EA Sports is in a good position with its athletic franchises. The demand for annual iterations in each series is high enough to warrant frequent releases, but sports don't really change. This allows the developers to focus on nothing but improvements and making the games as realistic as possible -- something that any fan of sports games desperately wants.
And, realism is exactly what EA Sports strives for. With regard to its Madden, FIFA, and NHL brands, each is seeing changes this year that bring it ever closer to pure simulation. After all, if it's in the game, it's in the game.
Madden may have been the franchise that's received the most love and care from EA for more than a decade, so it might be the one that's seeing the most nuanced changes. A lot of the upgrades to Madden 15 deal with presentation. There's no question about it: EA Sports wants you to feel like you're watching a football game when you're playing a football game.
As soon as a game starts, that level of immersion begins to take effect. As we were shown a match-up featuring the recent NFL champion Seattle Seahawks in their home venue, we couldn't help but be impressed by the attention to detail. Wide-angle shots of the stadium, close-ups of the coach, the camera shaking from the intensity of the crowd -- it all positively smacked of watching a playoff game on television.
That degree of presentation depth extends throughout the entire experience. New to Madden 15 is a full-fledged halftime show, explicitly tailored to the game at hand. Apart from detailed discussion about trends and certain plays in the first half, there's also on-field entertainment, statistics, box scores -- again, all the stuff that you could expect from a Sunday afternoon broadcast.
There's also a bit of refinement taking place with regard to gameplay. One of EA's biggest priorities was to get away from using the skill stick to wiggle through plays, but instead concentrate on authentic strategy. Working toward being as close to a true simulation as possible, Madden 15 puts more emphasis on wise play-calling than unrealistic juking.
However, Madden 15 will offer a bit of hand-holding to help acclimate those that haphazardly select plays like they're pointing out names in a phonebook. An updated approach to the play-calling screen shows players a strategic pick, a community pick, and a personalized pick. The strategic pick outlines what the opponent is likely to do, and hopefully reinforces your actions by teaching you about the game. The community and personalized selections don't sound as if they'll be as strategically refined, but, just like Madden, sometimes the popular choice is popular for a reason.
If the improvements to Madden 15 hold a central theme of presentation, the one relating to FIFA 15 is undoubtedly emotion. Soccer is a game that brings out the passion and emotion in players and fans alike, after all. That's going to be nowhere more evident than in FIFA 15.
EA set the framework for this feature last year; this year it's fleshing it out. Emotion and intensity of all 22 players on the pitch will be tracked at all times and constantly changing. The victim of a hard tackle might become angry at the opposition, and his teammates might too. A player that skies a ball in the box might be disappointed with himself, and react as such. Something as ridiculous as a keeper letting in an own goal might destroy team morale, at least temporarily. Of course, the emotion all translates to the players' other statistics, effectively acting as a boost or hindrance of sorts.
Even though the emotion system will affect matches of FIFA 15 at its deepest level, it will have plenty of opportunities to become the star of the show. The greatest example of this may be after important goals are scored, as celebrations are now more grand than ever. Ten player dogpiles and elated sliding and hugging are sure to add an appropriate exclamation point to important moments and monumental wins.
The emotion doesn't just stay on the pitch, however. It bleeds into the stadium. Rowdy crowds that hang onto every corner kick and through ball know how to act for any circumstance that might arise. Further, supporters are represented by the specificity that they're known for, and well, it's tough not to get goosebumps watching all of Anfield sing "You'll Never Walk Alone."
EA's third major sports title for the year, NHL 15, focuses its intentions toward something much more integral than presentation or emotion. NHL 15 aims to revamp its physics, an aspect that affects the core of the hockey experience.
Now that development of these titles has moved to its fourth generation, EA Sports stresses that consoles are equipped to do things that were never before possible. One such thing, and maybe the most notable improvement to NHL 15, is that the puck acts more like a puck and less like a ball.
It may seem silly at first, but it's a sizable upgrade. Pucks are nothing like spheres, and being able to recreate their true movement adds that layer of realism that EA Sports yearns for. Expect more awkward bounces off of the endboards, funny hops over sticks, and deflections past goaltenders that weren't possible before. All because the puck acts like a puck now.
Obviously, the puck is far from the only thing on the ice. There are also 12 athletes, 10 of which are skating about at breakneck speed. The physics improvements extend to them as well. The collision and hit detection for them has been overhauled in an effort to make every bodycheck unique to the forces being applied. In theory, because of the great number of influencing factors, each check will be like a snowflake -- no two the exact same.
That's where EA Sports' intentions lie for Madden 15, FIFA 15, and NHL 15. The focal points may appear to smack of more subtlety with each passing year, and maybe it's because that's exactly the case. That's a luxury that EA Sports has on its side as it inches ever-closer to realism.
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