Gameplay is king here at EA SPORTS and we haven’t forgotten that on the Madden NFL Social team. In fact, we’ve spent several months tweaking and tuning the gameplay so that it fits perfectly with the unique advantages of each of the two platforms (Facebook and iOS). I’ll start by getting into the details on how the 3D gameplay works on iOS and then give you a preview of Facebook’s unique take on gameplay.
As many of you already know, Madden NFL Social is a free-to-play version of Madden on iOS and Facebook which shares the same lineage as its big brother on the console. However, there are some key differences outside of the turn-based nature of the gameplay (see my earlier blog here for more details). Our main design challenge was to create an experience that has multiple layers that would appeal to both rookie Madden players as well as seasoned veterans of the franchise. We also wanted to make sure we designed the right experience for the Madden Gamer-On-The-GoTM (patent-pending). OK, so let me translate all this glitzy game developer talk – our ultimate goal was to design the perfect Madden experience on a touchscreen and on Facebook, which is not the easiest thing to do considering how in-depth and rich the gameplay experience is in the Madden console games. So here’s how we did it:
iOS Rushing Controls
Let’s start by discussing our Rushing Controls. We wanted to minimize the use of buttons on the touchscreen as much as possible and so it made a whole lot of sense to us to create a swipe-gesture based control scheme for rushing moves. This is a very intuitive way to control some of the finer movements of your ball carrier – you simply swipe on the screen to perform an action. For example, to juke in a direction, simply swipe your finger in the direction you want to juke (left or right). To spin, swipe a semi-circle. Dives can be performed by swiping down and “trucks” or power-moves are done by swiping up.
Next, we’ll talk about player movement on the field. One area of spirited debate in touchscreen game design is the subject of the “Virtual Joystick.” This is basically the touchscreen’s equivalent of an analog stick on a traditional console controller. There are both fans and detractors of the virtual stick, and it all boils down to the way it’s implemented. We knew that we would need to include the stick for our core audience who wants finer control over the ball carrier or QB. So we created what we feel is the best implementation of a virtual stick that we could achieve – and it works very well. However, we also wanted to provide a secondary option for players who are not fans of the virtual stick, or players who may be a bit newer to Madden and don’t have the twitch skills of a veteran player. Enter a feature we call “auto-rush.” Auto-rush essentially lets the ball carrier or QB move independently of any input from you. This means that once your halfback or receiver has possession, they will automatically attempt to rush towards the end zone, without needing direction. A player’s rushing abilities are directly correlated to his card ratings, so the better player cards you have, the better your players will auto-rush on the field. Also, you’ll still be able to use the swipe-based controls for jukes, spins, etc. while your ball carrier is auto-rushing. This means that you can effectively play Madden NFL Social with one hand and have a tasty snack in the other (we’ve thought of just about everything, folks)! Of course, for our veteran gamers who want direct control, you can interrupt auto-rush at any time by simply touching the virtual joystick (auto-rush can also be turned off completely in the Settings menu).
iOS Passing Controls
With our passing controls, we took a similar approach to rushing, but realized that our audience would be best served if we did include receiver buttons for ease-of use. So there are basically two ways to pass to a receiver. You can tap directly on the receiver or his corresponding icon. The receiver icons are displayed both above the receiver as well as in the lower right corner of the screen (or lower left if you’re set to lefty controls). The reason for this is to accommodate the different ways players tend to hold their devices. We noticed some players prefer to hold the device with one hand underneath and basically play with one finger, poking around the screen – which is why we have the ability to touch a receiver/icon directly. Other players (mainly veteran gamers) prefer to hold the device like a traditional controller – which informed our decision to place the receiver icons closer to the player’s thumbs in the lower corner of the screen.
Any good QB worth his salt knows that different plays and situations call for different types of passes. Sometimes you need to lob one up so your receiver can hustle past the deep coverage, and other times you need to rocket one directly in the digits to beat the rush. Madden NFL Social gives you just the touch (pun alert!) to get the ball to its intended target. Lightly tapping on a receiver/icon will throw a high-arc lob pass, while touching and holding on the receiver/icon will unleash the bullet pass. You’ll also notice that the receiver icons will change color to indicate how open a given receiver is at the moment. Red means they’re covered, yellow means there are defenders in striking distance, and green means they’ve got some daylight. Keep in mind that the defense is constantly reacting to the play, so while the colors are a nice guide, there is no substitute for sharp eyes and the ability to read coverage like a Manning.
iOS Kicking Controls
Sometimes you need to put one through the uprights to close the gap or even better, rub it in when your opponent is taking a beating. Kicking controls in Madden NFL Social are a perfect fit with the iOS touchscreens. Simply drag the 3D arrow to set your kick direction and angle, then swipe the football down the meter to the desired power and then quickly back up through the top of the meter. This will set your kick power and accuracy. Just like in real life, tempo and timing matter, as does your kicker’s ratings. Upgrade your kicker cards to get the most distance and accuracy out of your kicks.
Madden NFL Social on Facebook allows players to explore a more strategic approach to gameplay. We’ve designed the experience to take advantage of Facebook’s unique platform. In place of fast-paced twitch-based gameplay, the game on Facebook is geared towards the strategies of playcalling and choosing the right player matchup. Plays themselves are simulated by taking into account the individual player card ratings, the plays called (both by the user and the opponent’s defense) and the game situation.
Your playbook is essential as variety in playcalling and using the right strategy in the right situation are the keys to victory. You will also want to pay attention to the player card matchups presented for each play. As you hover over a specific play, you’ll be able to see your offensive player up against the defensive player most likely to be involved in the play. Look for weak links in your opponent’s defense to increase your chance of success.
I hope this blog was able to give you some more insight into the gameplay in Madden NFL Social. The development team is having a blast playtesting the game internally and literally can’t wait for you to get your hands on it. Please post your thoughts and comments (https://www.facebook.com/EASportsMaddenNFLSocial) – we really do read them all and will be updating the game long after it’s released with consideration of your suggestions. The development team is excited to bring you a new and unique way to play Madden with your friends.