It's true. We lost. You can also view stats so I don't have to rattle them off here.

What a great, great feature. Automatic story updates, photos...this is crazy!

What is not so great is this:

This game started to show a pattern -- the AI can't run Michigan's spread very well. Yes, they won 23-13 and yes Forcier (I have auto names on so I think his name is Parker) threw for like 270 yards but two were on bombs. The AI WILL go deep this year. Love that.

But I hated the last sequence of that game. I was down 16-14 with 1:03 left. Michigan had the ball on its 20 and I had 3 Time outs

The plays they call? Run (time out, a PASS in the flat (time out) and now with 1 TO left and 3rd and 7 they call a deep post? OK, yeah, it worked for a 75 yard TD but that's some crazy aggressive playcalling there Mr. Rodriguez.

Michigan also scored on a fumble return. So I'm calling this a moral victory.

An issue that popped up again with UM: look at those rushing stats. UCONN's defense is rather suspect so Michigan really should have been able to run, but on default All American sliders, that didn't happen. But remember my OSU/Wisky game and Clay ran who knows? I do think the AI still has a hell of a time just running in a straight line. Stop with the jukes, guy, just run.

Let's see how the Huskies handle Akron.

Oh, yeah, I also lost my QB for 4 weeks. Nice start.

NCAA: This is great! Hey you need to fix this...

Tonight is one of the big personal NCAA tests, when I sim some seasons to view the numbers. This series has always been a bit...sketchy with this part of the sim. If we see any QBs with 47TDs and 1 INT, that "Noooooooo!" you hear will be from Johnstown, Ohio.

However, one thing I know works (well, sort of) is the new Online Dynasty stuff.

Holy cow this is the coolest thing to happen to NCAA in *years*. I have grown tired of recruiting in NCAA because it feels more like busywork than anything resembling fun. But with the ability to log on to the EA website and do all of your recruiting online, it speeds things up exponentially. When we were told this at E3 we both raised eyebrows because we're in the same boat as far as recruiting on the 360/PS3 is concerned. (We hate it)

But I have tooled around with it today and's SO much faster using the mouse/keyboard, I just hope where you work doesn't block the EA site. Talk about using your lunch break for peak effectiveness.

However, you have to use Online Dynasty to use this feature and today I discovered that it doesn't always work. After red shirting my players (on the console) the game wouldn't save. I tried ten times (just pressing the retry button over and over) before it finally worked.

It's as annoying as it sounds.

That said, I chose UCONN as my test team because I want to see the recruiting with a middling program. Of course, my first game: Michigan. I forgot all about that.

One thing about NCAA -- it still doesn't use subs as well as it should. For example, OSU will use Saine at RB exclusively (that's not gonna happen this year) and Tater Tot will take every snap for Michigan and Robinson or the freshman Gardner will not see the field unless Forcier gets hurt. They really need to mix that up next year.

They also STILL need someone to go in and really fix the player ratings. I love Brandon Saine but he is simply not a 90-something rated halfback. He's just not. He's good. But when I see 90+ I think great. Boom Herron isn't either, folks. There is no way to defend his numbers being that high EXCEPT for that he plays for OSU and they want to make OSU really good.

NCAA needs a Madden ratings stretch, stat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lack of Patterns

So far, I think what I like most about the new NCAA is its lack of any discernible patterns. Again, this is still very, very early in the testing process, but after my 31-0 sha-LACKING of Michigan, after my Tuesday night hoop league I hopped back on to play against Wisconsin. (still default All American.)

It was a totally different game.

In year's past it was extremely easy to see patterns after one or two games of NCAA. It's always one of the very first things I look for when reviewing a sports game because patterns are really the absolute bane of these types of games. Patterns basically rip away any unpredictability and when a sports game gets predictable -- it's over. Immediate shelfware.

These patterns still could be there -- but so far they aren't showing up. Case in point, I lost to Bucky 21-14. It was 21-6 at halftime.

Plays that Michigan called that were repeatedly stoned, Wisky pulled off with great success.

Wisconsin connected on a 68 yard TD pass -- a FLY PATTERN. Yes, the AI went deep. Several times. Pryor was like 14/17 against UM. It was easy (this was a potential pattern) but was 15/28 against Wisky. I threw three INTS. One was my fault, the other I was hit as I threw and the other hit Carter in the hands (they need to remove him from the game btw. He's no longer at OSU, but anyway...) and it bounced right to a Wisky DB.

John Clay had 88 yards on 20 carries. He was hard as hell to tackle.

Michigan? I shut that team down with impunity. I had a chance late to get the ball back against Wisky and they marched 30 yards to nail the coffin shut.

Against UM my DE Cam Heyward was UNBLOCKABLE. He was KILLING whoever the Michigan RT is. 3 sacks, multiple pressures, etc. In years past this would raise a quick red flag. This is a potential pattern that could really kill the game because before--something like this simply meant...the AI blocking sucks.

Against Wisky? Heyward was as non factor. And believe me...I tried.

Still so much to look at and test and fiddle with but while the game does feel a tick arcade-y in spots (Brandon Saine wishes he could make cuts like this) I am very eager to play more. A promising start.


The blog here at The N&FW is not dead. It's just that we don't have time for daily posts anymore. Kids, jobs, and other outside factors have kept us from posting much. You can always hear us weekly on the podcast, though.

That said, when something comes up that we want to talk about this is the place for us to do that.

NCAA 11 is finally in hand (I bought it just like you guys this year)

And early returns I think are very positive. A lot of gameplay stuff has changed this year and so far -- I think for the better. I'm not going to get into impressions yet but I will be blogging here quite often over the next week or so putting this game through its paces.

I started off beating Michigan 31-0 on All American so NCAA 11 has the realism DOWN PAT.