Video comparison between Madden 08 and 09 shows off graphical improvements

In a story on the unveiling of Brett Favre as the cover athlete for Madden NFL 09, I linked an interview that GameTap did with one of the game’s lead designers, Phil Frazier. In that interview, Frazier boldly proclaimed that Madden 09 features “the biggest graphical improvement we’ve ever had year-to-year in Madden” (console generation jumps notwithstanding). Sure, it’s easy to be cynical and assume that this is another empty promise, but we’ve happily been proven wrong this time around.

GameTrailers has a three-minute video that directly compares the graphics of Madden 08 and Madden 09 on the Xbox 360 in six ways: lighting (at 4:15 PM), grass effects, weather effects (heavy snow), and three different player models. It doesn’t feature any gameplay footage, but it’s all in-game video of camera pans in a static stadium (the footage looks like it could’ve been taken out of the instant replay tool). Hit the jump for my analysis of the video.

Oh, and if you’re craving some more details on how Madden 09 is shaping up, IGN has just put up a new three-page preview, and it’s subtitled “The most additions we’ve seen to the franchise in years”. Here’s something from the preview that will hopefully shut up all the people who continually deride sports games as ‘annual roster updates’:

Madden 09 does not redefine videogame football. It doesn’t take the classic Madden formula and turn it upside down. What it does do is it takes so many of the little things from last year’s game and improves on them exponentially. They aren’t details that can be seen by watching a short gameplay clip or looking at screenshots. They’re the things that you don’t realize about the game until you pick it up and play it for yourself…

That’s what sports games are all about. Not revolutions, but evolutions, so to speak. We sports gamers don’t usually take kindly to any major shake-ups; incremental improvements are what it’s all about. Each year, sports game developers try to create a more accurate simulation of their respective sport, and we notice even the smallest changes. Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

The first three comparisons provide the easiest-to-spot changes. Regarding lighting, Madden 09 has 4:15 PM pegged as more of a dusk time, which makes more sense in the context of the football season (fall/winter). Last year, 4:15 PM still featured a bright sun, as if the game were being played during the summer. Field-wise, instead of a stale, neatly crisscrossing mowed pattern, the grass in Madden 09 is much more realistic (it doesn’t just look like a green background anymore). Blades of steel grass can actually be made out.

As for snow, it’ll actually pile up on the field (along with footprints), and there’s a subtle cool blue hue in snowy games to accentuate the cold weather feel. If you turned snow on in Madden 08 (or most prior Madden games, for that matter), it just appeared as if there were flurries of snow during the game. Finally, the video shows off three player models: Vikings LG Steve Hutchinson, Saints RB Reggie Bush, and Chargers OLB Shawne Merriman. The difference between Madden 08 and 09 isn’t night-and-day, but noticeable improvements have been made to light reflections on players’ helmets.

Overall, I’m highly impressed by what EA Tiburon has pulled off here. They’ve already assured us that the game will be running at 60 fps on both PS3 and 360, so let’s hope that it plays as well as it looks.

Samit Sarkar