Thursday, July 22, 2010

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.


Brad said...

See, this is why I was asking if you were going to be talking about NCAA. I didn't see this talked about in any of the other reviews.

Jayhawker said...

Great stuff, Bill. This is really critical, and is the difference between this being a core game for me, and one I trade in for Madden.

I'm loving the OD, but I am just in my first season. Looking at what you wrote makes me rethink whether it is worth putting in the time to try and grow Kansas into a power. It looks like I could, but it would feel awfully shallow.

I'm still happy with the on-the-field gameplay. There are some weird time management issues for the CPU and penalties are kind of wonky, but most everything else works pretty darn well. And I've had some absolutely fantastic head-to-head games over Live.

But if I'm going to play a football game as a single season game, I'm going to be more interested in the NFL.

This makes me rethink whatI want out of an online dynasty. If I can't count on CPU teams to compete, then I have to look at the OD as nothing more than a two season league, and it would be better to pile 12 guys into one of two conferences and play each other.

The idea of 12 guys spread out among conferences, or even the small 3 man OD I am in now, is so much less interesting, because it is essentially a solo game with occasion head-to-head games. The fun would be in competing for recruits. But it wouldn't be fun for me if the rest of the Big 12 handles their rosters so poorly.

A patch would be great. But September 7th is not far away. And more than it being my wife's birthday, NHL 11 drops, and I will be done waiting for a fix. This really doesn't give EA much time.

So, do you think my wife will appreciate NHL 11 as a birthday present?

bill abner said...

Brad, I wish I had seen this earlier, but reviewing these things takes time. And remember I didn't get an advanced copy this year. As for the other reviews, well I can't speak to that.

JH: NCAA 11 is brilliant that first season. The best it has ever been.

I think an OD with everyone in the same conference would still be fine. But yeah, spreading out? Maybe not the best idea atm.

Skip said...

I've bought exactly one NCAA game, 2007, and it was pretty horrible. Since then I've been waiting, reading reviews, and always come to the conclusion 'not this year'. It sounds like they're getting closer though.

Brad said...

Bill, not a critique of you at all. As you said, you didn't get an advanced copy. If I recall correctly, you said you had to go out and buy a copy. (who did you piss off at EA that much?) This is why i follow this blog, even during the slow times.

vegaas said...

I knew better than to trust EA. Dang it. I havent bought NCAA in a couple of years but have always prefered it Madden. I was holding off this year until Bill posted his review but I got antsy because of the glowing reviews from other sites and Bill's postive first impressions. I gave in and bought it two days ago. I KNEW BETTER THAN TO TRUST EA, but I did it anyway. How can the worlds biggest football game developer keep delivering half finished products?

Misopogon said...

"EA responded to users but didn't really put much thought into it" is a common refrain for like, what, the last 8 years? And I agree: MSU winning a Big Ten championship is so far beyond the realm of credulity you wonder if the game was programmed by monkeys.

I would offer a few different ideas though:

1. Have only a very few recruitable kickers, and the rest are walk-ons. Big-leg kickers are the recruits -- the ones with 85-plus legs. Let's say there's like 10-15 of these guys who pop up a year, and that's it. They're all 3-stars. But based on the student body size, schools will have a few decent walk-ons every year, and once in awhile luck out in a 75-power, 95 leg. That's how it really happens anyway. Similar with punters.

I'm happy to see the San Jose States and North Texases of the world aren't going to jump into major major programs in 5 dynasty years because they live in Mega States.

The answer for how to do recruits is obvious should be two-prong:

1. Make development more important.

2. Familiarity ratings. 2KSports developed a positional rating system that would apply well to EA's dynasties. Freshmen can come in with varying levels of proficiency at various positions in your offense/defense, never over 80, and this acts as an alternator on their overall value. So you can't just plug in a talented receiver at QB and run around, but you can discover your MLB recruit would make an awesome DE in a few years. This ultimately favors the big programs, who have time to develop players. So with the same player Ohio State will have a 60 freshman DE end up as an 85 redshirt sophomore LE, as opposed to Ohio U having a 69-level MLB who ends up a 75 MLB by his junior year.

This would also allow for potential spring roster guys, who get a familiarity rating bump. Over the season, this rating alone could change (so as not to be a memory hog, changing millions of ratings) for each player, a bit more for those getting playing time.

usedonce99 said...

Thank you Bill. You are one of only 3 people in this world I trust for sports game reviews, as you are one of the few people that actually tests out the longevity of a game.

AI flaws (or "money plays") and broken dynasty/career/GM modes are the two biggest things that determine whether a game gets a few hours of playtime from me or a few years. Why do most reviewers not bother to test for these things? Because they want to get their reviews out the door as fast as possible, and most of their braindead-idiot audience doesn't care.

I was waiting for you to test out the dynasty mode in NCAA 11 before I dropped $60 on it. And unless it is patched significantly I now know to save my money.

Rob said...

I also appreciate the in depth looks at the game over time. 99% of review sites out there probably play a year of dynasty at the most..some sites probably only scratch the surface of it.

And this is why I also held off on this game even though it has been getting great reviews, even by Bill. If dynasty is broken I don't want it. I am mainly an offline dynasty player and if the mode doesn't work then all the gameplay in the world won't save the game for me.

Seriously though, when has EA ever made any sports game with a properly functioning dynasty where player progression makes sense over a number of years, sim stats make sense, and AI roster moves, etc.. make sense? I can't recall a single one. The closest the came was the latest Head Coach, and that game was really only a dynasty mode, so that's all it had to do. Come to think of it, what console sports game has ever gotten all these things right? I can probably count them on one hand.

bill abner said...

Thanks for all of the comments guys, I really do appreciate it.

Even the Michigan guy. :)

Clay said...

Got here via Troy Goodfellow's Twitter account ( Glad to see a review of NCAA 11's longevity. I enjoy 10, I think, although I play the position mode (Road to Glory in 10, forgot what it was called before) rather than dynasty. Was thinking of getting 11, but I will wait now to see if a patch comes out.

@Rob EA's FIFA games are actually good in that respect, although occasionally the AI will have a striker play defender for no apparent reason. I had never played EA's American football games before playing NCAA 09 & 10 and I noticed a considerable difference in quality. FIFA and NCAA/Madden are made by different EA studios, and it shows.